Originally published at Informed CommentEurope has been a flash point for war among both great and small powers for centuries. Conflicts beginning there have been known to spill over outside Europe, sometimes encompassing nearly the entire planet. These wars have unleashed untold human suffering and death, destroyed entire societies and produced campaigns of mass killings and genocide.
Today’s Eastern European crisis has antecedents. The newly independent states of Eastern Europe in the 1990’s erred by not sufficiently respecting ethnic Russian civil and political rights. In particular, Ukraine has allowed its security forces to be infiltrated by Nazi sympathizers. All this was bound to lead to tension with whatever government was in charge of Russia. Russia erred grievously in the 1990’s by allowing authoritarians to seize control of the process of political reform. (The government of the United States was singularly unhelpful in that regard, siding with the thoroughly corrupt Boris Yeltsin.)
The original architect of Containment policy during the Cold War, US diplomat George Kennan saw the present crisis coming 25 years ago when he wrote that “…expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.” In part, what Kennan had in mind was Russia’s experience with invasions from the West. Napoleon was bad enough, but against Nazi Germany Russia faced a struggle to the death. These memories are seared into the souls of the Russian people, and explain part of their security concerns.
With the current crisis in Ukraine, there has been renewed interest in peaceful and lasting solutions to European security issues. One proposal that is receiving renewed interest is the potential for a neutral, and perhaps even demilitarized, Eastern and Central Europe.
Even if Russia does launch what they feel would be a defensive response against Ukraine and NATO threats in the coming days, the points raised here will if anything become more relevant.
Demilitarized Zones have an extensive history, and some have lasted for centuries. In 1819 for example, the Rush-Bagot Treaty established a DMZ around the North American Great Lakes between the United States and Great Britain, which governed Canada at that time. Later the Zone was expanded to include the entire US-Canadian border. The agreement has lasted for over 200 years with only minor glitches along the way.
Political neutrality differs from de-militarization in that the governments that embrace it often retain military forces. In Europe, Switzerland, Ireland and Austria are not part of defensive alliances, yet retain armed forces. It is important to understand that Russia/USSR agreed to abide by Austrian neutrality in 1955, and has done so. Finland too has been neutral since 1948, and has so little in the way of armed forces that it almost as well be a demilitarized zone. Russia has also respected that arrangement.
But now, the threat of yet another large war in Europe exists.
It is time to renew the calls for the establishment of a neutral and perhaps demilitarized zone in Central and Eastern Europe. This zone would include at least Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Belarus, Slovakia and the Baltic States – later, other states may be added. As agreed by the parties involved, all outside military forces would be withdrawn from this region.
With the creation of a neutral Central and Eastern Europe, US and NATO forces and installations would be removed from the Zone. Russia would acquire a buffer against possible aggression from the West. The people of Europe and the US would get peace and many more resources to devote to social progress instead of war.