публикация №1465465328, версия для печати

BELARUSIAN FOREIGN POLICY: NEW CONTOURS?


Дата публикации: 09 июня 2016
Автор: Anatoli Rozanov
Публикатор: БЦБ LIBRARY.BY
Рубрика: АНГЛИЙСКИЙ ЯЗЫК (ENGLISH)
Источник: (c) Беларусь в мире, 04-01-99



Anatoli Rozanov, Doctor of History, Professor of International Relations, Belarusian State University, Minsk.
In the beginning of December 1998 it was reported about large-scale restructuring of foreign political and foreign economic agencies, establishment of a transformed Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the basis of the cancelled structures, and changes in the leadership of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. These transformations allow to express assumptions concerning formulation and realisation of the Belarusian foreign policy strategy. However, these assumptions should in no way be treated as a deep analysis of all aspects of foreign policy activities. Changes in the foreign policy apparatus allow to hope that the Belarusian foreign policy will acquire new contours, become more prescient, cautious and circumspect, more pragmatic and less ideologically dependent in general. A correction of the perception of the outside world and the place of Belarus in the system of international relations is needed. Ties of tension that arose in the sphere of relations with the leading states of the West need to be undone. Certain steps have been made in this direction, and it is a great comfort. They can touch upon conceptual basics of the course on the foreign arena, as well as practical methods of the work of the Belarusian diplomacy.

We think that the development of conceptual basis of the Belarusian foreign policy has been obviously delayed. There are no more or less well deve-loped documents addressing composite vision of Belarusian foreign political aspirations in the context of trends and perspectives of the development of the modern system of foreign political relations, and evaluating the place and the role of the Belarusian state in Europe and in the world in general.

In the course of several years official document entitled "The Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Republic of Belarus" has been developed. Several versions of the concept were prepared, but it is still unclear whether any of them has been adopted. However, it is obviously incorrect to exaggerate the true sense of such concept, for even most elegant and logical conceptual constructions in the field of foreign policy can be too far from reality. International life is, as a rule, richer and broader than any intricate and refined conceptual schemes used to comprehend and interpret it. Nevertheless, the value of foreign political concepts that can make a refe-rence-point should not be denied. To do that, an objective and unbiased analysis of processes in the area of foreign relations, and well-grounded forecast evaluations are needed.

Regrettably, national interests of the Republic of Belarus in the sphere of international relations have not been systematised and well defined. These are national interests that should predetermine directions of the foreign political course. It is not clear how Belarus is going to join the new European architecture and the accelerating integration processes in Europe. When analysing the existing conceptual constructions it is difficult to trace specifics and the national identity of Belarus as a sovereign European state with the foreign political profile of its own. But it would, once again, be incorrect to expect something extraordinary from the concept developers in their formulation of foreign political priorities of Belarus.

Some foreign political aspects were more or less clearly defined in the statements by President A. Lukashenko, mainly at the collegial sessions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was emphasised that "full- scale existence of the Belarusian statehood should be accompanied by multifacetedness, balanced and pragmatic character of relations with other nations."1 Concerning the sphere of national and international security the Belarusian president underscored that in this issue "we can only talk about separate steps, not a systematic and well-developed approach."2

In fact, so far no complete strategy has been developed in this area. The distinct anti-NATO syndrome, for instance, was oddly accompanied by the announced intention to sign Belarus-NATO agreement or charter after Russia and Ukraine. But it has never been mentioned that to do that adequate eva-luation of the new role of NATO in the modern Europe is needed, as well as readiness to perceive the Alliance as a partner in the construction of the undivided Europe, not as an opponent.

The CIS: Vague Prospects

Relations with the CIS nations are proclaimed a priority in the foreign policy of Belarus. There are grounds to emphasise that the CIS corresponds to the vital interests of the Belarusian state. This arises from the fact that the future of the CIS lies in the deepening of the economic integration, creation of single economic and legal environment, coordination of political efforts based on mutual respect of rights and interests of the member states.

However, crises that can cast doubts on the development of the CIS are becoming more apparent in its activities. This is due to trust deficiency among partner states and counteractions of certain states to any attempts to deepen the integration. Russian efforts aimed at stimulation of integration processes are sometimes interpreted as a return to the single centre and rebirth of the imperial ambitions. The problem of implementation of numerous agreements and decisions adopted within the framework of the CIS is therefore very acute.

The Belarusian leadership is deeply concerned about the destiny of the CIS and development of projects of its reform. According to the Belarusian government, the main idea of discussions about the future of the CIS is "to define what and in what manner should be done to orient the Commonwealth towards creative work". A. Lukashenko stated that the CIS could not play a constructive role in the prevention or at least lessening of "catastrophic results" of the collapse of the USSR. According to his opinion, the Commonwealth that was created to preserve century-old ties was then turned into an instrument for the "civilised divorce" and break- off of these connections. However, the task is to direct the CIS towards unification.3

Nevertheless, some foreign and domestic observers tend to think that the future of the CIS is viewed by Minsk through the prism of the rebirth of elements of the structure that resembles the former Soviet Union.4 Such aspirations can be shared by few leaders of the CIS states. Hopes for recreation of everything "positive" that existed during the Soviet times can hardly make a reliable compass in searching ways into the 21st century. The Soviet system, no matter how you treat it, has clearly demonstrated its lack of vitality, and tendency towards stagnation and self-destruction. Therefore, as many experts suggest, it would be more appropriate to use the tried and tested diverse integration experience of the European Union as a basis, not the model of the ex-USSR discredited by history.

The Belarusian position concerning the reform of the CIS may be defined by a system of co-ordinates - organisation of common domestic market and its defence from the "destructive influence from the outside", re-establishment of the common scientific and cultural environment and common protection of foreign political interests of the CIS member states. It is planned to specify main directions and scope for cooperation implemented within the framework of the CIS, set up strict timings and clear mechanism for transforming adopted decisions into national legal and normative documents. Can these tasks be accomplished with the current level of relations in the Commonwealth? There is no evidence that the CIS possesses sufficient potential to turn into a full-scale viable structure.

Belarus and Russia

The Union of Belarus and Russia is considered to represent the highest level of integration and coordination in the post-Soviet area. The advantage of the Union in the field of resolution of economic issues, interstate division of labour, industrial specialisation and cooperation is quite evident. Special and joint programmes have been worked out and are being implemented, such as "Laser Technologies of the 21st Century", "Extra- Large Chips", "Development of Leading Optical Technologies". Financial-industrial groups are being established. The union with Russia allowed to employ production capacities of numerous Belarusian enterprises, since the Belarusian economy is inseparably linked with that of Russia. Lately, establishment of direct ties between oblast's and regions has become the focus of special attention. Still, the Government of Belarus is not satisfied with the achieved results and insists on galvanising of the Union activities. Ho- wever, Russia is not quite eager to resolve the issues that cannot be put off anymore.

It is clear that Russian interests in Belarus significantly depend on geopolitical and military-strategic factors. Russia develops its military ties with Belarus in a consistent and pushing manner. In 1997-98 Belarus-Russia military cooperation was raised to a new level. Such significant documents as "The Treaty on Military Cooperation" and "The Agreement on Joint Provision of Regional Security in the Military Sphere" were signed. The Concept of the Joint Defence Policy of Belarus and Russia was adopted. These documents deal with establishment of common defence, combined military potentials, placement of joint defence orders, and coordination in planning of military R&D.

The economic aspect of the Russia-Belarus union is developed in a different manner. Russia is obviously interested in a steady and stable development of the economy of Belarus, its most important (may be the only one, in a sense) strategic ally. However, opinions that in case of an accelerated integration of the two nations, Belarusian economy would become a burden, are widely supported in the Russian political circles. In addition, specifics of the Belarusian political system in the way it has evolved after the November 1996 Referendum, satisfy not everyone in Moscow.

With time it becomes evident that processes of the Belarusian-Russian integration, still preserving certain dynamics, run into serious obstacles. There is a feeling that the integration impetus, wich wasgiven by the signing of the Treaty and the Charter of the Union of Belarus and Russia, has a tendency of fading away. The splash of integration expectations in the spring of 1997 has slowed down as more problems in relations between the nations were revealed. Far-sighted observers, including foreign ones, as a matter of fact warned that in the course of development of the Belarusian-Russian Union discrepancies in the approaches would come out, slowing down the integration and even discrediting integration initiatives. This problem was addressed in the analytical paper by P. Gouble, Washington-based observer, eloquently entitled "Belarus- Russia: Integration as the Last Stage of Disintegration." Anyway, dissimilarity, and in certain cases different models of the reforming of Belarusian and Russian economic systems become a noticeable factor that leads to the integration mechanism falling out of step.

It should also be noted that the "Russian factor" is one way or another considered by competing political forces in Belarus. The opposition thinks that Belarusian authorities' principal stake is that "Russian assistance in European organisations will help to legalise the Belarusian regime."5 It is asserted that Russia actually supports authoritarian tendencies in Belarus. Such impression is created in the West also. This, by the way, causes frequent appeals to Russia to put pressure upon Belarus. Otherwise, according to this view, international image of the Russian Federation will be damaged.

On the whole, Belarusian-Russian integration, being a diverse and heterogeneous phenomenon, is developing unevenly. It should be freed from declarations and put into the pragmatic frame of a gradual and measured coordination in the areas where it is really productive.

The European Context

Belarus is presently having hard times in relations with the leading European organisations. Complications appeared in full in the period after the 1996 referendum when changes and amendments to the 1994 Constitution were adopted. The West started to carry out a distinctly rigid policy towards Belarus, demonstrating unacceptability of the changes in the political life of the country. Problems also emerged in relations with the European Union and other European and transatlantic structures.

Thus, the EU Council refused to accept the legitimacy of the political situation established in Belarus, recognising the 1994 Constitution as the only legitimate legislative basis. According to the Council, the Parliament elected in compliance with the 1994 Constitution, is the only legitimate legislative body in the country. Assessing the general position of the EU in March 1998, President A. Lukashenko announced that the EU's refusal to "factually accept" the political situation established in the country "should be treated as neglecting opinion of the people of the Republic of Belarus."6 Nonetheless, on 16 March 1998 the President instructed the then foreign minister I. Antonovich to develop a programme of foreign political contacts with the EU.7 However, the relations with the EU have not improved.

Also, tensions in relations with the OSCE have emerged. However, due to the establishment of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk on 27 February 1998, certain changes were noted in relations Belarus-OSCE. The OSCE is striving for aiming this group towards development of principles of democratic and legal state, in which human rights are respected and observed. According to the Polish foreign minister B. Geremek, "the attention of the OSCE is directed at respect by Belarus of certain experience relating to the whole of Europe, rather than against Belarusian authorities."8

With regard to relations with NATO, Belarus has again found itself in a poor situation. Being a most relentless opponent of NATO's eastwards expansion and leaving far behind even Russia in its anti-NATO rhetoric, Belarusian leadership could not promptly manoeuvre, as Russia and Ukraine did, and supplement its negative viewpoint concerning NATO's enlargement with constructive steps towards establishment of a network of new relations with the Alliance within the framework of its increasing role in the construction of a new Europe. As a result, Belarus missed the opportunity and did not succeed in its belated attempts to gain NATO's distinctive attitude through conclusion of a special agreements Belarus-NATO. Additionally, we cannot expect increased attention from NATO when Belarus, having joined Partnership for Peace (PfP) Programme on 11 January 1995 (signing of the Framework Document), had been developing its Individual Partnership Programme for almost two and a half years, and submitted it to NATO on 30 May 1997. Such sluggishness has led to an unjustified pause in the development of dialogue with NATO, which could not but influence the overall level of contacts with the Alliance.

Since the Alliance still adheres to the agreed position of the EU aimed at restricting contacts with the Belarusian leadership, the interest in maintaining contacts on a lower level is expressed first of all in the information area. On 27 February 1998 Special Adviser to the Secretary General on Central and Eastern Europe C. Donnelly visited the Belarusian State University. The sides discussed prospects of cooperation in the information area, including establishment of the University Centre for NATO and European Security Studies. Implementation of this issue could become one of the channels for broadening ties between Belarus and the Alliance.

In November 1998, in Minsk, the Belarusian State University and NATO Press and Information Bureau held the seminar "European Security and NATO". The Seminar discussions showed that, given different approaches of Belarusian experts and NATO representatives, common areas of interest in positions can be found and a respectful dialogue can be carried on in order to explain and clear up each others' arguments.

Towards a Reasonable International Strategy

In the spectrum of foreign political preferences that were traced in discussions after Belarus had gained its independence, several key positions can be singled out.

Ideologists of the Belarusian Popular Front and satellite political groupings widely used the slogan "Return to Europe". Interpreting it, their leaders emphasised not so much the necessity of integration in European structures, which could not cause any serious objections as the idea of distancing itself from Russia whose "imperialist impulses" were depicted as an attribute of the Russian statehood. It was the anti-Russian orientation that, even half-hidden, did not allow this thesis to receive support of the masses. Most Belarusians do not want to see their future separated from Russia.

Another scheme that did not have a shade of anti-Russian orientation and at the same time offered domination of the European vector, suggested a "Finlandisation" of the Belarusian foreign policy. The idea was to strive for the neutrality and stay away from military-political unions while considering and wisely responding to Moscow's geostrategic views. This direction was worked out in the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, and was accepted with understanding by experts in foreign relations.

The worlds on the need of unification with Russia, and reestablishment of most close ties started to sound increasingly distinctly since mid-1990s. The Russian vector of the foreign policy started to progressively acquire increasingly profile. However, integration expectations and sentiments appeared too optimistic and overestimated. Gradually an accent on the necessity of preservation of the Belarusian statehood and sovereignty under any, even most enhanced forms of integration, is becoming stronger in the government rhetoric.

The key world in official foreign policy statements now is "multifaceted". In principle, balanced foreign political aspirations with an emphasised interest in good neighbourly relations with Russia and other adjacent states supplemented by an expressed readiness to integrate into the European structures for cooperation and security is a position that can be justified both geopolitically, historically, and from the practical viewpoint. The problem is how to implement it effectively.

In the modern environment it would be wise to strengthen the profile of the Republic of Belarus as an independent state with its own national interests and foreign policy preferences. It is important to provide a clear European foreign policy vector together with the Eurasian one. We are not talking about "Ukrainisation" of the Belarusian policy, with a turn towards Western nations and the emphasis on nationally oriented forces within the country. Such position can hardly be supported by the Belarusian public. We mean provision of the best conditions for joining the processes of the establishment of new European structures, full-scale involvement in the European construction as an independent international entity, not a mere participant of the Union of Belarus and Russia.

While carrying out integration policy with Russia, it would be wise to reject lout statements, declarations of too high and unattainable goals and tasks, and to single out contours and physical limits of the integration initiatives. Controversial dynamics of integration processes and unconvincing effectiveness, as well as characteristic response of the neighbouring states to the Belarus-Russia integration give grounds for a pause to thoroughly think over the emerging problems.

The right tone in the relations with NATO should be found. Negative perception of NATO's enlargement should not become a dramatised reaction. This process should be discussed in the view of the post-Cold War transformation of the Alliance and the future role of the U.S. and Germany in Europe.

We need more practical assessment of the possibility of "special" relations with NATO. Implementation of such relations can result from a long-term and thorough work on broadening the scope of cooperation with the Alliance, and demonstration of political will towards true cooperation. Presently we can only talk about a more active Belarusian parti-cipation in the PfP Programme and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.

Under existing conditions the new leadership of the Belarusian foreign ministry will have to make every effort to change the "abnormal" status of Belarus on the European political landscape. Belarus can make a normal European state, with which the West would maintain full-scale, not selective or restricted, relations. Hopefully, positive correction of foreign political aspirations and steps will eventually bear some fruit.

1. Vneshnyaya politika nashei strany nosit pragmaticheskiy kharakter, Sovetskaya Belorussia, 27.02.1997.

2. Ibid.

3. International Conference "Six Years of the Commonwealth: Problems and Prospects", 2-4 March 1998. Speech by A. Lukashenko, President of the Republic of Belarus, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Union of Belarus and Russia, p. 5, Minsk, 1998.

4. A. Pecherski. Novaya rol' SNG dlya staroi integratsionnoi pyesy, Belaruskaya gaseta, 9.03.1998.

5. A. Sannikov. Kuda idesh, Belarus? Narodnaya volya, 13.03.1998.

6. A. Lukashenko, Tol'ko na osnove effectivnogo funktsionirovaniya i vzaimodeistviya vsekh organov vlasty my mozhem dobitsya progressa..., Sovetskaya Belorussiya, 13.03.1998.

7. Ministr poluchil novye instruktsii, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, 18.03.1998.

8. B. Geremek. My khotim, chtoby Belarus' otkasalas' ot samoizolyatsii, Belorusskaya delovaya gaseta, 26.02.1998. p. 5

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