Anatoli Rozanov, Doctor of History, Professor of International Relations, Belarusian State University, Minsk.
Whenever we speak about the foreign political strategy of the Republic of Belarus, it should be kept in mind that strategic guidelines of the nation's international course, although they deem to have been proclaimed officially at the high level, still they do not seem to have been rather explicitly and convincingly articulated in the context of the deepened analysis of Belarus' national interests and the new evolving international environment in Europe.
Generally, it should be emphasised that the comprehensive interpretation of the country's national interests does not exist in reality. The same applies to a broad vision of Belarus' place and role in the system of contemporary international relations in Europe. Unfortunately, this is affected, to a degree, by deficiency of the innovative foreign political thinking and lack of formed independent school of the foreign political thinking in Belarus. Thus, there is, for instance, an impression that the position of the Republic of Belarus on the most imperative international problems is either a mirror or a copy with minor fluctuations of the relevant assessments of the Russian diplomacy. To be sure, coordination of foreign political initiatives and approaches of Belarus and Russia, directly emerging from the latest Belarusian-Russian documents is not extraordinary, but rather quite normal phenomenon, which all by itself arouses no concern. The fact is, however, that extreme closeness to conceptual outlines, favoured in Moscow, in this or that way can affect the quality of Belarus' development of the international problems as regards both its theoretical perception and practical and political aspect.
In our view, it is deep understanding of the national interests of Belarus and ability to adequately project them onto the contemporary international fabric that should form the basis for reasoning the nation's course in the international affaires. Concurrently, it is extremely important to have adequate assessments of tendencies of the development of the international relations system in Europe to be able to properly define goals and outline the ways towards undivided, confrontation-free, and democratic Europe.
About the National Interests Issue
There was no deep research of the national interests in the former Soviet Union. Indeed, the concept of national interests was not worked out. The attitude to the respective works of Western theoreticians was rather critical, if not scornful. This, obviously, was linked with the general trend and tone of the foreign political thinking and its ideological indoctrination. In the 1990s, after the disintegration of the USSR, the situation changed. Analytical materials began to emerge with attempts to provide a comprehensive interpretation of the national interests. Such analytical work is noticeable, for example, in Russia.
In the West, the concept of the national interests has been elaborated for a long time. However, the significance that has been attached to it more often than not looks rather vague. Most Western scholars would prefer to provide their own definitions of national interests, rather than adopt rigid definitions claiming a universal character.1 Hence publications on international relations can contain different definitions of national interests. Incidentally, they do not clarify the issue, but rather complicate or obscure it.2
The problem of national interests is represented rather tangibly in the research by the US experts in international affairs. It should be stressed that in the early 1950s there was a fierce polemic in the US academic circles between the school of "realists" (Hans Morgenthau is considered its founder) and adherents to the "idealistic" perception of the national interests often associated with the views of Woodrow Wilson. The "idealists" believed that ethics and morals should play an important role in defining the national interests and disregarded the assertion of the "realists" that the main objective of the national state should be longing for power, strengthening its authority, and capability to influence other players on the international arena. Amongst the "realists" the discussion occurred whether objective, unchangeable national interests, the national leaders are guided by, do exist or, conversely, within the American-style democratic society the articulation of the national interests is a corollary of political process, thus being periodically amended with regard to expertise acquired by the nation.
In the 1960s, certain American scientists came out against the concept according to which objective national interests of a country can be defined and based upon, as claimed by H. Morgenthau and his adherents. Opponents of prevailing views were claiming that most common interests of each nation were multiple and that within the American political environment they constituted an outcome of long argument and coordination between the president and the Congress, as well as between different political groups adhering to different views on the US international goals. Among most prominent representatives of the so-called "constitutionalists" was Paul Seabury, who published a book Power, Freedom and Diplomacy. P. Seabury summarised his views in the following way: "We can perceive the national interests as a kaleidoscopic process through which forces not in demand by the American society are striving to express certain political and economic aspirations in world politics through the higher state bodies. To comprehend this process, we should not just be familiar with formal administrative processes of foreign policy development, but also to penetrate into the life of the nation itself to discern the sources of thinking, ideology and secondary interests nourishing the thrust of the US foreign policy."3
Another group of American scholars believes that the "national interests" concept is too foggy or old- fashioned. Also, it is incapable of contributing to the perception of the developing inter-dependant world, in which the national state gradually loses its bygone significance. James M. Rosenau was one of the most authoritative "sceptics" of the 1970s. In his book The Scientific Study of Foreign Policy, he claimed that neither "objectivists" nor "subjectivists", as he referred to the adherents to the adversarial viewpoints, had offered realistic reasoning on using the concept of national interests as research tools. J. Rosenau claimed that irrespective of voiced support of this concept and its seeming effectiveness, the national interests had never been a serious analytical instrument. In his opinion, attempts by both "objectivists" and "subjectivists" to use this concept turned out to be fruitless or misleading. In the end, according to J. Rosenau, "... although foreign policy manuals keep on teaching that nations function to defend and pursue their national interests, the research literature in this field is neither expanding nor becoming more valuable."4
Whereas political leaders of different countries continue to speak the abstract language of the national interests and national priorities, researchers should offer a clearer and more systematic definition of such interests.
Undoubtedly, the fundamental national interests of states consist in safeguarding their territory and sovereignty and ensuring citizens' well-being. It is possible to single out the following stable components of the national interests:
Need to defend the state and its constitutional system;
Need to raise the nation's economic well-being;
Need to set up favourable world order, safe for the international environment;
Need to introduce the democratic values and free market system.
Donald E. Nuechterlein, who analysed this problem purposefully, proved that national interests depending upon the degree of their significance can be subdivided into survival interests, vital interests, substantial, as well as peripheral interests.5
The interests referred to as "survival interests" become apparent rather rarely and are comparatively easy to identify. They are infringed upon whenever the country is under a real threat of large-scale destruction, unless there is no immediate resistance to the other state's actions. It is first of all a matter of armed attack or threat of one country's attack on the other.
Vital interests, in E. Nuechterlein's view, differ from survival interests chiefly about time frame, in other words, the amount of time required for a country to determine what its response to an external threat will be. In addition to the defence of homeland, they can affect the issues of economics, the world order and ideology. In this case, a threat to the nation's vital interests is conditioned by potential, even probable, rather than direct threats. Thus politicians will have time to consult the allies, conduct negotiations with the enemy, take political and economic measures to alter the thrust of developments and demonstrate force warning the opponent that his course can entail serious consequences up to an armed conflict.
Vital interests are infringed upon when the problem is so important for the nation's well-being that the government, having approached a certain limit that it finds acceptable, is not willing to make further compromises. If political leaders decide that in search of compromise on the problem they cannot go beyond a certain limit, and would rather take a risk associated with military actions or other radical measures, then, according to this pattern, we deal with the vital interests.
Substantial interests are those perceived by the country as important for its well-being but not decisive ones. They are linked with problems and trends - economic, political, or ideological ones - for which durable talks or far-reaching compromises are possible. Such problems can cause serious concern, yet politicians ordinarily come to the conclusion that dialogue and mutual concessions rather than confrontation are preferable, even if the outcome may turn out unpleasant.
Finally, peripheral interests are those not having a direct impact on the country's overall well-being, yet capable of causing damage to the citizens' private interests. The government pays attention to such problems. However, they are of much less political, economic, or ideological significance.
The E. Nuechterlein's pattern, though looking somewhat simplified, yet has the right to exist and most likely can prove valuable, when attempts are made to systematise, to a degree, the national interests. Of course, in so doing one should take account of the fact that the depiction of the national interests in official documents is an extremely complex and delicate mission, since other states, especially the neighbouring ones, are very sensitive to the way these interests are being formulated.
Prevailing Approach to Foreign Political Strategy
Currently, the key words in the Belarusian official foreign political declarations are "multiface-tedness" and "balance" complemented by the articulated intent to improve the relations with the West, which has been lately emphasised in every way possible.
Still, in our view, it will be very difficult, if at all possible, to make the relations with the West better in the foreseeable future after several years of anti-West, particularly anti-NATO policy. In the leading Western capitals mistrust of the incumbent Belarusian government is too big. Also, the situation is obviously affected by the fact that the strategic course of A. Lukashenko's administration towards "unification" with Russia does not make Western politicians particularly enthusiastic. They are concerned that Belarus-Russia cooperation would become a first link in the chain of events that can entail the restoration of the elements of the former Soviet Union, though in an extremely reduced way.
The Belarusian leadership, in its turn, is playing with the thesis that cool, all but tense relations between Belarus and the West are largely conditioned by the development of integration with Russia rather than other spontaneous and unpredictable actions along other directions. Conversely, according, for example, to the US official position voiced at one time on behalf of the US State Department, the US is not "reflexively against integration between the two countries". However, from its standpoint, this process should be "voluntary", based on peoples' free will. Additionally, it is asserted that new dividing lines should not be established in the environment when the US is claimed to be striving "to consolidate Europe."6
Strategic Union with Russia
Foreign perception of Belarus is inseparably linked with the "Russian factor." It is revealing that Western analysts are apt to deny the importance of Belarus as an independent state in the world, chiefly European processes, derogatorily referring to the Republic of Belarus as the "western extension of Russia". One can run into opinions that Belarus is a "highly autonomous, but not truly independent state".
In fact, a course towards the development of union relations with the Russian Federation is a prioritised direction of Belarus' foreign policy. Belarus is, perhaps, the most unique and only one of its kind strategic ally of Russia. One can discuss a specific character of the two states' relations standing out explicitly against an overall dull background of integration processes on the post-Soviet space.
Belarus and Russia have passed the road from the Community to the declared Union of the two states, which yet has to prove its feasibility. In the economic field, a series of steps are being implemented on the establishment of a single economic area. Joint forecasts for social and economic development of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus, as well as balances of fuel-energy resources of the Union are being developed. Programme for the Economic Development of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation has been approved.
A considerable increase in mutual trade has been provided during recent years (in 1998, compared to 1995, trade turnover between Russia and Belarus has grown from $5.1 bn to $9.2 bn. A series of large-scale joint programmes and projects are being realised, which allows to maintain and build-up the industrial and scientific and technical potential. The budget of the Union of Belarus and Russia is being planned.
Measures are being taken to ensure operation of consolidated transportation system of both states. Joint plans of research, including long-term research on the most state-of-the-art technologies are being developed.
Currently, the integration processes within the Union of Belarus and Russia can approach a new level. This is based upon results of cooperative efforts for the last three years, particularly in the economic area. The documents signed by the presidents of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on 25 December 1998 dave a certain impetus on the integration endeavours. It was declared that their implementation would become a foundation for approaching new levels of integration - up to the creation of a new state. However, life has proved that prospects for such a scenario are far from being serene.
Based upon the Agreement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on provision of equal conditions to the economic entities of Belarus and Russia and the related Protocol, work is under way to ensure conformity in pursuance of tax, price, credit and monetary policy, completion of the formation of a single customs and investment area, securities market, consolidation of energy and transport systems, and establishment of a single scientific-technological and informational area. The task of transition to a single currency has been assigned. However, according to A. Lukashenko, transition single currency of the Union of Belarus and Russia is a long process that will take no less than 8-10 years.7
In the social and humanitarian sphere, it is a matter of bringing closer social standards and guarantees of working activity, pension support, rendering privileges, and use of work safety measures. Commission on human rights is being set up (the required documents are being finalised). Measures are being taken to ensure single approaches towards the furtherance of education, culture, science, mutual enrichment of national cultures with preservation and development of ethnic and linguistic identity of peoples.
The integration prospects in all spheres (political, economic, and social) are outlined in the Declaration on Further Integration between Belarus and Russia defining the sequence of progress towards voluntary unification into the union state. However, it is quite clear today that this declaration, the same as previous public ones, has once again proclaimed overstated goals and phases of their achievement, not quite corresponding to the contemporary realities of the relationship between the two states.
Yet, elaboration of legal and institutional basis for the union state model is taking place, providing for the establishment of governing bodies charging them with supra-national authority in certain areas. It is planned to present a draft agreement, upon its completion, on the creation of a union state to a referendum. However, there has been no crucial progress in this issue. Rather, something different is taking place ensuing from the circumspect position of Russia. Belarusian government ventures to make unpleasant and sometimes rather harsh statements about the Kremlin, charged with responsibility for the slack nature of Belarus-Russia integration.
Nevertheless, there has been some progress. The work on finalising the Treaty on the Establishment of the Union State seems to have entered the final stage. At the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Union of Belarus and Russia the prime ministers of Russia and Belarus asserted lack of principal discrepancies in the project and set the time limit required for its finalisation and signing. Transition towards unification can take place by stages, since it will require a series of constitutional reforms and development of relevant economic and administrative prerequisites.
According to the official views, the deepening of integration of Belarus and Russia is taking place with preservation of sovereignty, all rights and obligations under the international agreements, signed by both states. In this context, it is not yet quite clear how this unprecedented state formation will look like.
Belarus-Russia Military Cooperation
The defence ministries of Belarus and Russia have established a substantial conceptual and legal basis to realise the main directions of the policy of the Union of Belarus and Russia in the area of joint safeguarding security in the military sphere. Within its framework, practical work is conducted associated with planning of the use of the regional grouping of troops, its combat service support, consolidation of military-scientific potentials, joint defence procurement, joint armaments programme, joint education and training system, inventory of facilities of the military infrastructures of Belarus and Russia for their joint use in the interests of safeguarding security of the Union member states.
Back on 22 January 1998, in Moscow, the Concept of Joint Defence Policy of Belarus and Russia was endorsed at the meeting of the Supreme Council of the Union of Belarus and Russia. The Concept defines the main principles and directions of the joint defence policy, joint approaches to the provision of armed defence of the Union of Belarus and Russia from foreign aggression, adoption, if need be, of joint measures aimed at prevention of the threat to the sovereignty and independence of each participating state of the Union.
It is noted, in particular, that military building of the Union member states will be conducted on the basis of common principles with the establishment in the prospective future of a "common defence area" on the basis of the formation and development of the regional grouping of troops, setting up of the consolidated military systems, and joint use and upgrade of the elements of the defence infrastructure.
The deployment of the regional grouping of troops in the area is envisaged during a "underthreat period" upon the decision by the Supreme Council of the Union of Belarus and Russia. In peace time, echelons above corps, large units, units and agencies of the armed forces, as well as other military units of the Union member states contributed to the regional grouping of troops, are under direct command of the relevant ministries and agencies ensuring the adequate level of readiness for the accomplishment of missions of joint defence. To solve the tasks of the regional grouping successfully, establishment of the following systems is required: joint air defences; joint missile warning and airspace control system; joint combat training; communications; automated command and control and warning system; and maintenance. The creation of the Unified Command of the Regional Grouping is scheduled for a "under-threat period" on the basis of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Belarus for command and control of the regional grouping of troops.
At present, the development of implementation programmes for the Concept of Security of the Union of Belarus and Russia and the Border Policy Concept is under way.
The Border Committee of the Union of Belarus and Russia has been set up. Plan for Coordination of Actions of the State Committee of the Border Troops of the Republic of Belarus and the Federal Border Service (FBS) of the Russian Federation in the Area of Border Protection of the Union of Belarus and Russia and the Instructions on Border Protection of the Union of Belarus and Russia for the current year have been endorsed. Draft Concept of Border Control of the Union of Belarus and Russia and plan for unification of legal framework of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on border-related issues for 1999-2001 have been worked out.
Four joint border operations were conducted, in the course of which the Border Troops of the Republic of Belarus stopped the illegal movement of contraband through the state border in 140 cases for approximately 21 billion Belarusian roubles sum total. Approximately 500 smugglers were detained. Representatives of the Border Troops of the Republic of Belarus and the FBS of the Russian Federation partake in command and staff exercises, visits to the borders of the Union member states to exchange experience, evaluate the border protection system and develop concerted actions.
Operations Group of the FBS of the Russian Federation under the State Committee of the Border Troops of Belarus was formed to streamline the interaction between border establishments of Belarus and Russia. Along the same lines, establishment of a similar group of the Border Troops of the Republic of Belarus under the FBS of Russia has been planned for the current year. A joint programme "The Improvement of Border lines" is being realised. Ten multipurpose facilities have been built under the joint effort. The construction of another five facilities is almost over.
Draft programme "Protection of Joint Informational Resources of Belarus and Russia" and joint associated programme "Training, Professional Retraining and Advanced Training of Personnel for the Security Bodies of the Union of Belarus and Russia Member States" are being coordinated.
Law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Belarus worked out Draft Agreement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on Cooperation in Crime Combating, Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Russian Federation on Cooperation in Combating Drug and Psychotropic Medications Trafficking and Abuse to realise the Programme of the Union of Belarus and Russia "Combating Different Forms of Organised Crime on the Territory of the Member States of the Union of Belarus and Russia for the Period up to 2000".
The Joint Collegium of the Ministry of Interior of Belarus and that of Russia endorsed the Plan of Activities of the Ministry of Interior of Belarus and the Ministry of Interior of Russia to standardise the legislation of the Union of Belarus and Russia member states in the area of ensuring the rule of law in 1999- 2000. Direct contacts were established between educational institutions of the Ministry of Interior of Belarus and that of Russia to exchange working experience, academia staff exchange, and coordination of curricula.
On the whole, the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation concluded 31 international intergovernmental and interagency agreements in different areas of military and military-technical cooperation. Work is under way on coordination of intergovernmental agreements "On the Establishment of Consolidated Regional Air Defence System of Belarus and Russia" and "On Planning, Stockpiling, Maintenance and Utilisation of Materiel in the Interests of the Regional Grouping of Troops" and others. The military doctrine of the Union of Belarus and Russia is being developed.
Thus, cooperation between Belarus and Russia in defence and security area is deemed the most impressive and advanced direction of strategic partnership. Incidentally, Western experts also believe that it is defence and security area that is "the most successful part" of the process of Belarus-Russia integration. This is mentioned, for instance, in the digest of analytical materials Moscow, The Regions and Russia's Foreign Policy compiled in June 1999 by The Conflict Studies Research Centre of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.8
It is a fact that the pace of the Belarusian-Russian military cooperation arouses particular concern of the neighbouring states and the West. Fears are voiced that Belarus and Russia are setting up a military bloc, which may jeopardise Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states.
On the whole, the Belarusian-Russian military cooperation does not seem to have approached a level when it could be perceived as provocative in Central Europe and in the West. There are no grounds to consider this cooperation to be confrontational by nature, dictated by the intent to build up a threatening "military fist".
In the foreseeable future, the Belarus-Russia military integration is unlikely to be shaped so that it could require deployment of an advance grouping of Russian forces on the Belarusian territory. Back in 1998 Belarus declared that it found deployment of Russian contingent on the Belarusian territory inexpedient. 9
Neither Belarus nor Russia is interested in the restoration of military confrontation with the West, and they are likely to avoid any steps compromising their position. Hence alarmist judgements that have been appearing lately in the analysis by some foreign researchers (for instance, by the Ukrainian author G. Perepelitsa that some sort of "Belarusian-Russian military bloc" has already been formed, which, allegedly, "not only contributes to the restoration of military confrontation in Eastern Europe, but also considerably reinforces Russia's military-political hegemony over the CIS countries"10) do not reflect the reality and excessively dramatise the situation. It is revealing that Russian senior defence officials, as confirmed by the results of the recent sessions of defence ministers of both states, do not long to speed up the establishment of joint Russian- Belarusian military structures or formations. Obviously, there has been growing understanding in the Russian defence establishment that incautious developments in the military integration with Belarus are not expedient, as these could only arouse the concern of the neighbouring states' governments and provide for additional arguments to those who, speculating on possibility of the recidivisms of "Russian expansionism" and on Moscow's immutable longing for military hegemony in the region, count chiefly on further NATO eastward enlargement, considering the North Atlantic Alliance the only guarantor of genuine security and stability.
1. Donald E. Nuechterlein, America Recommitted: United States National Interests in a Restructured World (University Press of Kentucky, 1991), pp. 13-22.
2. Comprehensive review of "national interests" concepts see in book by Elmer Plishke, Foreign Relations: Analysis of Its Anatomy (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988), chaps. 2-3.
3. Paul Seabury, Power, Freedom, and Diplomacy (New York: Random House, 1963), p. 87.
4. James M. Rosenau, The Scientific Study of Foreign Policy (New York: Free Press, 1971), p. 248.
5. Donald E. Nuechterlein, America Recommitted: United States National Interests in a Restructured World, pp. 13-22.
6. Transcript: State Department Noon Briefing, USIS Washington File, April 4, 1997.
7. Press-release by the President's press-service, Sovietskaya Belorussia, August 11, 1999.
8. Steven Main, "Belarus-Russia: Politics versus Economics?" in Tracey German (ed), Moscow, The Regions and Russia's Foreign Policy (Camberley, Surrey: The Conflict Studies Research Centre, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, June 1999), pp. 30-31.
9. Beloruskaya Gazeta, Jan. 19, 1998.
10. Grigory Perepelitsa, "Belorussko-rossijskaya voyenno-politicheskaya integratsiya i yeyo vliyaniye na bezopasnost' Ukrainy", Belorussia na pereputie: v poiskakh mezhdunarodnoi identichnosti (Moscow Carnegie Centre, 1998), p.108.