Human Rights & Democracy

March 1, 2022: Post-Cold War Institutions Confront a Rapacious Dictator

Posted on March 01, 2022 at 12:00 AM

In our despair at the reckless destruction we see Putin inflicting on Ukraine, it is too easy to discount the importance of the European security architecture that US administrations have worked with our allies to create since the end of the Cold War. While it is true that these institutions cannot impose instant solutions to the actions of an irresponsible autocrat—willing to break all agreements, to lie without any regard for reality, and to destroy the lives of his own people as well as any others who will not bend to his will—it is also true that they offer fora and procedures for a coherent response. We members of the Free World, and especially in the US, have no right to lose heart or be dismissive. Leadership is required to find a long-term answer to the evil we see. What are these institutions and what are they doing now to restore Ukrainian sovereignty in a Europe “whole and free.”

First, NATO is playing its role to militarily bind the US with its trans-Atlantic partners to protect core European democracies from Putin’s aggression. By moving US forces into Poland and other countries in the region, we signal our commitment under Article 5 to defend our allies. Our work over several decades to increase our ability to plan and operate our security forces coherently through joint exercises and interoperability standards make credible NATO’s determination to protect Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, and other members.

Secondly, the European Union (EU) is actively representing the economic powerhouse that is the countries of a free Europe by working out joint sanctions and a common position. The US is not a member of the EU but a supporter. In contrast to the heavy-handed way with which Putin compels subservience by its vassal states—Belarus unfortunately a prime example right now—the US relies on common values and respect as it cooperates with the free democratic sovereign states of Europe working in concert.

The third leg of the European post-war architecture is the Organization of Security and Cooperation of Europe (OSCE), which includes all European countries, including Russia. February 24–26, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held its winter meeting. One country after another addressed the disaster that Putin was creating in Ukraine, noting that Russia is trashing its international agreements and commitments under OSCE. Russia had to see how isolated it was in this forum. The organization—with its commitment to civic rights and the expectation of governmental accountability to its citizenry—took note of the 1400 Russian citizens arrested for demonstrating against Putin’s revanchist, military attack on Ukraine.

None of these institutions is stopping Putin’s aggression today. But all of them are powerful exemplars of the respect the democracies of Europe have for our mutual culture of human and civic rights, our respect for sovereign borders, and our assurance that the future belongs to us, not aging autocrats who would bring back a past of “might makes right.” This is a time for the United States to support the trans-Atlantic and European institutions we have helped create over the past four decades and to resolutely defend the concept of a democratic Europe, even in these dark days. These are not days for cynicism, but for a determination to prevail.

Cynthia Efird, Member, Foreign Policy & National Security Task Force

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