Why Spheres of Influence Don’t Work

Ronald Asmus has a good editorial on the evolving security dynamic between Russia and the European Union and United States published in the Washington Post:

Europe’s bloody history illustrated that spheres of influence do not produce real security, that compelling nations to align with countries against their will is a recipe for conflict and that changing borders by force only sows the seeds for future conflicts. We wrote those clauses to protect small states from the predatory behavior of more powerful ones. We were convinced that democratic integration was the best foundation for future peace on the continent. Perhaps we should also recognize that Russia’s failure to align with the West may be less about our lack of will or imagination in embracing Moscow and more about Russia’s own choice not to take advantage of the partnerships we offered, and its inability to respect the sovereignty of its neighbors or to honor its commitments from the past 20 years.

President Obama is right to try to “reset” relations with Moscow. Dealing with a revisionist Russia requires engagement. But we must first be clear about which Russian interests we consider legitimate and which we do not. Moscow has a right to equal security and to ensure that no new threat appears on its borders. It does not have the right to interfere in the affairs of its neighbors, to seek to topple their governments or to deny their foreign policy aspirations. On those issues our position must also be clear. Resetting relations with Moscow must include the Kremlin returning to the principles of the Charter of Paris.