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The ‘return to Europe’ – integration of the Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs)

The existence - let alone the enlargement - of Europe’s security architecture was not a foregone conclusion. This was particularly the case with NATO, as the collapse of the USSR and the disbanding of the Warsaw Pact led to questions regarding the organisation’s purpose following the end of the Cold War. In essence, NATO gradually developed two additional roles in the 1990s, beyond collective defence. The first was a crisis management role, as highlighted in respect to the Balkan conflicts, which is discussed extensively in Chapter 4 (Yost, 2010). The second, following on from the idea of NATO as a security community, was as a socialisation agent including the promotion of liberal norms (Flockhart, 2011, pp. 102-103). Hence, this partnership purpose included the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, among others, which originally was set up as an alternative to membership (Yost, 2010).

The reaction from the EU and NATO in respect to enlargement was one of reluctance, with the former offering aid and trade and cooperation agreements instead. This position evolved over the course of the 1990s. One of the most prominent supporters of EU and NATO enlargement was the newly unified Germany, itself the subject of suspicion. The unification of Germany was not initially supported by either the UK or France, due to concerns regarding German intentions, particularly whether the Germans would acquire a military strength commensurate to its economic and political power. Germany’s independent recognition of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 did little to dampen these concerns. The European Commission’s (EC) initial reaction to German unification was the development of a political element to what became the Maastricht Treaty (1992), which introduced a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as well as initiatives injustice and Home Affairs. From this point onwards, the EC became known as the EU.

In the context of the destabilisation of the Balkans (see below) the EU was the first to offer a membership perspective with the creation of the Copenhagen Criteria in 1993, as they feared the instability would spread. This stipulated that a country could join if it was European, met a range of political and economic criteria and adopted the acquis communau-taire, which is the body of EU law (European Commission, 2012). Accession negotiations were subsequently opened with Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, as well as Cyprus in 1998. Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Romania and Bulgaria followed in 1999. In the case of the latter two, the conflict in Kosovo provided an important catalyst for ensuring their inclusion. At this stage, there was no decision on when these countries would finally accede to the EU. None the less, the growing possibility of EU enlargement met these countries’ demand for a return to Europe. For the EU, enlargement can be understood through the desire to stabilise the continent, the EU’s ‘kin-based duty’ to enlarge to countries who shared a European identity (Sjursen, 2002) or, as Schimmelfennig (2001) argues, because the EU was trapped by its own rhetoric as the membership rules created this obligation. In other words, the adoption of the EU’s norms and values by the CEECs ensured their validity and failing to enlarge would have undermined the EU’s integration process (Schimmelfennig, 2003, p. 74).

NATO was slower to accept enlargement, as NATO was focused on a ‘Russia-first’ policy and Russia was unsurprisingly anti enlargement. However, the PflP programme did little to meet the CEECs demands for accession, particularly considering NATO’s Article Five guarantee, underwritten by the Americans. By the mid-1990s, however, the anti-enlargement element in NATO began to lose ground. First, a study was carried out on enlargement in 1995 (see Chapter 4). Then, in 1996, Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign in the USA supported the idea. Russia, for its part, extracted concessions, including support for accession to the World Trade Organization and G-7, and enlargement therefore went ahead. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined in 1999 with the other CEECs following in 2004. This led to disillusionment in respect to the EU due to NATO’s much speedier process. However, enlargement of both the EU and NATO to the CEECs left the question as to whether a new iron curtain further East had replaced the old one.

Disintegration in South East and Eastern Europeand the rise of conflict

While the CEECs were consolidating their democracies, helped along by the promise of EU and NATO membership, elsewhere in Europe ‘the spectre of chaos’ haunted some of the newly independent states of the USSR (Lawrence, 1994, p. 219), as well as the Balkans. A rush for independence by the Soviet Republics occurred at the beginning of the 1990s, when Yeltsin suggested that the republics’ borders may be renegotiated (Hobsbawm, 1994, p. 495). None the less, a number of these newly independent countries contained sizable minorities and previously autonomous provinces. As Lawrence (1994, p. 227) notes,

in the former USSR there were 104 nationalities of which 89 had no republic. In addition, 64 million people lived in states where they were not the ethnic majority, and of the 23 inter-republic borders only 3 were not contested.

While conflict was successfully averted in the Crimea as well as in the Baltics, as Landa, Lithuania and Estonia, which had Russian minorities (see Chapter 5), eventually gained an EU and NATO accession perspective, this was not the case elsewhere.

Although the collapse of the USSR was certainly a catalyst for conflicts in the Caucasus (including those in Chechnya and between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, all within Russia), Moldova and the Central Asian post-Soviet states, the causes and longevity of them also reflect other interrelated factors. First was the ethnic mix and historical legacies of the newly independent countries. Particularly in respect to the Caucasus, Soviet nationalist policies which included ‘cynical cartography’ and ‘large scale population transfers’ under Stalin ensured that rival groups claimed particular territories as their own ‘on the basis of historical rights or injustices’ (Hunter, 2006, p. 113). A second factor was state building in these newly independent states. As Hughes and Sasse (2001, p. 3) point out, this was ‘in the main inherited from the Soviet ethno-federal state architecture’. These led to a number of what became known as ‘frozen conflicts’.

Two of these conflicts were within Georgia and relate to the regions of Abkhazia (originally a USSR republic in the 1920s), which wanted self-determination, and South Ossetia, which wanted to join with Russia. Both engaged in war with Georgia, in the Abkhazia case potentially with assistance from Moscow, when their autonomous powers were annulled. In the case of the former, since 1993 ceasefires have been agreed, implemented and then broken down again. The latter agreed a ceasefire in 1992. Both conflicts had frozen by the end of the 1990s, although they were to erupt again in 2008 through the Russian-Georgian war. Meanwhile, Armenia and Azerbaijan contested the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was primarily made up of Armenians but had been given to Azerbaijan. A ceasefire was agreed in 1994 after four years of conflict, which Armenia won, and remained ‘frozen’ for the remainder of the 1990s, despite efforts from the OSCE’s Minsk Group to resolve the conflict. The unresolved nature of this erupted yet again in 2016. Finally, the region of Transnistria within Moldova constituted the fourth frozen conflict as accommodation between the two sides proved impossible due to linguistic, economic and political concerns. Alongside the UN, the only European based institution active within the region in the 1990s was the OSCE and, as Chapter 5 demonstrates, the outcome has been mixed. Moreover, Russia considers the Caucasus, along with Ukraine and Belarus, as part of its sphere of influence and, as the 2000s were to prove, Russia will defend those interests if necessary through the use of force to prevent their orientation to the West.

In contrast to the lack of European institutional interest in the conflicts in the former USSR beyond the OSCE, the collapse of the former Yugoslavia led to an influx of international and regional organisations. Towards the beginning of the conflict in the Balkans in 1991, Jacques Poos, the Luxembourg Foreign Minister declared, ‘this is the hour of Europe’ (Judt, 2005, p. 676). However, EC diplomacy failed and instead the USA had to be relied upon to eventually provide for Europe’s security.

Yugoslavia had risen from the disintegration of the Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires and comprised six republics: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro, although in reality it was under Serbian domination. While the Second World War was marked by conflict between Croats and Serbs, under Tito nationalist tendencies had been frozen. Beyond these historical issues other reasons lay behind the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. In 1974, a new constitution was created to prepare for post-Tito federalism, which led to rotating leadership. As Lawrence (1994, p. 230) notes, this ‘paralysed the centre and pushed power to regional leaders’, leading to division between the component republics. It also led to Serbian grievances and a rise in nationalism as the constitution effectively granted Kosovo and Vojvodina de facto independence (Griffiths, 1993, p. 41). When Tito died in 1980, a power vacuum ensued and this enabled nationalist tendencies to rise. In the late 1980s and in the context of an economic crisis, the leaders of the different republics advanced alternative economic and political solutions which were incompatible, particularly those of Slovenia and Croatia on the one hand and Serbia on the other, which had been under the leadership of Milosevic since 1987 (see Lawrence, 1994). Although Slovenia and Croatia proposed that Yugoslavia should become an alliance of federal states in 1990, this was unacceptable to Milosevic. Hence, in 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. The former had no sizable Serbian population and so its claim for independence was eventually accepted after approximately ten days of war.

Croatia, however, was a different matter as Serbian minorities resided in Croatia as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Hence, Serbia moved quickly and took one third of Croatia, which brought about international sympathy for the latter. The EC held a peace conference in the autumn of 1991; however, it was the UN which negotiated a ceasefire between the two sides, as well as agreeing to deploy a UN operation (Griffiths, 1993, p. 49). In addition to diplomatic efforts, an embargo on delivering arms to any part of the former Yugoslavia was implemented by the UN in 1991, although the USA pulled out in 1994 due to its desire to re-arm the Bosnian government. The EU and the UN also imposed economic sanctions in 1992. While North Macedonia’s declaration of independence was eventually accepted and it largely escaped major conflict, partly due to the international community’s conflict prevention efforts through the UN and the C/OSCE, none of these steps was to prevent the atrocities that occurred in Bosnia Herzegovina. The country declared independence in 1992, following a referendum in which the Serb minority had not participated (Griffiths, 1993, p. 53). The massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, one of the UN’s six ‘safe areas’, in 1995, following the withdrawal of Dutch UN peacekeepers, represented the failure of the international community, in addition to European security organisations, to prevent such atrocities. Following a USA-led NATO air campaign (see Chapter 4), the USA negotiated the Dayton Agreement, which brought the war to an end, demonstrating Europe’s continued reliance on US hard power. The Dayton Agreement was followed by NATO’s Implementation Force (IFOR), which, a year later, was replaced by a subsequent Stabilisation Force (SFOR).

However, descent into war was to follow in respect of Kosovo, which was considered to be the birthplace of the Serbian nation. Serbia sent in its military as a response to the Kosovo Liberation Army’s guerrilla activities, targeting the Albanian community. With international concerns regarding potential ethnic cleansing, NATO intervened without a UN Security Council Resolution, using air strikes on Serbia. Serbia eventually withdrew and NATO, the OSCE and, eventually, the EU sent in peacekeeping missions. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, although this has not been recognised by five EU member states (Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia), following that of Montenegro in 2006.

The collapse of the USSR and Yugoslavia revealed the inability of Europe’s then security architecture to provide for security on the continent, as the slow and ineffective response to these crises showed. However, as Baev (1999, p. 31) notes, the decade also saw more peace operations deployed in Europe than any other region in the world. Indeed, the UN, NATO, the OSCE and the CoE deployed peacekeeping and field missions to the former Yugoslavia, followed in the subsequent decade by the EU as the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) became active (see Chapter 6). This underscores the different roles that each organisation has played in conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict stabilisation within the same region. It also emphasises how unprepared Europe’s security architecture was for the change in security situations following the end of the Cold War.

Europe’s regional security architecture: continuityand change

Undoubtedly, the experiences of the 1990s had an impact on Europe’s regional security architecture. At the beginning of the decade, these institutions were still orientated towards Cold War security tasks rather than to the challenges created by the break-up of the USSR and Yugoslavia. Indeed, Griffiths (1993, p. 91) notes that ‘the response resembled a process not dissimilar to putting “square pegs in round holes’”. The beginning of the 1990s saw a debate between different proposals for the development of European security architecture following the end of the Cold War. According to Croft (2000, p. 5), these included:

  • 1. Developing collective security through the C/OSCE (German-Czech view).
  • 2. Developing a separate defence identity through the EU (Franco-Belgian view).
  • 3. Creating a concert of powers through a European security council by modifying the C/OSCE (Russian view).
  • 4. Preserving NATO primacy (US-UK view).

Neither of the ideas centred on the OSCE were taken up. Russia’s proposal was, unsurprisingly, not supported by either the major NATO countries or the newly independent CEECS. The idea of collective security through the OSCE also fell victim to the preference for NATO, particularly by the CEECs. Instead, as outlined in Chapter 5, the institution built upon its ‘common and comprehensive’ security focus, particularly in respect to conflict prevention and post-conflict stabilisation as demonstrated in OSCE field missions in FYROM, Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as in the former USSR. It also developed its human security focus to include human rights, gender, and minority rights. This emphasis on the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law was also at the core of the CoE, which focused more on the legal elements, underpinned by the European Court on Human Rights. Indeed, the implementation of democratic security was at the heart of the CoE’s work from the early 1990s. However, neither organisation would be at the forefront of Europe’s new security architecture.

Instead, the focus turned to NATO and the EU. NATO evolved from an organisation focusing on collective defence to one that engaged in crisis management, as witnessed in the Balkans. Hence, the collapse of the former Yugoslavia had an impact on NATO’s tasks, as it became the only European based security institution that had the capability to deploy hard power. However, the balance between collective defence and crisis management was to become the focus of a debate regarding NATO’s evolution as an institution following 9/11 and the deployment of ISAF in Afghanistan. The EU also reacted to its inability to provide for security in its own neighbourhood. US calls for European burden sharing, the Kosovan war in 1999, along with changes in UK domestic politics and the EU’s increasing international role, created conditions for the EU to desire a greater security and defence role (see Chapter 6). This manifested itself not in the European Strategic and Defence Identity (ESDI), which had been created to provide for the European pillar in NATO, but, rather, through the formation of the ESDP in 1999, which seeks to complement, rather than compete with, NATO. Nevertheless, despite EU member states’ desire to close the capability-expectations gap (Hill, 1993), divisions regarding when, where and how these countries used military force remained.

Conclusion: themes and issues

Understanding how and why contemporary European security institutions and practices are as they are is important for understanding European security. The legacy of the Cold War still matters and, indeed, as antagonism between Russia and the West has worsened, some believe that its structures and practices remain relevant. While, for most of Europe, the period post 1989 has been one of rapid change followed by comparative peace and stability, it is important to recognise that there are still unresolved conflicts and that the institutional settlements that emerged created winners and losers, insiders and outsiders.

In tracing the development of European security from 1945 to 1999, the chapter has highlighted a number of themes. The first is that the USA has played, and continues to play, a crucial role in securing much of Europe. However, Europeans have not always agreed with some US policies and actions and so they have sought to achieve greater autonomy. In the 1990s, in particular, Europeans began to develop more independence but also had to face up to their military reliance on the USA. However, as the subsequent chapters demonstrate, this has proved challenging. Those who, in the early 1990s, predicted the demise of NATO have been proved wrong. There is still not an accepted division of labour on security tasks between NATO, the EU, the OSCE and the CoE.

Moreover, the idea that the West ‘won’ the Cold War has had implications in respect of Russia; particularly regarding the West’s inability to recognise that Russia has a sphere of influence that it will defend. Conflict has not disappeared. While some conflicts were resolved or ‘frozen’, the 2000s demonstrated that war had not disappeared from the European security agenda, as European forces went out of area engaging in both peacekeeping and major military interventions. More recently, the continent became engulfed in a ring of fire rather than the ring of peace that it had envisaged.

Further reading

Gaddis, John Lewis (1997), We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. New York: Oxford University Press. Hobsbawm, Eric (1994), The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. London: Abacus. Judt, Tony (2005), Postwar: A History of Europe Since 194). London: Heinemann.

Schimmelfennig, Frank (2003), TheEU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.


For an overview of the history of the EU, see: https: / / For an overview of the history of NATO, see: For an overview of the history of the OSCE, see:


Baev, Pavel (1999), ‘External Interventions in Secessionist Conflicts in Europe in the 1990s’, European Security, 8 (2), 22-51.

Baylis, John (1998), ‘European Security in the Post-Cold War Era: The Continuing Struggle Between Realism and Utopianism’, European Security, 7 (3), 14-27.

Croft, Stuart (2000), ‘The EU, NATO and Europeanisation: The Return of Architectural Debate’, European Security, 9 (3), 1-20.

European Commission (2012), Accession Criteria. Available at: policy/glossary/terms/accession-criteria_en.htm (accessed: 16 October 2018).

Flockhart, Trine (2011), ‘NATO and the (Re)Constitution of Roles: “Self,” “We,” and “Other”?’, in Sebastian Harnisch, Cornelia Frank, and Hanns W. Maull (eds), Role Theory in International Relations. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 95-112.

Gaddis, John Lewis (1997), We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Garaud, Marie-France (1985), ‘Foreign Perspectives on the SDI’, Daedalus, 114 (3), 307-313.

Greenwood, Sean (1983), ‘Return to Dunkirk: The Origins of the Anglo-French Treaty of March 1947’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 6 (4), 49-65.

Griffiths, Stephen (1993), Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict: Threats to European Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hall, John (1996), International Orders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, Christopher (1993), ‘The Capability-Expectation Gap, or Conceptualising Europe’s International Role', Journal of Common Market Studies, 31 (3), 305-328.

Hobsbawm, Eric (1994), The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. London: Abacus.

Hughes, James, and Sasse, Gwendolyn (2001), ‘Comparing Regional and Ethnic Conflicts in Post-Soviet Transition States’, Regional and Federal Studies, 11 (3), 1-35.

Hunter, Shireen (2006), ‘Borders, Conflict, and Security in the Caucasus: The Legacy of the Past’, SAIS Review, 26(1), 111-125.

Judt, Tony (2005), Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. London: Heinemann.

Kamp, Karl-Heinz (1995), ‘Germany and the Future of Nuclear Weapons in Europe’, Security Dialogue, 26 (3), 277-292.

Keylor, William (2011), The Twentieth-Century World and Beyond: An International History since 1900 (6th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kuzniar, Roman (2001), Poland’s Security Policy 1989-2000. Warsaw: Scholar.

Lawrence, Philip (1994), ‘European Security: From Euphoria to Confusion’, European Security, 3 (2), 217-235.

Onslow, C. G. D. (1951), ‘West German Rearmament’, World Politics, 3 (4), 450-485.

Salomon, Jean-Jacques (1977), ‘Science Policy Studies and the Development of Science Policy’, in Ina Spiegel-Rösing and Derek de Solla Price (eds), Science, Technology and Society: A Cross-Disciplinary Perspective. Beverly Hills: Sage, pp. 43-70.

Schimmelfennig, Frank (2001), ‘The Community Trap: Liberal Norms, Rhetorical Action, and the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union’, International Organization, 55 (1), 47-80.

Schimmelfennig, Frank (2003), The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schimmelfennig, Frank, and Ulrich Sedelmeier (2002), ‘Theorizing EU Enlargement: Research Focus, Hypotheses, and the State of Research’, Journal of European Public Policy, 9 (4), 500-528.

Schulman, Marshall (1967), ‘Europe versus “Détente”?’, Foreign Affairs, 45 (3), 389-403.

Schwarz, Hans-Peter (1997), Konrad Adenauer: A German Politician and Statesman in a Period of War, Revolution and Reconstruction. Vol. 2: The Statesman: 1952-1967. Providence, RI: Berghahn Books.

Sjursen, Helene (2002), ‘Why Expand? The Question of Legitimacy and Justification in the EU’s Enlargement Policy’, Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies, 40 (3), 491-513.

Trachtenberg, Marc (1999), A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Yost, David S. (2010), ‘NATO’s Evolving Purposes and the Next Strategic Concept’, International Affairs, 86 (2), 489-522.

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