At the end of November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev published a draft “Treaty on European Security” on his official website. Almost eighteen months earlier in Berlin, Medvedev had announced that he would seek a new way forward for European security, and Euro-Atlantic countries have been waiting ever since for a look at what the Kremlin had in mind. Now they have a text. This is a positive development.

The goal of Medvedev’s initiative, as stressed in the cover note of the draft – to create an undivided Euro-Atlantic security space, and bury the legacy of the Cold War once and for all – is exactly right. The objective meets the interests of all nations in the region, and both their governments and their publics should support it. Medvedev is also wise to remain open to comments and suggestions on his text, in anticipation of a serious conversation on an important subject. If we are to move forward toward a secure and undivided Euro-Atlantic space, that conversation will be essential.

The Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative (EASI), launched in December by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will in many ways meet Medvedev’s challenge. Chaired by former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, former US Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, and Wolfgang Ischinger, former German deputy foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, it will bring together present and former government officials, experts, military brass, civil society and business leaders from Russia, Europe and the US. Over the next two years, this group will lead extensive studies on the meaning of European security in the 21st century, and the manifold threats to it – political, economic and otherwise.

However, the general idea behind Medvedev’s proposal, that in order to make Europe more secure, we need a new, overarching and legally binding document, raises questions.

The preamble to the draft refers to the 1945 UN Charter; the 1970 Declaration on the Principles of International Law; the 1975 Helsinki Final Act; the 1982 Manila declaration on peaceful resolution of territorial disputes; and the 1999 Charter on European Security. These documents are all very specific on issues such as the threat or use of force, which are a central concern in Medvedev’s draft. Restating the same norms and principles all over again does not add to their validity.

Medvedev attempts to eliminate that weakness by means of a legally binding instrument. Fair enough – he is a lawyer by training. The central objective of the treaty is to create effective mechanisms to address concerns and settle disputes. The text refers specifically to the UN Security Council, making clear that its authority will not be affected, but it does not mention other multilateral structures that have been created for the same purpose, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Russia-NATO Council and others. This suggests Moscow lacks confidence that these bodies are up to their tasks. The Kosovo and Caucasus crises attest to that.

Instead, Medvedev proposes a mechanism which – importantly – stands above any other alliance or association and is based on the principle of undivided and equal security for all. Under this text, all international actions, whether by individual states or their collective bodies, will be obliged to heed the security interests of all other states. This is a commendable principle, but leaves open to interpretation what constitutes a legitimate security interest. One need look no further than the south Caucasus to see just how diverse these interpretations can be. This is the cardinal flaw of the treaty drafters’ approach.

It was said almost from the outset that Medvedev’s initiative would not replace NATO or other multilateral organisations, nor attempt to drive a wedge between Europe and America. True, the draft does not call for NATO’s dissolution or US withdrawal from Europe. Yet it does call for NATO members to place their allegiance to the proposed treaty above their alliance obligations, and work within alliances to promote the treaty’s objectives. Again, the stated aims are commendable. But they are not realistic. Medvedev’s treaty, if enacted, would de facto abolish others, including those with Washington.

Much of the text concerns detailed procedures for resolving conflicts, proposing bilateral and multilateral consultations, a members’ conference and an emergency conference. It sets qualified majorities – from two-thirds to four-fifths – for various cases, calls for consensus decisions in others, and mentions timeframes. This may or may not become useful at some point, but it is widely removed from today’s Euro-Atlantic realities.

Particularly bizarre is the provision for accession to the treaty by every state in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions, from Vancouver to Vladivostok, as this dilutes the original focus and makes the search for security even more complex. The same article also proposes that “international organisations” such as the EU, the OSCE, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, NATO and the Commonwealth of Independent States sign the treaty as well as their member states. This confuses things even more – unless the unstated idea is that these “organisations”, including the EU, will cede their security prerogatives to the new compact.

The final provisions deal with the procedures for withdrawing from the treaty, but of course, we have not even addressed the chances that the proposed text will be ratified. Yet President Medvedev has raised an important issue, and the conversation is just beginning.

Laying the Cold War to rest and creating an undivided security space in the Euro-Atlantic area cannot be accomplished simply by concluding a new treaty, even if it were legally binding. A document could be signed, in principle, but it will look more like the 1990 Paris Charter for a New Europe (interestingly, not mentioned in the preamble of the draft) and the 1999 European Security Charter than a “treaty to replace all other treaties”.

That is not something Russia, or any other country of the Euro-Atlantic area wants or needs. Legal architectures aside, countries face problems not only because they have no reconciliation mechanisms or fail to understand one another, but also because they have different interests, perceptions, and historical experiences.

The two salient security issues in the Euro-Atlantic area today are Moscow’s suspicions of US intentions and motives toward Russia (think of NATO enlargement; Washington’s support for Georgia, Ukraine, etc; or the Bush administration’s proposed missile defence deployments in central Europe), and Russia’s neighbours’ at least equally dark suspicions of the country. Both sets of fears are real, if largely baseless, but each requires hard thinking and a realistic strategy before it can be laid to rest.

It is high time that this thinking began, and it should be followed by specific action. Governments will not be able to do it alone, so the interested peoples of Russia, Europe, and North America need to engage in a joint effort. As for Medvedev, he deserves thanks for setting the ball in motion. His proposal is not perfect, but his initiative must not be ignored.