When asked about US-Russia relations, one usually has the words “Cold War” popping up in their mind. When mentioning EU-Russia relations, the words are “Energy Crisis”. Although it might be more diverse, the simple description of US-EU relations is “tough”, especially when it comes to questions like “agriculture”, on which issue the two sides have confronted each other for the past 30 years.
This oversimplified situation is a reflection of the media’s portrayal of contemporary issues between the three big players in the Northern hemisphere. The Cold War might be over for 20 years now, but the security concerns which it created still create tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation. On 10 March 2010, the NY Times published an article on a new treaty in preparation between the two great powers on arms control. It seems that the treaty, which has been in negotiation for a very long time, has stalled. Nevertheless, the two sides are prepared to cooperate. This hard security concern is still one of the big talking points between the leaders of the two states which goes to show how much stress they still put on military security.
The political scene is very much different in the European Union’s relationship with the Russians. The highest point on the agenda is often the potential energy crises that threaten Europe’s security. The fact is that Europe imports most of its energy resources from Russia, and the latter uses this as a bargaining chip to subdue the Union’s politicians and keep them in check. The EU recently announced that it will invest 2.3 billion euro in “anti-gas crisis” projects. An EU Observer article from 5 March 2010 describes this as a help to member states to prepare for another energy cut off. Of course, this inevitably leads to a confrontation with the Russian Federation because its bargaining chip loses some of its value.
The topic of energy is just one example. The question of economic security always rises up because of the interdependence of the EU and Russian markets on each other. Russia makes a large profit from selling energy products to the EU and it is one of the largest markets for the Union’s consumer goods. If one side collapses, the other will definitely go as well. It is these two soft security concerns which characterize the relationship between the EU and Russia, and not the military or hard power question as raised by the US. Whether this is an evolution in international relations or just a phenomenon born from the function and power of the actors is debatable.
A less discussed aspect is that of the Trans-Atlantic relationship between the US and the EU. This might be because on the West side of the Ocean, they like to deal with the member states of the Union individually. When the Lisbon Treaty initiated the foreign policy reforms of the EU, the question asked by Henry Kissinger about who to call when one wants to call Europe was raised again and it was concluded that there is still not a definitive answer. So, the US solves the problem by choosing who to call depending on the issue at hand. If it is the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the call Britain; if it is an energy issue, they call Germany; and if they have a question about agriculture, they call France (although they sometimes call the Commissioner responsible for that portfolio). This shows how diverse the relationship between the two really is.
What most people do not realize is that these main topics of discussion in international relations have different weight. If the US talks to Russia on a deal about weapons, this is a major concern for everyone, but it is also an antiquated question of military character. When the EU negotiates with Russia on energy, it is because of a contemporary issue which concerns the energy security of the Union and impacts most of its citizens. When the EU talks to the US, the agenda is so diverse that it is a mixture of hard and soft security questions, most of which are structural in character and can be omitted from the public’s concern. That is simply how politicians conduct foreign policy nowadays and we as the general public can just hope that they are taking our best interests at heart.