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How the Collapse of the Soviet Union shaped the Transnational Alliances on the Eurasian Continent

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Cooperation, coalitions, friends, partnerships, alliances – they all seek one thing: a peaceful relationship between two entities. As known from the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory, mutual trust is essentially vital for such a union to work. The origins of alliances date back as far human history goes – since peace and security has been crucial ever since our species lives.

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, the geopolitical landscape of the Eurasian continent underwent an intense transformation. With the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, formerly satellite states found themselves navigating newly obtained independence, while Russia dealt with its own internal restructuring. This key moment not only reshaped the political dynamics within each and every nation involved but also had far-reaching implications for transnational alliances across the large continent. The echoes of this historic moment continue to influence the international affairs that define the Eurasian continent to this day.

This article focuses on the coalitions of countries, i.e. transnational alliances, on the Eurasian continent. Eurasia is the largest continental area on Earth, comprising all of Europe and Asia. According to some geographers, physiographically, Eurasia is a single continent.

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

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The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) stands as a transnational organization in Eurasia, its establishment dates back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 [1]. Member states include:

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

The CIS alliance is the direct result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when in Minsk in December 1991, the presidents at that time of Russia (Mr Jelzin), Ukraine (Mr Krawtschuk), and Belarus (Mr Schuschkewitsch) came together to sign the Minsk agreement that terminated the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union, formerly known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) [2]. Ultimately, Ukraine was involved in the establishment of the CIS as a founding state. However, Ukraine did not sign or ratify the subsequent CIS Charter, which was finalized in 1993, thus it has never formally been a member of the CIS [1]. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, regionalism emerged as a central idea [3]. In this case, regionalism might not solely arise from power politics; instead, political actors might pursue it driven by instrumentalist motives [3].

Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

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Eurasia is connected to Africa at the Suez Canal, and the two are sometimes combined to describe the largest contiguous landmass on Earth, Afro-Eurasia. The term MENA, created by the World Bank in 2003, refers to the region of the Middle East and North Africa [4]. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the acronym largely refers to the region of the Arabic-speaking world. The inclusion of Iran or Sudan in this definition is subject to debate. The term aims to dissolve the notion of the Middle East as a single entity and facilitate the comparison of social and economic developments across different states through collected data [5]. States located in the MENA region include [4]:

Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen

The MENA region’s connection to the collapse of the Soviet Union is indirect but significant, as the USSR collapse led to shifts in power dynamics and foreign policy strategies [6]. One notable impact was the fallen support for communist movements in the Middle East and North Africa [6]. Throughout the Cold War, the USSR offered support to numerous socialist and Arab nationalist movements as a means of competing with the United States and its allies [6]. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, these movements found themselves deprived of a significant source of backing, resulting in shifts in political dynamics across the MENA region. [6]

It is important to distinguish the term from an ‘alliance’ as the term ‘MENA’ primarily refers to a geographical region, not an alliance in the same sense as e.g. CIS, NATO, or EU. MENA serves as a descriptor for a region characterized by shared cultural, historical, and geopolitical features, including common linguistic ties and similar economic challenges [4]. While there are regional organizations and alliances within the MENA region, such as the Arab League [7] or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [8], MENA itself is not an alliance.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

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Since its inception in 1949, NATO has played a critical role in shaping the security landscape of Europe and beyond. However, it was with the collapse of the Soviet Union that NATO’s significance underwent a drastic shift, particularly in the Eurasian context.

As the primary opponent of NATO throughout the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet bloc led to a reassessment of NATO’s strategic objectives and the nature of its actions [9]. Ultimately, NATO had to redefine its role in a post-Cold War world. Rather than focusing solely on preventing Soviet aggression, NATO expanded its scope to address new security threats, including regional instability, ethnic conflicts, and terrorism. In the aftermath of the Cold War, several former Warsaw Pact countries and former Soviet republics sought closer ties with NATO, viewing the alliance as a guarantee for security in a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape [10]. Current membership consists of 32 countries [11].

Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia,  Norway, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, Canada, United States of America

Of the territories and members added between 1990 and 2024, all except for Finland and Sweden were either formerly part of the Warsaw Pact (including the formerly Soviet Baltic states) or territories of the former Yugoslavia [10]. No countries have left NATO since its founding [11].

European Union

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The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the independence of several Eastern European countries that were previously part of the Soviet bloc. Many of these countries, such as Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic states, sought closer ties with Western Europe and eventually joined the European Union [12]. This led to the expansion of the EU towards the east, significantly influencing the political landscape. The end of the Cold War allowed for deeper integration within the EU as it no longer had to contend with the East-West divide [13]. This period saw advancements in European integration, including the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which laid the groundwork for the creation of the euro and the establishment of the European Union as we know it today [13]. Members include [14]:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden

United Kingdom was the only country to leave the European Union, known as Brexit, in 2016 [15].

Visualization of European Alliances before and after the Collapse of the Soviet Union

Finally, I would like to lay out visually the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union on the landscape of the alliances’ memberships, particularly in the NATO and EU unions.

From the mid-20th century up to 1991, where the dissolution of the Soviet Union took place, the following nations on the European continent partook in either NATO (marked in red) or EU (marked in blue) alliances (own analysis):

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Spot on, on 4 April 1949, 12 founding states (including Canada and the USA) initialized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Soon after, Turkey, Greece in 1952 and Germany in 1955 joined. In 1982, Spain joined NATO as well (in line with [16]). Meanwhile, on 1 January 1958, organization known nowadays as the European Union was founded by its six founding members: the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, Germany, and France. During its first enlargement in 1973, the United Kingdom (*Brexit 2016), Denmark, and Ireland joined the EU. In 1981, Greece joins too and in 1968 Spain and Portugal become members likewise (in line with [17]).

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, times were marked by big Eastern enlargements of both, NATO and EU. Below is a chart demonstrating all new members joining in the years 1991 up to today, 2024.

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Worth mentioning the year 2004, where 12 countries joined either both or just one of the two alliances. The most recent new member of the EU is Croatia joining in 2013, the newest member of NATO is currently Sweden joining just this year 2024. As previously pointed out, the United Kingdom is the only nation that actually left an alliance, but all other countries have applied and have been granted to be an ally and had never drawn back from their decisions.

Finally, a last overview shows all years from 1949 up to 2024 in one plot.

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This data analysis has been conducted in the IDE of Jupyter Notebook, with Python programming language.

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Jennifer-Marieclaire Sturlese
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SOURCES (cliquez sur les titres pour en savoir plus)

[1] Kubicek, P. (2009). The Commonwealth of Independent States: an example of failed regionalism?. Review of International Studies, 35(S1), 237-256.

[2] Khodakov, A. G. (1993). The Commonwealth of Independent States as a Legal Phenomenon. Emory Int’l L. Rev., 7, 13.

[3] Hurrell, A. (1995). Regionalism in theoretical perspective. Regionalism in world politics: Regional organization and international order, 37-73.

[4] OECD

[5] OECD2

[6] Washington Institute

[7] Arab League Official Homepage 

[8] Gulf Cooperation Council Official Homepage

[9] NATO on Soviet Collapse

[10] NATO Enlargement, Warsaw Pact 

[11] NATO Members

[12] EU Eastern Enlargement 

[13] Börzel, T. A., Dimitrova, A., & Schimmelfennig, F. (2017). European Union enlargement and integration capacity: concepts, findings, and policy implications. In European Union Enlargement and Integration Capacity (pp. 1-20). Routledge.

[14] EU Member States 

[15] Brexit. 

[16] Historic Joining of the NATO members

[17] Timeline of EU members joining 

List of Image Sources:
  • Cover Picture: created with DALL.E
  • Flag of the CIS
  • Landscape of the MENA Region 
  • Flag of NATO 
  • Flag of EU 
  • NATO & EU Allies 1949-1991  PRE-SOVIET-COLLAPSE. Own data analysis. IDE : Jupyter. Programming Language : Python.
  • New NATO & EU Allies 1991-2024  POST-SOVIET-COLLAPSE. Own data analysis. IDE : Jupyter. Programming Language : Python.
  • NATO & EU Allies 1949-2024

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