NATO Caught Between Russia and the World
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
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NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, U.S. Navy Admiral
James Stavridis inspecting the guard of honor during his visit to
Belgrade, Serbia, Feb. 12, 2010. Public opinion is strongly against
NATO membership, mostly due to NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign.

Russia’s new military doctrine starts with a list of “military
dangers” that includes NATO’s attempt to bring its military
infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders and to add new

In contrast to the 2000 military doctrine, which referred
vaguely to “the expansion of military blocs and unions to the
detriment of Russia’s security,” the 2010 doctrine was more
specific. On the other hand, in 2000, NATO expansion was seen as an
unequivocal threat, whereas in the 2010 doctrine the alliance is no
longer described as a “threat” but as a “danger” that “under
certain conditions” could lead to the “appearance of a military

Nonetheless, the reaction from the West was clear: Russia clings
to its NATO-phobia and has no interest in “resetting” relations
with the West. It would have seemed that the alliance had done
everything possible to convince Moscow of its benevolent
intentions. The alliance has stopped courting Georgia and Ukraine —
at least for the time being. The crisis over the Russia-Georgia war
has passed, and NATO-Russian relations have been fully restored,
including close cooperation in Afghanistan. What’s more, NATO makes
every effort to consider Russia’s opinion when developing its
strategic doctrines. A group of 12 NATO dignitaries, headed by
former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, visited Moscow
last week to help boost NATO-Russian relations. So what’s the

Moscow is concerned that NATO will transform itself into a
global force operating outside its traditional theater, assuming
the right to act at its own discretion. Those fears are linked to
ambitions the alliance held several years ago, at the end of the
20th and start of the 21st centuries. But that period has ended. It
became clear almost immediately that NATO would be unable to become
a “global gendarme,” and there is no longer any talk of that

Optimists such as NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
speak of NATO playing the role of an international security “think
tank.” According to that model, the alliance would coordinate its
activities with other international organizations and regional
alliances, including the Collective Security Treaty Organization
and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to accomplish its goals.
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who
proposed this model last year, acknowledged that the United States
cannot rely on its European allies alone to address problems in
distant locations around the globe.

Skeptics don’t believe that NATO will ever be able to form an
alliance with the CSTO, SCO or other rival alliances. They think
that NATO will most likely return to its roots — as a regional
organization with the primary goal of guaranteeing the security of
its member states in the European-Atlantic region. The bolder
analysts claim that the war in Afghanistan — the first full-fledged
NATO military campaign outside the alliance’s zone of operations —
will also be its last. Now, the argument goes, the alliance will
focus on its responsibility to uphold Article 5 of its charter,
which obliges all NATO members to defend against an outside attack
on another member. This is the most important feature of NATO
membership for Central European and Baltic member states. After
all, they joined the alliance above all to protect themselves from

Expanding NATO’s zone of operations beyond Europe would take the
focus off Russia. But if NATO does, in fact, return to its “roots”
as a strictly European-Atlantic alliance, it would effectively mean
that it will return to its previous foundation — one largely based
on defending against “the Russian threat.” It would be interesting
to ask how President Dmitry Medvedev’s earlier proposal for a
pan-European security pact would be received in such a situation.
On one hand, a return by NATO to its “regional status” would mean
that the alliance positions itself as the main European security
organization, excluding the need for any other. On the other hand,
countries such as Ukraine that are left on the sidelines would
require some other form of security guarantee, and that leads back
to Medvedev’s proposal.

Neither does NATO fully see Russia as it really is. Many recent
Western publications suggest that the United States and other
leading countries made a mistake in not appreciating how important
it is for Russia to have prestige and a global status in the
aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. That blunder should
be corrected by demonstrating the readiness of the West to listen
to Russia and to offer it more or less equal partnership. This may
have been one of the reasons why the NATO dignitaries visited
Moscow and the renewed discussion of the desirability of inviting
Russia into NATO. Perhaps this is how Washington imagines that it
will compensate for the offenses that it committed in the 1990s and
2000s, and at the same time bring Russia into the U.S.-centered
system of collective security.

Had those ideas been tried seven or eight years ago, we might
have had an interesting dialogue. The Kremlin really has been
obsessed with prestige and status, and Vladimir Putin spent much of
his presidency knocking on various doors. But now that proposal is
hanging in limbo because the overall international framework has
changed. The West is having obvious trouble convincing the world
that it is still the predominant global leader, particularly
against the backdrop of the rise of China and other Asian states
and the multiplying number of regional conflicts. And now the
invitation to cooperate looks more like a desire to foist some of
the burden on Russia that the United States and NATO cannot bear
alone — whether it pertains to operations in Afghanistan or the
need to contain China’s growing influence. The argument that Russia
also has a stake in maintaining stability in Afghanistan and
finding a counterweight to China’s rapid rise does not completely
hold water. Yes, Russia is concerned about those issues, but at
this point it is not at all clear that the United States and NATO
would be the optimal partners for accomplishing those goals.

NATO will present a new strategic concept at its November
summit. The document will probably be a compromise between the
“globalists” who refuse to reject a global mission for NATO and the
“regionalists,” the benign, defensive “union of democracies.”
Whatever decision is reached, it will be only temporary. It is
worth noting that the changes in the world that had such a large
influence on NATO began almost immediately after the alliance
adopted its last strategic concept in 1999. For that matter, the
same can be said of Russia’s military doctrine.

«The Moscow Times»