Russia-NATO Relations: Between the Past and the Future
No. 2 2007 April/June

This issue of
Russia in Global Affairs carries an article entitled, Putting
NATO’s Riga Summit into Context, by Rad van den Akker and Michael
Rühle. The article, written professionally and demonstrating
inside knowledge, is thought provoking and invites serious
discussion on the matters contained in it.

Van den Akker and
Rühle give a true account of areas of accord where the
international community can and must advance, including in the
realm of NATO-Russian relations. At the same time, the article
alludes to, or totally ignores, some essential aspects of NATO’s
role. Due to space restrictions, I am not able to comment on all
the infelicities of the commentary in question, so I will focus on
the one I believe to be most important: portraying NATO as the main
guarantor of global and regional security, and practically the only
gate to freedom and democracy.

Writing about
NATO’s summit in the Latvian capital of Riga, held in late
November, the authors place it “in its proper context, which is
NATO’s broader evolution from an Alliance initially founded to
provide for the territorial defense of Western Europe into an
instrument for safeguarding transatlantic security interests
wherever they may be at stake” (bold italics mine). Thus, they
assign primary importance to the debatable presumption of
universality and the supremacy of transatlantic values, which
serves as the foundation for NATO’s self-nomination to leadership
in international affairs.

At the same time,
judging by the article, the Alliance has come to realize that
ruling the world on its own is a mission impossible. “One major
feature of the current third phase of NATO’s evolution is the
organization’s closer interaction with other major institutions,”
the article says. However, the range of the Alliance’s major
international partners has been rather severely reduced – the
authors only mention the UN, the European Union, the G8, the World
Bank and nongovernmental organizations.

According to the
authors, a more structured relationship between NATO and the United
Nations is another near-term aim. “NATO and the UN operate in the
same areas, yet daily cooperation in the field contrasts with a
glaring lack of political consultation at the strategic level,”
write van den Akker and R?hle. It seems that the Alliance,
believing in the global dimension of its mission, assumes the
formats of the two organizations to be identical and now seeks to
build a direct dialog with the UN leadership.

Meanwhile, the
reality tells a different story. The memberships and statutory
documents of the United Nations and NATO have completely different
features; therefore, their functions differ essentially. For the
international community, the United Nations has always been – and
still is – the only universal center for coordinating international
efforts in order to maintain peace and security in the world. This
is why any actions taken in circumvention of the UN Charter and
Security Council can disrupt these efforts and undermine the
fundamental norms of international law.

In the same
paragraph, the authors come out with an ambitious statement that
NATO is “emerging as a major ‘enabler’ of the UN.” Perhaps the
United Nations is in a better position to judge the veracity of
such a statement, but we find no such judgments in UN documents and
decisions. One could only welcome the Alliance’s readiness,
mentioned in the article, to provide “training and mentoring of UN
peacekeepers, or advice on planning and interoperability issues,”
but for the following phrase: “That kind of assistance would
greatly help a currently overstretched UN to perform its role as a
custodian of global peace and stability” (bold italics mine). In
other words, the authors view NATO-UN relations “from above.” As
for NATO’s “mentoring” on issues related to UN peacekeeping
activities, NATO’s practice of debarring OSCE charter bodies and
member states from controlling field missions of the OSCE Office
for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights does not inspire much
confidence that the proposed model of interaction would be

Of the numerous
international regional organizations, the authors of the article
mention just one – the European Union. The de-facto transatlantic
OSCE is not even mentioned. If the authors avoided this subject
because this particular organization is experiencing a real
systemic crisis, then the omission is understandable. But the
omission of all the other regional structures is symptomatic of
something else.

The authors cite
Afghanistan as an example of a country where NATO demonstrated that
“it was now fully prepared to take a functional approach to
security.” However, the effectiveness of the international presence
in Afghanistan leaves much to be desired, to put it mildly (which
was admitted at the Riga summit). Nevertheless, for political and
status considerations the Alliance continues to avoid full-scale
cooperation with major regional security organizations, such as the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security
Treaty Organization.

The case with the
CSTO is particularly remarkable. In July 2004, its Secretary
General sent a letter to his NATO counterpart with a proposal to
establish dialog and interaction between the two organizations in
combating drug trafficking, including in Afghanistan. In
particular, he invited the Alliance to participate in the CSTO’s
annual anti-drug exercises, Operations Channel, as well as create
anti-drug security belts to the north of Afghanistan. NATO would
support these zones from the northern Afghan provinces, and CSTO
would support them from beyond.

Incredibly, NATO
only replied to the letter a year later, not in essence and only
after repeated reminders, including at the highest political
levels. In its formal reply, Brussels only expressed its readiness
to listen to representatives of those states that chaired the CSTO
in 2004-2005 at a session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.
The requested reports delineated general information about the
CSTO’s activities and the essence of its initiatives for
establishing dialog with NATO.

The Alliance has
not yet responded to the CSTO’s initiatives. This, of course, leads
us to believe that NATO is not ready to establish relations between
the two organizations, and that it prefers to use its own channels
in bilateral ties. This decision fails to promote broad
international cooperation in the post-conflict construction in
Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Brussels’ declarations about the priority
of the Afghan issue, which include efforts to counter terrorist and
drug threats, have not become any more convincing.

The CSTO views
the Alliance’s approach as a politically motivated mistake, which,
sooner or later, will be replaced by Brussels’ realization of the
objective need to act in major global affairs in the spirit of real
partnership. The spirit of such a partnership presupposes, in
particular, respect for the positions, opinions and proposals of
one’s partners. It is to be hoped that the Alliance’s hesitation in
such mutuality is due to a “re-formatting” rather than
overconfidence or “dizziness from success” – all the more so when
we consider the present situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
These examples provide no grounds for arrogance.

Moreover, the
contemporary world is gradually overcoming its temptations for
wishful thinking in the form of summits, anniversaries and other
events as landmarks of a continuous “history of success.” A handful
of people today use the “know-how” of the Soviet Communist Party,
which proclaimed itself “the wisdom, the honor, and the conscience
of the contemporary epoch.” It described each of its congresses as
“historic,” and believed that the number of its members was a major
factor of its influence. Therefore, without commenting on the
colorful picture of the Alliance’s evolution that is painted in the
article, not to mention the process of its enlargement and
adaptation to modern challenges and threats, I would rather focus
on NATO’s relations with the Russian Federation.

I fully share the
authors’ conclusions that “the immediate post-Riga period should be
a time to deepen the NATO-Russia partnership,” and that “the
potential of the NATO-Russia relationship is far from exhausted”
and NATO and Russia have common interests in diverse areas.
However, I do not think that NATO’s continuous enlargement – Russia
now shares land or sea borders with six NATO member countries – is
a factor for stabilizing cooperation between the parties and the
situation as a whole, as the authors argue. Against the background
of the declared plans for further enlargement by including Russia’s
neighbors, statements such as, “Russia has nothing to fear,” echo
more like mantras than real arguments. Russia knows only too well
the mentality and motives of its ex-allies in the Soviet Union and
the Warsaw Pact. Russia understands, probably better than any other
state, the real causes and goals of the confrontational activities
by particular governments, and knows the real worth of assurances
of “eternal” allied sentiments.

politicians like to repeat (fortunately, the authors of the article
under consideration avoid using the clich?) the claim that Russia
has no right to veto the entry of new NATO members. Russia,
however, has never proclaimed to have such a right. At the same
time, it cannot but be concerned that all enlargement-related
issues – including the modernization of the Alliance’s
infrastructure on the territory of its new members – are considered
behind Moscow’s back. These decisions are being made without any
consultations from Russia and without joint studies concerning the
possible consequences for Russia’s security. The latest example of
such unilateral decision-making came from the U.S. administration’s
negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic, which involves the
possibility of constructing components of the U.S. missile defense
system on these territories, and possibly in the future in the
Caucasus and Ukraine. When asked whether the plan needed approval
from NATO’s 26 members, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, chief of the U.S.
Missile Defense Agency, said: “It’s important that we get the
understanding and what I would consider to be as much partnering as
we can do with our NATO allies. We are not looking for approval per
se.” Statements like these do not improve Russia’s perception of
the Alliance.
Moreover, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has explained
that this missile defense system will be directed “against actions
of states that do not want to obey the rules,” while NATO Supreme
Allied Commander General Bantz John Craddock described it as a
shield that “will provide security from attacks from rogue
regimes.” The list of “rogue” players will be drawn up unilaterally
by the system’s authors and co-authors – that is, arbitrarily, and
reminiscent of the obsolete Brezhnev doctrine of “limited
sovereignty.” Against this background, the position of the European
Union, which favors broad consultations on the missile defense
system, looks much more constructive. German Chancellor Angela
Merkel, whose country is now holding the European presidency, has
suggested – not without grounds – that NATO “is the best place for
discussing this issue.”

Moscow does not
conceal its concern over the increasingly aggressive nature of NATO
as the bloc continues to grow. Manifestations of this
aggressiveness include territorial claims against Russia, the
glorification of SS members, Nazis and their local collaborators,
bias against Russian-speaking populations in the post-Soviet states
– who are literally branded in their passports as “non-citizens” –
including other forms of infringement of their human rights.
Finally, the denigration of the Yalta accords and the anti-Hitler
coalition in general, etc. These “tricks” – which Brussels prefers
to ignore – by the new members and candidates for NATO membership,
do serious damage to the Alliance’s reputation and burden
Russia-NATO cooperation.

newcomers to the Alliance proposed forming an “Energy NATO,” a
proposal that received enthusiastic support from Washington. In a
letter to the German chancellor, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar
explained that, should either bloc member be forced to change its
policy as a result of an energy cutoff, an Energy NATO would
enforce Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, according to which
“an armed attack against one or more of [NATO member states] in
Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them
all.” Citing the termination of Russian energy supplies to Georgia
and Ukraine, Lugar designated, under no uncertain terms, a
potential “enemy,” against which the bloc must mobilize.

In light of these
developments, Russia can no longer rely on the general assurances
of the bloc’s good intentions. In the early 1990s, Moscow placed
its faith in such promises and got its fingers burnt. Today, it has
no intention of repeating those mistakes and is openly insisting on
the development of a real partnership with NATO.

The article by
Rad van den Akker and Michael Rühle convincingly confirms that
today, perhaps as never before, that what is required is not
palliative decisions and half-measures, but purposeful efforts to
overcome confrontational sentiments, allay or at least reduce
Russia’s concerns, and elevate NATO-Russia cooperation to a
qualitatively different level. This new partnership would
adequately reflect the realities of the variegated modern world.
This is in the interests of gradual development much more than