Global Insights: Rasmussen's Vision of NATO-Russian Partnership


Global Insights: Rasmussen's Vision of NATO-Russian Partnership

Источник: World Politics Review

During his first visit to Moscow as NATO’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen outlined his vision of «a true strategic partnership» between Russia and NATO by 2020. Unfortunately, the Dec. 16–18 trip also highlighted persistent divisions between Russia and the West regarding NATO enlargement, Afghanistan, and other areas that present serious obstacles to Rasmussen’s roadmap.

The high point of Rasmussen’s visit was the speech he delivered at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). In addition to foreshadowing the agenda items that will likely dominate NATO-Russia discussions in coming months, Rasmussen’s remarks, entitled «NATO and Russia: Partners for the Future," offered an ambitious forecast of NATO-Russia relations for the year 2020:

NATO-Russia security cooperation will at that time be an established feature of the international security landscape. We will share intelligence and work together in combating terrorism and drug-trafficking. Our navies will cooperate closely in fighting piracy at sea. And Russian soldiers will be deployed alongside NATO soldiers in U.N.-mandated peacekeeping operations. . . . By 2020, cooperation between NATO and Russia on missile defense will have advanced to the point where we are able to link our systems to create a genuine missile shield in the Euro-Atlantic area.

Rasmussen offered few details about how best to achieve this transformation, aside from greater use of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and increased transparency in military strategy and doctrine. But he did point out the core reason for the persistent security tensions between Russia and the West: Many Russians continue to perceive the alliance as a security threat. He reassured his audience that, «NATO will never attack Russia. . . And we do not think Russia will attack NATO. We have stopped worrying about that and Russia should stop worrying about that as well." Rasmussen instead called on Russia to collaborate against such mutual threats as terrorism, proliferation, and Afghanistan, rather than «fighting the ghosts of the past.»

At an earlier media event, Rasmussen offered an interesting variant on the famous adage coined by NATO’s first secretary-general, Lord Ismay, that the alliance’s purpose was to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down. Today, Rasmussen observed, the alliance’s goal was «to keep everybody in.»

In his MGIMO speech, Rasmussen made a special effort to defend what he called NATO’s «Open Door policy» toward membership. He acknowledged that many Russians consider the policy «as a deliberate strategy to encircle this country," but he insisted that this was «simply not the case." Rasmussen argued that NATO had an obligation to consider applications for membership because, «There is a longstanding principle in international affairs — endorsed repeatedly also by Russia — which says that every sovereign state has the right to decide its own security policy, and choose its own allies." More contentiously, Rasmussen claimed that the inclusion of many Central and Eastern European countries into NATO had enhanced Russia’s security and prosperity.

In essence, Rasmussen’s emphasis on the parties' shared threats and interests echoed the philosophy that drove the Bush administration, whose leading members — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and President George W. Bush himself — genuinely no longer considered Russia a military threat. For this reason, the Bush team felt comfortable withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, declining to negotiate a comprehensive bilateral nuclear arms control treaty, encouraging many former Soviet bloc countries to join NATO, and planning to place ballistic missile defenses near Russian territory despite Moscow’s objections.

The problem with this approach was that Russian leaders resented having their security concerns ignored. They also did not fully believe U.S. assurances that American policies actually enhanced Moscow’s security by creating a belt of prosperous liberal democracies around Russia and by addressing the common menaces of WMD proliferation and Islamist terrorism.

Rasmussen’s NATO-Russian partnership initiative is likely to experience the same difficulties. Not only does deep distrust persist on both sides, but Russian and Western policymakers often interpret the same threats differently and therefore favor diverging solutions. In some cases, complementary policies can bridge this gap, but in other instances this is not possible.

For example, few Russians believe that Iranians would launch a missile strike against either Russian or NATO territories, so they would never consent to American plans to deploy missile defenses in Eastern and Central Europe. Similarly, Russian strategists often seem to fear Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions less than they do the United States and its allies' potential responses to this proliferation. This situation allows for some compromise, with Russia typically agreeing to limited sanctions to avert the more serious ones. But it does not provide the basis for a genuine security partnership.

An even more serious divergence exists regarding Europe’s security architecture. Especially since last year’s Georgia War, Russians have been complaining that they have been marginalized in Europe’s NATO-dominated landscape. They have also attacked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and unilaterally suspended their adherence to the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. President Dmitry Medvedev has sought to rectify this situation by proposing a new European Security Treaty, whose provisions would prohibit countries from taking actions that could impinge on others' security, which for many Russians would exclude further NATO enlargement.

In Moscow, Rasmussen indicated his distaste for Medvedev’s initiative. Although he was open to discussing the proposal with the OSCE, Rasmussen said there was no «need for new treaties or legally binding documents because we do have a framework already," citing the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, the 1999 OSCE Charter for European Security (.pdf), and the 2002 NATO-Russia Rome Declaration establishing the NRC. He implied that the main problem was not the lack of agreed principles in these and other agreements, but certain governments' failure to comply with them. Rasmussen instead urged a revitalization of the NATO-Russia Council as the primary means by which Russia and the West should consult on European security issues.

Rasmussen singled out Afghanistan as presenting the most significant prospects for NATO-Russian security cooperation, at least in the short term. But even here Russia and the West are divided by conflicting threat perceptions and competing regional security interests.

In his MGIMO speech, Rasmussen observed that, «NATO soldiers are fighting, and dying, in Afghanistan to counter the extremism, terrorism and drugs that would, if left unchecked, spread into Central Asia and then into Russia too." He called for Russian-NATO cooperation regarding Afghanistan to become «a centerpiece of our partnership in 2010." In various meetings in Moscow, Rasmussen offered a concrete list of ways the Russian government could provide greater assistance to the counterinsurgency campaign. He specifically cited the need for Russian helicopters, an important asset for a country with poor roads and no railways, as well as Russian training of Afghan national army, police, and counternarcotics officers.

Russian officials were noncommittal, offering only to assess NATO proposals. The underlying problem is that, while Russian leaders oppose the Taliban, they do not want NATO to establish an enduring presence in Central Asia. In addition, Russian government representatives identify the most immediate problem regarding Afghanistan as the flow of Afghan narcotics into Central Asia and Russia. NATO troops have limited their counternarcotics operations to avoid further alienating Afghan farmers and increasing popular support for the Taliban insurgents.

The Russian government has also sought to promote a greater role for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an alliance of the most pro-Russian bloc of former Soviet republics, by inducing NATO to address Afghan security issues directly with the CSTO rather than by dealing bilaterally with the individual Central Asian countries. Following his talks with Rasmussen, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov justified this approach as «a case of balancing interests," explaining that «the Americans need our assistance in, say, the helicopter issue; well, okay, but we need your assistance in the drugs issue.»

When he met with reporters before departing Moscow, Rasmussen shrugged off the lack of concrete progress from his visit by denying that he had expected any immediate results. Yet, the considerable efforts Rasmussen has made during the past few months to improve NATO-Russia ties have done little to dispel the appearance that the two sides can only reach concrete bargains on certain specific issues after lengthy and tense negotiations. Such haggling is inherently frustrating, divisive, and antithetical to a true strategic partnership.

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