Building Trust, Security

Exactly one year ago, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Russia embarked upon a fundamentally new relationship when President Boris Yeltsin joined NATO's heads of state and government in Paris to sign the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

Why do I regard this as a step of historical importance? Why do we believe that Russia and NATO should work together more closely? Let me give you three reasons -- and back them up with facts:

...First, because the world will be a safer place when NATO and Russia consult with each other. We are engaged in a NATO-Russia relationship because all of us -- allies and Russia -- wanted not just the end of the Cold War but something more. After years of division, we saw the possibility of transcending the past to get to where we should have been were it not for half a century of futile ideological and military confrontation.

It took a lot of time and patience to come this far. Ultimately, however, both Russia and NATO realized that in this new world there is no alternative to cooperation. The NATO-Russia Founding Act is a reflection of this fundamental reality.

The potential of this relationship is enormous. But one cannot simply declare better relations: They must be embedded in the day-to-day working environment. They must enshrine mutual respect, transparency and reciprocity. So NATO and Russia set up the Permanent Joint Council as a forum for regular consultation on all matters affecting our security.

The result? To cite just one example, a few weeks ago, ambassadors of NATO and Russia for the first time discussed nuclear weapons issues, including doctrine and strategy and nuclear safety. This meeting demonstrated that NATO and Russia are not shying away from exchanging views on sensitive matters. This month we have had consultations on strategy, defense policy, the military doctrines of NATO and Russia and budget and infrastructure development programs. Exploratory meetings on armaments-related cooperation have also taken place. So, by dealing with real issues of considerable political importance to both sides, we are gradually building confidence and trust and correcting misperceptions.

...Second, because there are many things NATO and Russia can do better together. NATO and Russia may not always agree, but they do share important security interests.

Last December, NATO and Russia agreed on a very extensive work program for 1998. It covers questions of peacekeeping, defense conversion, defense-related environmental issues and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These are surely areas that our publics would want us to pursue together to find solutions. Another issue of vast importance to many Russian families is retraining retired military officers. Here, NATO countries are sharing their experience in an effort to help.

In the military domain, we have to overcome decades of isolation and mutual suspicion. NATO and Russia are in the midst of setting up reciprocal military liaison missions in Moscow and at NATO headquarters. Russia's participation in the Stabilization Force in Bosnia alongside NATO allies and other partners has been an eye-opener to all skeptics. NATO and Russian troops have worked together effectively, shoulder to shoulder, sharing the risks and some successes in a difficult mission.

...Third, because we need to build a joint future. We cannot master the challenges of the future with the mind-set of the past. This message must be brought across in particular to our leaders of tomorrow. They must learn that Europe has changed and that security is not a zero-sum game in which one can gain only at the expense of others.

The beginning we have made is promising. Thanks to the new NATO-Russia relationship, countless Russian journalists, students and government officials have visited NATO headquarters in Brussels over the last few years to see and discuss NATO close up.

All these developments seemed unthinkable only a few years ago. NATO and Russia have come a long way in a very short time. However, as we celebrate the first anniversary of the NATO-Russia partnership, I sense that NATO' s decision to admit new members is met with suspicion. Too many in Russia still see NATO as an anti-Russian organization.

In fact, opening NATO' s doors to new members and opening an intense dialogue and cooperation with Russia are simultaneous steps inspired by the same vision: an open society of democratic states joined by common interests and common values spanning the Euro-Atlantic area.

In the Founding Act, NATO' s 16 heads of state and government solemnly reiterated the statement of March 14, 1997, thatthe alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary integration and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces. Moreover, they also repeated that they have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, nor any need to change any aspect of NATO' s nuclear posture or nuclear policy. In short, enlarging NATO does not mean moving a military machinery eastward.

I fear that such statements may not convince the most hard-nosed skeptics in Russia. Perhaps this is too much to ask, given the long history of mistrust throughout the Cold War. But I hope that people with an open mind are willing to listen. And I trust that the more we cooperate, the less the old suspicions will linger. After all, together we are heading in the right direction: We are anchoring a new Russia in a new Europe. The seeds have been planted. If we make full use of the opportunities we can soon bring in the harvest: a stable Europe facing the 21st century with confidence.

Javier Solana is secretary-general of NATO. He contributed a longer version of this comment to Izvestia.