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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New NATO Partner?

According to recent statements by President Boris Yeltsin and others, the Russian government may postpone or even fundamentally reassess any agreement to participate in NATO's Partnership for Peace, or PFP.

As someone involved in the development of NATO's relationship with the former Warsaw Pact nations, I believe this would be a misguided and counterproductive approach. Instead, Russia should join the PFP at an early point and become involved in its programs.

The PFP is one manifestation of an overall Western approach to the former Warsaw Pact nations that was initially developed by the Bush administration, in which I served, and has in general been continued by the Clinton administration. As the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the U.S. view was that it was important to offer these nations, including the former Soviet republics, an opportunity to become involved with at least some Western institutions as soon as possible.

At that time, it was concluded that conditions in these nations would be in flux and that those seeking to develop democratic political institutions and market economies could use all types of support and reinforcement.

In the political-military dimension, we thought it crucial to support such priorities as civilian control of the military, defense conversion and restructured military forces.

In a broader context, the view was that a key longer-term objective should be the integration of these nations into a common democratic security culture. Put most simply, this means the establishment of a security environment similar to that which has existed for many years in Western Europe.

In today's Western Europe, it is practically inconceivable that any disagreement -- political, economic, or otherwise -- would lead to armed conflict among its democratic nations.

The breakup of the Soviet Union made the situation even more complex. The NATO nations, with the United States in the lead, decided to invite all former Soviet Republics into the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, or NACC, which NATO had established in order to pursue the objectives described above. At the same time, the United States and NATO both agreed that the involvement of Russia itself would clearly be a priority.

Since that time, the process of bringing NATO and the former Warsaw Pact nations closer together has been launched.

The NACC and the PFP have begun developing projects involving former Warsaw Pact nations. Some of these activities are more on the political side, such as exploring environmentally focused ways of cleaning up former Warsaw Pact military bases.

Other efforts are militarily oriented. This is where the PFP becomes very important. The PFP basically packages a variety of ideas first offered at NATO meetings by then U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1992. Cheney proposed that joint training and exercises and other similar activities be conducted among NATO members and former Warsaw Pact nations.

The Clinton administration proposed such a program, calling it the PFP, and it was approved by the NATO summit in January 1994. Under the PFP, former Warsaw Pact nations can request to join with NATO in developing specific projects such as those mentioned above.

The Russian government should not hesitate to join the PFP and participate in its programs. Given the stated objectives of the current Russian leadership to bring Russia into the Western democratic community of nations, the PFP provides one concrete path to getting there.

By working together with NATO nation defense personnel, for example, in educational and training activities, each side will gradually become more accustomed to the other and confidence levels should increase. Over time, these activities may become more formalized and structured.

Russian involvement in the PFP could also at least indirectly begin to address two other related issues. First, the Russian leadership has said it wishes to be consulted by NATO on security issues such as military action in the former Yugoslavia. To the extent that Russia is involved in NATO-related structures such as the PFP and the NACC, it is more likely to be considered as part of a larger group of NATO-related nations which should be consulted on relevant matters.

In addition, the prospects for an enhanced Russian economic relationship with the nations of the European Union, which clearly is in Russia's interest, may be somewhat strengthened by its involvement with the PFP and the NACC.

The second issue is the question of NATO membership for former Warsaw Pact nations. Realistically speaking, this will not happen soon. On the other hand, there is no reason in principle that some kind of more formal security relationship between Russia and NATO could not be developed over time.

The overall fate of Russia's evolving relationship with the West will not be determined by its decision on whether or not to join the PFP. More fundamental factors, including the nature of the Russian leadership and political system, as well as its overall international policies, will be more influential.

Nonetheless, Russia should join the PFP. Russian involvement with the PFP would be a positive signal and could help further develop the positive elements in Russia's relationship to the West.

W. Bruce Weinrod is of counsel to the law firm of Allen and Harold. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy from 1989 until early 1993. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.