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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

8 Obstacles to Better NATO Ties

NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen rightly acknowledged that NATO-Russia relations have a great deal of untapped potential during a major policy speech in Brussels on Friday. However, he said, relations are burdened with misperceptions, distrust and differing agendas. Rasmussen believes that NATO and Russia spend too much energy focusing on issues over which they disagree, rather than concentrating on common interests.

Rasmussen, who took office in August, made the reasonable suggestion that NATO-Russia relations be given a “new beginning” and that “greater realism” should prevail. At his first news conference on Aug. 3, he announced the need to establish a positive strategic partnership between NATO and Russia, and on Friday he said the relationship should become “far more productive in the future.”

The NATO chief made three concrete, interrelated proposals toward that goal. First, he said NATO and Russia should quickly work to strengthen their practical cooperation in areas where both sides face common risks and security threats. Second, they should infuse new energy into the NATO-Russia Council with the aim of using it as a forum for open and dispassionate dialogue on ways to provide peace and stability in Europe. Third, he called for a joint review of new security challenges in the 21st century and the laying of a firm foundation for future cooperation.

These are all well-founded and logical suggestions. Carrying them out would help break the deep impasse where NATO-Russia relations have fallen as a result of NATO’s large-scale use of force against Yugoslavia in 1999 and Georgia’s military aggression against South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers in August 2008.

Unfortunately, the destructive elements in NATO-Russia relations continue to outweigh the constructive components. Creating an additional burden are the heightened expectations both sides have following the end of the Cold War. Rasmussen rightly pointed out that “there are some fundamental issues on which NATO and Russia disagree, and they will not disappear overnight.” However, there has been no practical application of the sound and far-reaching statements that both sides included in the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and officials at NATO’s headquarters still find little time to focus on areas that could unite the alliance’s 28 member countries with Russia.

The attempts both sides made this year to correct that imbalance during renewed sessions of the NATO-Russia Council and ministerial meetings on the Greek island of Corfu failed to produce any tangible results.

The eight main obstacles preventing full-fledged cooperation between Russia and NATO, and the establishment of a truly substantial “strategic partnership” between them, are the following:

• Attempts by many NATO member states to maintain an anti-Russian mood within the alliance, and attempts by at least six of them to pursue policies antagonistic to Moscow in countries bordering Russia and the former Soviet republics;

• NATO’s continued willingness to expand its membership, with the possible inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia — a position Rasmussen confirmed in his Friday speech;

• NATO’s desire for military superiority over Russia in nuclear and conventional weapons, despite the fact that the alliance already possesses 1.5 times more nuclear weapons and three times more conventional weapons than Russia. What’s more, NATO member countries — like Russia — participate in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe but — unlike Russia — have yet to ratify it;

• The increasing number of NATO military bases and other installations near Russia’s borders, with nine of the additions resulting from the first wave of expansion alone;

• Plans to deploy elements of modernized U.S. land- and sea-based missile defense systems as part of the “new missile defense architecture in Europe” announced by U.S. President Barack Obama last week, as well as closer U.S. cooperation with NATO to create a “missile defense shield,” not only in Poland and the Czech Republic, but in all 28 member countries, thereby placing a greater number of weapons close to Russia’s borders. (In his Friday speech, Rasmussen said, “These plans will involve an even greater role for NATO with regard to missile defense in Europe.” However, Rasmussen also commented on the need to “explore the potential for linking U.S., NATO and Russian missile defense systems at an appropriate time.” In this connection, it is worth asking which country’s tactical strike weaponry and detection and tracking systems would be used, and against whom such an integrated system would be directed?);

• Stepped up activity by the air forces and navies of a host of NATO countries along Russia’s borders, including the Baltic and Black seas, sometimes with ships carrying nuclear weapons;

• The fact that Russia remains the primary potential adversary in NATO’s military and strategic orientation and in its military doctrine for the use of nuclear and conventional weapons;

• NATO’s rejection of President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for a new European security pact to include Russia as an equal partner. (It also would make sense to consider Rasmussen’s call for NATO and Russia to review common threats and challenges in this light).

NATO cannot blame Russia for pursuing a less than friendly course with regard to the above-listed issues. The fact that Russia cooperates with NATO on nuclear nonproliferation issues and on combating international terrorism, piracy and drug trafficking cannot be viewed as a breakthrough in relations. The two sides should continue working together on those problems regardless of the condition of their relations because these are global threats affecting everyone. A real breakthrough can only be achieved by removing once and for all the direct and continual threat to Russia’s security posed by NATO policies and practices.

In his Friday speech, Rasmussen said, “NATO-Russia cooperation is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of necessity.” But that intention should be backed up by concrete actions from the alliance, keeping in mind that Russia will never consent to be relegated to the sidelines of the civilized world — in neither the political, economic nor military sense.

Vladimir Kozin heads the political analysis and forecasting section of the department for general Asian affairs of the Foreign Ministry. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect official Russian policy.