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Russia and NATO after the Lisbon Summit: a New Beginning – Once Again? 1

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 55-63)

Karsten Jakob Møller

The character of the NATO–Russian relationship is basically dependent on U.S–Rus-sia relations. After the nadir of the G.W. Bush period, especially in the wake of the Russo–Georgian War in the autumn of 2008, the takeover of the Obama Adminis-tration in January 2009 has brought along a significant improvement in the bilateral relationship between the two countries, the so-called ‘reset’.

It was therefore only logical that Anders Fogh Rasmussen, from his very first day as Secretary General of the Alliance, made NATO–Russian relations his first priority.

But it was not a path without risks. It was no secret that the Russia question divided the Alliance seriously. The internal discussions on the New Strategic Concept are vivid proof of the profound disagreement. The ‘old’ members, e.g. Germany, France, Italy and now also the United States, wanted to expand cooperation with Russia in various fields while the new members, primarily Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Po-land, supported by the Czech Republic and Hungary, looked with deep scepticism on cooperation with Russia, a scepticism founded in their historical experiences. For years these countries have argued for NATO military contingency planning on their territories in order to counter a potential future Russian invasion.

This way of presenting the problem displays NATO’s Russian dilemma. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact the Alliance has claimed that Russia no longer constitutes a threat to its members, that Russia is a trusted partner.

Nevertheless the Alliance has been expanding to include countries whose primary goal has been to seek protection against a Russia who, by them, is seen as a potential threat. How do we explain this in a credible way to our Russian partner? It is simply not possible and therefore the mistrust of the West by the Russian political and military elite has been considerable and probably still is. It has almost certainly not diminished after Wikileaks cables revealed that NATO had drawn up secret plans to defend Poland and the Baltic countries. According to The Guardian these plans were agreed in January 2010 by the Military Committee under silent procedure.1 The East Europeans insisted on hard security guarantees but were curbed by Western Europe led by Germany, which did not want to antagonise Russia. The article quotes a so-called well-placed source: “We’ve found the way forward with Russia. The Baltic States have received strategic reassurance. That is backed up with contingency planning that did

not exist before. It is done now. We told them we’ll give you your reassurance if you agree to the reset with Russia. That made it easier for the Germans”.

I doubt whether the Russians perceive this as a confidence building measure. On the other hand I am sure they had been informed in some way or the other during the process. Russia has many friends in NATO who are willing to tell them what is going on in every corner of the Alliance. So it is probably not a surprise for the Rus-sian leadership but it is extremely inconvenient that it has been made public. There are many members of the political, economic and military elite who, deep in their hearts, are sceptical towards the West, a well-known phenomenon in Russian history.

Moreover and on the other hand, I would be rather surprised if Russian contingency plans for the Baltic States do not exist.

The main purpose of the NATO Summit in Lisbon was to agree on the way ahead for the Alliance, especially concerning the future engagement in Afghanistan. The adaptation of a new strategic concept was intended to present a renewed NATO and an Alliance in agreement. The future relationship with Russia played a major role, which is reflected in the Lisbon Summit Declaration and the New Strategic Concept, ‘Active Engagement, Modern Defence’ and the following summit of the NATO–Russia Council and the NATO–Russia Joint Council Statement that was adopted there.

The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, was invited to the Lisbon Summit and after some hesitation he agreed to participate but this only happened following the trilateral summit in Deauville in France between Medvedev, Sarkozy and Angela Merkel. The Russian president not only obviously wanted to explore the possibility of positive results at the NATO Summit but also at the following European Union–Rus-sia Summit in Brussels. He was pursuing the most important mission of his foreign policy: namely to create favourable external conditions for ensuring the security and prosperity of Russia. Russia is interested in investments, the newest technologies and innovative ideas as well as stable and open markets so it can carry out a comprehensive modernisation of the country and this is reflected in the present pragmatic approach to NATO and the European Union.

For the Secretary General, who was staking a lot on cooperation with Russia, the result had to be a success and it was no surprise that he called the NRC meeting ‘historical’.

This term was also used by the Russian president as it was important for him to be able to show some concrete results to his many sceptics back in Moscow.

In the Joint Statement Russia and NATO affirm that they have embarked on a new stage of cooperation towards a true strategic partnership, referring to the goals and principles set forth in the NATO–Russia Founding Act (1997), the Rome Decla-ration (2002) and the OSCE 1999 Charter for European Security, including the

‘Platform for Cooperative Security’. They recognise that the security of all states in the Euro-Atlantic community is indivisible and that the security of NATO and Russia is intertwined. They will work towards achieving a true strategic and modern partnership based on the principles of reciprocal confidence, transparency and pre-dictability, with the aim of contributing to the creation of a common space of peace, security and the stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.

It is also stated that the NRC member states will refrain from threats and use of force inconsistent with the United Nations Charter and the principles found in the Helsinki Final Act, against each other or any other state.

There are many good reasons for the parties to remind themselves of the principles governing their mutual relations; solemn principles adopted at previous summits in different organisations. The NATO countries once again wanted to remind Russia of the unacceptability of the Russian response to the Georgian attack on South Os-setia, the following recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and probably also the so-called cyber attack on Estonia in 2007. Russia wanted to remind NATO of the attack on Serbia in 1999, which was a clear violation of the principles laid down in the NATO–Russia Founding Act as well as the US-led attack on Iraq in 2003, which was a violation of the UN Charter.

For the Russian president it is important to underline the indivisibility of the security of the Euro-Atlantic area and possibly also to demonstrate the need for an overarching legal security treaty unifying the guiding principles from the documents mentioned, something which he proposed in the summer of 2008 in Berlin.

The Joint Statement deals with the role of the NRC and underlines that it consists of 29 equal partners. This principle can be found in the Rome Declaration of 2002, which is the foundation of the NRC. It has been stated several times by the Russian ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, that Russia often has been met by a unified

‘wall of NATO members’ during the meetings in the Council.

This was certainly the case for the NRC’s predecessor, the NATO–Russia Permanent Joint Council, where the positions of the NATO members were closely coordinated

prior to the meetings. This is not the case any longer, although the Russians have oc-casionally begged to differ. The Secretary General of NATO who chairs the meetings is making a difference in his way of conducting them.

The importance of the NRC as a forum for political dialogue at all times and on all issues is emphasised, including where the parties disagree. It will be interesting to see how the parties will live up to this promise. During the Kosovo crisis in 1999 Russia broke off all relations with the Joint Permanent Council when NATO started the bombardments in Serbia. Relations to NATO were only restored in 2002 at the NATO Summit in Rome in which President Putin participated and where the Rome Declaration was adopted, followed by the formation of the NRC. During the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008 NATO decided to cancel the meetings and they were only resumed in late spring the following year, even though it had been described as an ‘all weather’ council.

So what we can read from the first half of the Joint Statement is that the parties are promising each other to make an effort to live up to the principles they have agreed upon several times before. There are, however, substantial differences in the inter-pretations of the different documents mentioned in the Joint Statement and that will be the case for the foreseeable future, indicating that the road to a true strategic partnership might be very long and difficult.

The more positive signal, however, lies in the parties’ pragmatic assessment of their mutual interest, which is stated in the second half of the Joint Statement.

The Council endorsed a Joint Review of the 21st Century Common Security Chal-lenges identifying common interests and important chalChal-lenges. This review was more than a year in the preparation and has been the basis for the agreement on concrete practical cooperation activities.

The NRC agreed to resume Theatre Missile Defence Cooperation following an agreement on a joint ballistic missile threat assessment. NRC is tasked to develop a comprehensive Joint Analysis of the future framework for missile defence coopera-tion, to be assessed in the June 2011 NRC meeting of the defence ministers.

The decision on missile defence is crucial to the future cooperation of Russia and NATO. The Secretary General has audaciously claimed that it will be one of the cornerstones. Basically it is more a bilateral question between the United States and

Russia, but the involvement of NATO might be helpful in solving some of the more difficult problems concerning command and control. If this cooperation turns out to be successful it might profoundly contribute to the development of a true strategic partnership. If it fails, the consequences will probably cause a serious setback in US–Russia relations and thereby also NATO–Russia relations. This is an example of an issue where the Devil is hidden in the detail, especially when it comes to the more technical problems. It should be noted that President Medvedev, during his press conference after the NRC meeting, voiced rather serious reserva-tions about whether the NATO members had realised the tremendous complexity of the problems that had to be solved. He stressed several times that Russia would cooperate, but only on the condition of being an equal partner in the system.

“Our participation should be absolutely that of equals… we either participate in full, exchange information and are responsible for solving this and that problem, or we don’t participate at all. But if we don’t participate at all, then we for obvious reasons will be forced to protect ourselves”, the president said and continued: “It is quite evident that the Europeans themselves do not have a full understanding of how it will look, how much it will cost. But everybody understands that the missile defence system needs to be comprehensive”.2

This is not the place to go into further details on the complexity of joint missile defence, but fundamental problems such as sensitive information sharing, technology transfer, a capacity for rapid decision making and solving the challenges of com-mand and control issues should be mentioned. Multilateral control over a missile defence system will be an extremely difficult task. Launch decisions have to be made in a very short time span, actually only a few minutes. NATO has been working on the problems for more than ten years without obvious success. NATO–Russia cooperation will require that the problems of diverging technical standards and operational procedures are solved. It is evident that Russia will insist on exercising control over the use of Russian assets. The United States on the other hand would never rely on a system requiring immediate Russian authorisation for its use. It is difficult to imagine an agreement on one of the two main theoretical possibili-ties: a dual key system, which seems to be unacceptable for both the United States and Russia, or a US-led and NATO-integrated system with Russia as an add-on.

This is certainly not acceptable for Russia. The firing systems must probably be a national responsibility, while launch monitoring and threat assessment could be integrated. It will be a difficult process to find viable solutions. It will require a high level of mutual trust, which is certainly not present for the time being but might be developed during the process. We can at least hope for that.

Russia and NATO have obvious common interests in Afghanistan and in Central Asia. The logistics arrangements between Russia and ISAF were confirmed and the scope of the NRC Project on Counter Narcotics Training was expanded and a Rus-sian promise of assistance to further institutional capacity-building was noted, as well as the development of the NRC Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund in order to facilitate the Afghan Air Force to operate efficiently. The Joint Statement underlines that the NRC will strengthen its cooperation on counter-terrorism and on fighting piracy and armed robbery at sea.

It should be noted that the Joint Statement also mentions the desire of the NRC to revitalise and modernise the conventional arms control regime in Europe and will be ready to continue dialogue on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation – some of the more traditional subjects for discussion between the two parties.

Seen from a NATO point of view the Lisbon Summit contributed to clarifying the Alliance’s position towards Russia. A compromise had been made beforehand: the Baltic countries and Poland got their strategic reassurance and contingency planning in return for a reset of the Alliance’s relationship with Russia. Russia was offered participation in the development of a Theatre Missile Defence System and it is now up to the Russians to contribute to a constructive solution. The Secretary General claimed that the summit was a fresh start for a positive and substantial cooperation in the NRC. But it should be noted that Russian influence in the Alliance continues to be limited. Russia will not be able to exercise decisive influence for as long as it doesn’t have the power to veto a decision.

From a Russian point of view it could be noted that the shadows of the Russo-Georgian war are fading away and are being substituted by a much more cooperative NATO. Both parties have decided to concentrate their efforts on mutual interests and on solving common security challenges, e.g. Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The Russian proposal on closer cooperation in the area between NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) found no support. The summit, however, tacitly confirmed that Georgian membership of the Alliance is not on the agenda for the foreseeable future, although it was not excluded. The election of Viktor Yanukovych as the new president of Ukraine has decisively removed Ukrainian membership of the Alliance from the agenda. The planned deployment of missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic has been cancelled and Russia has been invited to participate in a Joint Theatre Missile Defence Sys-tem with the possibility of exercising considerable influence on the development

and configuration of the system. Seen from Moscow, Russia’s security situation has improved considerably over the last year, not so much because of the efforts of NATO but rather due to the reset of US–Russian relations.

In assessing the results of the NRC Summit it is difficult to ignore the fact that only a few concrete decisions were taken except from some details concerning the situation in Afghanistan and, to a certain extent, missile defence. There are some prospects for a resumed and hopefully fruitful dialogue in the NRC on various subjects. Dmitry Rogozin recently said that there was an obvious reason why no minutes from the NRC meetings existed: that they would reveal the absurd empti-ness of the discussions. Let’s hope this will be changed in the future. There appeared to be an agreement that the two parties do not pose any threat to each other. “That alone draws a clear line between the past and the future of NATO–Russia relations”

as a press release from NATO after the meeting stated. It will be interesting to see when this will be reflected in the relevant Russian documents, namely the National Security Concept and, in particular, in the Military Doctrine. In the meantime it can be noted that it is part of the New Strategic Concept, despite the secret contingency planning for the Baltic–Polish region. It was good fortune that this was leaked only after the NRC meeting. The damage could otherwise have been serious. So the issue remains of whether some of the NATO members still regard Russia as a potential threat, which might very well be the case. The same goes for the doubt regarding whether Russia considers the United States to be a long-term security threat. In spite of the much-publicised new strategic review the Alliance still represents a legacy of the Cold War period with very little vision of its long-term role in the developing world order. The few decisions at the NRC Summit did not contribute to the development of a much-needed single, undivided security space in the Euro-Atlantic area.

The two summits strengthened the possibility of the development of a strategic partnership. Small steps have been taken but there is a long way yet to go before the mutual trust between the Russian and the NATO members has reached the level of true strategic partnership. Still, the key to this goal is the continuation of the positive US–Russia relationship, which unfortunately is highly dependent on the future political fate of President Obama. With a Republican majority in Congress the room for optimism about the future is considerably limited.


1 Ian Trayno, ‘Wikileaks cables reveal secret NATO plans to defend Baltics from Russia’, The Guardian, 6 December 2010.

2 Nabi Abdulaev in The Moscow Times, 22 November 2010

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 55-63)