Exclusive WSN interview with Ambassador Robert Hunter on NATO-Russia-Council

Posted in NATO | 28-Apr-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Ambassador Robert E. Hunter: "All problems are solvable if there is the political will!"
Ambassador Robert Hunter, USA, is senior advisor at the RAND Corporation USA. He was US Ambassador to NATO in Brussels, 1993-98. He is Co-Chairman of the RAND-ISKRAN – a Moscow based institute on foreign affairs – Working Group on NATO-Russia Relations. Aim and objective of this group: to find ways to enhance mil-mil co-operation under the umbrella of the NATO-Russia-Council. Ambassador Robert Hunter is also President of the “Atlantic Treaty Association”

Dieter Farwick took the chance to exclusively interview Ambassador Robert Hunter on the work of the Working Group during a conference in Moscow.

What are your expectations concerning the NATO-Russia-Council?

Ambassador Robert E. Hunter:
The NATO-Russia-Council is now two years in being and it’s a major step up from earlier co-operation between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Russian Federation. Most important is that the NRC is not about 26 NATO countries on one side of the table and Russia on the other, but all 27 countries sitting around one table as equals. So far it is still – let us call it – a learning experiment. The NATO-Russia-Council has a lot of potential that has not been reached. Some of the areas in which it is working on are the following: holding some military exercises, planning for peacekeeping; advancing arms control in Europe; and increasing the capacity of the Russian military to work directly with NATO counterparts. One added issue of concern is cooperation between NATO and Russia on dealing with natural disasters, like floods and earthquakes.
But, in the future we hope to get much further.

What is your vision for the future?

Ambassador Robert E. Hunter:
Well, as one member of our Working Group put it, We should look for a “strategy of engagement” for Russia in the West and, more particularly, with NATO. This is not Russia in NATO, as a member, but working with NATO. This could be Joint Peace Keeping or perhaps even Joint Peace Enforcement, working out a common doctrine of peace making. How we are together going to solve difficult situations like Nagorno-Karabakh, and helping to create better understanding over uncertain areas like Moldova and Georgia, where there are still Russian troops. Maybe the Russians would like to find a way to get these troops out, to work further on arms control – particularly the Treaty for Conventional Forces in Europe – the so-called CFE- treaty. We can work together in direct co-operation between the militaries – such as Russian officers coming to NATO as observers and vice versa.

What are the major stumbling blocks concerning the mil-mil co-operation?

Ambassador Robert E. Hunter:
Well, there has been a problem until recently. The Russian military not really being willing to come to NATO. I am pleased to say that some of their concerns have been disappeared. The Russians – for a number of reasons – also now are prepared to play a bigger role in the programme “Partnership for Peace”.
In addition, of course, the Russian defense industry does not have much of a market. In the main, Russian weapons are not compatible with those of NATO, and the transformation that Western forces are going through has not touched the Russian military. But these are all problems that can be overcome if there is political will on both sides. In fact, mil-mil co-operation may well prove to be the most important element of the NATO-Russia-Council.

Russsian soldiers together with NATO forces in Kosovo (KFOR).
Let’s have a closer look at Joint Operations. Can you foresee that Russian generals and officers will be prepared to accept coming under the command and control of an American, German, or British commander?

Ambassador Robert E. Hunter:
When the Russian military were part of the Implementation Force (and the Stabilization Force) in Bosnia, they were actually under command of an American general. I think the real matter in the future will be that, if a peacekeeping effort or some other kind of deployment were organised through or at least in part through the NATO-Russia-Council, there would be a new sense of equality. In theory, you can have one or more NATO allies in such an operation, serving under a Russian general or colonel. You cannot rule any of this out in the future. But it’s a matter of equality and whether a country is comfortable with becoming a full participant.

Do you see the NATO-Russia-Council as a forum to discuss topics like the Greater Middle East?

Ambassador Robert E. Hunter:
Clearly, Russia and all the NATO countries have a very deep interest in what happens throughout the Middle East. That includes the Israel/Palestine conflict as well as the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan -- and you can even go farther afield to the Transcaucasus and Central Asia. I believe that the NATO-Russia-Council is a good place to have strategic discussions and also to work out potential areas of co-operation, like in Afghanistan; and if NATO forces go to Iraq, I can see some Russians attached to that effort.