NATO-Russia Council: from confrontation to co-operation

Posted in NATO | 30-Apr-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Dieter Farwick, WSN Global Editor-in-Chief: "NATO-Russia Council - a symbol of cooperation"
From Moscow, NATO’s enlargement to the East and Southeast of the Russian border, including former Soviet republics, looks like an encirclement. In the past, such perception would have led to harsh political reaction, military sable-rattling and probably more. It goes without saying that the Russian government is not “amused” about this development.

In the old military thinking, which still exists in some corners of the Russian military, NATO is still a threat. There are issues which raise understandable Russian concerns.
How will NATO use the new space? Will there be NATO forces permanently or temporary stationed in addition to the new NATO members’ forces? Will the United States use the territories of the new member states for pre-positioning of material and/or soldiers? What are the consequences of NATO’s enlargement for the “Treaty for conventional forces in Europe (CFE)?” The reason that all these questions are being discussed more behind closed doors than in public has something to do with the NATO-Russia Council and signifies a dramatic political change in the relationship between former antagonists. It’s a change from confrontation to co-operation.

The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) is a round-table forum, which now includes 27 members. In May 2002 in Rome, NATO member states and Russia decided to have a fresh start in their relationship and signed an agreement to replace the former NATO-Russia Joint Permanent Council with the NATO-Russia Council. It might be interesting to observe what a Russian document, handed out at the “Munich Conference on Security Policy” in February 2004, states on the subject:
“Russia and NATO have made marked progress in their joint work. Russia has adopted NATO codes for its military products and can now supply spare parts and take part in the modernisation of the combat equipment it supplied to Europe in the past(a third of the Alliance’s arms is Russian- or Soviet-made) without technical obstacles. Russia and NATO have held several exercises in the organisation of work to deal with the consequences of natural disasters. Thirteen joint working groups are currently working on specific projects for cooperation between Russian and NATO defence departments. A NATO communications mission has been opened in Moscow, where Russian officers serve on an equal footing with their NATO counterparts. A NATO information bureau has also opened alongside the mission. It regularly organises conferences and seminars with the participation of Russian politicians, deputies, generals and journalists, and arranges trips for them, in particular, to NATO headquarters in Brussels.”

During the Munich press conference of the Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Ivanov, I asked the Minister about Russia’s resolve to solve existing problems such as the missing “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA). This agreement enables NATO soldiers to take part in exercises with their necessary equipment in various countries, but currently not in Russia. The Minister was aware that the problem is becoming a major stumbling block in NATO-Russia relationship and stated that Russia will try hard to find a solution.

In some weeks, the NATO-Russia Council will celebrate its second anniversary. It is astonishing what has been achieved in this relatively short period of time in spite of political tensions between US and Russia and EU and Russia. In 2004, there are more than 50 common events planned. The first Command Post Exercise on Theatre Missile Defence in Colorado Springs is remarkable. So is a “Nuclear Safety Exercise” in Murmansk. Due to language and financial problems on the Russian side, the participation is mainly on the tactical level and with limited number of participants. This bottom-up programme is planned to continue until 2006.

NATO now in the neighbourhood of Russia.

There is still a long way to go to get to the “strategic objective” of Joint Peacekeeping Operations Exercises and even Joint Peacekeeping Operations. The work of the official working groups in Brussels is supported by a multi-national working group sponsored by American and Russian foundations. This working group is co-chaired by Ambassador Bob Hunter from RAND and Sergey Rogov from ISKRAN in Moscow. I took the opportunity to interview Ambassador Bob Hunter during the recent conference in Moscow. It becomes obvious that the NATO-Russia Council which started with military issues will extend its scope to the political field. The NATO-Russia Council might become the platform to discuss political questions such as crisis management and even an agreement on Joint Multinational Peacekeeping Operations under one command. The Greater Middle East might become the litmus test for the new quality of co-operation between NATO and Russia. I include below the statement which the NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer gave during the third NATO-Russia Council Conference in Norfolk in April 2004.

All existing problems are solvable if and when the political leaders show resolve. A solution is in the interest of all participants. It has to be seen whether there will be a “Head-of-State” NATO-Russia Council meeting at the NATO Summit in Istanbul in June 2004. Such a meeting would underline the common effort and mutual understanding between Russia and NATO. Mutual trust and confidence must form the basis of solving sensitive political problems in the “Arc of instability” between Marrakech and Bangladesh.