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Luca Ratti

Associate Professor, Università Roma TRE

This article revisits the origins and significance of NATO’s 1967 Harmel report and debates its relevance in the current context of relations between the Atlantic Alliance and the Russian Federation. NATO-Russia relations are today marked by confrontation and the two sides seem unable to set their relationship on the path toward partnership. Nonetheless, the Harmel report’s 50th anniversary provides a major opportunity to reflect on relations between NATO and Moscow. While the Alliance’s endeavours to engage the Kremlin date back to the early days of East-West détente, in 1967 this milestone document institutionalized a twin-track policy of deterrence and dialogue, which remained an axiom of NATO’s strategy until the Cold War’s end. After the demise of the East-West division, NATO’s attempts to engage Moscow and build a partnership with Russia were largely unsuccessful. However, to an extent Harmel’s message continued to inspire the Alliance’s strategy also after the Cold War’s end. There are some important similarities between now and then. Fifty years ago the Harmel report’s adoption was precipitated in part by the approaching 20th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1969. Today, the dynamics faced by the Alliance and the imminence of the 70th anniversary of its establishment should prompt some additional re-evaluation, which can strengthen the transatlantic bond and promote an understanding with Moscow. Although NATO is facing a resurgent Russia in Europe and the Mediterranean, the Alliance retains a fundamental interest to establish a constructive relationship with its former Cold War antagonist.

A new policy of reinforced and extended deterrence without being sustained by a bold attempt to resume cooperation with the Kremlin would deepen divisions in Europe, divert NATO’s resources from other and more compelling theatres, and thwart the Alliance’s ‘out-of-area’ role. At the same time, it would antagonize Russia and increase its sense of exclusion and insecurity. At a time of increasing global uncertainty and unpredictability, the Alliance needs revisiting Harmel’s message. Ideally, this should occur as the allies begin to discuss a new Strategic Concept to update the document that was approved in Lisbon in 2010. A comprehensive reengagement would revitalize the Alliance, reassure Moscow, and contribute to the stabilization of Europe and the Mediterranean. Ultimately, it might also reinvigorate NATO’s relationship with the United Nations and ensure military security without endangering economic prosperity at a time of modest economic recovery in the West.

After the eruption of the Ukrainian crisis, the leaders of NATO’s member states collectively agreed to stop cutting defence spending. All members have now committed to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence by 2024. While there are calls to move more quickly and push all members to reach the 2% target by 2020, a narrative, which privileges deterrence and overlooks the need for dialogue, might further exacerbate hostilities with Russia and destabilize Europe. In this scenario everyone, including NATO, would come out a loser. Although sanctions shall not be lifted without adequate concessions from Moscow, such as the withdrawal of missiles from Kaliningrad, a commitment to the full implementation of the Minsk accords, a willingness to release information about its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential elections, and a commonly agreed solution for Crimea, the Alliance cannot overlook the lesson of the Harmel exercise.


Introduction

This article revisits the origins and significance of NATO’s 1967 Harmel report and debates its relevance in the current context of relations between the Atlantic Alliance and the Russian Federation. NATO-Russia relations are today marked by confrontation and the two sides seem unable to set their relationship on the path toward partnership. Nonetheless, the Harmel report’s 50th anniversary provides a major opportunity to reflect on relations between NATO and Moscow. While the Alliance’s endeavours to engage the Kremlin date back to the early days of East-West détente, in 1967 this milestone document institutionalized a twin-track policy of deterrence and dialogue, which remained an axiom of NATO’s strategy until the Cold War’s end. After the demise of the East-West division, NATO’s attempts to engage Moscow and build a partnership with Russia were largely unsuccessful. However, to an extent Harmel’s message continued to inspire the Alliance’s strategy also after the Cold War’s end. There are some important similarities between now and then. Fifty years ago the Harmel report’s adoption was precipitated in part by the approaching 20th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1969. Today, the dynamics faced by the Alliance and the imminence of the 70th anniversary of its establishment should prompt some additional re-evaluation, which can strengthen the transatlantic bond and promote an understanding with Moscow. Although NATO is facing a resurgent Russia in Europe and the Mediterranean, the Alliance retains a fundamental interest to establish a constructive relationship with its former Cold War antagonist.

A new policy of reinforced and extended deterrence without being sustained by a bold attempt to resume cooperation with the Kremlin would deepen divisions in Europe, divert NATO’s resources from other and more compelling theatres, and thwart the Alliance’s ‘out-of-area’ role. At the same time, it would antagonize Russia and increase its sense of exclusion and insecurity. At a time of increasing global uncertainty and unpredictability, the Alliance needs revisiting Harmel’s message. Ideally, this should occur as the allies begin to discuss a new Strategic Concept to update the document that was approved in Lisbon in 2010. A comprehensive reengagement would revitalize the Alliance, reassure Moscow, and contribute to the stabilization of Europe and the Mediterranean. Ultimately, it might also reinvigorate NATO’s relationship with the United Nations and ensure military security without endangering economic prosperity at a time of modest economic recovery in the West.

After the eruption of the Ukrainian crisis, the leaders of NATO’s member states collectively agreed to stop cutting defence spending. All members have now committed to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence by 2024. While there are calls to move more quickly and push all members to reach the 2% target by 2020, a narrative, which privileges deterrence and overlooks the need for dialogue, might further exacerbate hostilities with Russia and destabilize Europe. In this scenario everyone, including NATO, would come out a loser. Although sanctions shall not be lifted without adequate concessions from Moscow, such as the withdrawal of missiles from Kaliningrad, a commitment to the full implementation of the Minsk accords, a willingness to release information about its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential elections, and a commonly agreed solution for Crimea, the Alliance cannot overlook the lesson of the Harmel exercise.

Revisiting the Harmel’s legacy

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NATO photos
The North Atlantic Council (NAC) approves the Harmel Report

In late 1966, following France’s decision to withdraw from the integrated military structure and in light of the approaching 20th anniversary of the 1949 Washington Treaty, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) instructed Belgian foreign minister Pierre Harmel to head a committee of experts from NATO’s members. The committee included the Permanent Representatives to the North Atlantic Council and was tasked to re-examine the Alliance’s role in a transforming international context. The final report emphasised the Alliance’s interest to pursue, alongside a policy of defence and deterrence, which aimed to contain Soviet political and military ambitions, also dialogue and engagement with Moscow. In the following years, the Harmel report became a mark of the Alliance’s flexibility and resilience, ensuring its relevance in a changing world. Despite resurging East-West tension in the late 1970s, the need for a complementary strategy of deterrence and détente remained a mantra of NATO’s policy until the Cold War’s end. Also after the demise of the East-West division, Harmel’s message continued to attract considerable attention. Nonetheless, the Alliance’s post-Cold War initiatives towards Moscow were mostly unsuccessful. After a brief period of engagement, which began with the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997 and culminated with the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002, relations between the two sides deteriorated steadily. Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, its intervention in Syria, along with the hacking in 2016 of the Democratic National Committee, rekindled deep-seated concerns in the West about Moscow’s ambitions and conduct. Current disputes include Crimea, Ukraine’s collocation in the European security architecture, nuclear weapons, NATO expansion, and different conceptions of the international and European orders. The Alliance’s Warsaw and Brussels summits, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, identified Russia as a key threat to European security, endorsing plans to station four battalions on a rotating basis in the Baltic states and Poland to deter Russian ambitions and reassure allies who were once part of the Soviet bloc. Both summits also reaffirmed NATO’s determination to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation with Moscow. The moves were authorized by the outgoing Obama administration and have been confirmed also by President Trump. In 2017 the Alliance completed the creation a new 5,000-member joint task force, which can be deployed within 48 to 72 hours, dispatched four multinational combat battalions to Poland and the Baltic states, and established command-and-control headquarters in all its eastern European member states, including new multinational headquarters in Poland and Romania. NATO has also increased the number of exercises it carries out in Eastern Europe and has made infrastructure investments that will enable reinforcements to arrive at their destinations more quickly. Finally, the Alliance ramped up its naval and air presence in the Baltic and the Black Seas. These steps amount to the largest reinforcement of defence efforts among the allies since the Cold War’s end. Nonetheless, at the their 2016 summit in Warsaw, the allied also agreed that NATO remains open to a periodic, focused and meaningful political dialogue with Russia on the basis of reciprocity, making it clear that the Alliance rightfully privileges a strategy of ‘defence and dialogue’ over a logic of ‘defence or dialogue’ with Moscow. However, as it endeavours to reassure new members, who feel threatened by Russia’s resurgence, and to maintain open the prospect of negotiations with Moscow, the Alliance shall not lose sight of two key questions which were at the heart of the 1967 Harmel Report. First, what role should NATO play during East-West détente; second, what steps should the Alliance take to improve the European and global security environment.

As a result of deteriorating relations and mounting tensions, Russia has also embraced a more hostile policy towards the Alliance and some of its members. In September 2017, Moscow conducted its quadrennial Zapad exercise in western Russia, Kaliningrad, and Belarus, causing concern among the allies about the Kremlin’s strategic plans towards the Baltic region. At the same time, Russia is rapidly modernizing its nuclear program, building new long-range missiles, submarines, and bombers to maintain a nuclear force that aims to match the U.S. arsenal. Although Moscow also demonstrated a willingness to avoid exacerbating confrontation with the West, this relationship appears unable to shrug off the legacy of a difficult past, while each side continues to perceive the other as a threat. NATO’s members carried out exercises on the Alliance’s Eastern flank already in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which sparked fears in the Baltic States that Moscow was planning a similar land-grab there. In 2016 ‘Operation Anaconda’ in Poland employed more than 30,000 troops from allied nations. However, the latest endeavours will lead to the largest troops deployment on the Russian doorstep since the Cold War’s end. A total of some 7,000 allied troops, including 3,500 American personnel, will be continuously rotating across seven of NATO’s new members on a front that stretches from Estonia to Bulgaria. A headquarters unit will be stationed in Germany.

Although Moscow has so far not threatened the territorial integrity of any NATO member state, this operation represents a response to allied perceptions of Russia’s military and strategic resurgence and increasingly revisionist agenda. Over the last few years the Kremlin proceeded to a remilitarization of the Kaliningrad exclave - the Russian territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania -, where Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and granted extensive moral and material support for Donbas separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Lastly, in September 2015 Russia performed a formidable geopolitical comeback in a region it had overlooked since the Cold War’s end, intervening in Syria, having received a formal request from the government of Bashar Al-Assad, in the civil war that has been inflaming the country since 2012. At the same time, Moscow rekindled ties with other countries in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The Kremlin also spread its influence to Libya, supporting Khalifa Haftar, the warlord who controls much of Cyrenaica, the country’s eastern part. In October Moscow signed an important arms deal with Saudi Arabia, demonstrating an ability to engage and deal, at the same time, with both Tehran and Riyadh. More worryingly for NATO, in 2017 Russia has also agreed to supply Turkey with a new long-range anti-aircraft defence system, consolidating a rapprochement that has accelerated over the last two years, as Ankara’s ties with the United States and some of the Alliance’s European members have become increasingly strained. Although there are significant doubts in the West about the long term viability of an arrangement between Ankara and Moscow, the fear that a the country with the second standing military force in NATO’s might be attracted into Russia’s sphere of influence represents a major concern for the Alliance.

NATO had already downgraded bilateral ties as a result of Russia’s intervention against Georgia in 2008. However, following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, support for Donbas separatists in Eastern Ukraine, and a number of suspected cyber attacks against the U.S. and other Alliance’s members, the allies hardened their stance. Nonetheless, also the Russians have expressed a number of justified concerns about Western strategy. Most of the Russian political forces and public opinion continue to perceive NATO and its process of enlargement as a fundamental strategic threat to Russian security. Ultimately, however, the Alliance and Moscow continue to share one fundamental common interest: avoiding a major conflict that would benefit nobody. Today’s most pressing priority remains to foster direct dialogue, at both the political and, especially, the military level. In the current strategic scenario, Harmel’s message can provide the Alliance with a successful example and a model in order to overcome this protracted standoff and the prospect of renewed tension in Europe. As this milestone report had conveyed in the late 1960s, in the current strategic scenario, the Alliance stands more chances of engaging Russia, by pursuing, alongside a bolstering of NATO’s defence posture, also a strategy that aims to foster dialogue and resume a degree of cooperation with Moscow.

Within this context, the countries of Western Europe, which are also the oldest European members of the Alliance, can play an important role to reduce tension and promote better relations. Already in the late 1950s and early 1960s Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy attempted to pursue, for different reasons, their own bilateral détente with Russia. Also the Alliance’s Scandinavian members then favoured a policy of proactive negotiations with the East. Denmark and Norway played an active role in the genesis of the Harmel report and repeatedly encouraged the Alliance to discuss Soviet proposals for a European Security Conference (ESC). These proposals had been first advanced by Moscow as early as 1954 and subsequently formalized in article 11 of the Warsaw Pact, which did not have an equivalent in the North Atlantic Treaty [1]. To an extent, European demands for a proactive policy of engagement with the East also met U.S. expectations. However, in the early 1960s Washington lagged behind its allies in tabling concrete proposals for a policy of détente [2].

On the contrary, in the aftermath of the Berlin Wall’s erection and of the Cuban missile crisis, U.S. strategy sparked fears among the allies that the Americans might privilege a bilateral arrangement with the USSR at the expense of Washington’s European partners. Paris took centre stage in denouncing such a risk. Charles de Gaulle’s invocation on 7 March 1966 of article 13 of the North Atlantic Treaty, before his visit to Moscow in June, formalized his decision to withdraw France from the Alliance’s integrated military structure, further accelerating the debate among Washington’s European partners. Also other European members of the Alliance, such as Italy and the FRG, expressed their grievances with U.S. strategy. By the end of that year, under pressure from its West European allies, Washington agreed to review NATO’s strategy and give détente a multilateral character. Then NATO’s Secretary General, the Italian Manlio Brosio, played a key role in hammering out a compromise between the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson and the Western Europeans [3]. At their December meeting in Paris the allies debated Harmel’s proposal for a joint analysis of the major events of the past twenty years. Their ambition was to preserve transatlantic and allied unity but also to explore new avenues of dialogue with the Soviet bloc in order to bring about a settlement of the problems connected with European security [4]. The Foreign Affairs Ministers responded favourably to Harmel’s invitation and instructed Brosio and the Permanent Representatives to the North Atlantic Council to undertake a detailed study of the Alliance’s tasks [5]. Eventually, on 14 December 1967, after a new deepening of East-West tension over the June 1967 Arab-Israeli ‘six-day’ war, the Council approved the Harmel Report, formally titled ‘The Future Tasks of the Alliance’ [6].

Building on the 1957 Report of the Committee of Three on Non-Military Collaboration, more usually known as the Three Wise Men’s report on non-military cooperation and on internal solidarity, cohesion and unity, this new document stressed the importance for NATO of pursuing, alongside deterrence against the threat of aggression, also a strategy of engagement and dialogue with Moscow with the aim of encouraging the Soviet bloc’s evolution and eventual transformation [7]. However, the report’s contribution went well beyond détente. It also allowed the Alliance to manage East-West relations, corralling allies into one overall negotiating framework and keeping them on the same page when it came to defence and dialogue with the Soviet bloc.

Harmel’s endeavour focused on the goals, which lay ahead rather than the problems of the past, and was made possible by a new collaboration between large and small powers, which reflected a major shift from the atmosphere that had produced the Report of the Committee of Three in 1956 [8]. The document’s drafters identified mutual defence and the promotion of East-West dialogue as the twin pillars of NATO’s policy, laying the groundwork for further engagement between the two blocs and paving the way for the eventual breakthrough of West German Ostpolitik a few years later [9]. The report also enabled the Alliance to clarify the risks inherent in uncoordinated dialogue with the Kremlin and strike a balance between its military and political functions. At the same time, it allowed the allies to weather French and left wing accusations that, in a time of détente, NATO had become an anachronism in Europe. Finally, this exercise consolidated consensus among the fourteen on strategy, force levels, burden sharing, and on the need for a multilateral policy of engagement with the East. Moscow would no longer be treated as an abnormal entity but rather as a potential partner in a new European order.

The allies also called for the formulation of disarmament proposals and practical arms control measures, including possible mutual and balanced force reductions. The report’s conclusions described the Alliance’s main functions as both the need ‘to maintain adequate military strength and political solidarity to deter aggression’ and ‘to pursue the search for progress towards a more stable relationship in which the underlying political issues can be solved’ [10]. Unlike in the early Cold War days, defence and détente were no longer seen as irreconcilable alternatives. Rather, the allies now framed them as complementary and mutually reinforcing strategies. The subsequent relaxation of East-West tensions would thus become part ‘of a long-term process to promote better relations and to foster a European settlement’[11]. Ultimately, the Harmel report eased negotiations towards the signature of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, the success of West Germany’s Eastern policy, and the convening of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in the early 1970s.

Harmel’s lesson continued to influence Western policy towards Moscow also during the late 1970s, as relations between the Alliance and Russia gradually began to deteriorate again. The so-called ‘dual-track’ decision, which the leading members of the Alliance and France endorsed at their 1979 Guadalupe summit, embraced Harmel’s philosophy, confirming NATO’s willingness to follow a parallel strategy of deterrence and détente and a determination to seek dialogue with Russia, alongside a new emphasis on common defence [12]. Despite conflicting interpretations about the Cold War’s end, Harmel’s lesson was not forgotten and continued to play a role in Western policy towards Moscow also after the end of the East-West division. When the USSR disintegrated in 1991 there was a widespread expectation in the West and Russia alike that the demise of the East-West structure of international politics would usher in a period of mutual engagement and cooperation, and contribute to the creation of a new European and international order [13]. Some U.S. and European decision-makers of those times even contemplated the prospect of inviting Moscow to join NATO as a transformative and symbolic step that would usher in the Alliance’s transformation into a more inclusive and truly encompassing Pan-European institution [14].

Dialogue between the Alliance and Moscow continued to intensify in the early 1990s, as American, European, and Russian strategic objectives partially appeared to converge. Both the allies and the Kremlin shared the fundamental objective of creating a continent that would be whole, free, and at peace [15]. Nonetheless, NATO’s proved unable to allay Russian anxieties, while Moscow remained diffident of Western strategy and objectives. This diffidence reflected profoundly different conceptions of the Alliance and of its post-Cold War role. While for Washington and its European allies the Alliance remained a cornerstone of transatlantic security and a gateway for the preservation of an American role in Europe, for Moscow it symbolized a Cold War relic and a factor of Russian exclusion [16]. These conflicting perceptions prevented the two sides from establishing a mutually beneficial and truly effective partnership, as NATO’s members continued to look at Russia as at a threat to transatlantic cooperation and European stability, while the Kremlin watched with anxiety, as NATO grew larger and approached the borders of the Russian Federation.

The Significance of the Harmel Report Today

There are some important benefits that the Alliance would derive, by rediscovering the message of the Harmel report in order to overcome the current standoff in relations between with Russia. The questions of what role should NATO play in the current strategic scenario and what steps should the Alliance take in order to improve the European and global security environment remain as relevant as ever, half a century after Harmel’s original exercise. NATO’s recent retrenchment from its extenuating out-of-area commitments and Russia’s strategic resurgence further complicate matters, posing a fundamental dilemma for the Alliance and its future trajectory, particularly as far relations with the Kremlin are concerned. However, they also create a major opportunity for NATO to prove that, while the allies are ready to stand firm and honour the commitment enshrined in article 5 of the 1949 Washington treaty, they are also willing to address Moscow’s grievances and reverse past confrontational logics. The new rise in tension followed a gradual drowning down of the Alliance’s out-of-area role, particularly in the Mediterranean and the Greater Middle East, and an increase in Russia’s external military projection. NATO’s retrenchment and Russia’s new strategic assertiveness partially resemble the dynamics of the late 1960s, when the U.S. was overstretched in Vietnam and the allies were facing the Kremlin’s repression of centrifugal dynamics in the Soviet bloc, that was exposed by the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, and support for radical Arab regimes.

The Trump administration’s willingness to scale back American multilateral commitments and the concerns of some of NATO’s new and older members about Russia’s revisionist intentions should, to an extent, prompt the allies to revisit Harmel’s message. During and after the presidential campaign, Trump raised questions about NATO’s relevance in the wake of the Cold War, claiming that Washington is bearing too much of the burden for Europe’s security. The President cast the United States as overextended and in need of a new ‘America first’ policy. He restated forcefully his vision in his inaugural address on 20 January [17]. A few days earlier, he had ominously referred to NATO as obsolete [18]. Although the President subsequently retracted these views, his words cast major doubts about the White House’s genuine and long-term commitment to European security and transatlantic solidarity.

At the same time, the members of the Alliance are now wrestling with the consequences of political and strategic overstretching. After more than two decades of extenuating engagements stretching from North Africa to Central Asia, many of the Alliance’s members have lost appetite for complex and, to an extent, strategically controversial, out-of-area operations. In the Greater Middle East, they have learned at their own expenses that that nation building is a much more daunting endeavour than regime change. This longing for retrenchment was aptly exposed by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement during her visit to the White House at the end of January 2017 that Washington and London should no longer intervene in foreign countries ‘to remake the world in their own image’ [19]. The beginning of the Brexit negotiations in July 2017 and the EU’s drive for closer security and defence cooperation create an additional factor of uncertainty and unpredictability. As the French withdrawal in 1967, Britain’s breakaway from the European Union in 2019 might unsettle European security. Together with France Britain is the sole possessor of nuclear weapons in Western Europe, while the Royal Navy remains the European Union’s paramount naval and maritime power. Although London and Brussels might strike a deal to maximize defence and combat capabilities and Anglo-French security cooperation will continue in the future, by the year 2019 all British troops will be removed from the continent. This is an event of great significance. The European Union will no longer be able to rely on the United Kingdom’s military strength and diplomatic experience [20]. Despite recent progress towards the creation of European command and control headquarters operating alongside NATO, in the short term the European Union is unlikely to acquire the means to deter Russia or to address protracted crises at the continent’s borders.

Nonetheless, the prospect of a prolonged attempt by the Kremlin to pursue a strategy of strategic and political revisionism in Europe and undermine NATO’s premier security role are meagre, while Moscow’s bold Middle Eastern projection might soon be hampered by evident material and financial constraints [21]. In December, as he formalized his candidacy for the forthcoming 2018 presidential elections, President Putin also announced the partial withdrawal of the Russian military contingent from Syria. Half a century ago, in 1967 the Arab-Israeli ‘six-day’ war demonstrated the limits of Moscow’s ambitions in the Middle East. Today, although for the first time since the Cold War’s end Russia forcefully reinstated itself as a major strategic force in the area, the Kremlin remains unlikely to welcome the prospect of an extensive military engagement to defend one of his local protégés or to challenge American and Western interests in the Middle East or the Persian Gulf.

However, the prospects for a continuation NATO’s ongoing out-of-area engagements are also uncertain. Undoubtedly, recovering from a long array of extenuating out-of-area interventions and striking a balance between its in- and out-of area- role is one of the major challenges that will shape the Alliance’s future destiny and trajectory. The United States began turning inward at the end of George W. Bush’s erratic foreign policy. Barack Obama continued the retrenchment operation, which had been started by his predecessor at the end of his second presidential mandate. Now President Trump is merely accelerating it. Since the Cold War’s end, and even more so after the 1999 Kosovo conflict, U.S. attention has gradually shifted towards the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and now the Far East. Obama’s pivot to Asia revealed Washington’s deepening concerns about the growing influence and intentions of China, the only country capable of challenging in the future the U.S. status of global hegemon in the international system [22]. Last summer the White House’s most pressing foreign policy conundrums were caused by tension in the Korean peninsula as a result of the North Korean regime’s rapidly accelerating missile program. Trump’s tour of Asia in November 2017 made U.S. priorities even clearer. Washington’s paramount concern is to contain China, while avoiding direct confrontation with Beijing. In Vietnam there were some positive signs for relations between the Kremlin and the White House, as the U.S. and Russian Presidents signed a joint statement, agreeing that there cannot be a military solution to the conflict in Syria and expressing their satisfaction with successful de-confliction efforts [23].

Nonetheless, there is no additional time to waste on both sides. While on the surface bolstering transatlantic cohesion, in the long term persisting tension with Russia and a return to a bold policy of containment might increase centrifugal pressures on the Alliance and thwart NATO’s ongoing search for a new durable purpose. By contrast, the Alliance now has an opportunity to switch gears and create a new and prosperous security architecture in the Eurasian region based on NATO’s endurance but also on a lasting arrangement between the Western allies and Moscow. The Alliance continues to serve as an insurance policy against a drift in transatlantic relations. Today, it remains as fundamental, indeed more important, than ever, particularly against the risks of apathy, uncertainty, and unpredictability. In light of the European Union’s limited military capabilities and of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s cumbersome institutional nature, it is also the only multilateral security provider and a deterrent against the resurgence of predatory behaviours and the renationalization of defence in Europe. While the new administration in Washington appears willing to pursue a dialogue with the Russians and President Trump is at best ambivalent about his commitment to the Alliance, the White House cannot lose sight of the fact that a strong and vital NATO remains in the U.S. national interest. At the end of the 1960s Johnson’s policy of building bridges and Nixon’s strategic engagement with Moscow could not have been successful without the Harmel exercise. Similarly, today any prospect of lasting reconciliation with the Kremlin and of Russia’s eventual incorporation into the Euro-Atlantic structures must rely on the preservation and nurturing of transatlantic cohesion and allied unity.

On the other hand, Russia itself might have a not so recondite interest in the Alliance’s survival. During the Cold War it was Germany’s rehabilitation and rearmament rather than NATO’s establishment to cause alarm in Moscow. In the late 1940s the Soviet political and military elite welcomed an American military presence in Europe as a way of restraining Germany [24]. Stalin was well aware that the Alliance served the purpose of ‘keeping the Americans in’ and ‘the Russians out’ but also contributed to keeping ‘the Germans down’ [25]. Even after the end of the Cold War Soviet leaders preferred that U.S. forces remain in Europe. In 1990 Gorbachev called for Germany’s simultaneous membership of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact to create ‘new European structures’, and for NATO’s transformation into a more inclusive institution [26]. However, in the following years as the Alliance endured and grew larger, its members failed to incorporate Russia or reach a lasting accommodation with Moscow.

Despite the ambivalence of the current U.S. administration, NATO continues to provide the most effective institutional framework to deter nationalistic and predatory temptations in Europe. In the late 1960s the Harmel exercise reversed centrifugal dynamics within the Alliance and the looming threat of transatlantic disintegration, which had been raised by de Gaulle’s March 1966 announcement and Moscow visit in June. Since the Cold War’s end, this threat has emerged again periodically, as the allies have often displayed conflicting perceptions of Russia. The Alliance’s West European members, such as France, Germany, and Italy, have long argued that the Alliance should seek dialogue with Moscow, while NATO’s new Eastern European others, such as Poland and the Baltic states, continue to regard Russia as an existential threat. To an extent, Russia’s annexation of Crimea silenced much of this internal debate, prompting the allies to respond with actions aimed at bolstering Alliance’s unity and its commitment to defend new members. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that NATO’s internal cohesion will be durably strengthened and that the Alliance will find a new durable and effective purpose, simply by rediscovering its original role of containment tool against the perceived threat of a resurgent and revisionist Russia.

While Moscow might retain an interest in seeding frictions between Washington and its allies, it is time that NATO initiates a substantial reassessment of its policy towards the Russian Federation with the precise aim of convincing the Russians that NATO’s survival is also in their own national interest. This policy shall not sacrifice the bolstering of allied defences and unity but shall also result in a genuine offer to the Kremlin of negotiations for a comprehensive deal, which should include the prospect of a mutually acceptable solution for Ukraine, a freeze on missile defence, an agreement on conventional and intermediate nuclear forces in Europe, and an effective revival of the NRC. A restart of the NATO-Russia dialogue, reasserting the 1967 Harmel report’s basic principles of deterrence and détente would reassure Moscow, encourage the Kremlin to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of NATO’s new members, such as Poland and the Baltic states, and of former Soviet republics, such as Ukraine and Georgia, and reduce the incentive to destabilize them through political intimidation, cyber attacks, and other forms of hybrid warfare. It would also increase incentives for Russia to comply with the INF agreement and re-enter the CFE treaty. Finally, a twin-track policy of defence and détente might prompt the Kremlin to cooperate with the West in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and restart cooperation in other out-of-area theatres. At the same time, it might give new impetus to NATO’s declining out-of-area role and revive the Alliance’s relationship with the UN.

In May 2002 the agreements that created the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) at the historical bilateral summit in Pratica di Mare, nearby Rome, had laid the groundwork for the establishment of permanent consultation between the former Cold War antagonists. They had also expanded previous cooperative endeavours, fuelling hope for a full normalization of relations that, while confirming NATO’s premier role in Europe, would allow Russia a degree of participation in the Alliance’s decision-making process. Nonetheless, while promoting cooperation in a number of areas, such as counterterrorism and antipiracy, the NRC failed to solve fundamental disputes. Both sides proved unwilling to undertake a thorough and balanced reassessment of their strategies. As a result, the NRC never turned into a real and permanent forum of consultation and cooperation, while NATO struggled to reframe its overall ambition in regards to Russia, tending to fall back on the vision outlined in the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security [27].

A number of unresolved issues, including the collocation of the Russian Federation in the new European security architecture, the conventional and nuclear military balance, U.S. missiles defence plans, NATO enlargement, and the status of Russian ethnic and linguistic minorities in the Baltic States, Georgia, and Ukraine, continued to cause anxiety in Moscow. Increasing tensions between the Alliance and Russia gradually sidelined the Council, turning it into a forum for debating differences rather than finding common ground and building confidence in order to avoid miscalculation and escalation [28]. Meetings of the NRC were resumed in 2016 and the first meeting in 2017 took place on 30 March. Six meetings have now been held since 2016. NATO and Moscow have also resumed military contacts, discussing concrete measures over air safety in the Baltic space. However, an effective revitalization of the NRC as a forum to foster genuine dialogue and engagement between the two sides appears, for the time being, highly unlikely.

In Brussels, at the beginning of December, at a meeting of the Alliance’s foreign ministers, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear that no normalization of ties with Russia is in sight. Nonetheless, the Alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, also clarified that NATO will continue to pursue the approach that was agreed at the Warsaw summit of ‘defence and dialogue’ rather than ‘defence or dialogue’ [29]. This is already an important acknowledgement and a demonstration of rightful intentions on the side of the Alliance. Today, Russia can play an important role not only in Ukraine and Syria but also in the stabilization of other unstable theatres, such as Afghanistan and Libya. By contrast, the permanence of tension might imperil security in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East and undermine the fragile results achieved by the Alliance in Afghanistan in fifteen years of military presence there. In July in Warsaw the U.S. president acknowledged NATO’s fundamental role in preserving security in Europe. However, he also stressed that one of the fundamental questions of our time is whether the West has the will to survive in an increasingly volatile international system and emphasised the importance of culture, faith, and tradition, somehow echoing President Putin’s iconic speech in Novgorod in 2013 [30]. Trump might be right that NATO’s members increase their financial and military contribution to the Alliance. However, this appeal shall not be framed in the context of a renewed confrontation with Moscow but as a contribution to the security of the West of which Russia, rather than a major antagonist, should be a primary interlocutor.

1. Laurien Crump, The Warsaw Pact Reconsidered: International Relations in Eastern Europe, 1955-69 (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), p.23.

2. Poul Villaume, ‘Pathfinders and Perpetuators of Détente. Small States of NATO and the Long Détente: The Case of Denmark, 1969-1989’ in Oliver Bange,Poul Villaume (eds), The Long Détente: Changing Concepts of Security and Cooperation in Europe (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2017), pp.209-277.

3. Manlio Giovanni Brosio, Diari NATO (1964-1972), (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2011).

4. An extract from the meeting of NATO’s Foreign Affairs Ministers held on 15 December is available at http://archives.nato.int/uploads/r/null/6/9/698/02-V1.pdf

5. Andreas Wenger, ‘Crisis and Opportunity: NATO’s Transformation and the Multilateralization of Détente, 1966–1968’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 2004, Vol. 6, no. 1, 59-60. See also Andreas Wenger, ‘The Multilateralization of Détente: NATO and the Harmel Exercise, 1966-68’, in Anna Locher and Christian Nuenlist (eds.), The Future Tasks of the Alliance: NATO's Harmel Report, 1966/67 (Washington, D.C. and Zurich; Parallel History Project, 2004), 2-18, available at https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/108636/08_Harmel.pdf.

6. In 2004 the NATO Archives released, under the NATO Public Disclosure Programme and in co-operation with the Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact, 250 documentary reports related to the Harmel report. The reports are available at http://www.php.isn.ethz.ch/lory1.ethz.ch/collections/colltopic7ae5.html?lng=en&id=15713.

7. Helga Haftendorn, ‘Entstehung und Bedeutung des Harmel-Berichts der NATO von 1967’ Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Vol. 40, no.2, April 1992, 169–220; of the same author see also ‘The Adaptation of the NATO Alliance to a Period of Détente: The 1967 Harmel Report’, in Wilfried Loth (ed.), Crises and Compromises: The European Project, 1963–1969 (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2001), 285–322.

8. Lawrence S. Kaplan, ‘The 40th Anniversary of the Harmel Report’, NATO Review, no.1, 2007, available at http://www.nato.int/docu/Review/2007/Reviewing_Riga/40_anniversary_Harmel_report/EN/index.htm

9. John C. Milloy, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 1948-1957: Community Or Alliance? (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016),166.

10. Evanthis Hatzivassiliou, NATO and Western Perceptions of the Soviet Bloc: Alliance analysis and reporting, 1951-1959 (London and New York. Routledge, 2014), 56-61.

11. The ‘Report of the Council on the Future Tasks of the Alliance’ is published in US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), Documents on Disarmament, 1967 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1968), 679-81.

12. Philipp Gassert, ‘Did transatlantic drift help European integration? The Euromissiles crisis, the strategic defense initiative, and the quest for political cooperation’, in Kiran Klaus Patel and Kenneth Weisbrode (eds.), European Integration and the Atlantic Community in the 1980s. (New York: Cambridge University Press 2013),164.

13. Jeffrey A. Engel. ‘A Better World …but Don't Get Carried Away: The Foreign Policy of George H. W. Bush Twenty Years On’, Diplomatic History, Vol. 34, no. 1, 2010, 25-46.

14. Andrew Cottey, ‘NATO Transformed: The Atlantic Alliance in a new era’, in William Park and G. Wyn Rees (eds), Rethinking Security in Post-Cold War Europe (London and New York: Longman, 1998) 48

15. Trenin, ‘If Putin Wanted to step up his fight with America, You‘d Know it’, Foreign Policy, July 2017, available at http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/07/31/if-putin-wanted-to-step-up-his-fight-with-america-youd-know-it/.

16. Jakub M. Godzimirski, in ‘Russia and NATO: Community of values or community of interests?’ in Jakob Hedenskog, Vilhelm Konnander, Bertil Nygren,Ingmar Oldberg, and Christer Pursiainen (eds), Russia as a Great Power: Dimensions of Security Under Putin, (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), 68

17. The text of Trump’s inaugural speech can be downloaded at https://www.whitehouse.gov/inaugural-address.

18. Michael Gove and Oliver Wright, ‘Donald Trump: I’ll do a deal with Britain’, The Sunday Times, 15 January 2017, available at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/donald-trump-interview-brexit-uk-trade-deal-theresa-may-phthbjsmw.

19. Henry Mance, ‘Theresa May draws curtain on era of British foreign intervention’, Financial Times, 27 January 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/d6882ed4-e4b2-11e6-8405-9e5580d6e5fb.

20. Malcolm Rifkind, ‘Close military ties with Europe must remain’, The Times, 14 August 2017.

21. Josh Lederman, Vivian Salama and Ken Thomas, ‘US, Russia announce Syria cease-fire after Trump-Putin talks’, The Washington Post, 7 July 2017.

22. John J. Mearsheimer, ‘Defining a New Security Architecture for Europe that Brings Russia in from the Cold’ Military Review May–June 2016, 30–31, http://mearsheimer.uchicago.edu/pdfs/Military%20Review.pdf. See also Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine. Crisis in the Borderlands (London: I. B. Tauris, London, 2015).

23. Joint Statement by the President of the United States and the President of the Russian Federation, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/11/275459.htm.

24. Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, Stalin’s Cold War: Soviet Strategies in Europe, 1943 to 1956 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 38–9.

25. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, ‘Who Needs NATO’, The New York Times, 15 June 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/opinion/16iht-edwheatcroft16.html.

26. Record of Conversation, M. S. Gorbachev and G. Bush, Washington, DC, The White House, 31 May 1990, in Savranskaya and Blanton, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 320, doc. no. 11, available at <http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/ NSAEBB/NSAEBB320/11.pdf> (last accessed 28 September 2016). See also Hannes Adomeit, Imperial Overstretch : Germany in Soviet Policy from Stalin to Gorbachev (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1998), pp. 112–13; Hannes Adomeit, ‘East Germany: NATO’s First Eastward Enlargement’, in Anton Bebler (ed.), NATO at 60: The Post-Cold War Enlargement and the Alliance’s Future (Fairfax, VA: IOS Press, 2010), p. 17;

27. The text of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation can be downloaded at http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_25468.htm.

28. Ivo Daalder, ‘Responding to Russia’s Resurgence’, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2017-10-16/responding-russias-resurgence.

29. ‘Rikard Jozwiak, ‘Stoltenberg Stresses NATO’s ‘Defense And Dialogue’ Approach To Russia’, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, https://www.rferl.org/a/nato-russia-defense-and-dialogue-approach-tillerson-stoltenberg/28901245.html.

30. Glenn Thrush and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, ‘Trump, in Poland, Asks if West Has the ‘Will to Survive’’, The New York Times, 6 July 2017., https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/06/world/europe/donald-trump-poland-speech.html.


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