Russia - NATO: Strategic Partnership Dilemmas
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No conceptual document of the Russian Federation – neither the National Security Strategy nor the Foreign Policy Concept nor the Military Doctrine – refers to NATO as a foreign policy priority of Russia. Relations with NATO are too controversial and inconsistent for it to become one; their potential is unclear while the weight of problems and differences, by contrast, is too heavy.
No conceptual document of the Russian Federation – neither the National Security Strategy nor the Foreign Policy Concept nor the Military Doctrine – refers to NATO as a foreign policy priority of Russia. Relations with NATO are too controversial and inconsistent for it to become one; their potential is unclear while the weight of problems and differences, by contrast, is too heavy.
The Russian Position and Development of Cooperation
Russia’s official position is based on its willingness to promote cooperation with NATO, provided two main principles are rigorously observed. First, Russia and NATO should act as equal partners and the Alliance should respect Russia's interests. Second, since Russia attaches key importance to the strict observance of the norms and principles of international law, it will develop cooperation with NATO to the extent to which the latter’s policy and actions meet this criterion.
Even now, ten years after signing the Rome Declaration which established the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in May 2002, the parties consider that this decision indicated the transition to a new era of relations or, as the Russians see it, laying down their new philosophy.
First of all, Russia managed to convince NATO that partnership mechanisms should meet mutual interests. The Permanent Joint Council had a "NATO + 1" format, in which Russia was unable to influence the pre-agreed positions of the Alliance members. It was replaced by the NRC, which is a fundamentally different institution, where all participants act in their national capacities and sit at the round table in alphabetical order. That provision was bracketed until the very last minute of negotiations. Although NATO refrains from recognizing Russia a "special partner", the NRC de facto treats its as such, since no other partner country has been granted such equal status by the Alliance.
Another important achievement was the fact that the parties, having recognized the danger of escalating disagreements to the level of political crisis, decided on an "all-weather character" for the new format of cooperation. First of all, this allowed them to strengthen permanent political dialogue focusing on the discussion of a wide range of issues of Euro-Atlantic security, including those which the parties view very differently. Second, as the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to NATO, Alexander Grushko, put it, “In practice it meant that the cooperation within NRC was moving ahead without being fully dependent on the divergences between its members.” As a result, key areas of cooperation within the NRC framework were jointly identified, and relevant working groups were established to maintain the practical relationship of the Council with permanent NATO structures.
Having declared their commitment to the steady advance of cooperation, the partners not only sought to demonstrate the effectiveness of the newly created Council, but simultaneously displayed an understandable reticence and caution, fearing that they might discredit the new mechanism. For Moscow, demonstrating the value of cooperation with NATO was extremely important, since the “unfreezing” of relations with the Alliance formed an important component of the new policy of rapprochement with the United States and the West, initiated by President Putin after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. At that time tough anti-NATO sentiments clearly dominated Russia in the wake of the war in Yugoslavia. The West was also extremely interested in rapprochement with Russia, after the latter had been repulsed in the late 1990s. This appeared to be a strong motivation for the progress of NATO-Russia relations, especially at a time of acute shortage of attention to Russia on the part of the United States.
However, the centripetal force did not last long and soon began to lose momentum. The U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, the invasion of Iraq, the “great expansion” of NATO, the color revolutions in the CIS countries, the clash of positions on Kosovo and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe – all this demonstrated to Russia that the policy of rapprochement with NATO had failed to yield the results Moscow had anticipated. The European members of the Alliance had expected the U.S. to take advantage of the unique transatlantic platform for dialogue with Russia which the NRC offered, and at least partially maintain U.S. involvement in NATO and partnership relations with the European allies. But the administration of George W. Bush, paying little attention to both Europe and Russia, used the NRC to make its allies “share responsibility” for its policies, particularly regarding NATO expansion in the CIS (Ukraine and Georgia).
Leaving “the door open for positive joint action to ensure common interests on the basis of equality,” Moscow has very clearly emphasized the problem of relations with the West, primarily with the United States and NATO: “One must choose between containment and cooperation”.
Vladimir Putin's speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 marked a new dramatic deterioration of Russia's relations with the West and demonstrated that Moscow was ready to go to any length to protect its interests. In the same year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in the article “Containing Russia: Back to the Future?”, published shortly after the fifth anniversary of the NRC, that “the indivisibility of security ... delay in solving accumulated problems carries devastating consequences for all nations”. Lavrov emphasized that the policy of the West was again increasingly aimed at containing Russia. Leaving “the door open for positive joint action to ensure common interests on the basis of equality,” Moscow has very clearly emphasized the problem of relations with the West, primarily with the United States and NATO: “One must choose between containment and cooperation”.
Right after being elected President in 2008, Dmitry Medvedev proposed signing a treaty on European security, but his attempt to bring the relationship with the West back to a constructive dynamic was given the cold shoulder. NATO declined to discuss the initiative, referring to the latter's pan-European orientation and therefore placing it within the competence of organizations such as the OSCE. For Russia, this was effectively an admission of devaluing the NRC, which Moscow had perceived precisely as a platform to discuss key aspects of Euro-Atlantic security.
The war in Georgia in August 2008, and the subsequent Russian recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence, strained relations of Russia with the West to the limit and put them on the edge of military-political confrontation. NATO declined Russia's proposal to convene an extraordinary session of the NRC to discuss the crisis and froze relations with Russia. Thus the "all-weather character" of the NRC was brought into question. The significant positive achievements in Russia-NATO relations did not prove to be irreversible, and the “new era” was followed by another even deeper crisis.
But against this background of crisis, the exceptions to it acquired a particular importance. Russia and NATO continued practical cooperation in what they considered critical areas, such as Afghanistan. It became clear that even facing such a conflict situation, Russia and NATO could not afford to give up working together to meet common global challenges. Over the six years of cooperation, the NRC gained some internal momentum of its own. Freezing their relations was in fact a Western gesture of dissent, a forced pause in a situation of dramatic political uncertainty. In a way, this was even a good thing, since it helped Russia and NATO avoid direct political confrontation.
However, even if NATO expressed readiness to restore relations with Russia when the political situation improved, Russia did not want to go back to the old order, and insisted on its restructuring.
NATO: New Approaches to Russia
The pendulum of relations between Russia and NATO has once again swung back. Relations with Russia were one of the three central topics of the NATO summit in Strasbourg/Kehl on April 4, 2009. The participating countries expressed their willingness “to assess possibilities for making the NATO-Russia Council a more efficient and valuable instrument for our political dialogue and practical cooperation” and stressed the desire to use the NRC “as a forum for political dialogue on all issues – where we agree and disagree – with a view towards resolving problems, addressing concerns and building practical cooperation.”  NATO became more aware of the urgency of the Russian question. While developing its new strategic concept, the Alliance started to critically reassess its position towards Russia: “At this point, the immediate goal is not finding the precise formula for reaching out to Moscow, but beginning a strategic conversation that makes clear that NATO members are sincerely committed to anchoring Russia within the Euro-Atlantic community.” 
Upon the resumption of the NRC's activities – the first informal meeting of the Foreign Ministers being held on July 27, 2009 – Moscow responded to the positive signals from NATO and intensified its policy of active cooperation with the Alliance. In December 2009, the NRC decided to launch the Joint Review of 21st Century Common Security Challenges, what Russia had persistently offered NATO before to no avail. A document on further development of the mechanisms of the Council was also approved.
While the Georgian war continued to remain the main source of objections expressed towards Russia by the West, the former, for its part, insisted on substantial amendments to NATO policy. “To listen and to hear” is how Madeleine Albright described the new attitude of the Alliance towards Russia in February 2010 in Moscow. She was leading the NATO "Group of Wise Men", convened to prepare the ground for a new NATO Strategic Concept by Secretary General Rasmussen. Russia was the only partner of the Alliance to be visited by the "Wise Men", and for the first time in NATO history Russia was involved in the discussion of issues dealing with future NATO reform. Moreover, during the process of subsequent preparation of the Strategic Concept, Russian diplomats were granted access to the relevant documents of the Alliance and, consequently, could discuss them with NATO partners from a Russian position.
Freezing their relations was in fact a Western gesture of dissent, a forced pause in a situation of dramatic political uncertainty. In a way, this was even a good thing, since it helped Russia and NATO avoid direct political confrontation.
The Lisbon summits of NATO and the NRC in November 2010 were not so much a response to the crisis of Russia-NATO bilateral relations, as the result of an intensified search for a new paradigm of relations. And while Madeleine Albright’s "Group of Wise Men" recommended building relations with Russia, “focusing on opportunities for pragmatic collaboration” , Lisbon adopted the formula of “true strategic partnership”.
Three points are of particular importance for Russia. First, the new Strategic Concept of NATO to a large extent coincides with the Russian assessment of the situation, and takes into account Moscow's fundamental concerns. The Alliance refrained from officially assuming a global role in international security, and reiterated the priority of the UN. Second, the Lisbon documents confirmed and therefore highlighted the agreements on the NRC, which should have shaped the new qualities of the partnership, but were not implemented in practice through what the Russians considered NATO's fault. The NATO-Russia Council Joint Statement at the NRC meeting in Lisbon emphasized that “the NATO-Russia Council is a forum for political dialogue at all times and on all issues, including where we disagree”. Third, in Lisbon both sides expressed willingness to combine efforts in such a strategically important area as missile defense, which would radically change the nature of relations between Russia and NATO, as well as in the Euro-Atlantic system in general.
Given the unambiguously positive political results of the Lisbon Summit, the West immediately it called historic. Moscow, while genuinely appreciating the importance of the agreements reached, was more cautious in its assessments, which was quite understandable. Until then the Russia-NATO relationship had been notable for its acute cyclicality and sinusoidal motion (ups and downs, freezing and thawing). From that perspective, the Lisbon Summit fits into such a dialectical picture perfectly well – as one in a series of rises that follow acute crises. There is no doubt, that the Lisbon meeting advanced the NATO-Russia relationship a long way, but to speak of a dramatic breakthrough would be premature. The Russian position was clearly outlined by Ivan Soltanovsky, the Director of the Department for European Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. “Our achievements are not irreversible and to secure them we have to move forward," he said. “The key goal is to provide the most comprehensive implementation of the NRC Lisbon Summit agreements, stating the transition to a new phase of cooperation, i.e. genuine strategic partnership.” 
Practice as the Sole Test of Veracity?
Since the Lisbon Summit, both sides have done their utmost to transform the political success of the meeting into practical cooperation. Russia's Permanent Mission to NATO confirms that “cooperation is developing at an ever-increasing rate,” and many of the emerging problems “are quickly resolved”. The spheres of cooperation primarily include promoting the stabilization process in Afghanistan, and fighting against terrorism, piracy and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In the post-Lisbon period, existing cooperation projects continued and new ones were initiated. The expanded program of cooperation on Afghanistan included establishment of the NRC Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund project in 2011. In July 2012, agreement with NATO was signed and came into force on the so-called combined (air-land-railway) transit of non-lethal cargo to and from Afghanistan (via the airport in Ulyanovsk). In 2012, the final version of the draft intergovernmental agreement initiated by the NRC on airspace cooperation was endorsed; joint large-scale TMD command post exercises and the first civil-military counter-terrorism command post exercise were conducted; work commenced on military-technical standardization and practical cooperation in the field of logistics, etc. As the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Ryabkov put it, “work on new risks and challenges, such as the fight against piracy, has been giving pretty good results. This is the area in which 5-7 years ago we failed to achieve any progress no matter how hard we tried”.
However, the question is whether these achievements are permanent, and whether they are laying the necessary foundation for a “true strategic partnership.” The answer so far seems to be in the negative.
Until then the Russia-NATO relationship had been notable for its acute cyclicality and sinusoidal motion (ups and downs, freezing and thawing). From that perspective, the Lisbon Summit fits into such a dialectical picture perfectly well – as one in a series of rises that follow acute crises.
First of all, the whole array of practical cooperation reported by Russia and NATO fails to outweigh the “serious differences on certain basic issues.”  Yet these “certain basic issues" are fundamental for Russia-NATO relations. As the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to NATO Alexander Grushko notes, “the problem of missile defense will continue to be central to the Russia-NATO agenda”
First off, the crisis of the pragmatic Russia-NATO cooperation model in the second half of the 2000s showed that while the partnership was developing, it was doing so in defiance of long-established and deeply rooted disagreements and rivalry. To change this situation, it takes precisely large-scale projects such as missile defense – their joint implementation would change the overall paradigm of relations between Russia and NATO and unite them into a security community.
Second, since missile defense was declared the key area of cooperation in Lisbon, the political cost of the latter’s failure would be immeasurably higher than the overall balance of other cooperative projects.
Third, recognition that the problem boils down to Russian-American relations means that in case of success NATO will certainly reap the benefits, while in case of failure, Russia-NATO relations will take the full blow. As a relatively passive observer in the Russian-American game, NATO is somewhat limited in its ability to shape its own future relations with Russia.
Future Possibilities: the Chemistry of Arithmetic
After establishing the NATO-Russia Council in 2001, NATO Secretary General George Robertson said that the replacement of the “19 +1” format by the “20” scheme signifies not an arithmetic operation, but a new chemistry of relations.
So what will determine the general prospects of Russia-NATO relations? First of all, both sides are well aware that they are “doomed” to a partnership. This is dictated by the common challenges they face in the 21st century and the main roles of Russia and NATO in the modern repertoire of Euro-Atlantic security.
However, the mutual restraint characteristic of the current political and diplomatic process, which indicates learning the lessons of the past, the care of a sort for the achievements of the Lisbon Summit, and the adequate reaction to the divergence of opinions and assessments do not mean that the parties are ready to sacrifice their principled stand. The Russians’ view of the partnership with the Alliance is still defined its "grade for behavior".
The main criterion is to what extent the transformation of NATO corresponds to the Russian idea of maintaining European and international security. The list of grievances relating to Russia's partners remains unchanged. It includes the expansion of the Alliance, the approach of NATO infrastructure to Russian borders, and military actions outside NATO's area of responsibility without a clear UN mandate. In general, Moscow sees these as “an attempt to substitute” international security with “NATO-centrism,” which runs counter to what Russia understands by security indivisibility. “There is still a tendency of building relations on military-political affairs in Europe not on the base of principles proclaimed in OSCE and NRC, but by advancing the NATO-centric security structure as the only option.”
But Russia cannot agree with Rasmussen, who called NATO “the gold standard of Euro-Atlantic security into the 21st century”. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in his speech at the 49th Munich Security Conference on February 2013, “we consider such a narrow-bloc approach to be of no avail … it is hardly applicable to building politics in today's global world, when we share the threats.”
As the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to NATO Alexander Grushko notes, “the problem of missile defense will continue to be central to the Russia-NATO agenda”.
At first glance, it may seem that this familiar debate has become purely ritualistic, with well-established and clear rules of play, and therefore has little to do with real politics. However, this is not the case.
Strengthening the Alliance's “gold standard” forces Russia, which is not part of it, to take adequate measures of national protectionism, for example, relating to missile defense. In other words, the deep dilemma of Russia-NATO partnership remains the same. While NATO is considering it in the context of strengthening its role and international position, Russia, on the contrary, sees it as a means of restricting NATO-centrism from the inside and, as Sergey Lavrov put it, tries “to find a joint approach to building a security community based on authentic strategic partnership”. The conflict of interests is obvious; it has a substantive nature and is periodically exacerbated by disagreements on key issues of international politics, to the point of crises of relations. Despite politicians’ assurances that Russia and NATO have abandoned the zero-sum game in order to combat new threats, they continue to compete in the field of geopolitics. This rivalry, in turn, inevitably gives rise to differences on practical issues of security and the content of cooperation.
Problems of NATO Expansion and Globalization
The list of grievances relating to Russia's partners remains unchanged. It includes the expansion of the Alliance, the approach of NATO infrastructure to Russian borders, and military actions outside NATO's area of responsibility without a clear UN mandate. In general, Moscow sees these as “an attempt to substitute” international security with “NATO-centrism,” which runs counter to what Russia understands by security indivisibility.
The problem of NATO expansion lost its acuteness for Moscow after the prospect of Georgia and Ukraine joining the Alliance was put off indefinitely. Although in May 2012 the NATO Chicago Summit designated 2014 as the date for the next round of expansion, and Georgia was included in the number of candidates (along with Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina), it has not received an action plan to prepare for membership.
As for Ukraine, its present leadership has excluded NATO integration from its foreign policy strategy, and is building relations with the Alliance on a “special partnership” basis. In April 2010, the decrees of President Yanukovych dissolved the Interdepartmental Commission on preparation of Ukraine to join NATO, as well as the National Center for Euro-Atlantic integration.
Therefore, while Putin still considers “ the probing of possibilities for further expansion of NATO to the East” a challenge, this wording does not directly refer to “NATO's plans,” which clearly reflects the changes which have taken place, and de facto exclusion of the topic from the Alliance's practical planning.
However, the expansion policy is not confined to the east. Russia is seriously concerned about the prospect of potential development of the Alliance into a pan-European organization and, in particular, about the institutional intervention of NATO in the sphere of the OSCE. Moreover, Article 10 of the Washington Treaty on NATO's openness to “any European state” can be interpreted not only geographically, but politically as well, meaning cases of the candidate country belonging to the European security system, which is the OSCE's area of responsibility.
What is more, the West continues to voice proposals to abolish the geographical qualification for membership. Therefore, the course towards expansion is directly related to the globalization of NATO functions.
In the mid-2000s, Ivo Daalder, later appointed the U.S. Ambassador to NATO and presently serving in that role, proposed to transform the Alliance into a "League of Democracies". In the article "Global NATO", written together with James M. Goldgeier, he indicated that if the main purpose of the Alliance was no longer territorial defense, but the union of countries with common values and interests for solving global problems, it was not necessary to remain strictly transatlantic. Democratic countries, including Australia, Brazil, India, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan, shared NATO's values and in many ways had similar interests... He affirmed that the gradual expansion of NATO was preferable to creating coalitions to address specific arising problems.
After the departure of the Bush Republican administration these ideas found no formal continuation in NATO policy. However, there is absolutely no guarantee that in the future, especially if the Republicans return to the White House, they will not be needed again. This possibility can not be ruled out, given the current differences with Russia on Libya and Syria, and the possible emergence of new complications in Russia-US and Russia-NATO relations (in connection with the missile defense, etc.).
As a relatively passive observer in the Russian-American game, NATO is somewhat limited in its ability to shape its own future relations with Russia.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:
The fact that NATO declares its unwillingness to play a global role and become “world police” does not change much. In the above-cited article Daalder and Goldgeier openly recognized (back in 2006!) that the North Atlantic Alliance's transformation into a global organization had already occurred without much pomp and went almost unnoticed; the initiative by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, then Secretary General of NATO, to transform it into an “Alliance with global partners” was called long-awaited evidence of NATO’s gradual leaning towards a global model.
Creating a sustainable network of partnerships allows NATO, on the one hand, to link its partners tightly to its policies and operations, and on the other hand, to play a more active role outside the Euro-Atlantic periphery. To this end new mechanisms are created not only for political consultations, but also for involving individual partners in decision-making processes during joint operations (for example, Qatar’s participation in the NATO Libyan campaign). This is officially enshrined in the Lisbon Summit documents: “We will give our operational partners a structural role in shaping strategy and decisions on NATO-led missions to which they contribute.” 
In fact, NATO expansion of its global functions is a projection of the global role of the United States, which the latter has not given up, but cannot assume unilaterally, without the support of allies. And in this respect the importance of NATO in the U.S. strategy of Barack Obama's Democratic administration of is on the rise.
This is evidenced by the U.S. efforts to secure NATO's new and active role in the Asia-Pacific region. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking at King's College in Britain on February 18, 2013, indicated that he was deeply convinced that Europe should join the United States in order to expand and deepen defense involvement in the Asia-Pacific region.  A month earlier, on January 15, NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen received a message from the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It noted that Japan shared the values of the Alliance and was a guarantor of stability in the region. Referring to the increased military activity of China and North Korea's nuclear program, Tokyo proposed to strengthen cooperation with NATO, especially in the area of intelligence data sharing.  Needless to say, such a coordinated attempt to persuade Europe to defend Japan and join the effort to contain China not only creates serious problems for the European allies and the Alliance as a whole, but also provokes clashes between Russia and NATO. Unlike the U.S., Russia is not interested in containing China, and the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Moscow makes the Russian Federation particularly sensitive to such “increased involvement” of the Alliance in the Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S. Factor and the Issue of Missile Defense
All of this testifies to the fact that the attitude of Russia towards NATO, and its relations with NATO, are largely a projection of Russian-American relations, which, according to the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, “are of key importance for solving the issues of Euro-Atlantic security and maintaining global stability in general”. In practical terms, the policy and transformation of NATO follow U.S. strategy and military construction. It was so in 1999, when NATO adopted Washington's strategy, and it still is now, when, in accordance with the decisions of the Lisbon and Chicago Summits, the Alliance plans new tasks and forces. This explains the utmost importance of Russia's relations with the U.S., particularly in the security field, for shaping the future of NATO policy and the latter’s interaction with Russia.
Thus, the results of NATO and NRC Lisbon Summits, so significant for Russia, reflected the "reset" policy. Now the key issue for the Russia-NATO relationship is that of missile defense, but, as Lavrov said after a meeting with the secretary general of NATO, the European missile defense issue should be resolved within the framework of Russia-USA relations, and NATO is well aware of this. As the Permanent Representative of Russia to NATO Alexander Grushko confirms, if this issue of missile defense continues to be central to the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council, future relations in the NRC will actually depend on the results of the Russian-American talks. Accordingly, Moscow's attempts to change NATO make sense only in the context of U.S. policy and Russia-US relations
In turn, NATO continues to be a critical factor in U.S. policy and transatlantic relations. Therefore, partnership with NATO and strengthening its potential is an important resource for Russia in its relations both with the U.S. and within the framework of Russia-USA-Europe triangle.
Despite politicians’ assurances that Russia and NATO have abandoned the zero-sum game in order to combat new threats, they continue to compete in the field of geopolitics. This rivalry, in turn, inevitably gives rise to differences on practical issues of security and the content of cooperation.
However, the prospects of Russian-American relations as a whole, as well as in the priority area of missile defense, remain uncertain and controversial. On the one hand, by the end of the first term Obama's "reset" agenda was almost exhausted, and its positive impulses were fading out. Against this background, relations between Russia and the United States continue to suffer from negative trends, which become particularly dangerous in the absence of a positive agenda. On the other hand, Moscow has confirmed its interest in and commitment to the development of Russian-American relations in all areas. The Obama administration also recognizes the important results of the "reset", and is looking for ways to keep this momentum going.
A central theme that the U.S. is ready to discuss with Russia has already been determined – a further reduction of nuclear weapons. However, it is far from clear that such disarmament initiatives will work to support the rapprochement of the parties and maintain the priority of bilateral cooperation. Washington cannot fail to understand that without progress in negotiations on missile defense Moscow will not be ready to enter a constructive dialogue on nuclear disarmament and control. And if a compromise is not found, the U.S. disarmament proposals will only exacerbate disagreements and widen the gap between the parties' interests.
But maybe it’s exactly by updating the context of the strategic dialog that the U.S. administration intends to create the greater flexibility on missile defense that Obama promised Putin on the eve of his re-election. Given what is at stake, the political risks in this case, however, are very high: in fact, Obama's potential flexibility is quite limited, as is Russia's ability to adjust its rigid stance.
But maybe it’s exactly by updating the context of the strategic dialog that the U.S. administration intends to create the greater flexibility on missile defense that Obama promised Putin on the eve of his re-election.
“Russia proposes a simple and constructive way – to coordinate strict guarantees that US global ABM will not be directed against any OSCE member country, and develop clear military-technical criteria enabling the estimation of the conformity of ABM systems with stated aims", declared Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at the 49th International Conference on Security in February 2013. However, Moscow clearly understands that it is hardly realistic to rely on the willingness of the United States to conclude a legally binding agreement on this.
Prime Minister Medvedev, for his part, admitted in an interview with CNN at the end of January 2013: “There are no easy solutions in terms of anti-missile defense, there is no flexibility. We have not changed our previous positions – the U.S. has one opinion, and the Russian Federation, unfortunately, has a different opinion. These positions are not getting any closer”. “But this does not mean that we cannot agree on certain aspects of this joint work”, assured President Putin, speaking on the possibility of finding a compromise.
In the absence of progress in US-Russian relations, and especially in the talks on missile defense, the chances of promoting the Russia-NATO strategic partnership on which the parties agreed in Lisbon would be virtually nonexistent. Russia's interest in NATO as a partner in creating a Euro-Atlantic security community based on the principles of indivisibility and equality would be undermined. Practical cooperation in this case would not be regarded as a mechanism of strategic partnership; it would be limited and shaped by pragmatic considerations. The expectation that the gradual increase in the scope of practical cooperation could eventually develop into a new quality of relations makes sense only during the phase of their political rise, rather than their fall. Limited partnership may provoke conflicts over new challenges, which the parties will consider to be top-priority, just like missile defense is now. And much of what is now considered as a possible partnership resource in the fight against common threats, for example cyber security, may develop into another sphere of mutual deterrence and “adequate responses”.
The Afghanistan 2014 Factor
Cooperation on Afghanistan remains a strategic area of cooperation between Russia and NATO. But there is still a lot of uncertainty and challenges. It is extremely important for Russia to have an idea of the future structure of U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia, as well as new modalities of international efforts to settle and stabilize Afghanistan, including cooperation with Western and regional partners.
NATO troop withdrawal from Afghanistan poses the problem of functional reorientation of the Alliance. The question is what forms the military activities of NATO will take, and how the liberated military and political resources will be used. The Chicago Summit set the goal of achieving “NATO Forces 2020: modern, tightly connected forces equipped, trained, exercised and commanded so that they can operate together and with partners in any environment”. But this requires serious efforts for their training and exercise. Where is NATO going to do it, if the scope of its involvement in military operations is significantly reduced? Russia strongly opposes any repetition of the Libyan scenario, and training the Alliance’s interoperability and capability in such a way. If NATO intends to emphase conducting many more exercises, which is theoretically justified in operational terms, it may entail new challenges associated with the increased military activity of the Alliance, including in Europe.
It is worth noting that a number of NATO member-states insist on strengthening the defensive function of the Alliance, implying a military threat from the east. The phantom-limb pains of the Nordic and Baltic countries which fear Russian occupation intensified after the Georgian war and resulted in serious debate on strengthening territorial defense at the Lisbon Summit. “Phobias are very enduring and we see how a military planning process is built under this thesis [of the Russian threat]... an increase in military activities is observed in the north and centre of Europe, as if in these regions the security threats are mounting,” says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. For their part, NATO members express similar dissatisfaction with Russia's increased military activity, and the provocative nature of exercises in the Northern and Baltic region among others. It is clear that, after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Alliance’s “training” activities in Europe could increase Russia and NATO's mutually defensive reactions if this issue is not discussed in the context of promoting transparency and predictability, and reducing the danger of war.
At the NRC session in December 2012 the Ministers “agreed on a series of intensive consultations to establish an ongoing dialogue to better understand political aspects after 2014, as well as technical and logistical problems that may be common to Russia and NATO countries”. This is an extremely important agreement, but it is much more important to reach mutual understanding and proceed to joint decisions and cooperation projects. Continuity and development of Russia-NATO cooperation in such a strategically vital area of interest, as well as in other related spheres, may become the cementing element when partnership in other fields, in particular missile defense, leaves much to be desired.
Russia would appreciate better understanding on the part of NATO of the need to combat drug trafficking from Afghanistan, and the Alliance’s willingness to cooperate in this field. One can still be told that this task goes beyond the scope of NATO activities. But these arguments don’t seem to hold water. After all, apart from being involved in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, NATO adheres to a comprehensive approach to security. Drug trafficking from Afghanistan is a key security issue – both internally and externally. In addition, in recent years NATO has expanded its functional interests and responsibilities to such an extent that its dissociation from combating drug production and trafficking seems hardly reasonable. Furthermore, developing cooperation within the expanded NRC joint project on anti-drug personnel training for Afghanistan, Pakistan and countries of Central Asia should obviously become one of the areas of comprehensive interaction between Russia and NATO. In this context, Russia continues to expect a positive response from the Alliance to the proposal to establish cooperation programs with the CSTO for containing narcotics production and trafficking in Afghanistan, including the CSTO "Channel" program.
Another way of promoting genuine strategic partnership could be development of comprehensive military-technical cooperation (MTC). Of course, the missile defense project would be the most ambitious example, but there are other possibilities too. Joint military-technical projects are particularly important because on the one hand they increase information exchange, as well as openness and transparency, and on the other they remove grounds for mutual deterrence. Although this area remains extremely sensitive in economic and technological terms, development of cooperation may be economically beneficial too, if political barriers are dismantled. There plenty of significant opportunities, as confirmed by the Russia-NATO "Military-Technical Cooperation as a Factor in Capitalization on Russia-NATO Relations" round table, held on June 28, 2012 in Zhukovsky, Moscow Region.
The New Five-Year Plan for Russia-NATO
What might the relationship between Russia and NATO be in, say, five years? The trends in the partnership's development are highly ambiguous.
On the one hand, motivation for partnership has significantly increased. It is very important that the Lisbon breakthrough was not so much a response to the crisis of bilateral relations between Russia and NATO, as a logical result of the search for a new paradigm of relations between Russia and the West. Quality progress in Russia-NATO relations is possible only by addressing the key issue of the established Euro-Atlantic security structure: how to make Russia an equal partner in a system which rests upon its two pillars – NATO and the EU – if Russia cannot be a part of the Euro-Atlantic community. It is unlikely that any significant progress can be achieved through developing pragmatic cooperation only, for this approach leaves out the key issue of security policy strategic objectives.
Many in the West understand the need for new cooperative relations with Russia, as well as for the search for constructive responses to its remaining concerns within the strategic partnership. Russia is also aware that the formation of a Euro-Atlantic security community is only possible if partnership with NATO acquires new a new level of quality. Russia-NATO partnership, in its turn, is not only an important indicator of relations between the parties, but also significantly affects their character and the overall political climate.
While all this is true, the previous sore points in the relationship (Kosovo and NATO expansion into the CIS) have been replaced by new explosive issues such as missile defense and Syria. Lack of trust is recognized as the major obstacle to cooperation, but the limitations of current cooperation prevent it from being overcome. There is still great doubt that another “historic” step in the relationship will put an end to the current cycle of crises. Efforts to keep the momentum of the partnership going to avert the coming stagnation may well be thwarted by the inability of the parties to resolve core disagreements. Then the “historic step” will once again be replaced by a “historic missed opportunity.”
Ironically, these contradictory vectors fit well into the next “five year plan.” In the next year and a half it will become clear if disagreements over missile defense have a chance to be resolved, and Russia then will determine its position on the next phase of the U.S. program accordingly. The coming months will show if the progressive development of Russian-American relations maintains momentum. But after three or four years, the political elites will change and the time will come for a thorough review of gains and losses.
During this time the situation in the conflict zones and regions will change substantially. Suffice it to say that the threat of a new Taliban offensive and another collapse in Afghanistan are more than likely. The outcome of the Syrian conflict is unclear, as well as its impact on Russia's relations with Western partners. In terms of geopolitics, there will be grounds to assess the compatibility of the Western integration project with the Eurasian one, initiated by Russia as a top priority, as well as Russia’s Eurasian project with its European choices.
This list could be continued, but this will obviously add no certainty. It’s extremely difficult to forecast the development of relations between Russia and NATO, and a scenario analysis allows one to consider a wide range of options: from a breakthrough towards real strategic partnership, to the next relationship crisis, which the Russian leadership considers to risk a new arms race. Therefore, on the basis of the understanding reached over the previous five years, it is vitally important to concentrate on resolving the problem of the “two Europes,” eliminating dividing lines and establishing a Euro-Atlantic security community despite all the existing differences. In this case, the range of possible scenarios will be narrowed: the maintenance of constructive dialogue and practical cooperation, coupled with newly gained experience of joint action will, at least, prevent a new crisis. Reaching compromise solutions – primarily on missile defense – seems to be the best scenario possible.
1. Strasbourg/Kehl Summit Declaration
Issued on April 4, 2009 by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Strasbourg/Kehl
2. Charles Kupchan. Decision Time: NATO's hard choices / NATO Review. 2009. No.2.
3. NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement. Analysis and Recommendations of the Group of Experts on a New Strategic Concept for NATO. 17 May 2010.
4. I. Soltanovsky. Russia-NATO Relations: Reflections on Double Anniversary // Evropejskaja bezopasnost': Sobytija, Otsenki, Prognozy Issue 28 (44), July 2012
6. Active Engagement, Modern Defense: Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization adopted by Heads of State and Government in Lisbon on November 19, 2010.
7. NATO/Japan: Tokyo and Washington want to involve NATO in Asia Pacific Region / Europe Diplomacy and Defence, N 575, 22 January 2013. P.4.