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Russia-NATO summit: a new era or a false dawn?

Dr. Arvind Gupta was Director General at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • November 08, 2010

    At its summit meeting in Lisbon on 19-20 November 2010, NATO will adopt a new ‘strategic concept” avowedly to prepare the alliance for meeting the new global challenges of terrorism, cyber attacks, piracy, threats to global supply lanes etc. NATO says while it will not give up the principle of collective security (art 5) or that of deterrence , it will need global partnerships even with non-NATO countries to counter new threats. The new concept has been dubbed as ver. 3.0 by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

    Alongside the summit, a Russia-NATO summit is scheduled to take place on 20 November in Lisbon. This is an historic moment as President Medvedev will be attending the summit. It remains to be seen whether the NATO’s strategic concept continues to regard Russia as an adversary or treats it as a partner in peace.

    Although mutually antagonistic, NATO and Russia have been cooperating since 1997 when NATO-Russia founding act was passed. In 2002 the relationship was formalized by the establishment of NATO-Russia Council (NRC). Russia and NATO have monthly meetings within the framework of NRC. The cooperation was suspended when Russia took military action in Georgia in August 2008 and unilaterally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia has been extremely sensitive to NATO’s eastward expansion. It simply cannot agree to the possibility of Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO.

    NATO-Russia cooperation has since been resumed. Not only is there a regular political dialogue between the two, they also have military to military cooperation in the areas of counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, maritime piracy and, most significantly, on Afghanistan. They have even completed a joint assessment of the threats and challenges of the 21st century. Despite this cooperation, mutual suspicions have not gone away because the two sides have very different views about European security.

    In recent years, President Medvedev has proposed a binding treaty on all-encompassing European security architecture. NATO is not ready for a formal agreement. Instead they have proposed wide-ranging practical cooperation with Russia on a variety of security issues. In particular, NATO has suggested cooperation with Russia on missile defence system for Europe. Russia has said it is willing to study concrete proposals in this regard. So, there is a possibility of cooperation on missile defence systems.

    Intense pre-summit discussions have taken place between NATO and Russia. NATO Secretary General visited Moscow on November 4th, 2010 and had meetings with President Medvedev and Foreign Mister Lavrov. Russian foreign minister Lavrov has stated clearly that Russia is looking forward to a change of NATO’s adversarial vis-à-vis Russia.

    There is some softening of NATO’s attitude towards Russia. It wants to engage Russia on security issues but it will not go as far as giving Russia a free run of the region. Many NATO members, particularly those from Central and East Europe, continue to harbour deep suspicions about Russia. Similarly, Russia is equally suspicious of NATO’s presence in its backyard. But big European counties like Italy, Germany and France are in favour of closer and cooperation with Russia. Russia has almost split the EU by building a gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea to Germany bypassing Poland and the Baltic countries.

    It is the sign of changing times that Russia and NATO are looking at the prospect of a closer partnership with each other. This is the outcome of a Russian resurgence and NATO’s desperation on account of its getting bogged down in Afghanistan. Russia can no longer be ignored by NATO. Russia is central to Eurasian security. NATO will have to come to terms with Russian resurgence. It will be in the interest of global security if Russia and NATO ended their antagonism.

    At the moment it seems that Russia will not get a European security treaty from NATO. But NATO may suggest a wider ambit of security cooperation. How NATO accommodates the Russian sensitivities on expansion remains to be seen. Russia will also come under pressure to soften its stance on the CFE treaty whole implementation it has suspended.

    The summit can go either way. It may provide the beginning of end of mutual antagonisms. But, given the historic and fundamental differences on each other’s perceptions about security, the summit may prove to be a false dawn. Much will depend upon the sincerity of the two sides to cooperate with each other.