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Saturday, January 13, 2007

NATO Turns on Russia

Writing in the St. Petersburg Times Major General Peter Williams, the first head of the NATO Military Liaison Mission in Moscow, from 2002 to 2005, exposes NATO's increasing hostility towards Russia based on Russia's outrageous misconduct towards the West:

If NATO had issued a report card on the state of its strategic partnership with Russia at their November summit in Latvia, the document might have read: “Good effort, but must try much harder.”

Given the crises over energy security, the mysterious deaths of Kremlin opponents both at home and abroad, the disagreements over Western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and the failure to convene a NATO-Russia Council summit in tandem with the Riga meeting, this report card might seem justified. But NATO decided not to invite Russia, and its absence at such a significant gathering passed almost unmentioned in the media.

To some extent, a general mood of pessimism about NATO-Russia relations seems to be unavoidable. But ahead of the 10th anniversary in May of the founding of the Permanent Joint Council this is an ideal time for political leaders to reassess and then reaffirm their commitment this remarkable strategic partnership.

First, it is worth asking whether the challenges that created the Permanent Joint Council and then the NATO-Russia Council have been overcome or diminished in importance. Combating the threats from terrorism, extremism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains as important and as unresolved as ever. Added to these challenges during the last decade have been the increased focus on countering transnational crime and the need to address energy security and environmental issues.

In all these areas, NATO, through its partnerships and relations with other states, continues to demonstrate that it provides a forum of choice during times of political crisis. The NATO-Russia Council is also able to offer a mature hierarchy of political and military councils, committees and working groups that deliver a flexible framework of structures and processes that can be adapted to almost any situation or problem.

The alliance’s chain of command also provides the backbone for multinational operations in the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Afghanistan. NATO forces and their coalition colleagues continue to provide security and ensure a welcome return to peace and sustainable development in numerous regions beyond the territory of member states. Having met NATO’s demanding pre-deployment standards, Russian naval units joined the allied maritime surveillance flotilla in the Mediterranean in September for the first time.

Other areas where substantial and demonstrable progress has been made are in the field of military cooperation including submarine search and rescue, air defense and airspace coordination, and the safe transportation of nuclear warheads. Some other military projects have achieved little so far; unfortunately, one of these is the Russian peacekeeping brigade in Samara that is intended to be interoperable with allied forces.

So how can the report card be improved in 2007? First and foremost, the political will that created and has sustained the NATO-Russia strategic partnership will need to be reaffirmed at the highest political level at a meeting in or around May. The NATO-Russia Council’s successes must be trumpeted and new, daring projects need to be launched that can capture imaginations on main streets in Vancouver, Valencia, Verona, Volgograd and Vladivostok.

One issue that continues to cry out for constructive engagement by NATO, Russia and its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization is close coordination of air and ground force operations to counter terrorism and transnational crime in Central Asia and northern Afghanistan.

U.S.-led coalition troops and Russian-led forces, for example, have operated from separate, neighboring air bases in the region, both ostensibly to counter the same threats but without any degree of genuine cooperation. It will take courage to change this political and military culture of noncooperation, but aiming for interoperability can only improve the effectiveness of these operations and save the lives of soldiers and civilians both there and, indirectly, in the countries taking part.

Inevitably, the success of NATO-Russia cooperation will depend on the resources — human, logistical and financial — that are devoted to it. Talk of achieving military interoperability is cheap, but delivering personnel who speak a common operating language (which must be English in this context), are trained in the same doctrine and operational procedures, and use equipment that can dovetail with that used by their multinational colleagues will be expensive.

Political will, structures and projects mean little without resources. Over the first decade of the special relationship between NATO and Russia, the resources committed for the execution of NATO-Russia Council policies and plans have been far below those suggested by the political rhetoric.

In May, pessimists will likely see the NATO-Russia Council glass after its first 10 years as half empty, and will look for the project to be put on the back burner as irrelevant when the NATO-Russia relationship appears to be stuck in a rut.

Optimists, on the other hand, will see the glass as at least half full, believing that, with the necessary political support and commitment of resources, those structures and programs already in place can deliver ever closer NATO-Russia cooperation over the decade ahead.

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