Getting Russia Right

At a NATO summit in Strasbourg in April 2009, a group of experts headed by Madeleine Albright was directed to prepare the ground for a new “strategic concept.” The group’s report, presented recently, correctly stresses that conditions for our common security have fundamentally changed since the last strategic concept was issued in 1999. Key developments have to be taken into account — 9/11, the weakened nuclear nonproliferation regime, piracy, energy risks and other security issues. Above all, there is the need to establish a strategic relationship with Russia.

The report underlines the value of some guiding principles — such as NATO’s central role to safeguard freedom and security for all its members; the fact that an attack on one is an attack on all; the need to maintain a strong trans-Atlantic link; and the common understanding that equitable sharing of risks and responsibilities is an important prerequisite for alliance cohesion.

But the report falls short of providing a blueprint of NATO’s future strategic concept. This is most obvious regarding NATO’s central challenge, the challenge of getting Russia right. Regrettably, fundamental differences between some new members in Eastern Europe and those in Western Europe about how to deal with Russia have not been overcome. The expert group attempts to bridge the differences by proposing to reach out to Russia, but under the condition that any constructive engagement would have to be based on military reassurances within NATO. This means that defense planning activities — against Russia — would continue to be on the alliance agenda.

But how can the view expressed in the very same report — that NATO is not a threat to Russia, nor Russia to NATO — be reconciled with continuous defense planning activities against Russia? The report does not really offer a strategic response to Dmitri Medvedev’s proposals on European security.

Only if NATO manages to get Russia right will Russia cease to be a source of permanent friction among NATO members. Only if NATO manages to get Russia right will a sustainable European security architecture emerge.

Should Russia, as has been suggested, be invited to become a full NATO member? Obviously, reaffirming that NATO’s open door policy applies to the Russia as well as to any other European country could be an important signal. But that would not resolve the challenge of short-term confidence-building between Washington, Moscow and Brussels.

That is why we need concrete projects to replace suspicion with an atmosphere of cooperation. One proposal, recently submitted by NATO’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, regards the joint development of a missile defense system. Other ideas are being explored in the E.U.-Russia relationship as well as in the bilateral German-Russian context.

An additional field of cooperation could be conventional and nuclear arms control and disarmament. The expert group suggests maintaining nuclear deterrence at a minimal level, but without offering any specific proposal for a sub-strategic nuclear arms control process that might complement the strategic arms control dynamic recently initiated by Washington and Moscow.

Finally, entrusting the security discussion to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the so-called “Corfu process” will almost certainly lead to a dead-end. As NATO ponders its future strategic priorities, some creative diplomacy might take us a long way toward a more sustainable European security structure. Why not, for example, re-animate the classic contact group format — the foreign ministers of the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, maybe including Poland, plus the E.U. and NATO? Or would a smaller format, consisting of the three foreign ministers of the U.S., Russia, and the E.U., plus NATO’s secretary-general, be more effective in dealing with Russia?

Can we prepare the ground for a 2010 NATO summit and strategic concept to which Moscow might react constructively? Can we make it possible for Russia to attend the Lisbon summit? Can we move closer to a Europe whole, free and united?

Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference and a former deputy foreign minister of Germany and Ulrich Weisser, a retired admiral who served as director of policy planning at the German Ministry of Defense.