This is the first time Lithuania is participating in a drafting of NATO’s strategic concept, the first to be adopted since the enlargement of the alliance. Naturally we can expect an influx of ideas from the new allies.
The strategic concept will have to explain to our societies what NATO stands for in the 21st century. Allies approach this task from two different perspectives. On the one hand they have to convince their publics that NATO is not a useless relic of the Cold War. On the other hand — and this is especially true for the new allies — they believe that NATO must remain true to its core purpose: collective defense.
Collective defense was the reason we and many other countries strove for NATO membership. We needed to secure our regained freedom and independence. I have no doubt that the principle of “reassurance” will be duly reflected in the document.
As NATO prepares to respond to new challenges — cyber defense, energy security, terrorism, piracy, etc. — it is imperative that this not be done at the expense of its core principle.
Reassurance is usually portrayed as a visible gesture to someone who feels threatened. In my understanding, reassurance within NATO means, first of all, confidence and commitment to one another among all the allies.
I believe that reassurance is related not only to a particular concrete threat or ally, but rather to the political will and readiness to fulfill the basic task of the alliance — collective defense. Reassurance is about getting our troops ready and interoperable.
Only thus will we reassure one another and those who are concerned on the outside that the alliance can face modern challenges, and will not be transformed into a “coalition of the willing.”
NATO is a defensive alliance, and does not consider any country to be its enemy. But there should be no doubts regarding NATO’s resolve and capability to respond efficiently if the security of any member is threatened.
Let me touch upon another aspect of reassurance: From time to time it is presented in connection with a stronger engagement — a reset — with Russia.
I fail to see how relations with Russia should in any way be conditioned by NATO’s reassurance policy. It is a false connection, whether it is presented positively — that reassurance would encourage historically sensitive allies to have better relations with Russia — or negatively (as argued by Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger and Admiral Ulrich Weisser in the International Herald Tribune) — that engagement with Russia cannot be reconciled with military reassurance, which in the view of its proponents means defense planning against Russia.
Reassurance should not be a factor in NATO-Russia relations. Reassurance policy is a practical implementation of collective defense. It is not directed at any one country, but against any threat that can be reasonably anticipated.
As NATO is planning its defenses, so is Russia, and this should not in any way preclude cooperation or building confidence and transparency in our relations. Any obstacles to such cooperation are not military, but political.
The desire of the U.S. administration (and all of us) to review, refresh and to some extent put our relations with Russia on a constructive, rational track is quite understandable. We need true engagement with Russia for strategic stability in Europe. We need Russia to fix the conventional arms control regime, we need it for the global war against terrorism, the fight against nuclear proliferation, and many other new security threats.
But we must also be aware that on the other side, NATO is portrayed in Russia’s security strategy not as a strategic friend and not even as a partner, but as a danger. So we need to ask ourselves: Do we really know what it means for NATO-Russia cooperation to succeed? Do we know what Russia is aiming for in this partnership? Does it correspond to our understanding of what it means? Do we really share the same values?
We are well aware of Russia’s concerns regarding NATO “encirclement.” And there are no fundamental differences within NATO in assessing the state of affairs inside Russia; the discussions, however, are on the tactical level, about how to move ahead.
One approach asks what NATO can do to encourage change in Russia. Those who advocate this approach are reluctant to raise divisive issues in order to not undermine the process. I would say that under this approach, we are pushing not only the “reset” button, but also “delete” — deleting memory, commitments, obligations.
Another approach is based on a belief that common interests should not trump values. Relations with Russia suffered as a consequence of its actions and policies, first of all in Georgia. This approach maintains that it is impossible to make progress toward healthy relations if Russia does not do its part in respecting existing treaties, political commitments and institutions.
In a way, these two approaches were reconciled in the NATO policy agreed on in 2009; NATO will cooperate with Russia wherever possible, but will not shy away from raising issues on which we disagree.
I am optimistic that relations can improve as Russia moves along on the path of modernization. Russia is not condemned to authoritarian rule. The best way to encourage democratic transformation is with open and principled positions.
Once there is real progress in solving stalled security issues and bridging differences, NATO-Russia relations will improve substantially. And I can assure you that Lithuania will be the first to embrace this change, notwithstanding any historical sensitivity we have.
Linas Linkevicius, a Lithuanian politician of the Social Democratic Party.