Earlier this year, a report on a new strategic concept called “NATO 2020,” a group led by Madeleine Albright that included myself recommended opening the door to new members while seeking a more constructive relationship with Russia. We outlined a dual strategy of reassuring the NATO allies that their interests would be defended while engaging with Moscow in a manner consistent with the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act and the 2002 Rome Declaration on the NATO-Russia relationship.

Reassuring the alliance’s governments doesn’t only mean that “any constructive engagement would have to be based on military reassurances within NATO,” as prominent experts like Wolfgang Ischinger and Ulrich Weisser said in the New York Times this summer. Security assurances should also comprise confidence-building measures along with conventional and nuclear arms control and disarmament.

The Albright report outlined “re-engagement and reassurance” that was an echo of the 1967 Harmel report’s “deterrence and détente”. And a “reset” of relations with Russia, as the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dubbed it, can succeed so long as it is reciprocal. Russia therefore has to put into practice two fundamental principles that it has already accepted in several declarations. First, that every sovereign nation has an inherent right “to belong or not to belong to international organisations, to be or not to be a party to bi-lateral or multi-lateral treaties, including the right to be or not to be a party to treaties of alliance; they also have the right to neutrality”, as the Helsinki Final Act put it. Second, that the sovereign equality of states includes respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty.

NATO needs Russia, and Russia needs NATO. Back in February, Hillary Clinton told the alliance’s Strategic Concept seminar in Washington that “while Russia faces challenges to its security, NATO is not among them. We want a co-operative NATO-Russia relationship that produces concrete results and draws NATO and Russia closer together.” If we are not to miss the window of opportunity, this should happen as soon as possible because the U.S. shift away from unilateralism has restored the importance of multilateral security institutions and given NATO the chance to establish new partnerships with the EU and with Russia.

Visiting Moscow in February, our NATO expert group’s intention was both to consult and to promote a re-thinking of our perceptions of one another. The main problem in the NATO-Russia relationship is not a lack of institutions, documents or procedures, it is the lack of transparency, confidence and mutual trust. American security analyst Charles Kupchan raised a pertinent question when he asked whether Russia should eventually join the Atlantic alliance, remarking that settlements after the Napoleonic wars and World War II showed that alliances between former adversaries in the post-war order can be critical to the consolidation of great-power peace.

In other words, inclusiveness and not exclusiveness has to determine NATO’s strategy towards Russia. But for it to work, such a strategy means that Russia must demonstrate reciprocity and a clear political will to co-operate with NATO. Russia therefore has to make a choice. The transatlantic community of nations has beckoned Moscow to the NATO dinner table, and its invitation carries those well-known letters: RSVP.

In weighing its response, Moscow needs to take care not to cling to Cold War rhetoric. The military doctrine it unveiled in February this year lists both internal and external threats, but its primary emphasis was on portraying U.S. and NATO action as a danger. Whether the doctrine’s authors actually believe NATO poses a danger to Russia isn’t clear, as it hasn’t had such comfortable neighbours on its Western borders for more than 300 years.

Moscow and NATO need to develop jointly a new security agenda and a more co-operative methodology based on common working groups and joint papers. The old way of negotiating – via proposals and counterproposals, with Russia and NATO perceiving each other as adversaries – should be abandoned. The kind of approach we need is exemplified by the work of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, co-chaired by Sam Nunn of the U.S., Igor Ivanov of Russia and Wolfgang Ischinger of Germany.

Because a lack of trust seems to be the main problem in NATO-Russia relations, there have been proposals to tackle this it in such forums as the NATO-Russia Council, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Corfu Process and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Instead of generalities, modalities and institutions, however, we have as has been suggested recently by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel to focus more on practical steps. That means we have to think how to broaden our commitments to reciprocal transparency on all military forces in Europe – including conventional and nuclear forces and missile defence installations – as without that we will never have the predictability the relationship needs. The time is ripe to again explore limitations on conventional forces, and to adjust them to present rather than past needs.

We also have to redefine common threats, while strengthening the OSCE’s mechanisms for preventing, managing and resolving conflicts. And the common security agenda of confidence-building and transparency has to be based on the principle of indivisibility of security in Europe and the transatlantic area as a whole, including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, not just for members of the alliance but also for all other countries that belong to the broader transatlantic security community.

The Albright report suggested that NATO’s strategic political and military objectives could be achieved jointly with Russia through greater stability, mutual transparency, predictability and arms reduction verified by non-proliferation and arms control agreements. The notion of the interdependence of states – whether large or small, weak or powerful, democratic or authoritarian – has organised the present international security system. But the globalisation and fragmentation of the world today means that interdependence does not in itself ensure control of the way relations develop between states, still less does it control developments within them. We have yet to create an effective crisis management mechanism. Many governments have lost control over events within their own territories, particularly when they are weak, failing or failed states. This is true in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and especially true of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.

So the tasks confronting the Atlantic alliance require a redefinition of transatlantic relation so as to provide answers to the following questions: Should NATO undergo further simultaneous transformation and enlargement, and if so – to what extent? Should the main emphasis be placed on out-of-area forces, or on forces needed to defend the territories of NATO’s member states? What kind of relations should NATO have with its partners and, in particular, what role should NATO play when armed conflicts break out on its periphery? The Albright report tries to address these questions in a balanced way by endorsing policies that capture accurately the relationship between “out of area operations” and members’ commitment to their mutual self-defence under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which remains the core purpose of the alliance. But the newly-restored importance of multi-lateral security institutions is creating a new climate and also opens qualitatively new prospects for a security system that can meet the needs of the 21st century.

Commentary

Sure they need each other, but the focus should be Eurasia not Europe

Adam Daniel Rotfeld’s suggestions for a new start between NATO and Russia encourage me to make three comments. The first relates to the fact that their respective agendas do not coincide. NATO is preoccupied by its preparations for its Lisbon summit in November, when it is to unveil its new strategic concept. For nine years now, the alliance has been fighting in Afghanistan even though that is outside its zone of competence. This raises questions about NATO’s military and political capacities, and about the alliance’s future in case of failure there. AfPak is therefore of much more immediate concern for NATO than is Russia. For its part, Russia launched its pan-European security initiative in May 2008, just before its war with Georgia in August. Rotfeld remains silent on this conflict, even though it marked a turning point in which Russia reinforced its military positions in the post-Soviet space and in the Caucasus in particular. Russia’s interest in NATO is thus narrowly related to its ambitions of preserving its “sphere of privileged interests”.

My second comment stems from what is known of the Russian security establishment, which is far from homogeneous. When dealing with Russia, European security experts are quite often misled by a lack of attention to strategic culture and civil-military relations. It would be wrong to say that the Russian armed forces are no longer obsessed by NATO, but after having analysed Russia’s doctrinal thinking I am often struck by Russians’ growing concern over China’s nuclear and conventional capabilities. Iran is also watched very carefully by them not to mention Pakistan. Rotfeld’s thinking about Russia therefore struck me as a little bit too Eurocentric.

My final comment concerns policymaking. Taking into account the mindset and behaviour of Russian officials concerned with European security, I would suggest looking for innovative approaches. NATO is perceived in Moscow as a declining military organisation and as a U.S. political instrument. Added to this, NATO-Russia relations are still seen as just one segment among many in the triangle between Europe, Russia and the U.S. I agree with Rotfeld that NATO and Russia need each other, but I would suggest avoiding the idea that NATO-Russia relations form the backbone of European security problems. Today’s challenges are being played out within a Eurasian rather than a European framework.