The next NATO Strategic Concept will state that confronting the modern global challenges to security – terrorism, resource scarcity, effects of climate change, migration, cyber-security, etc. – is the primary mission for all Alliance members in the near future. However, to ensure that NATO capabilities are as effective as possible, a renewed focus on building up its long-term partnerships should not be neglected in the discussions for the Strategic Concept. NATO leaders should take this as an opportunity to boldly affirm that with Russia, there is mutual interest for a partnership that will ensure the continued security and stability of all sides.
The 1999 Strategic Concept laid out a NATO-Russian partnership with the aim of building "a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe." A decade later, this can be described as an ongoing success. During the same time, security challenges facing both NATO and Russia have largely moved beyond this area into regions that did not have the same focus then as they do today. The need exists with the next Strategic Concept to tighten the relations and partnership between NATO and Russia, because the mutual interests that unite the two are greater than those issues over which they conflict.
The 2002 enactment of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was the beginning of six years of an incremental but meaningful creation of a role for Russia within NATO. However, this process froze in response to the 2008 conflict with Georgia. The ‘thawing' that has occurred since then has shown that potential still exists for a strong Russian partnership. New security initiatives and agreements have been implemented relating to missile defense and nuclear disarmament. The NATO-Russian Cooperative Airspace Initiative, as another example, is working to combat air terrorism through joint monitoring of border airspace. In recent months, Russia has allowed NATO-ISAF troops more access through its territory for supply routes to Afghanistan and is currently negotiating the sale of Mi-17 helicopters to the Afghan military.
The time is right to proactively engage Russia and bring it into a closer partnership with the Alliance. The next Strategic Concept needs to boldly and emphatically state the need for a strong security partnership between NATO and Russia. NATO should aim for the following:
1. Mutual trust needs to be (re)built. Russia has to believe that NATO is not simply pushing an agenda from Washington, while NATO members need a Russia that is willing to put aside its twentieth century mindset of territorial spheres of influence to assure mutual security for all. The political hijacking of NATO by either side is short-sighted in its effect.
2. NATO must declare strong intentions. The Strategic Concept should state emphatically the desired formal, reciprocal and informed partnership that would be most beneficial. Russia may never become a member of NATO, but its partnership is vital and should be so stated.
3. The NRC must be developed into a more substantial institution within the Alliance. The aim should be to reinstitute all the programs that were interrupted by the 2008 conflict and increase the visibility and potential of the NRC for security co-operation in the future.
4. The re-formalization of NRC talks at the ministerial level that began in 2009 with General Secretary Rasmussen's engagement visit to Russia should be continued. Greater consultation between both sides on all issues pertinent to security should be pursued in official capacities.
NATO must also clearly state that, while not imminent, inclusion of new members is still open and voluntary for countries, especially in the Caucasus. Increasing membership rolls should be framed not as a security threat to Russia, but perhaps even as a possibility for the nation itself in the future. With the right fostering, by 2020 the partnership between NATO and Russia can serve as a lynchpin for the efforts to combat the challenges of the twenty-first century, globalized world. Recognizing and combating the threats common to all sides must take the fore.
Daniel Nikolits is currently pursuing his MA in international relations at Humboldt University in Berlin.
- Editorial Team: Join the AC Policy Team for NATO's New Strategic Concept
- Klaus Spiessberger: AC Policy Team: Three Goals for a Modernized Alliance
- Jorge Benitez: NATO's Center of Gravity: Political Will
- Olaf Theiler: NATO Tensions No Cause for Alarm