NATO’s Call on Russia for Cooperation: Goals and Possibilities

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki 

After the tension in Russia’s relations with NATO increased due to what happened in Southern Ossetia in August 2008, the two sides met at high level on the Greek island of Corfu on June 29, 2009 and agreed to resume political and military cooperation.

The then NATO secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, announced resumption of NATO – Russia cooperation and mentioned reduction in weapons of mass destruction and fighting illicit drugs as major fields in which the two sides can collaborate. His successor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also called for resumption of negotiations with Kremlin in order to create a new atmosphere and work out new strategic partnership according to which both sides could cooperate on Afghanistan, terrorism, and piracy.
He declared reduction of common security concerns in Europe and fighting common threats as the main areas of cooperation between NATO and Russia.

The turning point in renewed relations between NATO and Russia, however, is a recent decision by the United States to give up its plan for the establishment of a missile defense shield in eastern and central Europe. Just one day after the announcement of the above decision by US officials, secretary-general of NATO declared that a major hurdle on the way of expanding relations with Russia has been removed and the two sides should now focus on commonalities. The secretary-general did not suffice to general terms and pointed to four main areas of cooperation between Russia and NATO, that is, fighting terrorism at international level, fighting drug trafficking in Afghanistan, preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons, and establishment of joint missile defense systems.

Russia also lost no time to show positive reaction to the US decision by commending Washington. Kremlin did not suffice to lip service and announced that it will stop deployment of new missiles in Kaliningrad.

The above developments and Rasmussen’s call on Russia to cooperate with NATO indicate a U-turn in NATO’s security policy, on the one hand, and Moscow’s keen interest in improving relations with the United States and NATO for better management of challenges, on the other hand. Since Russia’s relations with NATO have been constantly a function of the country’s relations with the United States and Europe, improvement in bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow has left its mark on Russia’s relations with NATO and common goals have overshadowed discrepancy in values.

On the whole, the West has reached the conclusion that convergence with Russia will be more beneficial for the security of transatlantic system than isolation of the country. Two main reasons have prompted Russia to cooperate with NATO despite threats posed to it by eastward expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The first reason is that Moscow is willing to be part of the transatlantic community. The second reason is having common security concerns with other NATO members, including the issue of stability in Afghanistan and drug trafficking in that country, fighting terrorism, especially transnational Islamist tendencies, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as challenges it is facing due to increased population and influence of China. In doing this, Russia is pursuing the following three goals:

1. To avoid isolation in international issues which are related to global security like Afghanistan by being present in international decision-making bodies such as NATO;

2. To prevent NATO from possibly taking anti-Russia positions; and

3. To creates opportunities for solving problems in the Caucasus by cooperating with NATO on such issues as Afghanistan or terrorism.

On the other hand, the United States and its allies are currently attaching more significance to Russia’s cooperation with NATO as problems like the instability in Afghanistan or the nuclear standoff with Iran greatly overshadowed the war in Georgia and its consequences. As for Afghanistan, it is possible for Russia to either limit the number of NATO flights over its airspace or instigate Central Asian states, as it did with Uzbekistan, to shut down US bases on their soil, thus, causing serious problems for NATO in supporting its forces in Afghanistan.

As for Iran, it seems that the United States has managed through introduction of the missile shield plan and its later rescission to make Moscow cooperate with Washington on Iran’s nuclear case. In fact, the United States has taken advantage of something that did not exist and has dealt with Russia over it. This has precedence in the US foreign policy and many similar instances can be seen in relation to various issues in the world. It was in line with this policy that as soon as the United States announced its decision to rescind the missile shield plan, Rasmussen moved to ask Russia to put the maximum possible diplomatic pressure on Iran in order to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear bomb.

The secretary-general of NATO warned the world on September 19, 2009 and on the verge of Group 5+1 meeting that if Iran were turned into a nuclear power, its model would be followed by some neighboring countries and emergence of multiple nuclear powers would not be in the best interests of NATO and Russia.

Since Russia has been consistently following a defensive policy toward NATO in the past decade and considered NATO’s decisions a function of the interests of its main power, that is, the United States, it seems that improvement in Washington – Moscow relations would certainly lead to improvement in Russia’s relations with NATO, just as happened in 2002.

The signs of such improvement are already on the horizon. Russian leaders have not ruled out the possibility of more sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and have even expressed concerns over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

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