NATO: a new dawn, Russia still to decide

A series of decisions arrived at, by NATO members during last month’s summit in Lisbon signaled a willingness from the organization to change some of its tactics in achieving goals that could largely be of benefit, not only to member states, but also to other parts of the world.

During the two-day (November 19-20) meeting , NATO members adopted a new Strategic Concept that will serve as the Alliance’s roadmap for the next ten years. Members decided to develop new capabilities necessary to defend against modern threats such as ballistic missile and cyber attacks. Allies also gave a new impact to the relations with Russia, with the aim of building a strategic partnership and cooperation in Afghanistan.

The summit was held at time when NATO faced criticism from many parts of the world in relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and some European nations.

World leaders at NATO Summit

NATO was originally created to protect Western Europe from the USSR “red threat.” But critics say the organization had largely deviated from its objectives.

“I’m not sure what NATO is in the 21st century,” said Ivan Eland, the director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute.
“It’s still a military alliance on paper, but I think it’s not really feasible to defend every country, so it’s really become a talk shop and it’s outdated,” Eland said.

The U.S. President Barack Obama tried to breathe new life into the Alliance. As Associate Press pointed, Obama won NATO summit agreement to build a missile shield over Europe, an ambitious commitment to protect against Iranian attack while demonstrating the alliance’s continuing relevance — but at the risk of further aggravating Russia.”

“It enables the US to do two things,” Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at Center for American Progress, said of NATO.
“One, to assure American people that threats they’re dealing with for example in Afghanistan, are not just against the US. And that the US while it’s still world’s greatest power is no longer a power that can do everything by itself,” Korb said.

The U.S. wants to vest the responsibility for the defense in Europe itself, while the country has other locations to worry about.

But today, there is no alternative for NATO-Russia cooperation.
Adam Daniel Rotfeld, the former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a report to the Project Syndicate, wrote concerning US-NATO relations:

“The US shift away from unilateralism has restored the importance of multilateral security institutions while giving NATO the chance to establish new partnerships with the EU and Russia.”
Back in February, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the alliance’s Strategic Concept seminar in Washington that, “while Russia faces challenges to its security, NATO is not among them.” She said “we want a cooperative NATO-Russia relationship that produces concrete results and draws NATO and Russia closer together.” It should be noted that according to the European Council on Foreign Relations, it was Russia which first said that the security order in Europe no longer worked and, two years ago, called for its revision.

Russia’s proposals suggest replacing NATO and OSCE with a new security pact that would provide every country in the Euro-Atlantic area – including Russia- with a right to veto other countries’ choices of security alliances. In addition, the European security picture has become more complicated as Turkey’s regional role increased and Ankara has turned into a more stubborn ally. Although Turkey is a NATO member and still hopes to join the EU, its recent statements on Iran or Sudan run directly against the EU/US line.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Turkey is a key player in the planned missile shield. Though the shield’s initial purpose is to deal with potential threats from Iran, the leaders agreed with Turkey and others that specific countries should not be named. This way Turkey could probably avoid some tensions with Iran, the country’s new found partner.

But for the future successful development, NATO needs Russia, and Russia needs NATO.

But as Rotfeld pointed out, the main problem in the NATO-Russia relationship is not a lack of institutions, documents, or procedures, but a lack of transparency, confidence, and mutual trust.

“A powerful military block appearing near our borders will be perceived in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country,” Russian Prime Minster Vladimir Putin, then President, said at a press conference in 2008 after talks with NATO had broken down.

That’s why it is hard to believe that Russia will use the possibility of becoming the Alliance member, as the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Ivo Daalder said it could do, if interested and answers the organization’s standards.

De-facto Russian membership would signal the end of NATO. It would create many other challenges too. For example, as the Moscow Time noted, if Russia ever became a NATO member, it would extend the alliance’s territory to China, which has a 4,000-kilometer border with Russia. This would upset the tripolar global security balance between NATO, Russia and China, and it would cause China to believe that Russia and NATO are joining forces to “contain,” or even weaken, China. It’s very unlikely that Russia is going to sacrifice its friendship with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member to join the Alliance.
However, Russia also appears to be in a dire need to take a new front line position in dealing with issues revolving around major organizations and world powers, including the US and NATO. Definitely, the dilema – whether to join or not to join NATO, will soon be broken by Russia’s final decision.

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