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NATO-Russia: Sit Down and Discuss Where Our Interests Meet

NATO-Russia: Sit Down and Discuss Where Our Interests Meet

Speech By Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General at the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations (MGIMO). Source: NATO: Moscow, 21 February 2001.

Rector Torkunov,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very grateful to you, Professor Torkunov, and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for the invitation to address this audience in your renowned institute. I am particularly pleased to see so many young faces before me. You, the students of MGIMO, will face the challenge of serving your country in a fast changing world where barriers to communication, trade and investment are rapidly disappearing. The new democratic Russia, now on a road of difficult transformation, the building of a genuine civil society, and coping with difficult economic reform, will have its rightful place in this globalised community.

Europe is growing ever more together, overcoming the remnants of a divisive past and the old lines of ideological and military confrontation. The prescription for our new Europe is cooperation, integration and partnership. Russia has a home in this new Europe - by decision, and by sheer necessity.

You, the future leaders, will define your country's interests and voice its ambition. When you do so, I want to encourage you to bear that prescription of cooperation, integration and partnership in your minds - and in your hearts.

I am back in Moscow in less than a year since my last visit because I firmly believe in the important role the NATO-Russia partnership must play in the construction of a new Europe. Like a mirror, the evolution of NATO-Russia relations has reflected the hopes as well as some of the disappointments that have characterised the past decade in Europe.

As with Europe, the NATO-Russia relationship moved from optimism to pessimism, and then back again. Does it always have to be like this -- hope and disappointment, ups and downs? Or can we break these cycles -- and develop a relationship that is so deep, so confident, that it knows only one direction -- the direction of constant progress?

Of course, there is only one answer: "Yes". Yes, we can build a relationship that is solid and trustful, a relationship in which we can cope with disagreements -- and not walk away over them. Yes, we can develop a relationship which suits our mutual strategic interests -- and not remain stuck in an outdated zero-sum approach, where one side's gain is inevitably seen by the other as a net loss.

We can build such a relationship. In fact, both Russia and NATO have worked hard throughout the last decade to bring it about. But we could not quite reach it. Because whenever we had a disagreement, old misperceptions and stereotypes got in the way and derailed us from our course.

In hindsight, looking back at the last decade, it is easy to see why we could not move as far as we should have. After the Berlin Wall had come down, it seemed to many Russians a historical injustice that NATO, the arch-enemy of a by-gone era, had survived the Cold War in good health -- while the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, the Soviet Union had disintegrated, and Russia had removed its forces from a united Germany, from all over Central Europe and the Baltic states.

So, for many Russian observers, the very notion of a NATO-Russia relationship may have appeared downright paradoxical. Why engage in cooperation with an Alliance that seemed to have outlived its purpose, now that its erstwhile enemy had disappeared? Why build ties with an organisation many Russians considered to be a historical anachronism, now that the Warsaw Pact had gone?

If there was destined to be a permanent balance between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation, I could perhaps share that observation. But NATO has never been simply a mirror-image of the Warsaw Pact. The circumstances of the Cold War artificially narrowed NATO's main function to one of collective defence. But there was always more to NATO than collective defence. It was then, and remains today, the expression of something wider and deeper -- a voluntary security community between Europe and North America, a shared destiny of the member states, and a shared commitment to values now seen as universal - democracy, individual liberty, free economies, and the rule of law.

This broader idea of community that underlies NATO explains why all the predictions about NATO's demise after the end of the Cold War turned out wrong. Common wisdom holds that Alliances are created against an enemy and thus disappear once the enemy has disappeared. But this logic simply does not apply to NATO -- because NATO simply isn't an Alliance in the traditional sense. It is a political-military framework for managing security through cooperation. And meeting security challenges through cooperation makes sense, no matter whether one has an enemy or not.

NATO was, therefore, here to stay. But it was turning into a new NATO, a different NATO. It remained faithful to its basic and, at the same time, very modern recipe of success -- decision-making by consensus and integrated military capability. But it revised its strategy, as its planning shifted from forward defence to the new challenges of peace support missions. And NATO deliberately reached out to co-operate with all nations of Europe, Russia foremost among them.

The Alliance was, and continues to be, ready to engage Russia -- not for sentimental reasons, but for healthy reasons of self-interest: - because together we have a significant contribution to make to European security and stability, - because we face common challenges and - because our Member States have a significant stake in the success of Russia's own political and economic transformation.

Over time, these arguments were accepted by a growing number of Russian observers, both inside and outside government. But it was our cooperation in IFOR/SFOR, implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement for Bosnia-Herzegovina, that constituted the watershed for the evolution of our partnership. Because beyond all the talk, NATO and Russia demonstrated that when it came to the crunch, they could deliver together.

It was against this background that NATO and Russia started discussions about a new foundation and of new horizons for their relationship. The negotiations of what was to become the "Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation", signed in Paris in May 1997 by President Yeltsin and the Heads of State and Government of NATO member states, were not easy. But the result was worth every effort.

The Founding Act is a very remarkable document. Some have called it a "magna carta" for NATO-Russia relations -- and, indeed, it does chart a straight course for a closer partnership. It spells out why NATO and Russia are destined to cooperate. It established a unique framework for our consultations and for cooperation -- the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. And it commits us to overcome the past and to effectively address the security challenges of the present and together shape the future.

I believe the Founding Act is as topical and relevant to European security and stability as is the evolving strength of the European Union or the OSCE. It sets lasting benchmarks against which our efforts are to be measured. But we have to ask ourselves: Have these benchmarks been translated into policy and action?

It is a matter of debate as to whether the glass of implementing the Founding Act is half full or half empty. Let us also not forget we have had only 4 years to test the Founding Act - a period reduced by the temporary freeze that followed NATO's military action against Milosevic.

The NATO-Russia PJC met for the first time in July 1997 and it had only until March 1999 to show its potential. The record shows, however, that substantial progress was achieved even in this short period. Not only did the PJC establish itself as the venue for NATO-Russia consultations, but a whole network of experts' contacts, Working Groups, and ad-hoc meetings developed under its umbrella, addressing the areas of consultation and cooperation foreseen in the Founding Act.

We started building the NATO-Russia partnership from the bottom up, on the nuts and bolts, such as air space management, disarmament, armaments cooperation, proliferation, civil emergency planning, scientific cooperation and more. For a while, it seemed that this progress was irreversible. Until the Kosovo crisis gave us a rude awakening.

All these promising in-roads, broadening trust and confidence and developing habits and patterns of cooperation came to an abrupt halt in March 1999. At this crucial moment, compelled by an unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo and dead-lock at the UN Security Council, nineteen democratic NATO countries decided to take military action to stop the ethnic killing and cleansing of Milosevic. As a result of NATO's action, Russia walked out of the PJC. Our relationship was plunged into its most serious crisis. Our relationship had not matured enough, our trust was not deep enough, the misconceptions were not sufficiently dispelled.

This is neither the time nor place to re-live the exhausting efforts to find an agreement on Kosovo or to rehearse the painstaking and reluctant decision-making process within the Atlantic Alliance. But as Dostoyevsky said in A Writer's Diary, "the cleverest of all is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month." So perhaps a few words of collective soul-searching may be in order -- to learn, and to avoid setbacks of the same scale in the future.

Perhaps the first point to make here is this: It was never our aim to marginalise the role of Russia in the Kosovo conflict. We wanted Russia aboard all along. We wanted Russia to share with us our engagement to break once and for all the pattern of violence and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. We needed to stop Milosevic from waging a ruthless war on his own citizens -- a war that threatened to destabilise an already fragile region further. We had not forgotten Bosnia.

Beware of myths that Milosevic could have been stopped by means other than force! He, not the Kosovo Albanians, had refused a settlement at Rambouillet. All diplomatic efforts had ended in a deadly cul-de-sac.

In the end, Russia's role in the resolution of the conflict was crucial and its contribution to KFOR, the peacekeeping operation, became a significant one from the start.

Today, I am gratified to say that the cooperation between our troops in Kosovo is excellent. The Russian soldiers in Kosovo are, together with their comrades from NATO and the other participating countries, doing a great job under difficult circumstances. We have every right to be proud of them.

I will not hide from you that when the monthly meetings of the PJC resumed in July 1999 - with an agenda, at Russia's insistence, limited to Kosovo and Bosnia - there was still bitterness in the air. NATO's explanation why 19 democracies had legitimately used force did not dissipate Russian irritation. And on NATO's side, too, there was disappointment. Because Russia had suspended consultations and cooperation exactly when they were needed most -- in a crisis.

Over time, our joint stake in bringing peace and stability to the region, our joint responsibility for the full implementation of UNSCR 1244 and the indisputable success that KFOR had achieved, allowed for a growing convergence of views and approaches. Building on the close cooperation between our military on the ground, on improved contacts and co-ordination between the Russian liaison team and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons and, most importantly, after the democratic changes in Belgrade, I am hopeful that we can avoid future "Balkan strains" on the NATO-Russia partnership.

With the removal of Milosevic at the hand of his own betrayed people, the door to Europe has been re-opened for a new Yugoslavia. Assisted by NATO, Russia and the European Union, Yugoslavia should freely walk through it.

But even before these welcome democratic changes in Yugoslavia, NATO and Russia had been moving closer again. In February of last year, when I last came here, President Putin and I agreed that we had to repair, in a step by step approach, NATO-Russia relations. And that is exactly what NATO and Russia did. The high expectations I took back from that visit to Moscow have been more than fulfilled. The wise initiative of your President last year in ending the freeze has been vindicated.

In the PJC meetings that followed my visit, NATO and Russia again got down to serious confidence building. The PJC again proved its unique value as an indispensable forum.

We have had a series of very open consultations and debates on our respective Strategic Concepts and on Russia's new military doctrine. High-ranking representatives from Moscow participated in these discussions and addressed concerns NATO countries had raised, for example on the higher prominence Russian strategic thinking seemed to be giving to nuclear weapons.

The Alliance, for its part, clarified that its new Strategic Concept, adopted at the Washington Summit in 1999, was not a manifesto for intervention and that, while dealing with an evolving strategic environment, it did specifically continue to underline the role of the UN Security Council.

In Florence, at the May 2000 Foreign Ministerial meeting, Russia re-took its seat at the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council where its voice, once again, is heard loud and clear.

On the basis of a Work Programme, we expanded our dialogue and cooperation. Experts started meeting again to address joint concerns regarding the CFE Treaty, and the commitments undertaken by all participating states at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in 1999, nuclear and proliferation questions, international terrorism, peacekeeping and other issues.

All these were tough issues -- the hardware in the business of security. Dealing with them got our partnership back on track.

So, I came to Moscow this time to take positive stock of what has been achieved in a productive climate and to discuss with President Putin and my other interlocutors how we can tap the potential of the Founding Act ever more effectively.

In a recent speech the President of Russia said that building the relationship between the Alliance and Russia in a spirit of frankness, openness and constructive interaction will be a significant contribution to European stability and to Russia's national security. I could not agree more and it is in precisely this spirit that I have come to Moscow again.

Good relations between NATO and Russia are still being worked on - but we have made progress and we must continue to create that progress together. We have not been idle.

We have promising new items in our ambitious Work Programme for 2001, such as cooperation in the field of Search and Rescue at Sea, including joint exercises. I want to highlight this initiative, developed jointly in the wake of the submarine "Kursk" tragedy, as it shows that working together is more productive - in both our interests - than point scoring and finger pointing.

Defence reform is another new topic for us and it, too, deserves a high profile. The configuration of a country's military is a good measure of how it sees the outside world and how it perceives threats and risks to its security. Both in NATO countries and in Russia, defence reform is at the heart of bringing our military structures and capabilities into line with the new global realities. There is a wealth of experience we can share and in the process lay another building block for more transparency and increased confidence.

With the same aim in mind, I handed to Minister Ivanov yesterday a substantial package of NATO proposals for Confidence and Security Building Measures in the nuclear field. Again, this is an area of cooperation where every step forward will reap direct benefits to both sides.

And as not all roads lead to Brussels, NATO experts would gladly accept an early invitation to follow-up on these proposals with their colleagues here in Moscow.

I have received from Marshal Sergeyev at our meeting yesterday proposals for cooperation on theatre missile defence. We had been anticipating more details since President Putin's announcements last summer and NATO on its own is already engaged in a thorough examination of extended air defence and theatre missile defence. After careful study of these Russian proposals we can sit down to discuss where our interests meet and how we can take this project forward.

I also raised with Marshal Sergeyev the possibilities for a more active participation of Russia in the Partnership for Peace Programme. Russia has been hesitant to engage in this programme, perhaps out of concern that engaging alongside the other Partner nations would somehow diminish its special weight in European security. But it appears to me that these fears are no longer valid. Now that Russia's weight and importance are so clearly reflected in the PJC and many other venues of cooperation, Russia has nothing to lose -- but much to gain -- from actively participating in this framework.

We also looked forward to early discussions on the establishment of a NATO Military Liaison Mission in Moscow, as provided for in the Founding Act. With the Russian military represented in the Russian Mission to NATO, an Allied Military Liaison Mission in Moscow is an essential and urgent feature for a balanced relationship, based on the healthy principle of reciprocity. The sight of Russian Generals in NATO HQ is no longer a surprise, never mind a threat. The sight of NATO uniforms in Moscow will soon be just as familiar - and as friendly.

Does all this progress mean that we have finally reached our objective of a durable partnership? Has our relationship finally achieved the level of trust and confidence that will make it irreversible?

Only the months and years ahead can tell. But one thing is clear: The spirit of frankness that President Putin mentioned in his recent speech, must also include the readiness to disagree -- and to agree to disagree. The Founding Act and the strategic relationship it envisages for NATO and Russia is not just a fair weather affair. Strong, self-confident partners must deal with disagreements in tough discussions, if need be, but not walk away from one another. This is what Partnership is all about.

Chechnya is a case in point. Russia's partners in the West remain deeply concerned about the continued loss of life in this Russian republic and the reports of violations of human rights. Russia's sovereign right to preserve its territorial integrity and to act against terrorism and criminality is undisputed, but having taken note of President Putin's announcement to reduce forces, I still do not believe that military action alone can lead to a satisfying, just and durable solution of such a conflict. That belief comes from profound experiences in the West which mirror Russia's dilemma.

Of course, it takes two sides to renounce violence and to co-operate in good faith in seeking a political solution. But, in any conflict, it always ennobles the stronger party to probe the first steps to peace. In any case, it would facilitate the exploration of all avenues towards progress to expedite the return of the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya and to enlist their help with refugees and displaced people. That is why we welcome the positive attitude displayed by Russia regarding a speedy return of that group to Chechnya.

NATO enlargement is another thorny subject in the NATO-Russia dialogue. It was, indeed, a controversial topic in the frank and open exchanges I held with the Russian leadership yesterday.

NATO enlargement is certainly no trifle. That is why we have worked long and hard to prepare the ground for the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland two years ago. And that is why we take Russian views seriously, and do not make light of them.

But it is difficult to understand the nature of Russian concerns. I do try, but I still do not understand. If, to quote from the Founding Act, the Alliance is no longer considered an adversary by Russia and if Russia has entered into a privileged partnership with that Alliance, then how could its enlargement be deemed a threat to Russian national security, as maintained in the new National Security Concept? If, to reiterate numerous OSCE documents signed by Russia, every sovereign nation in Europe has the equal right to freely choose its security alignments, then how can the implementation of this principle violate Russia's security interests?

I have again heard the argument that further NATO enlargement would re-create dividing lines in Europe. If that were the case, NATO's Membership Action Plan should, indeed, be consigned to the dustbin of history. But the opposite is true. NATO's enlargement, just like the enlargement of the European Union -- which Russia is much more relaxed about -- follows precisely the post-Cold War logic that transcends and renders obsolete the lines that divided our continent.

Some in Russia still perceive NATO as a predominantly military bloc, propelling its military infrastructure up to the borders of Russia. That is not the case. In the Founding Act NATO committed itself to the famous three nuclear "no's" - no intention, no plan and no reason to establish nuclear weapon storage sites on the territory of the new members - a commitment still valid. The same is true for the statement that in the foreseeable security environment NATO will carry out its missions by ensuring interoperability, integration and capability for reinforcement - rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces. Looking back at the first round of enlargement, there is no case for saying that, for example, new obstacles were raised to close cooperation between Poland and the Kaliningrad Oblast. Indeed, the opposite seems to characterise present Russian-Polish relations. As President Putin pointed out 3 weeks ago in his speech to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the regularisation of Russian-Polish relations is in fact a good example of how progress can be made.

I simply cannot identify one single political reason why cross-border cooperation between a new NATO member and Russia should differ from close partnership between an old NATO member, say Norway, with neighbouring Russia. Those countries wishing to join the Alliance know perfectly well that by joining NATO, they do not leave their neighbourhood. They will continue to have strong political and economic interests to cooperate with Russia.

NATO enlargement is only one part in the far broader effort of building true European security. A strengthened OSCE, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace, the distinctive partnership NATO has with Ukraine and Russia's own good neighbourly relations with the newly independent states also contribute to that. Enlargement is not - as outdated perceptions have it - a zero-sum-game where NATO wins and Russia loses. Creative security in the 21st century for all is served through integration, constructive partnership and cooperation. We are aiming at including, not excluding Russia. And Russia itself must define the degree of its inclusion in this emerging European security network. Indeed, Russia may someday even decide that it wants to be included in NATO and apply for membership. The Alliance has never said "no" to that possibility.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bringing our perceptions into line with reality is, after forty-five years of confrontation, a long-term effort and an up-hill struggle. It is a strategic effort for which we need strategic patience.

So I was particularly gratified to inaugurate the NATO Information Office, working under the auspices of the Belgian Embassy, during this visit to Moscow. Frankly, I felt a bit like General Potemkin, as it will still take some time to make the Office, still a construction site, into a fully operational office. But it was very good news for the NATO-Russia relationship for several reasons.

For one, it will establish a first visible NATO presence in Moscow. That in itself is a solid manifestation of how far we have progressed since the end of the Cold War. But, more importantly, the Office will reach out to the Russian public, to the Duma, to Government agencies, to Non-Government Organizations, to the academic world and, of course, to any individual interested in what the new NATO stands for and in NATO-Russia cooperation.

Small as it is, and serving a huge country, I am still confident that the Office will make a significant contribution to more realistic perceptions so that NATO and Russia can see eye to eye in ever better focus -- a goal to which I remain firmly committed.

As perceptions clarify and as trust and confidence are built and made irreversible, I know that the potential is great for NATO/Russia cooperation and a common approach to tomorrow's threats and security challenges.

I am, I confess, no misty-eyed romantic about international relationships. I prefer hard-headed realism to naïve expectations about strategic partnerships.

It is in the spirit of that realism that I want, and expect NATO/Russian relationships to improve and consolidate, because frankly NATO and Russia matter if our commitments to a safer world for future generations are to be fulfilled and delivered.

Creating that safer, better world is a common mission worthy of all the efforts we have made so far and an inspiration for the work we still have to do.

Thank you very much for your attention. I am ready to answer your questions.

 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
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