THE DEAL struck yesterday was, declared Jack Straw, nothing less than the "funeral of the Cold War", a "profound, historical change" and the moment that Russia came "out of the cold".
Nato reached an agreement in chilly Reykjavik to create a new, warm friendship with its old adversary that will change forever the West's primary security and defence organisation. Just one day after Washington and Moscow agreed to cut nuclear arsenals, Nato has agreed to give Russia a seat on a new body designed specially to accommodate it. This ground- breaking plan will be sealed at the end of the month at a summit in Rome hosted by the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
Signs of how much has changed already abound at Nato headquarters in Brussels. Among a cluster of newspaper cuttings stuck on an office wall is one with a picture of a smiling Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the Nato secretary general, below a banner headline. Nothing surprising in that perhaps, except that the paper in question is Izvestia, once a centrepiece of the Soviet propaganda machine. The headline proclaims a new partnership with an organisation that the Moscow media once demonised. Few at Nato HQ dispute the Foreign Secretary's suggestion that the Cold War is well and truly over. But one or two staff are beginning to wonder who has won the peace.
Many now fear the new relationship with Russia could mean the end of Nato as a serious defence organisation and its transformation into a broader political and strategic alliance, an "OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] with weapons".
The deal follows a long game of diplomatic footsie between Washington and Moscow, with British help. There was already a channel of communication between Nato and Russia - the Permanent Joint Council - but it was seen on both sides as ineffectual and in 1999 the Russians stayed away in protest at the Kosovo campaign.
In the last year there was growing momentum from Moscow for another go. With its former satellites Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania bidding to join Nato this year, Russia's concerns about its strategic position became urgent. As one official put it, Nato is seen in Moscow as the "only organisation in the European arena which has the means to guarantee security".
For a nation trying to normalise its relations with Europe, winning some kind of arrangement with Nato became important. Talk of a formal application from Moscow to join was never realistic: candidate countries have to go through a rigorous application procedure before joining. Moscow would neither have passed nor have been willing to suffer the humiliation of taking the test.
Then, last autumn, Tony Blair floated the idea of a new structure to boost Russia's relations without giving it membership. The thinking fell on fertile soil: Russia had signed up to America's war against terrorism (it sees its conflict in Chechnya as an extension of the same battle) and was proving valuable to the US in Central Asia. What better reward could there be? The US has wavered over what it was willing to discuss with Russia, although the war against terrorism, nuclear proliferation, potential peacekeeping missions and civil emergency planning will now feature.
Russia was determined not to find itself presented at meetings with take-it-or-leave-it outcomes cooked up in advance by the 19. Nato was insistent that Russia should not be able to veto its independent action.
The compromise is to set up a new body, the Nato-Russia Council (NRC). Rather than there being a 19-plus-one formulation, the NRC will meet "at 20", a structure some Nato officials refer to by its Russian name: dvadtsatka. Initially, the diplomats will probably only discuss areas where they are likely to agree (although it is still unclear whether there will be the possibility to raise "any other business"). …