NATO-Russia Relations: The State of Relations and Future Prospects

By Anthony, Ian | The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

NATO-Russia Relations: The State of Relations and Future Prospects


Anthony, Ian, The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs


1. Introduction

NATO and Russia have made it their common objective to create what Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Secretary-General, has called a "true strategic partnership."1 However, the dialogue between NATO and Russia, such as it is, has strayed very far from the principles of common and cooperative security that were the basis for discussions in the 1990s. Shared assessments in recent public statements are restricted to global issues-such as counter-terrorism and counter-piracy. By contrast, there is little sign of a common approach to matters of bilateral concern or that any party is interested in seeking agreement based on compromise. Unless and until the parties find their way back to the previous framework, there is little prospect for lasting improvements in their relationship.

NATO Allies understand there cannot be long-term stability and security in Europe without a true partnership with Russia. For Russia, tensions with NATO can obstruct bilateral agreement with the United States, because for Washington solidarity with its Allies is a central element of security policy. Thus, while inter-dependence gives both NATO and Russia a certain leverage, it is of a kind that is difficult to translate into concrete results. At the same time, if NATO and Russia were to break offrelations, it could at best yield short-term gains for either party and can never substitute for cooperation based on genuine accommodation.

At the time this was written, Russian President Vladimir Putin had not decided whether to accept the invitation to participate in the NATO-Russia Council in conjunction with the NATO Summit to be held in Chicago on 20-21 May 2012. Mr. Rasmussen has recently been quoted as saying "I think we'll have a NATO-Russia meeting if we can reach agreement on missile defence. If we can't, there won't be any meeting. It's as simple as that."2 Even if President Putin accepts the invitation, the chances of a significant outcome seem remote. As Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov expressed it, "I think it would be very difficult to achieve any success at the summit, as of today, [as] there is no document for the leaders to approve."3

2. Background Context for NATO-Russia Disagreements

Two questions have become particularly contentious in recent months: the way in which NATO implemented peace operations in Libya, and the European dimension of U.S. plans for ballistic missile defence. However, these are symptoms of more fundamental disagreements over both the "positive" use of force as a constructive element in crisis management and peace operations and over the "negative" use of force to deter aggression.

Expeditionary Warfare and Peace Operations

While not an aspect of NATO-Russia discussions in a formal sense, Russian dissatisfaction with the manner in which United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 on the situation in Libya was implemented emerged quickly after it was adopted. Russia did not veto the resolution because the text balanced the protection of civilians with hindering "the more belligerent impulses of certain international partners."4

The resolution authorised the use of force to protect civilians but excluded a foreign occupation force of any kind on Libyan territory and requested that states engaged in military operations inform the Secretary-General "immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization ... which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council."5 Within a matter of days the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, complained that France, the United Kingdom and the United States were failing to inform the UN and were not responding to questions about the way in which they were implementing Resolution 1973.

Mr. Putin, prime minister at the time, put the operations in Libya into a wider context in an interview on Russian television: "there are a lot of military conflicts going on-and unfortunately more will unfold in the future. …

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