NATO heralds new post-Cold War relations with Russia

Yesterday, the new NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged a new relationship with Russia. He admitted that differences remained between NATO and Russia but, as in any real partnership “we should also take into account that Russia has legitimate security concerns.”

I am delighted to hear this: these are opinions that I entirely concur with. Russia is a country that I am very familiar with. I have been doing business there for over 13 years and owned more than 40 magazines in the country. Over the years, I have been amazed at the changes that have taken place. There have been great strides forward — in democracy, domestic government, increasing economic prosperity, and in Russia’s role in foreign affairs. Of course, no country has an entirely unblemished history, nor does any nation possess a spotless record with its domestic government. However, focusing on the negative only reinforces those ideas and patterns of behavior. To encourage the positive trends within Russia, the international community (and, of course, we the media have a role to play here as well) must acknowledge and reward the progress made so far.

We in the West often rely on old habits of thinking and old ideas about Russia. It is common in human nature to fall back reflexively to the most comfortable position, and it is sometimes difficult to adapt to change. In international relations, that means we do not always make the most impartial judgment. It is for that reason that we have international law upheld by the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. Relying on their judgments is the surest way to ensure fairness and justice in foreign affairs.

If we consider the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia, I, probably like most other observers, may have been quick to blame Russia. However, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, told me something that was a revelation. When Georgia sent troops into Russia in 2008, “Russia, a non-state party, took the Rome Statute into consideration when planning its military campaign and sent more than 3,000 communications with allegations of war crimes committed by Georgia.”

In the conflict between Georgia and Russia over the territories of South Ossetia, the most of the press and the international community have been quick to criticize Russia. Georgia has been seen as the plucky little country standing up to an overbearing giant. A few observers noted that Russia was hotly provoked in August of last year, when the conflict began, and only a very small minority criticized the Georgian domestic political system.

This is because Cold War reflexes and Cold War-era systems of global agencies still dominate international relations. In July, when U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden visited Georgia and Ukraine, he explicitly rejected Russia’s “spheres of influence” policy. However, such language is very inflammatory in Russia. It is seen as Cold War rhetoric par excellence. While the West often censures Russia for so called Cold War thinking — great-power confrontation based on zero-sum power dynamics — it would appear that U.S. policymakers are not entirely immune to it either.

There is a security discourse in international norms that denies Russia’s identity as an equal player and, also, one that sets out a series of conditions for Russia to join the international community. The Russians are always asking that the international expert community take Russian concerns and ideas and make them the basis of policy analysis. In 2008, President Dmitry Medvedev claimed that “Russia is not part of any politico-military alliance. … Yet we are interested in our voice being heard in Europe.”

Contrary to received opinion in the West, Russia does not disregard all international conventions. It is more accurate to say that she ignores those in which she has little voice and little expectation of her interests being fairly represented. The solution is not to punish and veto Russia but rather to reform global agencies and empower them to make them more representative of the new balances of power and more empathic to diverse security concerns.

The conflict in South Ossetia is an example of the failure to do so. Russia’s concerns about insecurity on her borders in the Caucasus and her territorial integrity were consistently ignored. As a result, Russia considers herself surrounded by hostile powers, in a fundamentally hostile environment with no reliable friends. Whether this is an accurate depiction of reality is almost irrelevant. We have to take into consideration Russia’s political identity and security concerns. As for Georgia, domestic political turmoil and increasingly non-transparent decision-making should have alerted the international community. Rule of law and democracy within borders are absolutely crucial for security and stability outside borders.

In fact, Russia was not included and invested into our common security, nor was Georgia protected. We cannot build security in Europe by ignoring the security concerns of its largest country and a major global power. Nor can we ignore our responsibility to protect our vulnerable and small states. A stronger system of international governance that includes Russia will increase all our security. We must embed Russia into the international community and invest her into a shared, safer world. In other words, offer a competing discourse on security — one of indivisible and united security under a collective framework, defined positively with Russia rather than negatively against Russia.

Multilateralism is therefore the only solution. We need to look at the most important structures of global governance and reform them. To that end, I propose a radical overhaul of the existing structure: a NATO that includes Russia and structures of global governance that are truly international rather than only so in name.

In recent years, awareness of the need for global governance has become more acute. The present financial crisis, the environmental crisis, world poverty, increasing zones of conflict with their concomitant humanitarian crises and mass violations of human rights have all highlighted how important global solutions are. These issues affect all countries, and no country is able to fight alone. The West needs the rest of the world to help find appropriate solutions to international challenges. It is no longer possible to ignore the fact that the world includes more than the eight countries that make up the G8. It is a step in the right direction that the G20 meet to discuss the financial crisis.

If Europe and the U.S. want the participation of the emerging powers, they must be prepared to allow them representation within international agencies. Such a reform implies the relaunching of the Security Council to include more than the five permanent members, opening the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to the representatives of other world powers, and creating hard security alliances that all countries can participate in. Also, there must be a meaningful commitment on the part of all nation-states to follow the strictures of international law and abide by the judgment of its courts.

When it comes to Russia, the most important agency of international governance is NATO. NATO is the pre-eminent security alliance in Europe and the one considered most relevant by Russian policy-makers. NATO has been trying to redefine its mission since the Cold War. Without its previous major raison d’être, being anti-Russia, NATO has worked to promote democracy and stability. However, it has only been relatively successful in doing so (arguably, the European Union is better at this), and NATO has largely remained an organization directed against Russia.
There have been formal attempts to build relations. Russia became a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) in 1992. Separate institutions were created within NATO just for Russia; the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council was established in 1997.

However, these positive steps have been overshadowed by actions on the ground. The current European security architecture, centered on NATO, stands accused not merely of failing to alleviate tensions but also of aggravating them to the point of crisis. Western support for the Color Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, the development of U.S. missile defense plans in Poland and the Czech Republic, and a failure to manage Russian sensitivities in the former Soviet Union have generated considerable resentment in Moscow.

A perceived neo-containment policy by NATO is dangerous: It risks weakening the democrats in Russia struggling with powerful undemocratic forces. In international relations, Russia has come to regard the new configuration as illegitimate.
The fundamental mistake was that Russia was never formally offered NATO membership. The lesson of history is that it is more dangerous to exclude adversaries than include them and build alliances. Early statesmen of the post-Cold War period realized the importance of membership. The idea of Russia joining NATO was first suggested by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. In 1993, James Baker, the former U.S. secretary of state, suggested that NATO should include Russia: “I cannot imagine a better way to ‘enhance the political component’ of the alliance than for NATO to consider the possibility that Russia, if and when it qualifies, be eligible for membership.”

Baker argued that the West has been hostile because Russia has never fully embraced democracy and free markets. Yet if Russia were to join NATO, not only would it alleviate domestic hostility within Russia toward the West, but the NATO Membership Action Plan would act as a stimulus to reform within Russia. Keeping Russia out of NATO encourages Russian expansionism and insularity, and degrades Western security.

The argument is often made that NATO should be expanded now if we want to contain Russia in the future. But is Russia inevitably going to become imperial? Such circular reasoning is dangerously close to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nations are not constants and do not always act according to past precedents.

Security threats are radically different from those of the Cold War. It is no longer a matter of great powers facing each other — the so-called “great game” of the Cold War. The world is in transition: We are becoming more interconnected and more interdependent — interconnected through an extensive infrastructure of transport, energy, information, and technology. Shared economic growth, energy security, and environmental sustainability make all countries in the world deeply interdependent.

Let us be clear about the magnitude of the threats we face. Political insecurity has always been closely interlinked to economic instability. We see this in the Third World: Many African and Asian countries are caught in a spiral of political failure, economic instability, and human suffering. Poverty inexorably creates marginalization and social dislocation. We see that all too clearly in the Middle East. Terrorism is the almost inevitable consequence. The complex causes of social dislocation, modernization, and economic deprivation are not just prevalent in the Middle East. They are present in our societies too.

Finally, let us not forget climate change; it too has political implications. Competition for natural resources, notably water, will be aggravated by global warming over the next decades and is likely to create further turbulence and migratory movements in various regions.

This is all too depressingly familiar. The difference is that today these threats occur in a very different world. Innovations in technology make weapons of mass destruction, whether they are bio-weapons or cyber-weapons, more menacing and more accessible to even the smallest terrorist cell. Increasingly, terrorists are well resourced and well connected by electronic networks and transport infrastructures.

All major powers are exposed to this conjunction of political, economic, energy, and environmental crises, and none of them can successfully confront these challenges on its own. Both established and emerging powers have a strategic interest in investing in cooperation to place their prosperity and security on firmer grounds.

If the world in 2009 is very different from 1989, some things have stayed depressingly familiar, like military expenditure. According to the Center for Defense Information (CDI), average annual military spending by the U.S. during the Cold War (1945-1990) was $300 billion. The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation estimates that in 2009 the U.S. will spend $700 billion on military expenditures, which is approximately over 20% of the United States’s federal budget. This is a tragic and unsustainable waste that we can ill afford after a global financial crisis. That is expenditure that was not spent on eradicating poverty, developing vaccines, irrigating farmlands, or educating our youth. We should be investing that money on our schools and our health services, in promoting trade, and in boosting the economy.

Building a new future is a complex task. Creative and inspirational leadership is in great demand to manage the transition. More than ever, members of the international community have to listen to each other and take into account the voices of other nations. The only way to move closer together is through meaningful and constructive dialogue in open and accessible international forums.

I support this collaboration and communication among countries to help us work together to reach common goals. Rather than investing in military expenditures, we must invest more in research, innovation, and education, to bring more economic prosperity to our countries and economic stability to those in need. As we reach out to new countries, we have the possibility of new markets. Expanded markets, trade, and education are positive-sum goods, in turn bringing us other, fresh markets and, above all, peace.

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