NATO Looking for New Ways to Engage Russia
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 18, 2001 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will meet with fellow NATO defense ministers to discuss how to fashion a relationship with Russia that's appropriate for the 21st Century.
Rumsfeld is following up on an earlier agreement between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin to bring Russia more fully into the West. "The president and President Putin have both indicated a desire to find ways for Russia to interact with NATO in a way that is satisfactory from Russia's standpoint and appropriate from NATO's standpoint," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld has said many times that the United States wants to get away from the atmosphere and relations that dominated the Cold War. He said he believes it's a new world, and Russia is no longer a foe.
Rumsfeld has said he would like to see relations with Russia conducted the same way as American relations are conducted with Canada or Japan.
Such a relationship is in Russia's interests also, Rumsfeld stressed. Russia's future is with the West and with North America, he said. Rumsfeld has also said he believes President Putin has made the commitment to the West that this requires.
But how does the alliance include Russia in NATO deliberations without changing the very nature of the alliance? The "bumper sticker slogan" appears to be "NATO at 20." This refers to the 19 NATO nations plus Russia.
The relationship is already codified in part by the NATO- Russia Permanent Joint Council. This council, set up in 1996, was designed to coordinate relations between NATO and Russia. Military-to-military contacts are run through this office, for example, as are joint search and rescue exercises held periodically.
Rumsfeld said one of the models NATO might examine would be to mirror the way the alliance works with France. France is a NATO member, but it is not part of the military structure of the alliance. In dealing with France, the 18 nations on the military group reach a consensus on taking action. The proposal then goes to the North Atlantic Council -- with France as a member -- for approval.
Rumsfeld suggested another layer for this process with Russia. It might run something like this: the military group -- the current 18 -- researches a proposal. It goes for action to the NAC -- 19 nations including France. Then, if NATO wants Russia's cooperation, it would go to another layer for approval -- the 19 NATO nations plus Russia.
If Russia wants to cooperate, this system would provide a way for that to happen. If Russia does not want to cooperate, NATO can still operate alone. This does not make Russia a de facto NATO nation, nor does it give Russia a veto power over NATO decisions.
"I don't know how this will evolve," Rumsfeld said during an interview aboard his aircraft. "It is theory. It is not something the United States or Russia will determine. It is something that the institution (NATO) will fashion, and it will take discussion and consideration."
Rumsfeld put this in a nutshell at the NATO defense ministers meeting Dec. 18. "Our goal should be to find concrete ways for NATO to work together with Russia where interests coincide -- while preserving NATO's ability to work independently," he told his fellow NATO defense ministers. "Russia can and should be an important partner with NATO in a number of areas, and practical cooperation should be warmly encouraged.
"But at the same time, NATO membership must mean something. And NATO must protect its prerogatives of independent decision and action among the 19 signatories to the Washington Treaty," Rumsfeld said. "No country should be treated as a de facto member of the alliance, or given privileges that are otherwise denied to NATO aspirants."