NATO and Russia

April 2, 2009

geadBy Gareth Evans, President, and Alain Délétroz Vice President (Europe) of the International Crisis Group. Any views expressed are the authors’ alone.

The biggest unresolved challenge facing the NATO countries’ leaders when they meet on the Rhine this week is how to manage the organization’s relationship with Russia. Nobody wants to relive the Cold War, but habits of mind from that era persist on both sides, continuing to influence behaviour and inhibiting the clean break from the past that would be in everyone’s interest.

Russia’s invasion of Georgian territory last year seemed to confirm every latent NATO fear about the aggressive resurgence of the beast-from-the-east which the organization was formed sixty years ago to counter. And it is hard to argue that Moscow’s response to the situation in South Ossetia was not an indefensible overreaction, whatever judgment one makes about President Saakashvili’s contribution to the course of events. But what was missing from nearly all the Western reaction was any thoughtful reflection on what its own leaders’ contribution might have been, over the years since the USSR collapsed, to Russia’s newly assertive posture.

It is not fully appreciated, even now, in most NATO capitals how strongly Moscow feels that the organisation’s expansion, deep into the former socialist camp and the former USSR itself, was a brutally insensitive and confrontational response to the quick and generous Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Germany and Central Europe. The West rightly argues that all new NATO members have joined freely, and certainly not under pressure from the U.S. or EU member states. But the vast majority of Russians see NATO as an offensive military alliance, bombing Belgrade in 1999 without UN Security Council approval and now trying to surround Russia in spite of promises made to Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand eastwards.

NATO has become an easy target for nationalists in Russia who want to buoy anti-Western sentiment and convince the population that they are facing a significant threat from outside – basically the same as that during the Cold War. It is unquestionably the case that in the present environment any new enlargement towards Russian borders, particularly to Ukraine and Georgia, will be universally perceived in Russia as an unfriendly act that will demand retaliation.

How can these tensions be defused in a way that will be constructive and forward-looking, but also acknowledge the political reality that neither NATO nor Russia will be very keen to fundamentally change its narrative of what has occurred so far? The best starting point, in our view, would be to acknowledge that the problem with NATO’s expansion was not so much that it extended to Russia’s borders, but that it stopped there.
The most helpful single step, accordingly, that NATO leaders could take at this Summit would be to make a very clear statement that NATO is an alliance of the free open for membership by all countries on the European continent, including Russia itself, and encouraging Moscow to seek membership at a time of its own choosing.

Making such an explicit public statement would have at least three positive consequences. It would place the ball in the Russian leadership’s court, forcing it to consider the offer seriously and articulate a response. It would ease tensions surrounding Ukraine and Georgia: possible NATO enlargement here could no longer be seen as inherently unfriendly act towards Russia if the door is open for Russia itself to join the alliance. And it would paint into a corner the most nationalist politicians in Russia who use NATO so flagrantly to undermine any serious move toward real democratization at home.

Crisis Group has recently tested this approach in private conversations with a number of senior officials in Moscow. Their reaction has been surprisingly uniform, and fascinating: Medvedev and Putin would think very seriously about it, and the military would probably be in favor. For the military, joining NATO would mean enhancing standards and being in the same game as the world’s most modern armies. For the Kremlin leadership, NATO’s transition to a visible new ‘collective security’ role, finally abandoning its Cold War ‘collective defence’ remit, might be a way of giving real content to President Medvedev’s call nine months ago for a new security architecture in Europe, as to which Moscow has not yet proposed any specific blueprint.

What Medvedev has done is launch a very bold reform of the Armed Forces that, if carried out as presented, would mean that the Russian army will cease to be an broad defensive block facing the West, and instead become a modernized, quickly deployable outfit, capable of acting in regional or global hot spots, very much like its Western counterparts. There is a potentially significant message here which NATO should not ignore.

If Barack Obama in Strasbourg this Friday were to state publicly that NATO at 60 is also there to welcome Russia should it decide to join, subject to satisfying the same conditions as every other new member, he would press a major “reset” button indeed in US-Russian relations. The risk for the alliance in such a statement is negligible. Russia could say “no, thank you”, but will have difficulty thereafter in claiming that NATO enlargement is targeted against Russia. Or it could respond positively, in which case it will have to start working hard on, among other things, creating the necessary democratic controls on its armed forces and its intelligence services – something that many Russians and people in the West have long been waiting for.

A chaotic world demands bold leaders capable of taking bold historical steps. Two decades ago, Ronald Reagan made a vibrant call in Berlin to Mikhail Gorbachev to put his words into deeds by tearing down the Berlin wall, and he answered by doing exactly that. Opening the door for NATO membership now to Medvedev’s Russia is another step that would have profoundly positive implications for the future stability of Europe and the wider world.


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Russia need to be told by NATO that Russia is not the owner of Nato.Or doing a favor to join the group.
That Russia is in a group,team group.
That Russia must not use the no military resources like gas, oil and others to force EU to consider Russia as a partner.
It is extremely urgent to search new ways to be EU indpendant from Russia, at lest other ways to do not put the population in risk of any -trouble – misunderstanding-in between EU with Russia.
Nato then can be free to resolve military alliances -by invitations with Russia.
Poland-Ukraine-and other in geographical limits can suffer consecuences from Russia.
Russia must show real commitment with Nato , no double game with IRAN, NORTH KOREA, LATIN AMERICA, and CHINA.
I think it is so important this invitation but have to show that the West is not doing doble game and asking to enter Russia in a equal terms to join Nato, for solidarity military actions taking care about the population involved in any conflict.

Posted by maria | Report as abusive

I personnally don’t believe NATO should even exist anymore.It is a relic of the cold war and hence doesn’t have any purpose anymore especially if Russia is now invited to join. What is it even doing in Afghanistan?? There’s no real purpose except for an obvious over representation of the US military into European defense.

I think the right way forward is to get rid of Nato and for the Europeans to create their own EU-wide forces. The power of the US is receding in the world at great speed, it is time for the Europeans to seize their military autonomy. It is the only way to be able to discuss things equals to equals

Posted by Christian | Report as abusive

Russia joining NATO .. NOW?? This has no sence what so ever! This offer should have been made AT THE SAME TIME it was made to the other ex-soviet era eastern countries!! The non admitance FULL MEMBERSHIP of Russia to NATO at that time, has created the.. Shangai Cooperation Organization or a counter reaction!!Russia would NEVER accept such an offer, simply because at THIS POINT.. it´s not NATO .. but the SCO who is SURROUNDING EUROPE. More over in a last “stand” we would have the RED Army AGAIN in EUROPE…with the support of the ALL MEMBERS of the SCO, including.. CHINA!! What a perpective! They can now reach Berlin, Rome, Paris ect..BY LAND, in summmer or winter, while the US.”help” would be , like allways .. by air only and if they find somewhere to land!!
Disolve NATO and the SCO! There is no other way!!

Posted by Ernst | Report as abusive

[…] a collective security zone for Europe as a whole, that zone should include, not exclude, Russia, as Gareth Evans and Alain Délétroz of the International Crisis Group argue today. If it is to mount multinational military […]

Posted by David Hearst: At 60, Nato is starting to show its age | Let Me Tell You… | Report as abusive

[…] a collective security zone for Europe as a whole, that zone should include, not exclude, Russia, as Gareth Evans and Alain Délétroz of the International Crisis Group argue today. If it is to mount multinational military […]

Posted by Photomaniacal » Blog Archive » David Hearst: At 60, Nato is starting to show its age | Report as abusive

[…] Crisis Group, and Alain Délétroz, the think tank’s Vice President, go one step further. They propose inviting Russia to seek membership in NATO. “The problem with NATO’s expansion was not so much […]

Posted by Rising Powers » Blog Archive » NATO and Russia | Report as abusive

the approach that the ‘crisis group’ are asking NATO to adopt seems to be what Medvedev is wishing for in his most surreal dreams. this magestic gesture would almost serve to create a Europe without borders. a gathering of like-minds could then be convened where all the actors had a mutual destination and the platforms of the past would dissipate as the mist fades in the valley due to the warming affects of the glorious sun.

if the truth be known, Gareth’s impending departure from the ‘crisis group’ would rest a little easier with me if the Kremlin had a constructive role to play in the direction the Greater Europe should strive to emulate. they are the masters of reinvention and really are a force for change. Mr Evans keep in mind that Winston Churchill led his Labour Party through eight years of opposition from 1945 until 1953 at the age of 71-79 and then was swept back into power at age 80 and still hadn’t piqued.

Posted by brett sweeny | Report as abusive

And now Russia is not the only strategic move, now is entering the position of Turkey.Very interesting now that it is so important the EU union and proteccion comes the other voice from Turkey.
Is this a distraccion? of what Obama’s message about the erradication of terrorism. To be united with forces to protect each other from global terrorism?
Russia and Turkey are so sure that they are not going to have terrorists atacks from any kind? Why? They do not care about their own population and/or the other countries population, at risk?
I respect the point of view of the concern about the treatment of Islamic world but that is not the NATO purpose.
Western countries that suffered the terrorism and the population destruction are aware of the implications to be alone battleing this constant fear to be attack.

USA and EU must be strong, balance and independant first to be able to search alliances with Russia, and allow Turkey.
Maybe, the actual insecurity image that Nato has is one of the reasons of the protests in the streets to close NATO. The population is feeling not protected. Maybe the population protesting is aware of the inminent crisis and fear if they are attack in any circumstance.
This is not a matter of religion is a matter of massive security, this is a matter of combat the power of the violent effect of radicalism and maybe I can talk of narco-terrorism.
Crisis can be prevented if before the strategic panoramic overview of the EU and USA situation and vulnerability first and dialogue among the Western countries.

Posted by maria | Report as abusive

Russias military, political and economic ties with the SCO (Shangai Coop. Org.)are so deep, that it would take years to explain such a change. (from SCO. to NATO!)The SCO IS at this point geostratigical FAR STRONGER than NATO, Politicaly more UNITED and economicaly RICHER!!So, what would the advantage for RUSSIA be to change sides? Like I said before, IF NATO wants closer tyes with Russia, it WILL HAVE TO ENGAGE THE …SCO AT THE SAME TIME… and.. ELIMINATE BOTH.. The new “ALLIANCE” would then be an EURO-ASIAN UNION.. the FIRST STEP for a..WORLD PEACE UNION.. There is no other way for human kind to avoid its OWN TOTAL DESTRUCTION

Posted by Ernst | Report as abusive

Not necessarily Ernst,do not understimate USA power only because now the economical crisis.
Japan,India, South Korea, now know that,Australia also, even is not included in Asian alliance.
The West is looking the reality now. Yes, it is a warning the actual global economic crisis. A warning to do not do the same errors of lack of vision, responsability, care of populations, control and fix on time of the variables that are insde the terrorism combat and erradication, have to say in constant change. More Western commited group countries team can do it. Not alone of course,also with the cooperation of other no-western countries. This is not a game it is Human Beings involved, some others do not care, I am talking about radical countries that only are caring of themselves own power and control,some are so hungry of that global power. That is the main danger for global PEACE.
COEXISTANCE is escential. Dialogue and cooperation s needed.
Russia is going to give up their ghosts dreams of global power? IF THEY ARE GOING TO DO SO GOOD FOR THEM, and maybe for us, but is not good to USA an EU be in a dependable position waiting their true and honest choose of commintment. Have to be prepare for any move by Russia.

Posted by Maria | Report as abusive

The Obama administration will not retreat from the missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The Navy fired JAG lawyer Lt. commander Kuebler who was defending Canadian citizen Omar Khadr by complaining how unfair the legal process was to the press. The Lt. commander was then reassigned to some other post in JAG. The U.S. military has it’s own little Guantanamo in Afghanistan. President Obamma has stated construction will be completed and if necessary prisoners may be hald without being charged. All Guantanamo cases are suspended meaning prisoners languish until the administration decides to begin hearings again. Five hundred thousand to a million people in Pakistan have been made refugees from the stepped up drone bombings since Obama took office.

Perhaps if our government treated Russia’s neighbors better and didn’t fan the flames of war we would have better relations with Russia and the rest of the world.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Anubis: I respect your position but not agree. Acts talk by themselves…news, videos and pictures about youth Russia group, attacking, destroying and using the protest of other groups against NATO,in Rhine side NATO meetings,is this a sign of dialogue?, wha is next poison? NO,NO i know wonderful people from Russia and is not against USA.
Please, it is a matter of honest and open behavior not the use of fear games of terorism.Look the actions of North Korea right now. The actions of Iran, about nuclear enritchment-middle words-to UN….and all the world have to be looking how they dishonor they word.
Do not blame to justify in Pakistan the suffering of the population. They are suffering so much as others trapted in the middle of violence.

Posted by Maria | Report as abusive

Why would the west want Russia in NATO?

Russia is not a friend of the west. On the contrary, they and China are the only reason the UN is so powerless.

The only thing Russia wants is dependence. It wants its little central-europe tinpot nations to depend on their aid. They want Europe to depend on their oil and gas. They want America to depend on their land for supply routes to Afganistan.

Does that sound like a friend to you? Or someone wanting to have power over you?

If Russia is a friend, then the west will need to bend over backward to keep them happy. Better to let them smolder alone, with plenty of trading partners but no true allies.

Posted by John Smith | Report as abusive