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NATO-Russia cooperation to counter terrorism

Andrei Kelin describes how NATO and Russia are forging an increasingly effective partnership to combat the terrorist threat.

Rehearsing responses: NATO-Russia anti-terrorist cooperation has gone beyond producing "paper" threat assessments to include joint exercises such as Kaliningrad 2004 (above) (© NATO)

In the wake of July's London underground bombings, Russian President Vladimir Putin lamented how little international cooperation in combating terrorism takes place, in spite of the scale of the threat and the extent of the atrocities. Although progress has been made in this area in the years since 9/11, the nature of the challenge is such that we are still only learning how to combat terrorism on a global scale. This is definitely the case as far as Russia is concerned, and most likely the case for NATO as well, since this powerful political-military organisation was not originally designed to fight terrorists.

International cooperation is being fostered in several forums at the same time, since the scourge of terrorism can only be defeated if we demonstrate universal resolve and combine our many efforts. In this way, the international fight against terrorism was, for example, one of the main issues on the agenda of the UN General Assembly’s 60th anniversary session in September of this year. Moreover, it is a priority area of work for the NATO-Russia Council, where we are trying, above all, to maximise the practical dimension of our collaboration.

The issue of combating terrorism was on the agenda of our NATO dialogue even before the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed in 1997. Already in the mid-1990s, NATO began inviting Partner countries to attend relevant committee meetings. At the same time, the Alliance began organising meetings in a “NATO-plus-Russia” format in which representatives of various Russian services were able to participate. Subsequently, “anti-terrorism”, that is defensive measures to reduce vulnerability to terrorism, was singled out as a specific area of consultation and cooperation in the Founding Act. At this time, however, neither NATO nor Russia had a clear understanding of how to develop cooperation in this sphere and on which goals and areas they should focus their attention. Early discussions essentially consisted of exchanges of mutual assurances as to the importance of such cooperation and appeals to develop it.

The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were a turning point for NATO-Russia relations. The need to combine efforts became acute. Two days after the attacks, on 13 September, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council adopted a joint statement condemning the attacks and expressing willingness to work together to combat the threat. A month later, a first cooperation action plan was agreed stressing the need for greater NATO-Russia collaboration to address new security challenges.

Clearly, Russia has a great deal to offer its partners in the field of anti-terrorism. Assets include intelligence capabilities, political influence in important regions of the world and experience of both preventing terrorist attacks and managing their consequences. NATO, for its part, has an impressive array of potential military-political responses that it is able to bring to crisis situations. In addition, unlike other intergovernmental structures, the Alliance is able to ensure the confidentiality of transmitted information, which is of enormous significance in the fight against terrorism.

NATO-Russia Council creation

The Rome Declaration NATO-Russia Relations: A New Quality of May 2002, which created the NATO-Russia Council, singled out the struggle against terrorism as a key area for practical cooperation. It also established new cooperative mechanisms and procedures to help achieve better understanding and rapprochement between the Allies and Russia.

The political significance of the NATO-Russia Council became apparent for Moscow in the aftermath of the Beslan school tragedy of September 2004 in which 344 civilians, 186 of them children, died. The NATO-Russia Council was the first international body to adopt a statement resolutely and unambiguously condemning what had taken place as both a crime and a direct threat to our common security, shared democratic values and basic human rights and freedoms. It also confirmed its determination to intensify joint efforts to combat terrorism. At the time, we greatly appreciated the solidarity shown by the other NRC members as well as supportive statements from the NATO Secretary General.

Despite differences in approaches, NATO and Russia share many common views on both the nature of the terrorist threat and approaches to addressing it

One of the NATO-Russia Council’s new mechanisms is an Ad Hoc Working Group on terrorism, which both discusses conceptual approaches to addressing the terrorist threat and seeks to develop practical cooperation. To date, the Group has managed to develop and agree a number of joint papers. These include assessments of the threats and challenges posed by al Qaida; of terrorist threats to the security of peacekeeping forces in the Balkans; of terrorist threats to civil aircraft, including the threat posed by civil aircraft to critical infrastructure; of threats to NRC members posed by Islamist extremism and radicalism in Central Asia; and of current and future terrorist threats to cargo and passenger transport. We are also currently drawing up a document on potential threats to NRC member states’ information systems.

Working together to develop terrorist threat analyses has shown that, despite differences in approaches, NATO and Russia share many common views on both the nature of the terrorist threat and approaches to addressing it. Given the challenge, NATO-Russia work in this field has had to be both diverse and multi-dimensional.

One important area of study is that of military-to-military cooperation. To discuss this and develop practical recommendations for joint action, three high-level conferences on the role of the military in the struggle against terrorism have been held in Norfolk, Virginia, Moscow and Rome. Another area is the use of non-lethal weapons to counteract terrorists. Under the auspices of the Conference of National Armament Directors, exhibitions and presentations of new technologies developed by both Russian and Western companies which may be used in counter-terrorism operations have been organised. Moreover, anti-terrorism issues are also the subject of study within the framework of the Cooperative Airspace Initiative, the ad hoc working groups on theatre missile defence and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the nuclear experts’ group.

An international conference on lessons learned from recent terrorist attacks took place under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Council in Ljubljana, Slovenia, between 27 June and 1 July this year. It brought together representatives of law-enforcement, rescue and health departments and services of NRC member states who had been involved in terrorist-response operations, enabling them to share their practical experience of preventing terrorist activity, consequence management and dealing with hostage-taking.

While expert-level discussions are important to developing effective anti-terrorist strategies, anti-terrorism collaboration has to go beyond “paper” analysis. In this way, some studies and assessments have been tested in practice through joint exercises. This includes Kaliningrad 2004, which sought to test procedures for the ideal division of responsibilities in dealing with the consequences of a large-scale catastrophe, and Avaria 2004, which involved measures to ensure the secure storage of nuclear weapons.

Cooperation against terrorism in the field of civil-emergency planning is also being taken forward. For example, a Hungarian-Russian initiative to create a NRC capability providing a rapid response to natural disasters, man-made catastrophes and, above all, terrorist acts involving the threat or actual use of weapons of mass destruction, is currently being developed. To this end, Russia has offered to earmark specialised units to detect dangerous substances and deal with the consequences of their use.

The NRC Science Committee has refocused priorities in recent years towards promoting scientific research of relevance to the struggle against terrorism. In this way, an expert group for social and psychological consequences of terror acts has been formed that has analysed recent terrorist attacks in Russia, several other European countries and the United States, and drawn up collective recommendations for action in similar cases. Elsewhere, work is also being conducted to detect explosive substances, handmade explosive devices and suicide bombers’ belts. Moreover, further expert groups are being formed to work on transport infrastructure vulnerability and cyber security, as well as on scientific and technical security problems related to the use of nuclear, biological and chemical devices by terrorists. And there are plans for developing cooperation in the sphere of counteracting “ecological terrorism”.

Action Plan on Terrorism

The agreement to draw up an annual action plan on terrorism, which was reached at the NRC meeting at the June 2004 Istanbul Summit marked a milestone in the development of NATO-Russia cooperation against terrorism. Subsequently, NRC foreign ministers approved a comprehensive NATO-Russia Action Plan on Terrorism in December 2004 setting out a coherent strategy for preventing terrorism, combating terrorist activities and managing the consequences of terrorist acts. In this way, we are now proceeding from statements of intent and exercises to exploring the possibilities for joint practical actions, including actions involving the use of military means, to counter the terrorist threat.

At an operational level, Russia will begin participating in Active Endeavour, NATO’s counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean early next year. In what will be the first joint NATO-Russia operation since the Russian military contingent withdrew from the NATO-led forces in the Balkans in 2003, Russian ships will join Allied ships monitoring and inspecting merchant shipping suspected of involvement in illegal activities.

Another substantive element of the NRC anti-terror partnership is cooperation in combating the narcotics trade in Afghanistan. This is important because all too often drug money helps finance terrorist groups. Numerous expert meetings on this issue have identified the following areas of cooperation: exchange of information, including classified information; training of specialists for anti-narcotics units; and practical support for anti-narcotics services of Afghanistan and Central Asian transit-route countries. A pilot project aimed at training specialists for counter-narcotics units in these countries, using both mobile on-site training teams and existing training facilities such as Russia’s Domodedovo Centre, is currently under way.

Irrespective of the forum, Russia has consistently sought to develop a global strategy to counter new security threats and challenges. NATO-Russia counter-terrorism cooperation will be much more effective if it complements the efforts of other international organisations working in this sphere. As a result, Russia also supports Alliance efforts to forge closer cooperation with the United Nations, as well as with the European Union and other regional structures. And Russia also believes in developing practical cooperation between NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which comprises, among others, the states of the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as Russia. Since CSTO and NATO have much in common, combining the two organisations’ capabilities and experience could help improve effective responses to terrorism and extremism challenges.

NATO and Russia have made considerable progress in developing cooperation in the anti-terrorist field in recent years. This cooperation is still in its early days, however, and its practical dimension in particular needs to be enhanced. In spite of the best international efforts, the threat posed by international terrorism has not diminished. Our aim must, therefore, be to foster genuine anti-terrorism cooperation in the form of a strategic NATO-Russia partnership throughout the Euro-Atlantic region.

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