Address by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow to the International Conference ''Russia-NATO: 15 years on the way to partnership'' (via VTC)

  • 27 Sep. 2012
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  • Last updated 08-Oct-2012 10:12

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking the leadership of the Diplomatic Academy – and in particular Rector Bazhanov, Mr. Lukin and Mr. Safranchuk -- for their initiative to organise this important conference together with our NATO Information Office in Moscow.

I understand there are many distinguished participants in the audience, including decision-makers, parliamentarians, experts, military officers and diplomats from both Russia and abroad. I hope technology will allow us to have a lively discussion after my opening remarks.

I have a longstanding, personal association with the project of forging a solid NATO-Russia relationship. It goes back to the middle of the 1990s, when I made several visits to Moscow, as part of the “flying squad” led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, to help prepare the ground for the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. I remember some very animated discussions with Foreign Minister Primakov and other Russian colleagues. I also remember that we once crashed the US Ambassador’s Cadillac trying to get to one of these meetings with Yevgeniy Maksimovich during the last round of negotiations. That’s how keen we have been to make this relationship work.

Now as we all look back at those early days, it is important to understand NATO’s basic rationale for our engagement with Russia. We in NATO never saw this as some sort of consolation or compensation for the enlargement of the Alliance’s membership. It was – and still is today -- a sincere effort to forge a strategic partnership between Russia and NATO. A partnership where we build security together and not against each other, and not just for ourselves, but for the entire Euro-Atlantic area.

When it comes to building security together, we often forget that we were able to do just that even before the signing of the Founding Act and the first meeting of our Permanent Joint Council. Russian soldiers were deployed alongside Alliance soldiers in the first NATO-led peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the largest non-NATO troop contingent. And despite differences over NATO’s Kosovo air campaign at the end of the decade, Russia did also deploy peacekeepers to support the NATO-led Kosovo Force.

The “9/11” terrorist attacks brought a new dynamic and new substance to our relationship. We both recognised the need for concerted action in the fight against terrorism. And in 2002 we established the NATO-Russia Council to strengthen both our political dialogue and our practical cooperation in this and other areas of common concern.

Looking back over the past ten years, I believe we have much to be proud of.

First of all, our political dialogue has indeed intensified. We now consult each other regularly, on different subjects and at different levels. Just yesterday, Secretary General Rasmussen had a very fruitful meeting with Minister Lavrov in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. We may not agree on each and every issue, but there is a genuine willingness to understand each other’s positions and look for common ground.

Second, our military-to-military cooperation has intensified as well. We now work together to fight piracy off the Horn of Africa, and we continue to invest in enhancing the interoperability between our forces. We have held joint exercises in areas such as search and rescue at sea, and to practice our response to the possibility of a renegade aircraft entering our airspace. And our annual military cooperation work plans have become more and more ambitious.

Third, our practical cooperation has expanded in other areas as well. We held major table-top exercises last spring on counter-terrorism and on Theatre Missile Defence. A joint NATO-Russia system to enable real-life/real-time exchange of airspace data is about to reach full operational capability. And our scientists are working on technology to detect improvised explosive devices – the so-called STANDEX project, which is truly ground-breaking.

Finally, and importantly, we have worked more and more closely together towards a very concrete, shared goal, which is a stable and secure Afghanistan in a peaceful region. Our NRC programme for training counter-narcotics experts from Afghanistan and neighbouring states has continued to gather pace. That also applies to our joint helicopter initiative to reinforce the capability of the Afghan security forces. And we have been able to count on Russia in granting us transit of its territory in support of our Afghanistan mission.

So, again, we have much to be proud of. But that doesn’t mean we can be satisfied. Because there is much more that we can do -- and should do.

There is scope to intensify our work in the various areas that I have just outlined, and to expand our practical cooperation to other areas of mutual interest. And there is also considerable scope to further deepen our political dialogue. Not only to clarify each other’s positions and avoid possible misperceptions. But to build the mutual trust and understanding that will allow us to be more ambitious in the future, and to unlock the full potential of our partnership. In this context, we look forward to the arrival of Russia’s new Ambassador to NATO, Ambassador Grushko, hopefully in the next few weeks.

I just spoke of our cooperation on Afghanistan, and that has to be one of our key priorities. We are drawing down our NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, and working hard to ensure that Afghan troops and police are fully capable of shouldering responsibility for the security of their country by the end of 2014. At the same time, NATO will not be turning its back on Afghanistan or the region after 2014. The Alliance will remain committed to Afghanistan, through a new mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces. However, security is just one part of the problem, and NATO is just one part of the solution. It is important that the whole international community provide the support that Afghanistan needs.

There is a crucial role here for Russia and all its southern neighbours: to continue to counter the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons across the region; to encourage cross-border trade and investment; and to promote regional political and economic cooperation. We look forward to working with Russia, as well as our other partner countries in Central Asia, and supporting their efforts wherever we can.

Finally, we firmly believe that NATO-Russia cooperation on missile defence can be a real game-changer in our relationship. Our countries face a grave and growing threat from the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. This is a threat that must be faced. NATO is pushing ahead with its own missile defence capability; Russia is modernizing its own missile defence systems. We have invited Russia to work together with us. We believe that makes eminent sense for political, practical and military reasons. But Russia is not convinced.

We want Russia to feel confident that NATO is not a threat – because we are not. NATO missile defence is not directed against Russia and will not undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent. That fact is clear if one looks objectively at the geography, the numbers and the physical characteristics of our NATO system. Its infrastructure is specifically configured to protect against missile threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area – not from Russia. That is true today, and it will remain true even when the later phases of NATO’s system are deployed toward the end of this decade.

We are encouraged that several eminent Russian scientists and military experts share this assessment of NATO’s developing system. A few of them have also made some very constructive suggestions recently on how to move forward to build confidence and establish the basis for NATO-Russia cooperation. I sincerely hope that we can explore those suggestions, and that we can come closer together on this vital issue soon.

Ballistic missile proliferation is a real threat, not only for NATO countries, but also for Russia. Cooperating to defend against this threat – through linked radars, shared early warning data, and coordinated intercepts – would benefit both NATO and Russia. It would enhance our respective capabilities, and reduce our vulnerability. If NATO and Russian officers worked together 24/7 to plan and conduct combined missile defence operations, it would also create greater confidence and trust between us and show the world that NATO’s and Russia’s interests coincide. And that would benefit security throughout the entire Euro-Atlantic area.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Looking back over the past 15 years, we clearly have not met all the hopes and aspirations that many of us may have had for the NATO-Russia relationship. We have achieved a lot – but we can and must do better.

Because when we look ahead, we see a security landscape with a multitude of complex risks and threats – global challenges that simply cannot be met by any single country, or even an Alliance of countries such as NATO.

Of course Russia and NATO do not agree on each and every issue. We have a different appreciation of the situation in Syria, the territorial integrity of Georgia, arms control, and other issues. But with our NATO-Russia Council, we have a mechanism in place to discuss those differences – and to develop greater trust and understanding between us.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts to fulfill the promise of the NATO-Russia relationship – to build security together, rather than against each other. So let us grasp that opportunity, because greater cooperation between us will mean greater security for all of us, for our children, and for our children’s children.