Updated: 22-Nov-2001 NATO Speeches

22 Nov. 2001

A New Quality in the NATO-Russia Relationship

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
at the Diplomatic Academy

Ladies and Gentlemen,

During the Cold War, when European security was marked by tanks massed along a static dividing line that cut the continent in half, the Soviet Union and the members of NATO understood the nature of our relationship, and the importance of that relationship for the world at large.

In NATO, we knew where our potential threat was coming from, and what measures we needed to take to deter, and, if necessary, counter that threat. For the past decade, it has been equally obvious that this Cold-War paradigm no longer holds true, and that NATO and Russia should - indeed must - be partners in overcoming the common threats that face us all in today's world.

We knew this in our minds, yet our hearts would not always allow us to let go of the suspicions that had been born of four decades of mistrust, both here in Russia and in the West. And these suspicions prevented us from taking more than the most tentative steps toward a true partnership.

All of that changed on September 11. In the space of an hour, our world was transformed.

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington killed thousands of Americans. But they also killed nearly 800 citizens of other NATO nations - and more than 100 Russians.

If we had ever doubted that NATO and Russia share common security interests, the terrorists left us no choice but to face this sobering reality.

These attacks oblige us to go beyond "business as usual". They force us to think afresh about the conditions of our security today and tomorrow.

And, above all, they oblige us to think afresh about the relationship between NATO and Russia. Because one thing should be clear: if we want to come up with any meaningful response to the terrorist menace, to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other new and emerging threats, we need a solid NATO-Russia relationship.

To give you my view right at the outset, and with my usual bluntness: the current state of NATO-Russia relations is not sufficient to deal seriously with the new security challenges that confront us today and tomorrow.

We need something more. And we need it fast.

It would be an exaggeration to speak of the last decade as a lost opportunity. We have achieved a lot.

But let us be honest: our relationship has never broken entirely free of the mistrust of the Cold War.

We have made some progress. In 1997, we signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations and created the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council.

The Founding Act commits NATO and Russia to "build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security." It notes our intention "to develop, on the basis of common interest, reciprocity and transparency a strong, stable and enduring partnership."

These are powerful words indeed, which point the direction we should be headed. But how far have we travelled down that road?

Not far enough. Our partnership has remained a nervous one.

The foundation for our new relationship was laid in the Founding Act, but the process of building upon that foundation proved to be problematic.

Cooperation seemed to go hand in hand with competition. Fundamental differences in perception persisted, above all regarding the future of the European security architecture, and the respective roles NATO and Russia should play within this architecture.

The 1999 Kosovo crisis exposed these fundamental differences in perception.

NATO's conviction that murderous ethnic cleansing in Kosovo had to be stopped by all necessary means clashed fundamentally with Russia's concerns about sovereignty and territorial integrity, and, above all, with old zero-sum notions of security and "spheres of influence."

Not much room appeared to be left for a middle ground.

But while Kosovo demonstrated our differences, it also demonstrated how much we need each other.

Yes, Russia could walk out of the NATO-Russia dialogue, but only at the risk of being marginalised. Yes, NATO could run the operation on its own, but it needed Russian support for any lasting political settlement in the Balkans, as demonstrated by the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. In the Balkans, then, NATO and Russia simply could not achieve their goals without co-operating.

We learned the hard way that we have become, to a large extent, dependent upon one another. And we realised that in today's world, no country, not even the most powerful one, can achieve true security in isolation.

But many in Russia and in the West failed to internalise this lesson. Bosnia and Kosovo are very far from Brussels, and even farther from Moscow.

The cooperation between NATO and Russia in resolving the crises has not been widely appreciated in our home countries.

Because of this, the views of some of our politicians and publics tended to be subject to "old thinking". In Russia and in the West some used the Balkan crises to "justify their logic" -- to simply reinforce their own prejudices about each other's intentions.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, relying on these old concepts is no longer just wrong, but outright dangerous.

The challenges in Kosovo and Bosnia may have seemed far away, but the challenge of global terrorism is not. It threatens us right here at our doorstep.

Far more than Kosovo or Bosnia, the attacks of September 11 brought home the lessons of our interdependence.

They brought home our vulnerability to a new kind of threat. They brought home the futility of security concepts that focus on amassing tanks at one's borders.

They brought home the need for a new approach to security: co-operation at all levels, across the full spectrum of security issues.

Above all, they brought home the need for a real breakthrough in NATO-Russia relations.

I believe that the chances for such a real breakthrough in our relations have never been better. For all the ups and downs of our relationship, the first ten years have at least dismantled some of the obstacles that stood in the way of a new stage in our relationship and demonstrated that, where we find the political will, we can work together successfully.

Now we must take the next step forward, and find ways in which we can move beyond consultations and fulfil the Founding Act's promise of joint decisions and joint actions in some areas.

Presidents Putin and Bush endorsed this idea, when they noted that "the members of NATO and Russia are increasingly allied against terrorism, regional instability and other contemporary threats, and that the NATO-Russia relationship should therefore evolve accordingly."

This will not be an easy process, either for NATO or for Russia. But it must be done.

Instead of asking: "How much co-operation can we tolerate?" we should be asking: "How can we achieve the full promise of partnership?"

I believe we can already begin to answer that question.

First, I can say with confidence that we will prevail in our common struggle against global terrorism. In the mountains of southern Afghanistan and the streets of Kandahar, Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban protectors are on the run.

Just as importantly, around the world, from Chechnya to Somalia, from the Philippines to the Balkans, other terrorists and would-be terrorists have been put on notice that no political cause or religious belief can justify the murder of innocent civilians.

We will prevail because we will continue to stand together, as we have since September 11. We are united in political will, and we are united in developing practical cooperation to operationalise that unity.

But terrorism is not the only area in which we can or should work together. Nor is it the only threat that endangers all of our peoples.

We must deepen our cooperation in protecting our populations from chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver them.

This cooperation must include measures to firmly prevent the proliferation of these deadly weapons and materials, as well as examining ways where we might move forward together, as Russia has suggested, in developing missile defences to protect us from weapons that have already fallen into the wrong hands.

We must also move forward with a meaningful dialogue on military reform, to learn from each other's experience and have confidence that all of us have the right capabilities to face together the threats of today and tomorrow.

We must recognise also that not all "defence" against the threats of the modern world can or should be military in nature.

We have already started a very fruitful dialogue with Russia on how we can cooperate in civil emergency planning, including in dealing with the after-effects of terrorist acts and natural disasters.

Despite our past policy differences in the Balkans, we have accumulated an impressive record of field-level co-operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Kosovo where NATO and Russian forces have served side-by-side within a unified command structure.

We have also worked together politically to ensure that the horrors of previous Balkan wars are not repeated in FYROM. We must build upon this record, and build mutual trust not only among NATO and Russia politicians, but among our men and women in uniform. As we look past the conflict in Afghanistan, toward intensified humanitarian relief efforts in that long-suffering country, this offers fertile ground for practical co-operation between NATO and Russia.

We must also begin to look at NATO enlargement in the context of our new vision of security.

Yes, NATO will issue invitations to some new members next year. But this needs to be seen in the broader context of the integration processes underway in the Euro-Atlantic community and beyond. These processes encompass much more than the enlargement of NATO.

They also encompass the accession of new member states to the European Union and the World Trade Organisation, to name just two. All of these processes will serve Russia's national interests in the long term.

Why? Because they will contribute to the growing togetherness of Europe.

And because they will help to spread stability and reconcile nations with each other.

Two years ago, Poland joined NATO. Just last month, President Putin told President Kwasniewski that the relationship between Russia and Poland is exemplary.

This shows, better than any NATO declaration, why enlargement will not translate into a net loss for Russia.

A state that joins a cooperative NATO will itself become part of this cooperative momentum. And Russia will benefit as a result - the notion of a "new dividing line" is a myth.

We are not a threat to you, and we do not consider you to be a threat to us.

The enlargement of both NATO and the EU should proceed hand in hand with the development of closer relations between NATO and Russia, the EU and Russia, and, yes, NATO and the EU. As President Putin said last week in Texas, if we develop a true partnership between NATO and Russia, our past differences over enlargement" will cease to be a relevant issue."

Does this new spirit in NATO-Russia relations mean that we will from now on agree on each and every question?

That would be clearly be unrealistic.

We will continue to have differences. But we must discuss them openly and try to understand each other, rather than automatically assuming the worst about each other's motives.

For our part, we now understand that Russia's warnings about the dangers of terrorism have not just been motivated by the need to dispel Western criticism of the Chechnya campaign.

We may disagree on the means Russia has chosen in the handling of that conflict - and here, I must tell you that NATO Allies remain concerned about their effects on innocent civilians.

But we have certainly come to see the scourge of terrorism in Chechnya with different eyes.

Russia's long-term political goal - a peaceful, stable Chechen Republic within the Russian Federation, where citizens enjoy all the protections of the Russian Constitution and which does not serve as a base for international terrorism - is one we support and share.

This, to my mind, is the kind of partnership that would serve NATO and Russia -- indeed the entire Euro-Atlantic community -- very well. In any case, it should be the kind of relationship we should aim for when we make decisions now.

When I met with President Putin in Brussels six weeks ago, he shared my sense of frustration with the slow progress in our relationship. He wants to work more closely with the Alliance, and we welcome this.

I am keen to build on this momentum and I have already presented him with a package of initial proposals for more detailed and substantive co-operation. These, of course, include several initiatives designed to deepen our co-operation in combating terrorism.

NATO and Russian experts are currently working out the details of these and other ideas. I also proposed an intensified program of joint exercises, designed to enhance our interoperability in such areas as air transport and air-to-air refuelling.

And President Putin and I agreed to establish an informal "think tank" to exchange views on other ways to enhance our co-operation in combating terrorism and on how to take forward the NATO-Russia relationship.

These steps will set our relationship on a faster track. They will bring us closer to the mature NATO-Russia relationship that we want -- and need.

But let us be clear: This new relationship will not come about by default. It requires hard work.

Above all, it means that the new spirit of cooperation that has emerged between us after September 11 must be made permanent. The coalition against fascism 60 years ago did not outlast its victory.

Nor have we achieved the full promise of co-operation that emerged with the democratic revolutions of 1989-1991. We must make full use of the current chance for a new relationship, spurred by our coalition against global terrorism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to some observers, we have entered a new age -- an "age of uncertainty". If this is true, don't we need certainties? Don't we need reliable partners we can count on? Strong partners, and reliable friends? Would it not be reassuring to know that the NATO-Russia partnership is among the things that are certain, among the things we can always count on?

That is why our current struggle against the terrorist menace must only be the beginning of something that is long overdue: a permanent qualitative change in our relationship.

Thank You.

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