Updated: 23-Jan-2003 NATO Speeches

Eng/ Rus

Royal Society
of Edinburgh

13 Dec 2002

“A New Russian Revolution:
Partnership with NATO”

by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have just returned this week from Moscow, where I opened a NATO-Russia conference on combating terrorism – the second one of this year. While I was there, I also held talks with President Putin – the fifth time we have met in the past fourteen months.

What is striking about these meetings is precisely that they were not striking. No drama. No fuss. No shoes being banged on tables. Instead, pragmatic discussions, in a friendly and workmanlike atmosphere. In fact, our thinking on certain issues has grown so close that a Russian newspaper, Izvestia, speculated that the Russian Defence Minister and I might share the same speechwriter – which I assure you is not the case.

As revolutions go, it has been a quiet one. But it has been a revolution nonetheless. To my mind, the partnership between NATO and Russia today marks the end of a dark century for Europe – a century which, in a very real sense, began with the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917, and ended with the collapse of the World Trade Center in September 2001.

The First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution triggered Russia’s mutation into the Soviet Union. The Second World War allowed Russia and the West to join forces – temporarily – in the face of a common threat, but failed to resolve basic differences in values and strategic philosophies.

After the war, the Iron Curtain fell across Eastern Europe, as Winston Churchill described so vividly. The Cold War divided the continent, and indeed the world, into two massive armed camps: one threatening to export its repressive model through intrigue or violence; the other a group of democracies determined to protect their security and their values.

The damage done to European security during those long years was massive. The threat of World War III was a lens which distorted our whole view of the world, and allowed many of the security challenges we face today to fester and grow, while our energies were diverted by the compelling task of avoiding mutual annihilation.

Most dialogue between Russia and the West took place at the occasional high-pressure and adversarial Summit meeting. And of course, there was no question of sharing the benefits of democracy and growing prosperity with the countries of the Warsaw Pact – including with the Soviet Union and Russia herself.

The end of the Cold War opened something of a Pandora’s box. The fall of the Berlin Wall unleashed a flood of security challenges that we were, frankly, largely unprepared to face. But it also released a great opportunity – to unify Europe in security, democracy and prosperity. And, as an essential part of that mission, to bring Russia in from the Cold, and into the European family of nations.

Few people would have guessed, in 1990, how integral a role NATO would play in this process. After all, NATO was certainly seen by Russia as a threat, if not the enemy. How could we possibly envisage not only a trusting dialogue between NATO and Russia, but cooperation? Even partnership? A decade ago, this would have seemed to most observers like Mission Impossible.

In fact, the NATO-Russia relationship did begin almost exactly 10 years ago – in NATO headquarters in Brussels, on the evening of December 20th 1991. And it was a rather dramatic moment.

It took place at the first meeting of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. NATO created this body, usually called the NAC-C, almost as soon as the Berlin Wall came down. The NAC-C brought together all the newly liberated countries in Europe, together with the Soviet Union, to sit around the same table with NATO nations. It was an unprecedented gathering. It gave a first political voice to peoples who for so long had not had one. And it gave a first hint of the role NATO would play, in the coming years, in guiding Euro-Atlantic integration.

For all those reasons, that first NAC-C meeting was full of drama and history. But it soon got more interesting yet.

At a certain point in the evening, a messenger came into the room and whispered in the ear of the representative of the Soviet Union. He excused himself and left the room. A few minutes later, he returned. He took his chair, and asked for the microphone. He announced that he could no longer speak for the Soviet Union, as the Soviet Union had, in the past few minutes, dissolved. He would henceforth represent only Russia.

As you might imagine, the meeting’s agenda was derailed. But that moment opened up the possibility of creating something new in Europe. Where Russia was no longer feared by its European neighbours, but trusted. Where mutual mistrust and recrimination could be replaced by regular dialogue and frank exchanges. And where Russia and NATO could cooperate in solving mutual security challenges, rather than simply challenging each other.

That was the beginning of the revolution in NATO-Russia relations. And throughout the 1990s, our practical cooperation slowly deepened. First, in the Balkans, where Russian soldiers worked alongside NATO soldiers in Bosnia to help keep the peace, after the war came to an end in 1995.

This, alone, was an almost unbelievable event. I still remember a photograph of a young American NATO soldier shaking hands with a young Russian soldier in Sarajevo, as that mission began. It illustrated the massive potential for peace, if NATO and Russia could only work together towards that common goal.

Practical cooperation set the stage for political relations. In 1997, we signed the Founding Act on relations between NATO and Russia, and established the Permanent Joint Council. In the Permanent Joint Council or PJC, Russia met with all the countries of NATO to discuss common security concerns, and to work towards mutual understanding and, where possible, cooperation.

This, too, was an historic development. For the first time, a permanent, organic relationship between Russia and her Western partners was established. And like our cooperation on the ground, it offered the potential for so much better cooperation in future.

But this potential was not realised immediately. On the contrary. Too many Russian generals had targeted NATO for too long to accept that the Alliance had now changed. For them, and for many Russians still mired in Cold War prejudices, NATO was still an enemy, to be watched, and perhaps grudgingly worked with, but not trusted. And, to be honest, there were some sitting around the NATO table whose views were a mirror image, based on decades of mistrust.

To these people, whether on the Russia side or in NATO, security in Europe was still what we call a “zero-sum” game. Any gain in security for one country had to mean a commensurate loss of security for another country. Which is why Russia protested so bitterly against one of the most positive developments in modern European history: NATO’s enlargement.

To Alliance members, and to the aspirant countries, NATO enlargement has always had one simple purpose: to deepen and broaden Euro-Atlantic security through integration amongst democracies. From our perspective, increased stability and deepening democracy in Europe is of net benefit, even to those countries not in the Alliance.

But those Russians who still clung to the “zero-sum” perspective had a different word for enlargement: “encirclement”. Even President Yeltsin – who played such a key role in bringing the Soviet era to an end -- made his opposition to enlargement very clear. He protested bitterly. He threatened vague “counter-measures”. And he drew imaginary “red-lines” on the map, designating those new democracies which, in his estimation, Russia could never accept to join the Alliance.

The message was a familiar one: that Russia still viewed the West with suspicion, and would try to maintain a geographic buffer zone beyond Russia’s borders.

A similarly outdated view was demonstrated over another event in the same year: the Kosovo campaign. Despite our many political declarations of partnership and shared values and interests, the Russian leadership still felt compelled to define itself in opposition to the West, regardless of what was manifestly taking place on the ground.

What we saw as a compelling case for military intervention in support of humanitarian relief and regional stability, they saw, initially, as an attempt to extend NATO’s geographic “sphere of influence” – again, through the out-dated “zero-sum” prism.

This attitude sparked the hasty dash by a few poorly-equipped Russian troops to seize the main airport in Kosovo – a reckless piece of brinkmanship in political and military terms. And even though it was clearly both pointless and dangerous, it was hailed in some circles in Russia as a restoration of national pride.

There are more examples, but the point is clear. Ten years after the Cold War ended, the practical foundations for NATO-Russia cooperation were in place -–but the psychological foundations were not. Our future cooperation was a helpless hostage of Cold War ghosts.

We needed a breakthrough. And we got it. Two events, in particular, played a key role in taking our relationship to a new level

The first was Vladimir Putin succeeding Boris Yeltsin as President, on the first day of the Millennium. A few weeks before that I had met Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov for the first time, in Istanbul, at a Summit meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He invited me to come to Moscow in February 2000, where I met President-elect Putin, also for the first time.

That meeting was a real gamble for the new President. After all, he had only been in office a few weeks, and one of his first decisions was to crack the ice on which his predecessor had put the NATO-Russia relationship. It was no surprise, then, that our first meeting was cautious in tone and in substance.

It was very bold, however, in symbolism, considering how difficult the previous year had been. President Putin and I agreed, in February 2000, to take a “step-by-step" approach to improving NATO-Russia relations. What was really important was that the show was back on the road.

A tragic event a few months later demonstrated the potential of our cooperation. When the Kursk submarine sank on August 12th, 2000, NATO immediately, that same day, made an offer to help try to rescue the sailors trapped inside.

Soon after the accident, Russian Admirals were in NATO Headquarters, working with their NATO counterparts on potential solutions. In the end, there was no way to save the sailors of the Kursk. But the lesson was clear – in times of crisis, ad-hoc cooperation wasn’t enough. We needed more. And the importance of making progress was understood in Moscow as much as in Brussels.

My second meeting with President Putin a year later, in February 2001, proved that we were on the right path. Many of you will recall that there was a furious international debate underway at the time about US plans for missile defence – and in particular, whether these plans would critically damage relations between Russia and the West.

My meeting with President Putin turned what was a divisive debate into a productive discussion. He put forward a proposal on missile defence that acknowledged that we face a common threat; that there was a military response to it; and that we could cooperate in addressing it.

This was already unprecedented common ground. What was equally significant was that he handed that proposal to me, as NATO Secretary General, rather than to the United States or to the other NATO nations. In doing so, President Putin made it clear that he acknowledged that NATO had an important role to play in Euro-Atlantic security. And that he intended to work with NATO, even on controversial issues, rather than trying to engage in a counter-productive policy of confrontation.

Two months later, in April 2001, I met with President Bush in Washington. And I predicted that he and Putin would work well together. Why, he asked?

I told him, because both came to politics late in life. Because both come to their capitals from elsewhere -- Bush from Texas, Putin from St Petersburg.

Both Bush and Putin were exciting major expectations, for change and improvement, especially in the economy. Both were managing big countries, with all the challenges that this holds.

And both, in my experience, were unlikely to accept the answer, “But Mr. President, we always do it this way.”

These predictions proved to be correct.

So the first element of a fundamentally new relationship between NATO and Russia was already in place – a much more pragmatic leadership in Moscow, which saw the West as a Partner, not a rival. But the real opportunity sprang, ironically enough, from a real tragedy – September 11th 2001.

The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington did more than just destroy buildings and kill thousands of people – including, by the way, nearly 100 Russian citizens. They also created an earthquake in international relations – including in relations between NATO and Russia. They made clear that today’s threats can come from anywhere, and that “spheres of influence” and other traditional notions of geographic security are irrelevant in the modern world.

On September 12th, NATO invoked its mutual defence clause for the first time in its history. During the Cold War, it was designed to be invoked against a Soviet attack. Now, it was invoked in response to terrorism – the most vivid proof to Russia, if any were needed, that the Alliance truly had changed.

It also brought NATO and Russia firmly onto the same side in the fight against international terrorism. It was clear, from the moment of the attacks, that the broadest possible coalition was necessary to counter these terrorists. It was also clear that there was no more time for out-dated fears. We needed a new approach to security: cooperation at all levels, across the full spectrum of security issues that we actually face today.

I don’t mean to imply that last year’s terrorist attacks led to a fundamental change in direction in the NATO-Russia relationship. Many on both sides, not least President Putin himself, had already grasped the idea that we must join forces if we are to defeat terrorism, proliferation, regional instability and the other threats we all face today. But September 11th made a real breakthrough in our relations an immediate necessity, rather than a theoretical long-term goal. Instead of asking, “How much co-operation can we tolerate”, we began to ask, “How can we achieve the full promise of partnership -- quickly”?

President Putin demonstrated immediately that he understood the importance of putting aside old prejudices, and embracing true, and immediate cooperation. With a heavy emphasis on immediate: of all the leaders in the world, President Putin was the first to call President Bush on September 11th.

From that moment, Russia was a staunch partner in the international response to the attacks. Russia offered to open its airspace to US war planes for the campaign to topple the Taliban and rout Al-Qaida. Moscow also demonstrated its openness by having US and other Western troops based in the Central Asian Republics, an area Russia had considered until recently to be her exclusive area of influence.

And Moscow was willing to share the most sensitive intelligence on terrorism itself, and on the region around Afghanistan – an area they know well, through grim experience.

This was more than just cooperation. It demonstrated a sea change in the relationship between Russia and the West. It proved to NATO that President Putin was serious about being a true Partner in security. And it proved to Russia that NATO, and the West, were serious about having Russia as a Partner in facing new threats.

It was this breakthrough that led to the creation, in May, of a fundamentally new framework for NATO-Russia cooperation. It is called the NATO-Russia Council or NRC. I cannot claim to be the author of the initiative. Like all success stories, it has many godfathers. The Prime Ministers of Britain, Canada and Italy, and the US President, can all take some of the credit. What is important is not who initiated the NATO Russia Council but what it has already achieved. The way it has done business in its first six months demonstrates that we truly have achieved a revolution in NATO-Russia relations.

The seating arrangements alone speak volumes. In the old PJC, a cumbersome troika shared the chair. We called it “19 plus one”. Russia called it “19 versus one”.

In the new NATO-Russia Council, there is no “19”, and no “1”. All participants sit as equals, in alphabetical order – great powers and small powers together. Russia sits between Spain and Portugal, fully comfortable as one of twenty participating nations. We meet monthly, in NATO Headquarters – a building that was on the target list of every Soviet nuclear missile commander. And I – the Secretary General of NATO -- chair the meeting.

It is hard to exaggerate how much of an advance this is. It proved that Russia is now ready to take her place as a full, equal and trusting partner in Euro-Atlantic security. And it shows that NATO’s members are equally ready to take that step.

The seismic change was vividly on display in Pratica di Mare Airbase near Rome on 28 May this year, when NATO and Russia held the first meeting of this new NATO-Russia Council, at the level of Heads of State and Government.

In 20 days, Prime Minister Berlusconi had constructed a complete Summit headquarters in grand Italian style. But the real drama came at the table itself – indeed, by the table itself.

Here, around one table, were the Presidents of the USA and Russia, of France and Poland, the Chancellor of Germany, the British Prime Minister, the Italian Prime Minister, the Prime Ministers of Iceland and Luxembourg and others. Twenty of the key Euro-Atlantic leaders at one big table.

And here’s the history – they were there not to carve up the world like the assembled leaders at Potsdam and at Yalta, but to unite it. Unlike any gathering in European or transatlantic history, the great powers and a lot of other like-minded countries were launching a body to build lasting cooperation and interaction across a part of the world fractured and laid waste by the same countries for centuries.

I have to say that being the Chairman of such an assembly was for me a moment of real significance and of momentary intimidation. More importantly, that day changed the world for ever.

We have made a quick start in ensuring that this revolutionary new relationship delivers substantial new security. First and foremost, we have dramatically deepened our cooperation in the struggle against terrorism.

The NRC nations are completing common assessments of specific terrorist threats in the Euro-Atlantic Area. We are also assessing much more closely the terrorist threat to NATO and Russian soldiers in their peacekeeping missions in the Balkans.

And as I mentioned, we have just held the second NATO-Russia conference on improving the military role in combating terrorism. We looked at how best to use the military’s unique assets and capabilities to defend against terrorist attacks, and against attacks using weapons of mass destruction. And we are looking at how best to transform the military to better address these new threats.

Part of that transformation has to cover purely technical or technological changes, such as buying chemical and biological defence kits. But the transformation must go beyond the kit, to also change the culture.

In Moscow, I took the opportunity to stress to our Russian friends the importance of proportionality in responding to threats, and of training the military to act also as policeman and diplomat. I shared with them the experience of so many of NATO countries: that a political solution to conflict was the only lasting solution. Blind, brute force only turns political opponents into future terrorists. It was a tough message to pass in Russia – but I could make my case, at a high level, and be listened to, because of the new character in our partnership.

Of course, military reform goes beyond preparing for terrorism. It means fundamental adaptation: to jettison out-dated Cold War heavy metal armies, and to create modern, light and flexible forces that are trained and equipped to meet 21st century threats.

NATO armies face this reform challenge. Russia faces it in spades. Which is why we are exploring options for co-operating in this area as well – to share best practices, and to see where we can cooperate to make best use of our collective resources.

Our new partnership extends to many more areas. For example, we are deepening our military-to military cooperation -- including talks about having Russian air tankers refuelling NATO aircraft. Imagine that idea, even just a few years ago!

We are also laying the groundwork for future joint NATO-Russia peacekeeping operations. We have already agreed broad political guidance for such future missions. And we are discussing holding a crisis management exercise together in the coming year.

We are deepening our cooperation on short range Missile Defence, to better protect our deployed forces against attack. We are jointly assessing the threat to Russia and NATO nations posed by chemical, biological, radiological weapons, and their means of delivery. And we are preparing to work together in the event of such an attack, or indeed in any civil emergency.

We held a joint exercise in September, in Russia, where we practised responding together to a terrorist attack on a chemical factory. This was truly a groundbreaking event. Fourteen countries from across Europe, including Russia, sent teams to participate, along with the UN. More than ten other countries sent observers. And together, all of these countries and international organisations practised working together to help those who might be injured in an attack, control contamination, and evacuate those at risk. This was a truly new coalition, training together to take on new threats.

We are also deepening our cooperation on search and rescue at sea. I have already mentioned the Kursk disaster, and how it sparked deeper cooperation between us. Well, our Search and Rescue Work Program already includes Russia participation in our exercises. And we aim to sign a framework document on our search and rescue at sea cooperation in the next few weeks.

I could go on, but you get the picture. There truly has been a revolution in NATO-Russia relations. And to me, one of the most vivid illustrations came from our recent Summit in Prague – a city once deep behind the Churchillian Iron Curtain.

In Prague, NATO invited seven new democracies to begin accession talks to join the Alliance. Before September 11th, 2001, Prague was foreseen by all to be an “enlargement Summit”. And to a great extent, it still was. A Wall Street Journal article a few days ago said that, by inviting seven countries to join, “NATO has achieved the greatest victory in the five decades of its existence, by finally erasing the effects of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and the Yalta Agreement, which had shackled Europe for half a century.”

Three years earlier, as the previous round of enlargement was finalised, Russia, still furious over the Kosovo crisis, shunned any contact with NATO. By contrast, two weeks ago, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov attended a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Prague, on the margins of the NATO Summit, the day after the invitations were issued. He offered a glowing assessment, both in public and in our closed-door meeting, of the progress that had been made in the NATO-Russia Council in the past six months. And then he hopped on Air Force One, and rode back to Russia with President Bush, who was warmly received by President Putin. A revolution indeed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 1917, Lenin said, “How can you make a revolution without executions?” And true to his call, the Bolshevik revolution ushered in one of the darkest eras in modern European history. A period in which Russia was isolated from Europe, and during which Europe was divided by Russia.

That era is now finally over. And it could not come too soon. In the 21st Century, it is simply impossible to preserve our security against such new threats as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or regional conflicts without Russia. In an increasingly globalised world, we need the broadest possible cooperation. And the new NATO-Russia relationship has created what has been missing for almost a century: a strong security bridge between Russia and her partners in the West.

But the new NATO-Russia relationship has a benefit that is more political than practical. It is also a platform for Russia’s return from the political and economic isolation of the past century. With her nuclear arsenal, her 11 time zones, her 150 million citizens, and her borders stretching from the Caucasus through Central Asia and the Far East, Russia’s fate remains vital to the security of the Euro-Atlantic community. Nothing could be of more long-term benefit to our common security than for Russia to take her rightful place as a full, trusting and trustworthy member of the Euro-Atlantic community. And we have begun to make that vision a reality.

Thank you.

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