Nato-Russia Council

Ambassadors Grushko & Brengelmann Interviewed: NRC 10 Years


In 2012 NATO-Russia Council celebrated its tenth anniversary since its creation in Rome with the signing of the declaration NATO-Russia Relations: A New Quality. To mark the ten years, the NRC Website interviewed NRC Preparatory Committee Chairman, Ambassador Dirk Brengelmann, and Russian Ambassador to NATO, Ambassador Alexander Grushko, getting their firsthand insights on the creation, success and future of the NRC.

Interview with the Russian Ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko

You participated in the negotiations on the Rome declaration "NATO-Russia relations: A new quality". Was there a general awareness that this was a new era for NATO and Russia?

Ambassador Grushko:

I would not call it a new era. In 2001-2002 it became vital to restore the relations between NATO and Russia which were in a deep crisis after the military intervention of the Alliance in the former-Yugoslavia. It was imperative to find a new and more solid basis for cooperation in the fight against new threats and challenges. The tragedy of the 9/11 testified to the fact that in the modern world there are no "islands of security" and that we are all exposed to the challenge of global terrorism. The overall negotiations of the Rome declaration were tense. However, at that time we managed to lay down the new philosophy for our relations. The Rome declaration clearly stated that the members of the NATO-Russia Council were acting in their national capacities. If the memory serves me well, this provision was bracketed until the very last minute of the negotiations. What was also innovative in the Rome declaration was the establishment of a continuous political dialogue on security issues, the statement of its all-weather character. In practice it meant that the cooperation within NRC was moving ahead without being fully dependent on the divergences between its members.

NATO-Russia Council Ambassador GRUSHKO
Ambassador Alexander Grushko

What was the key factor that led to the Rome declaration and the creation of the NRC as a new framework for cooperation?

I think the key was the understanding by all sides of the need for uniting efforts on a fundamentally new ground. It was laid out in the Rome declaration and led to the creation of the NATO-Russia Council. The Permanent Joint Council which was established under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding act also played its role. But it was conceived rather as an instrument to alleviate tensions and develop cooperation between NATO as a whole and Russia. In reality it meant that on major security issues the Alliance was speaking with one voice from pre-agreed positions. However, the new reality, the new generation of challenges and threats required a more flexible and innovative approach. It was important to ensure that NATO member states and Russia acted as equal partners, as a united mechanism without internal divisive lines. At that time the notion "20" was coined out to replace the old scheme known as "19+1" which was less adequate and less efficient in terms of building consensus, sharing responsibilities and coordinating joint actions.

How has having the framework for NATO-Russia Council changed practical cooperation and political dialogue between the 29 NRC members?

We have a permanent forum for a political dialogue, cooperation, consensus-building, joint decision and joint action. The NRC is the place where we discuss concrete projects and concrete activities. Of course, the cooperation within the NRC is not cloudless. There are issues that we raise and not always do we get answers to them. What President of Russia Vladimir Putin clearly stated and what we keep on repeating to our partners is that we will be developing cooperation with NATO to the extent to which the Alliance will respect the Russian interests in the area of international security, as well as the norms and principles of the international law. Those two elements are key in our relations with the Alliance.

What areas of practical cooperation in the NRC have achieved most since 2002 against common security challenges for NRC members?

You are right to say that Russia and NATO have common security challenges. It is an important point. And the more united we are in our efforts, the better it is for the international security. We have a significant number of projects. They relate to Afghanistan, transit, fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy, response to natural and man-made disasters, logistic support and military medicine, military-military cooperation, including search and rescue at sea. Actually, the list of projects is much longer than the list of disagreements that we have with the Alliance. We are all interested in the peace and stability in Afghanistan. We seek to promote the ability of the Afghan government and people to ensure their own security and development. Russia facilitates simplified transit through its territory of non-lethal freight belonging to NATO and ISAF contributing countries. We have joint projects on MI-17 training and procurement under the NRC Helicopter Trust Fund, as well as on counter-narcotics training of Afghan, Central Asian and Pakistani personnel. These projects come as part of the Afghan capacity-building, including in the fight against drug-trafficking which constitutes, as laid out in the UN Security Council resolutions, a threat to international peace and stability. The withdrawal of ISAF troops will have a long-term effect on the regional security. We are keen to know what the Alliance is planning to do in Afghanistan after 2014, what kind of mission it seeks to establish and on which legal ground. The NRC ability to cooperate after 2014 would be a serious challenge, but also a grand opportunity.

Afghan Air Force Mi-17 Helicopters

Where do you see the future of the NRC?

I prefer to be realist. I am confident that we can go as far as we wish, be it on Afghanistan, fight against terrorism or missile defense. We are constantly repeating to our partners that the NRC is a forum for political dialogue under any circumstances and on all issues, including those on which we disagree. Take missile defense. Of course, progress in this area can dramatically change NATO-Russia relations. We are not there yet. Our partners are well aware of our concerns related to the plans to build the missile defense system in Europe or NATO expansion to the east. By all means, the quality of our cooperation will depend on our ability to listen to each other and act in accordance with the international law.

Interview with Chairman of the Preparatory Committee, Dirk Brengelmann

During your tenure as a Deputy Director in the Private Office of Lord Robertson, the Rome Declaration – NATO-Russia Relations: A New Quality was signed creating the NATO-Russia Council.

Ambassador Dirk Brengelmann NRC Preparatory Committee Chairman What role did you play in the negotiations on the Rome Declaration?

Ambassador Brengelmann:

I was Deputy Director in Lord Robertson’s Private Office from 2000 to 2003. NATO’s relations with Russia were a key part of my remit. At that time, NATO-Russia relations took place within the framework of the Permanent Joint Council (PJC). The structure was quite cumbersome and more complicated than what we have today in the NRC. Notably there was the ‘Troika’ function - NATO’s Secretary General, the Russian Ambassador to NATO, and an Allied Ambassador (in rotation) formed the Chairmanship of the PJC.

In many ways, we felt that the PJC was more suited to managing NATO and Russia’s relationship than building the partnership we wanted. There was a distinct realisation from both NATO and Russia that more needed to be done to advance our relations. It was this realisation that led to work beginning on negotiations for the new framework – the NATO-Russia Council.

The negotiations lasted about six months. During this time the NATO team went to Moscow several times, and the Russian team also came to NATO HQ. The lead negotiator on the NATO side was then Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Günther Altenburg. On the Russian side it was Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Gusarov leading the team. Lord Robertson went to Moscow and met with President Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov. All of us were committed to making it a success.

Was there a general awareness then that this was a new era for NATO and Russia?

At the time there was indeed a new feeling in the air that the creation of the NRC marked a new era for NATO and Russia, towards a real partnership with a framework that could really be put to use, particularly in terms of practical cooperation.

Of course, we already had the solid basis of the Founding Act to work on so it was not new in every respect. At the same time, everybody felt what an ambitious step we were taking forwards, together, towards improving the European security environment for all.

The new era it marked is fundamentally signified by the fact that in the NATO-Russia Council nations sit together as equals ‘at 29’, in alphabetical order. It is a unique arrangement and reflects the importance of the NRC as an institution and the importance given by all to NATO-Russia relations. NATO simply doesn’t do this with any other partner.

What was the key factor that led to the Rome Declaration and the creation of the NRC as a new framework for cooperation?

I think that the key factor that led to the Rome Declaration was this common realisation from both NATO and Russia that we needed to do more to move our relations forward. The PJC had been a good start and had fulfilled its role, but the next step needed to be more ambitious. This is what led to the NATO-Russia Council, with its unique ‘at 29’ format and the NATO Secretary General as NRC Chairman.

Cooperative Air Space Initiative Live Exercise

How has having the framework of the NATO-Russia Council changed practical cooperation and political dialogue between the 29 NRC member states?

I think that the NRC framework with its working group structure has really boosted practical cooperation. The establishment of specialised working groups has provided a vital support structure in which practical cooperation can be conceived and implemented through permanent structures.

In terms of political dialogue, the fact that in the NRC we debate issues ‘at 29’ is an important facilitator for NRC nations to discuss matters of concern frankly and openly. We call the NRC an ‘all weather forum’, a place where any subject can be discussed at any time, even those issues where we know we disagree.

What areas of practical cooperation in the NRC have achieved most since 2002 against common security challenges for NRC members?

Key areas where we have achieved most have been cooperation on counter terrorism and our joint work on Afghanistan. It really demonstrates what we can achieve when our common security interests really coincide. For example on counter terrorism cooperation, we have achieved real results in areas such as the development of STANDEX, a technology to detect explosives in crowded places, and the NRC Cooperative Airspace Initiative which is a system in which NRC nations work together against terrorism in the skies. On Afghanistan, we can also clearly see the benefits of working together. The results from the NRC Counter Narcotics Training Project are impressive. The NRC Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund is already producing results in terms of bolstering Afghan capabilities to maintain their helicopter fleet. At the same time, there are areas which remain difficult and agreement to move forward on cooperation has not been reached. Missile defence is a key area in this respect.

Where do you see the future of the NRC?

The NRC is well suited to the tasks it is mandated to perform. It will continue to play a vital role as the framework for NATO-Russia relations. Cooperation between NRC nations is indispensible, and frankly, if we didn’t have the NRC we’d have to create it! Going forward, we have work to do on bolstering our political dialogue, including in difficult areas. In terms of practical cooperation, I also think there is still untapped potential in the Rome Declaration where we could find new ideas. But more importantly there are many areas in which we have achieved tangible results for the security of NRC nations. We must continue to build upon this strong start to the NATO-Russia Council.