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
NRC.info: What role did you play in the negotiations on the Rome Declaration?
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.