September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
NATO And Russia: Redefining Relations For The 21st Century - Ambassador Alexander Vershbow; February 22, 2002

NATO And Russia: Redefining Relations For The 21st Century
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation
St. Petersburg State University February 22, 2002
[As prepared for delivery]

Thank you Prof. Khudoley for the introduction and for the invitation to take part in today's NATO Conference. This is exactly the right time to be discussing Russia's relations with NATO as developments in the coming months are of potentially far-reaching significance. We all have a stake in the outcome.

I note that there are representatives here today from the Baltic States, Denmark, Germany and other European countries. This should guarantee a frank, and lively, exchange of views.

Two years ago I addressed this forum as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Today I have been asked to speak about the American perspective on NATO-Russia relations as the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation. First, I would like to say a few words about the state of U.S.-Russia relations.

The United States and Russia are closer today -- politically, economically and militarily -- than at any time in our history. That is not an empty assertion. Rather, this observation is based on my own perspective going back some 30 years as a former student of Russian and Soviet affairs and based on several tours of duty as a diplomat -- in Moscow and on the Soviet Desk at the State Department -- during the last decade of the Cold War.

As you know, Presidents Bush and Putin have met four times and have established a close personal relationship. Most of you have probably also heard that President Putin was the first foreign leader to speak with President Bush after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington to express his sympathy and solidarity with the United States. Even more importantly, he backed that up with an unprecedented offer of political, military and intelligence support.

This has led many to conclude that September 11 was a turning point in the nature of relations between the West and Russia, but that is only partially true. I believe that even before September 11, President Putin had made a strategic choice. He had concluded that Russia's future economic growth and political influence could be best assured through closer relations with Europe and the United States, rather than through the competitive, confrontational approach of the Soviet past. For his part, President Bush was already determined to move beyond the constraints of Cold War thinking and forge a new relationship with Russia based on genuine partnership and on Russia's integration into the family of democratic nations. Following two productive Summit meetings in Ljubljana and Genoa in June and July, high-level talks on strategic, economic and political relations got underway, well before September 11.

What September 11 provided was an opportunity to move U.S.-Russian relations into high gear. President Putin recognized the historical moment and seized it. His wholehearted support of the anti-terrorist coalition and Russian cooperation were crucial to the success of the campaign in Afghanistan. At the same time, it is important to remember that the basis of U.S.-Russian relations is much broader than the war on terrorism. At their November Summit meeting in Washington and Crawford, President Putin and President Bush pledged to put the Cold War behind us once and for all and embark on a new relationship for a new era that provides lasting security and well-being for both countries. They stressed that the U.S.-Russian partnership was now guided not just by the need to fight against a common enemy, but by a shared interest in protecting and extending the values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.

Russia's relations with NATO should also reflect our shared security interests. As we begin the 21st century, it is clear that the members of NATO and Russia face similar challenges to their security. These include transnational threats such as global terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as continued dangers flowing from regional instability, militant nationalism, and "failed states." NATO itself must continue to adapt to meet these threats -- both by redefining its mission and equipping itself with the capabilities needed to fulfill that mission. But all the Allies recognize that NATO's efforts to deal effectively with 21st century threats will be far more successful if they are accompanied by closer cooperation with Russia.

NATO and Russia have had some success in their first efforts at cooperation over the past decade, especially through our joint peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans. But I think that both sides would agree that our cooperation has not fully lived up to the promise embodied in the NATO-Russia Founding Act signed in 1997. Our common task is to get the relationship right this time: to devise new mechanisms for cooperation, coordinated action and joint decisions that can integrate Russia more closely in NATO's work, while respecting NATO's and Russia's prerogatives to act alone if necessary.

The idea discussed between Presidents Bush and Putin last November, and endorsed by NATO and Russian Foreign Ministers a month later, is quite simple: to create a new forum in which NATO's 19 members and Russia work together as a group of 20 equal partners on issues where our shared interests make it sensible to do so. Areas for joint action "at 20" might include counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, or responding to future regional conflicts. They might also include concrete projects that build a climate of cooperation and transparency between NATO and Russia -- politically and militarily.

We hope that the proposed new mechanism will be operational by the spring -- before the May meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Reykjavik and before President Bush's visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg. It will be a qualitative step beyond today's 19-plus-one format, in which NATO formulates its position before engaging with its Russian partners. The concept now will be to formulate positions on specific issues and projects through early engagement of the 20 nations meeting together.

This NATO-Russia Council "at 20" will be a fundamental and historic change in NATO's dealings with Russia -- a move toward a more substantial partnership and genuine collaboration that might be called an "alliance with the Alliance." Through concrete joint projects, joint discussions, and eventually even joint decisions, NATO and Russia will be able to take responsibility together for dealing with some of the new challenges to security that threaten peace and stability in Europe.

For it to work, changes in attitude will be required on both sides, and not just changes in procedures. In particular, Russia will need to develop a new "culture of cooperation" -- the spirit of flexibility, understanding, and compromise that is essential to an organization that works on the basis of consensus among nations with differing security perspectives and priorities. This is the way NATO works, and it is the way that NATO-Russia relations also will need to work. Unfortunately, this culture of cooperation has not always been a hallmark of Russia's approach to NATO up till now.

Put simply, Russia still needs to overcome a legacy of mistrust and competition in its dealings with NATO. For its part, NATO needs to be more open and more flexible in taking Russia's views into account. What is crucial is that we get beyond the zero-sum relationship of the past and develop what we Americans like to call a win-win relationship.

Let me say a few words on the substantive areas where NATO and Russia could work more closely together. The current war against international terrorism provides an obvious area for increased NATO-Russia cooperation. NATO and Russia must work together with other nations to counter terrorists who respect no national boundaries or alliances, and to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction that could give terrorists -- or states that support them -- an even greater capacity to attack our societies.

As you may know, at the end of January senior representatives of the NATO Allies and Russia reiterated their determination to intensify cooperation against terrorism following a meeting of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. A broad range of initiatives, in fact, was begun last fall, including the regular exchange of information and in-depth consultations on issues related to terrorist threats, civil-emergency planning, and the role of the military in combating terrorism. In the future, we hope that NATO and Russia can work on a common intelligence assessment of terrorist threats, and develop programs that enable NATO and Russian military forces to operate together in counter-terrorist operations.

Missile defense is another potentially fruitful area for NATO-Russia cooperation. All of our nations must face the fact that efforts to prevent the proliferation of technology for ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction have not been fully successful. NATO-Russia cooperation on missile defense would be a way to deprive rogue states of the ability to attack or blackmail us with long-range missiles equipped with WMD capable of attacking our cities or our deployed forces. This could include joint early warning, joint exercises and even joint industrial development of missile defense systems.

Counter-terrorism and missile defense are just two examples of ways NATO and Russia can cooperate in support of our common interests. I hope today's discussion will identify additional possibilities. If our joint efforts are successful, NATO-Russia cooperation can become one of the central pillars of the global security system of the 21st century.

A stronger NATO-Russia partnership would complement NATO's other efforts over the past decade to extend security and stability across the entire Euro-Atlantic area through cooperation and integration in the political and military spheres. The establishment of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council were important initiatives to this end, as was NATO's admission of new democracies willing to assume the full responsibilities of membership. We hope that a new spirit of cooperation "at 20" will help complete the historic process of Russia's full integration into the Euro-Atlantic community.

A word on the next steps in NATO enlargement. NATO will make important decisions at November's Prague Summit to invite additional countries from Central and Eastern Europe to become full members of the Alliance. It is worth repeating in this context that over its 53-year history, NATO has added new members and will continue to do so in the future. Greece, Turkey, and West Germany joined in the 1950s; Spain in 1982; and Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999. I can say from my own experience that the addition of each new member has contributed to an increase of stability across the European continent.

NATO enlargement is an open process that does not represent a military challenge or threat to Russia. Military integration of the three former Warsaw Pact states in 1999 has not led to the creation of any new NATO bases on their territory or the movement of nuclear weapons closer to Russia's borders. And I believe that the wider working partnership between Russia and NATO has led to a greater understanding of NATO's role and responsibilities and to less anxiety about enlargement.

President Bush has stated unequivocally that NATO membership should be open to all of Europe's democracies that seek it and are ready to shoulder the responsibilities that belonging to NATO entails. Three years ago the Allies launched the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), which provides a framework by which nations can prepare themselves to become members. Aspiring members are working hard to meet political and economic standards as well as military objectives as part of the Membership Action Plan. NATO expects potential members not only to make a credible commitment to the Alliance on a military level, but also to uphold the democratic values on which the Alliance was created -- including cooperative relations with their neighbors and respect for the rights of minorities.

The three Baltic states have been working hard to meet the standards of the MAP and are all very serious candidates for invitations at Prague. Although this prospect may be difficult for Russia, the new reality is that the Baltic states and Russia must now see each other as partners in building stable democracies, increasing regional trade, attracting investment, and cleaning up the environment. St. Petersburg -- and Northwest Russia as a whole -- is still the country's "window on the West" and should continue to be the positive, mutually beneficial portal that it was 300 years ago, in partnership with its Baltic neighbors and other countries of Northwest Europe.

Let me conclude by saying that the NATO Alliance has never deviated from its fundamental purposes: to live in peace with all peoples and governments; to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of our people; and to promote the stability and well being of the North Atlantic area.

There is no reason why that philosophy cannot be one that guides relations between the West and Russia in the 21st Century. That is also why my country is committed to improving relations not only between the United States and Russia, but also between NATO and Russia. It is why we are eager to create a forum through which the NATO Allies and Russia can begin to demonstrate that they are like-minded in their principles and like-willed in their desire to contribute to security and stability.

But it is important to remember that this is a work in progress, which will evolve step-by-step. Not all of our differences will disappear overnight. We may not agree in full on next steps in the anti-terrorist campaign. And we may still have concerns about issues that seem to depart from the largely positive trends in Russia's march toward democracy, such as Russia's military tactics in Chechnya or pressures on the independent news media.

These are difficult issues for any democracy today: how to preserve our most cherished freedoms as we combat a ruthless terrorism that respects no human rights. But I am confident that Russia and NATO will continue to be engaged in an honest and candid dialogue on these issues and will resolve any disagreements in the spirit of partnership and our common interest in pursuing peace, freedom and prosperity for the entire North Atlantic area.

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