Foreign Policy Blogs

NATO's New Strategic Partner

After decades of mistrust, the relationship between NATO and Russia is finally improving. A genuine partnership must develop in the long term, however at the summit in Lisbon on November 19 and 20, NATO intended to adopt a new strategy and also improve its relations with Russia.

This is not the first time since the end of the Cold War that NATO and Russia have drawn closer. There is no guarantee of success this time, but the prospects are not bad. Relations between Russia and the major continental European countries have improved over the years, and US President Barack Obama’s “Reset” policy towards Russia has produced its first positive results in the new START arms reduction treaty, or Russia’s refusal to sell S-300 air defense missiles to Iran.

On all sides, the realization has grown that Europe’s security framework has dangerous weaknesses. The Russo-Georgian war in August 2008 clearly showed what happens when “frozen conflicts” are reignited. And there are still two such conflicts in Europe, in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh.

In addition, it must be remembered that Russia is still feared in the east, central European and Baltic states. Having said that, the prospect of NATO forming closer relations with the former Soviet republic evokes a feeling of vulnerability and encirclement.

The core of the problem is that since the Cold War, a stable security order in Europe has not emerged which gives sufficient consideration to the interests of all states – and that undoubtedly includes Russia. The goal must therefore be to link Russia more closely with the existing European and transatlantic structures.

Territorial Missile Defense

An important step towards a partnership and stronger mutual trust could be a joint missile defense system. Based on a common threat assessment this defense system would not only protect Europe from a nuclear-armed Iran, but also Russia. Agreeing on a missile defense system isn’t the only obstacle on a path to partnership. The possibility of the US Senate not ratifying the new START agreement or the Russian-Iran policy are also important stumbling blocks.

What the political construction of a NATO-Russia partnership could look like is not only open – possibilities are a new treaty, a new charter, or even in the distant future, Russia’s accession to NATO – but is also of secondary importance. For both sides, this development would not be an easy step in any case.

It would produce opponents both in NATO countries and Russia: Some would – quite rightly – point to the significant democratic deficits in Russia today. Others would, in Slavophile tradition, fear the loss of Russian national independence. But what would be the alternative to a partnership – the continuation of the latent and anachronistic rivalry between NATO and Russia, while the world has long since moved on ?