3 Dec 2009

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Cooperation on Afghanistan is excellent example of NATO-Russia shared interests

Question: Mr. Secretary General, in a recent interview with the French media, you said Russia is the number-two priority for NATO after Afghanistan. In your opinion, is it possible to say today that Russia and NATO are doing "business as usual"?

Answer: On my first working day at NATO HQ I have indeed described NATO-Russia relations as one of my top priorities. The logic is simple and clear: by working together we can improve security for all 29 countries in the NATO-Russia Council; by arguing and disagreeing, at the very least we miss opportunities. Whether you think of the situation in Afghanistan, fighting terrorism or proliferation, or tackling piracy – real security challenges confronting us all – developing and improving cooperation between NATO and Russia will benefit everybody. The infrastructure – the structures, procedures, experts ready to work out concrete projects – these are all available. What we need is to show genuine political will on all sides to move forward, to fight stereotypes and to build trust.

At the same press conference on 3rd August, I also said that I am not a dreamer. I am a realist. Pretending that we do or even can agree on everything is pointless. No one should expect that NATO will suddenly approve the idea of spheres of influence or bless a violation of territorial integrity of a sovereign country. That would contradict the values and principles on which rest the very foundation of this Alliance. Equally, I am sufficiently pragmatic not to bet on Russia becoming a fan of NATO enlargement. But it is certainly within our collective grasp to have a better, more practical, less polemical relationship. My goal is to move beyond “business as usual” – which sometimes meant not a lot of business got done – to “cooperation as the norm” between NATO and Russia. And I can promise my Russian audience that I will work tirelessly to achieve that objective.

Q.: Would NATO like to build up its cooperation with Russia in its Afghan operation, for example by enlarging the number of countries that are permitted to transport military equipment through Russia?

A.: Afghanistan is an excellent example of shared interests. Stabilising Afghanistan is a priority for the Allies and international community. We must help the Afghans to secure a better future for their conflict-ridden country, which suffered enormously over the last 30 years. We must ensure that Taliban do not once again take power, with all the terrible consequences this would have for women and the whole society. We must above all prevent the reemergence of Afghanistan as a gigantic terrorist camp, exporting extremists across the whole region and beyond.

All this applies to Russia, perhaps even more so than for many Allied countries. Stabilising Afghanistan will mean less likelihood of the terrorist threat increasing, and fewer drugs reaching your southern borders.

That is why NATO and Russia have been gradually increasing the range of joint projects. Joint training of counter-narcotics experts from Afghanistan and neighboring countries has been a real, tangible success. Reaching agreements with Russia on transit arrangements to supply ISAF contingents with necessary provisions is part of the same logic. I believe that broadening the scope of such transit arrangements would be helpful – and we could certainly envision more areas of cooperation as well.

Q.: Do you share the opinion that it will be a long time before Georgia and Ukraine are eligible to join NATO?

A.: The decision of the Bucharest Summit in 2008 – and I was one of the heads of government who co-signed that communique – still stands. But are they ready to join now? No. The requirements of membership are demanding – be it in terms of political and democratic standards, be it in terms of public support for membership or a whole range of relevant reforms e.g. in the area of defence modernization. Reaching them cannot and will not happen overnight, for Georgia or Ukraine. And let me assure you that NATO has no intention to drag anybody into the Alliance against their will.

But if a sovereign choice is made by a democratic country and satisfactory progress is made, NATO will not be changing the rules in the middle of the game

Q.: You have said that, early in August, you will present a draft for a new strategic concept of NATO. Will this concept be developed and approved behind closed doors or are the opinions of partners of the alliance, including Russia, going to be taken into account?

A.: The final document, the updated Strategic Concept of NATO, will require the consensus of all member states. They are the ones who will have to implement it. This means that the NATO Governments will have the ultimate say over the contents of the Concept.

However it is my firm intention to engage in a public consultation with the widest possible community, both inside and outside the NATO family. I have therefore selected a group of experts from different Allied countries who, in the coming months, will conduct a thorough debate on the desired elements of the Concept. A key feature of that debate will be public seminars with a very international participation, I am certain also including Russian security experts. I have also decided to launch a special module on the NATO website, which includes a Discussion Forum. This can also be an interactive tool to engage with a wide public – all of you are welcome to send your comments or suggestions. And by the way – they don’t have to be all complimentary to NATO, we can take a healthy dose of criticism too.

Moreover, I am sure that there will be opportunities to exchange views in such frameworks as the NATO-Russia Council. In July, NRC ambassadors heard a briefing from a Russian official on your country’s Security Doctrine till 2020. We can build on this precedent.

Q.: Speaking in the U.S. Congress late in July, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said there is a chance that Russia will join NATO some time in the future. Do you consider this a serious possibility?

A.: To my best knowledge Mr. Gordon simply answered a question explaining the principles of the open door policy. It is a policy developed without any specific country in mind. To put it in simple terms – the Alliance has never ruled out a priori membership of Russia in NATO.

But at this stage it is a purely hypothetical question. Russia has made it very clear that it has no plans and no desire to apply for membership in NATO. And as the Secretary General of NATO I would prefer not to engage in speculation. As you say in Russian: ”pozhyvyom, uvidim” (we shall live, we shall see). My priority is, as I explained earlier, to energise the existing relationship, to breathe more life into the NATO-Russia Council.