9 Feb 2010

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: NATO does not accept idea of geographically distinct ‘sphere of interests‘

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Russia on February 9 as the head of a NATO group consisting of 12 prominent experts. The group will advise the NATO secretary-general on the alliance‘s new strategic concept. Before leaving for Moscow, Albright gave an interview to Interfax’s Washington correspondent Peter Cheremushkin. The following interview reflects Dr. Albright’s personal opinions, which do not represent the NATO Group’s views or conclusions.

Question: In 2008 you published a book “The Agenda for the Future President”. At this time we are exactly one year after the new president took the office. How much he is following your advice and what is your assessment of the first year of President Obama?

Answer: As I emphasized in my book, President Obama inherited a long list of problems fr om his predecessor. During the first year of his administration, he showed a willingness to work cooperatively with Russia and others in the world community to address such challenges as the international financial crisis, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat posed by terrorist groups, nuclear non-proliferation, and climate change. Although unafraid to lead, President Obama has also been a good listener, and has shown respect for the interests and views of other countries. He has improved America’s global reputation, and I expect that he will continue to pursue principled, yet pragmatic, policies in an effort to enhance world stability, prosperity and peace.

Q.: How do you view the evolution of NATO? Where in the future of NATO the more emphasis will taken on political, or on military component?

A.: As Chair of NATO’s Group of Experts, I have a strong interest in these questions. In May, the Group of Experts will make recommendations to NATO’s Secretary General concerning a new strategic concept for the alliance. Members of the group are visiting Russia as part of a listening process, to gather different ideas and hear various points of view. We are not yet ready to offer conclusions and any ideas I express during my visit will be entirely my own.
With respect to your questions, I can say that NATO is a defensive alliance committed to protecting its members from external threats. In the modern era, such threats are more varied, dispersed, and unpredictable than in earlier decades. Thus, to achieve its mission, NATO has adapted both militarily and politically. Because most international security problems cannot be solved through military means alone, it is important for NATO to have the support and trust of people outside the alliance. To this end, NATO will continue to maintain partnerships with key international organizations and a wide range of countries – including Russia. These partnerships provide a regular means for political consultation on security issues and thereby serve the interests of the entire world community in stability, peace and the rule of law.

Q.: Do you think NATO will extend its sphere of responsibility beyond the national borders of the member-countries?

A.: In my view, NATO’s core responsibility is to defend the territory of its members. The alliance does acknowledge that threats to its members and to world peace can emerge without warning and from diverse places around the globe. Accordingly, NATO works with its many partners to help countries defend against terrorism, piracy, organized crime, and sabotage. Current examples include its assistance to the government of Afghanistan and its support for maritime security off the east coast of Africa. Russia supports both of these objectives.

Q.: Does NATO include Central Asia and Caspian Sea into the sphere of its interests?

A.: NATO does not accept the idea of a geographically distinct ‘sphere of interests’. Like other countries, NATO members can be affected by developments in almost any region; this is simply a fact of life in the twenty-first century. That is why NATO places such a strong emphasis on its partnerships and on cooperating with organizations such as the UN, the EU, and the OSCE. NATO recognizes that a high degree of international cooperation will be required to maintain stability in a world wh ere potential dangers are quick to arise, highly mobile, and hard to foresee. NATO has developed partnerships with countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus to deal with common security challenges such as terrorism and drug-trafficking and has enlisted their assistance in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. All of these efforts serve Russian interests as well.

Q.: There was an idea to spread Chapter 5 of NATO Charter into the energy field. Namely if one country is under the threat of limitations of energy supply Chapter 5 could be used? What do you think about that?

A.: To my knowledge, there are no plans to amend Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits members to mutual defense in the face of an armed attack. The question of how to interpret that article in light of new threats can only be made by members of the alliance in response to particular circumstances. Certainly, a situation in which crucial oil and gas pipelines were destroyed by terrorists or by other hostile forces would be a matter of concern to the entire international community.

Q.: How do you view the future of the adapted CFE Treaty?

A.: For two decades, the CFE Treaty has been a cornerstone of stability, transparency, and confidence-building in Europe. As Secretary of State Clinton noted in her recent speech in Paris, this valuable regime is in danger of crumbling. I agree with her that the United States should renew efforts with its NATO allies, Russia, and other signatory countries to agree on “a modern security framework that takes into account developments in Europe since the original treaty was drafted, limits military deployments, and strengthens the principles of territorial integrity, non-first use of force, [and] the right of host countries to consent to stationing foreign troops in their territory.”

Q.: How much Russia has changed domestically and how much its foreign policy changed compared to the times, when you were the Secretary of State?

A.: Compared to a decade ago, Russia is more assertive on the world stage. This reflects an improved economy and a desire by Russian leaders to ensure that their perspective on global affairs is forcefully articulated and clearly understood. At the same time, political power within Russia has become more centralized. These changes have significant consequences, but do not necessarily diminish the potential for cooperation between Russia and the United States on matters of mutual concern.

Q.: Do you believe that the countries of the former Soviet Union can be treated as the sphere of the ‘vital interests of Russia’?

A.: I do not. No country should be treated as if it were merely within the ‘sphere of interest’ of another. Russia’s neighbors are independent and sovereign, as are other countries. Obviously, events in one nation can affect the interests of another, but disagreements should be resolved in accordance with international law – not by the domination of the big over the small. The concept of a ‘sphere of interests’ is not recognized as a legal principle.

Q.: What is your view on the bringing of the NATO military infrastructure closer to Russia? And do you expect the continuing NATO expansion to Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan?

A.: The United States and Russia have both recognized the principle that nations are entitled to make their own decisions about whether or not to join an alliance. In the same way, alliances are entitled to establish criteria for membership. NATO continues to pursue an open door policy, but I cannot predict with certainty how quickly that process will unfold with respect to particular countries. The NATO-Russia Council is a good vehicle for exchanging views on such matters as military infrastructure and armed forces’ training exercises.

Q.: Will NATO include Russia as one of the potential threats?

A.: In a speech in Moscow this past December, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said that: “NATO will never attack Russia. Never. And we do not think Russia will attack NATO. We have stopped worrying about that and Russia should stop worrying about that as well.”
The Secretary General went on to say that “if we can build real trust and confidence in the relationship between Russia and NATO, then Russia can stop worrying about a menace from the West that simply doesn’t exist.”
NATO members believe that they are threatened by many of the same lawless forces that threaten Russia, including terrorism, violent extremism, and the spread of nuclear weapons. That is why the alliance has invited Russia to work cooperatively to confront and defeat these dangers.

Q.: What Russia can do to improve its relations with NATO?

A.: Both Russia and NATO deserve credit for an enhanced dialogue and for showing a willingness in recent months to listen carefully to what the other has to say. The more Russia accepts the sincerity of NATO’s desire to work together on shared challenges, the more productive our partnership will be. I think we have a genuine opportunity to build a significantly improved relationship rooted in cooperation on common concerns.