NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Path towards greater trust is more discussion rather than complicated legal formulas
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has given an interview to Interfax ahead of the NATO-Russia Council meeting at the level of defense ministers due in Brussels on June 8 in which he speaks about pressing issues on the Russia-NATO agenda, in particular missile defense, Afghanistan and NATO eastward expansion.Question: Mr. Rasmussen, it‘s been more than six months since the Lisbon Summit. What has been achieved? What are the issues that the parties are bringing for the NATO-Russia Council meeting at the level of defense ministers? What results do you expect fr om the meeting?
Answer: We have already achieved a lot. Military cooperation is steadily increasing. There will be two highly significant exercises in June at either end of Europe. In Poland, Russia and Turkey, we will demonstrate our joint ability to counter terrorist threats to civil aviation to make sure there is no repeat of the 9/11 attacks in Europe. This Cooperative Airspace Initiative will become operational before the end of the year. Off the coast of Spain, NATO and Russian ships and submarines will practice underwater rescue techniques together.
Cooperation on common threats is growing fast. In Berlin in April, we declared operational a joint fund to keep the Afghan security forces‘ helicopters in working order. We are working together to train anti-narcotics officers fr om across Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have also strengthened our cooperation in the fight against terrorism, including by updating the NRC Action Plan on Terrorism. We are also jointly developing technologies for detecting explosives to stop potential bombers before they can do harm.
Defense ministers will take stock of all these initiatives, and they will also discuss ongoing work on the foundations for NATO-Russia cooperation on territorial missile defense. In Lisbon, we agreed to start talks on how we could cooperate on this issue. NATO‘s vision is of two separate but linked systems which share information and provide each side a clearer picture and better warning of possible threats. When ministers meet, we should show that we can build security with each other, rather than against each other.
Q.: Russia and NATO decided to start to review common threats in 2009. Is the work on this progressing and when may it be over? Is there a common understanding of such threats or disagreements still persist?
A.: The threat assessment has already been completed. In Lisbon, NRC leaders approved the first ever Joint Review of 21st Century Common Security Challenges. This comprehensive document outlines the shared views of Russia and Allies on key security matters, and identifies areas of practical cooperation. Specifically, the Joint Review focused NATO-Russia cooperation on Afghanistan, terrorism, including the vulnerability of critical infrastructure, piracy, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and their means of delivery and natural and man-made disasters.
But the most important fact is actually what is not in the document: each other. Because it makes clear that NATO is not a threat to Russia, and Russia is not a threat to NATO.
There are many areas where we already cooperate. There are many more areas wh ere there is potential for more cooperation. And my goal is to see our relationship blossom into a genuine strategic partnership.
The twentieth century was the century of confrontation between NATO and the Soviet Union. I want this 21st century to be the century of cooperation between Russia and NATO.
Q.: Russia has continued harshly opposing NATO eastward expansion. However, the alliance states said that it is open to new countries. What country is the next to join? Is NATO ready to provide guarantees that no significant forces and arms will be deployed in countries close to the Russian borders?
A.: Of course, we are aware of the fact that our Russian partners have never been too enthusiastic about the enlargement of NATO. But, if one looks calmly at this issue, one can see that new members have not only enriched and strengthened the Alliance but the process itself has been beneficial to Euro-Atlantic security, including that of the Russian Federation.
Why? Because including new European democracies in NATO has meant the enlargement of the zone of stability and predictability. Each prospective member has to do a lot of serious homework first. It must ensure that its political standards are up to scratch - and one of these standards is good relations with neighbors, which often means Russia. The transparency and integrated nature of defense arrangements in NATO also means that new members‘ policies provide reassurances of striving towards partnership and peaceful settlement of disputes. These are real benefits, with concrete confidence building consequences.
There are a number of European countries - Montenegro or Georgia for example - which are currently interested in joining the Alliance. All applicants have to follow the same path of preparation to enable them to become net contributors to international security. Taking advantage of the right to choose freely security arrangements and apply Article 10 of the Washington Treaty also implies signing up to NATO‘s pledge to carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces. Moreover, the member states of NATO have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members. The Alliance will continue honoring these pledges.
Q.: Do you recognize Russia‘s right to a certain sphere of interests, for example the CIS and Central Asia? Does NATO intend to act on its own in this region?
A.: The honest answer is that NATO does not support the idea of spheres of interests or influence. This concept should be left wh ere it belongs - in the dustbin of history. We all live in an interdependent, global world in which countries - great, medium and small - should enjoy the same rights and sovereignty. NATO is certainly not developing any ‘spheres of influence’ of its own.
Having said this we recognize the fact that every country, and especially a country with global responsibilities such as Russia, has its own interests in international affairs which it pursues. And obviously these interests are particularly concentrated in its immediate neighborhood. But the best way to pursue those interests is in cooperation and in full respect of its neighbors.
Q.: It was you who initiated Russia‘s involvement in joint work on missile defense. Now Moscow says that Russia-NATO relations in general will greatly depend on the success of such cooperation, that this will be a kind of a test. Don‘t you regret coming up with this initiative given such wording from Russia?
A.: I certainly don‘t regret being a strong advocate of cooperation between Russia and NATO in the field of missile defense. I believe that it makes sense politically and militarily. In fact since making some proposals in that respect in my speech in 2009 I feel vindicated by the support which they received at the highest level. In November 2010 at the NRC summit in Lisbon the leaders of 29 NRC countries, including President Medvedev, made a very important statement outlining the way forward on missile defense. It sets in motion a reinvigorated cooperation on Theatre Missile Defense, as well as dialogue and discussion on possible ways to cooperate on territorial missile defense. This work is going on right now and the NRC Defense Ministers at their meeting in Brussels on June 8 will have the first opportunity to evaluate progress made so far. While our work on missile defense cooperation continues, we should carry on with the important practical cooperation in the many other areas that I have already described.
Q: It is crucial for Russia that NATO provides legally binding guarantees that the missile defense system is not designated against Russia. The issue is also about anchoring the commitment that NATO and Russia do not consider each other as enemies in their military doctrines. Is NATO ready for this? Why does the alliance resist this so actively?
A.: Again, if we go back to the Lisbon summit we see a truly historic agreement - Russia and Allies confirming that they don‘t see each other as opponents or a problem for each other but rather as partners seeking to build strategic partnership. I can also assure you - and I have said it publicly on many occasions - that NATO will never attack Russia and we are convinced that Russia sees the Alliance in the same light.
I do agree that we still need a greater degree of mutual confidence and trust. This is understandable following the legacy of the Cold War - long over in reality but still perhaps lingering in the minds of some people here and there. But the most promising path towards greater trust is more discussion, more political debate and exchange, rather than complicated legal formulas which would be difficult to agree on and ratify among 29 countries. As far as military doctrines are concerned I would certainly prefer to see that they do not contain clauses describing partners as even potential threats. We are working in the NRC framework to enhance confidence and trust by developing greater transparency on defense and military issues - an effort which will go a long way towards addressing existing concerns.
Q.: Russia and NATO cannot come to common terms on whether the missile defense should comprise one or two systems. Why has this issue become a stumbling block? Does this mean that NATO cannot fully trust Russia? Is a compromise possible and what like it could be?
A.: Our position has been very clear from the beginning: all Allies are interested in developing cooperation with Russia in the field of missile defense. However, we are talking about synergy between a NATO and a Russian system. The reason is simple - NATO can not outsource to non-members collective defense obligations which bind its members. And NATO‘s territorial missile defense system will be part of such collective defense framework. We assume that Russia is not ready to cede its sovereignty either.
That is why the best way forward is to look at the ballistic missile threat together, to consider exchange of information and ultimately set up arrangements which would link our two separate capabilities. This would serve best, in a practical and efficient manner, our common goal: a better protection of our citizens from ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction which they can carry.
Q.: Afghanistan is one of the main aspects of Russia-NATO cooperation, and Russia, in particular, is transiting NATO supplies to Afghanistan. Has the ground two-way transit started to work? Is this aspect important to NATO?
A.: The whole question of transit access to Afghanistan is very important to NATO, and we appreciate Russia‘s willingness to cooperate. Stability in Afghanistan matters to all of us.
Having a variety of transit routes into Afghanistan gives us more flexibility and more security. It means we are better able to overcome any disruptions in any area. And it is a valuable sign of the international cooperation and support which is vital to our operation.
We are looking specifically at a two-way transit. In order to enable this, NATO needs the agreement of all of the nations along the route. Whilst Russia and NATO have agreed a number of recent amendments to improve the Arrangement signed in 2008, we are still negotiating with other nations to complete a reverse transit route. Transit of ISAF cargo to Afghanistan through Russia has been taking place for over a year and the volume continues to grow.
Q.: A decision on creating a helicopter fund has recently been made. When will the supplies of Russian helicopters to Afghanistan start? Has the issue of funding such supplies been settled?
A.: The NATO-Russia Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund is not about buying more helicopters for the Afghan forces, it is about enabling them to keep the ones they have in working order. The main point is to train Afghan engineers and technicians, so that they will be able to carry out the proper maintenance at the proper times. We are also looking at providing tool kits and spare parts.
That is why it is so important for NATO to be working with Russia on this issue. The Afghan forces use Russian helicopters, and Russia has an expertise in maintaining them, and in teaching the maintenance staff, which is second to none.
As for the timing, it is my understanding that the relevant authorities are currently assessing exactly what the needs of the Afghan forces are. Once those needs are clearly identified, work can begin.
Q.: Do you think that the Taliban movement will be more eagerly engaged in dialogue with the Afghan authorities now that Osama bin Laden is dead?
A.: The successful operation against Osama bin Laden had a strong impact on international terrorism and violent extremism. The Taliban are already under pressure everywhere, including in their former safe havens. They know that they are running out of places to hide, and Bin Laden‘s death underlines that message.
For the Taliban, it‘s time to make a choice: choose defeat, or choose a future. Cut links to Al-Qaeda and other terror networks, renounce violence, and abide by the constitution. 1,700 insurgents have already made the right choice by joining the reintegration process - that is a big step that shows the way ahead.