NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: It’s in Russia’s interests to ensure a very positive relationship with NATO countries
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has given an interview to Interfax and Novaya Gazeta newspaper in the wake of a ministerial meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels in which he speaks about the results of the NRC meeting, prospects of NATO-Russia relations and the most pressing issues on the international agenda.Question: Mr. Rasmussen, let me begin with NATO-Russia relations after a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. There is an irony which has been confirmed by the ministerial meeting of the NRC - political relations between NATO and Russia are rather cloudy and complicated, while practical cooperation has been developing successfully. How do you explain such a phenomenon? At the meeting with Minister Lavrov did you succeed in ‘re-energizing’ relations, as you said, what is your feeling on the mood of your Russian counterpart?
Answer: I think we had a very a successful NATO-Russia Council meeting. Based on that I look forward to 2013 that will demonstrate new energy in the relationship between Russia and NATO within the NATO-Russia Council. We adopted a forward-looking work program for 2013, the continuation of some of cooperation projects we have already started and an expansion of cooperation in other important areas that really matter to people, including the possibility that we can cooperate on the disposal of excess ammunition, which would really be to the benefit of people. We will also expand our cooperation on counter-narcotics. That is also a very significant importance for Russia. So you are right: on practical cooperation we have made and we continue to make progress. When it comes to the broader political perspective, as you will recall, we had a NATO-Russia summit in Lisbon in 2010. At that summit we decided that we will develop what we call a true strategic partnership between Russia and NATO. And a true strategic partnership includes not only practical cooperation in which we have made progress but also political consultations even on issues where we don’t agree, and it includes addressing important matters of strategic significance, as the situation in Afghanistan and missile defense, just to mention a couple. So, the fact that we do not agree in all areas does not subtract fr om the strength of our relationship. I think we should realize there will be areas where we don’t agree, and then let’s discuss it in an open and frank atmosphere. That only adds to the strength of a strategic partnership that we’re able to move forward in some areas, while we still have discussions in other areas.
Q.: One of these areas is the NMD, missile defense, officials in Russia say the further advancement of relationship with NATO depend on the alliance’s position of the missile defense in Europe. It seems to be a condition. Is NATO ready to revise its approach of two separate systems or give legal-binding guarantees to Russia of the non-direction of new NMD assets against Russia’s strategic deterrence? Where is a way out of this deadlock?
A.: Let me be very clear on this. We have decided to develop a NATO-based missile defense system, because it’s our obligation to protect our people and our territories against any threat. We consider the missile threat a real threat, and against that real threat we need a real defense. That is why we have decided to do that. At the same time we have invited Russia to cooperate, so that we could have cooperation between a Russian system and a NATO system. We have stated that we have no intention whatsoever to undermine Russia’s strategic deterrence, larger speaking attacking Russia. Of course we have no intention to attack Russia. Our system is not designed to neither attack nor undermine Russia’s strategic deterrence. We have invited Russia to cooperate, and we have in concrete terms suggested to establish two jointly staffed missile defense centers, so that Russian personnel and NATO personal could work together, so the Russians could see with their own eyes that our system is not directed against Russia.
And as regards guarantees, already 15 years ago, in 1997, Russia and NATO adopted a joint document called the Founding Act, which was the first framework for coordinated or structured NATO-Russian cooperation. In that Founding Act we stated that will not use force against each other. We stick to that, and we are ready to reiterate that. I hope Russia also sticks to that. I think a political document where 29 government reaffirm what they decided in 1997 that we will not use force against each other is just as strong as any legal document. And let me add to that: it’s not realistic to get a legal document adopted in 29 parliaments. It’s not possible. So speaking about guarantees, Russia would get a stronger guarantee, if Russia joins or accepts our proposal to establish these jointly-staffed centers, and politically we could reiterate what we said in 1997.
Q.: Now Afghanistan. When NATO will begin to use the airport of Ulyanovsk as cargo transit point for ISAF? What are the legal formalities that have still to be resolved? What is preventing the launch of this transit, air transit?
A.: To my knowledge the legal formalities have actually been completed, and indeed politically the Russian authorities have made all the necessary decisions, which was also reaffirmed by Minister Lavrov, when we had our NATO-Russia meeting. So I look forward to this expansion of our transit arrangement.
Q.: Both houses of the U.S. Congress call on Pentagon to stop deals with Rosoboronexport, including supply of 21 Russian helicopters to Afghanistan. Could this undermine activities of the helicopter trust fund, as well as future agreements with Russia on helicopters for Afghanistan?
A.: No, actually, we have decided to expand the activities of the NATO-Russia trust fund. It has already been a great success. Within the framework of that trust fund we have now trained and educated around 30 helicopter personnel and provided spare parts for Afghan army helicopters. I foresee that the activities of the trust fund will not only continue but also be expanded.
Q.: Moscow considers withdrawal of ISAF fr om Afghanistan as premature, noting that Afghan forces are not ready to take on the responsibly for security and overnight after the NATO forces go the Taliban can seize power. Can NATO guarantee they will not?
A.: We will not just leave Afghanistan. When we end our ISAF combat operation by the end of 2014, a very strong Afghan security forces stands ready to take over. We have been building up the capacity the Afghan security forces. Our goal is to reach a level of 350,000 soldiers and police. And even more importantly, we are improving their skills, their quality and we see them increasingly take the lead for security operations. Already now they are in the lead of 80% of our security operations in Afghanistan. They conduct 90% of all training activities themselves. They have highly skillful special operation forces. I feel confident that once we end our combat mission, then the Afghans will be capable to do the fighting themselves and make sure that Afghanistan will not once again become a safe heaven for terrorists. We have seen that our strategy works, we have handed over, as you know, gradually more and more provinces to lead Afghan responsibility, and we have seen a steady decline in the the number of enemy attacks in those provinces, in those areas handed over to Afghan responsibility. So I am quite optimistic.
Q.: What about the report before the UN Security Council on the implementation of the mandate of ISAF. Do you agree that a new NATO operation after 2014 needs a new mandate by a separate UN Security Council resolution?
A.: I can tell you that we report to the UN Security Council on a regular basis. Actually I sign a report and send it to the UN secretary general on a regular basis. The UN Security Council is kept informed about the progress we make in Afghanistan within the UN mandate for the current ISAF operation.
As regards the future operation we have clearly stated at the NATO summit in Chicago that we will seek a sound legal basis, such as a UN Security Council resolution. But of course - and I also told that to Minister Lavrov that we will seek a sound basis, such as a UN Security Council resolution - but of course that also requires a positive collaboration from all permanent members of the UN Security Council. And I would expect Russia to have a positive attitude towards providing such a resolution. I mean it’s in Russia’s interests to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan, because that is also an impact on the region and in that respect also an impact on Russia.
Q.: Syria. Moscow considers the deployment of Patriot missile in Turkey as a risk of the NATO involvement into the Syrian conflict. You repeatedly stated that NATO has no plans to intervene there. Is there any guarantee that this will not happen in case of an incident or provocation? On the other hand can NATO take more decisive step regarding Syria, if the situation worsens and Ankara requests?
A.: We are there to defend and protect Turkey. Turkey is an ally. And it follows from being a member of NATO that other allies based on the principle of solidarity will do what it takes to defend and protect our ally Turkey.
That also leads me to repeat what is the essence of this. It is a purely defense measure. The deployment of Patriots is not a part of preparations for no-fly zone or any offensive operation. Our position remains the same: it is purely defensive measure, and let me reiterate what I have said previously that NATO has no intention to intervene militarily in Syria. We do believe that the right way forward is a political solution.
Q.: When and for how long the Patriots will be deployed in Turkey? Is it a question of weeks, months or …?
A.: That will of course very much depend on the situation on the ground. They will not be deployed for a longer period than it is necessary. At the end of the day it is for an individual nation that deploys to decide for how long they want to deploy the Patriots. I would think that such a decision would be taken in close collaboration with Turkey, the host nation. Because this is about the defense of Turkey.
Q.: And how many missiles?
A.: Things stand the three deploying nations - Germany, the Netherlands and the United States - have decided that they deploy two batteries each. So all in all six batteries.
Q.: In your opinion is the victory of opposition imminent? In Syria?
A.: Let me use another point of departure. I think if this conflict continues, there is one certain looser, and that’s the Syrian people. And this is first and foremost about the Syrian people. It’s outrageous what we’re witnessing. I strongly condemn the security forces crack down on the civilian population in Syria. In my opinion, there is no doubt that it’s only a question of time before the regime in Damascus collapses.
It also leads me to a more general remark. In the long run no regime can neglect the will of the people. And that’s what we have witnessed in North Africa and the MIddle East during the recent couple of years. People in the region want freedom, they want new opportunities. They have witnessed through satellite TV, through the Internet, through the new social media, they are connected with the rest of the world and they have seen what freedom and democracy can bring. And they want exactly the same for many good reasons. And we should not blame them, on the contrary, it’s a basic part of human nature better I think to have such a desire for freedom and better life opportunities.
All autocrats of this world should realize that’s how it is. Again it leads to the conclusion that that the regime in Damascus is approaching a collapse. It cannot survive, it’s a matter of time.
Q.: Do you think that Damascus can use chemical weapons against rebels? What might be NATO’s response to such situation? Are you concerned that such weapons can fall in the hand of terrorists or uncontrolled groups? Does NATO a contingency planning for a case if the situation in Syria is out of control?
A.: Of course, the chemical weapons are a mater of great concern. This is also a reason why 28 NATO foreign ministers expressed their grave concern when they last week. International leaders have sent a very clear message to Damascus. I hope that message has been not only heard in Damascus but also understood that the regime in Damascus will not even think of using chemical weapons. Because they might expect a determined reaction from the international community. I would expect also Russia to react, if the regime in Damascus were to use chemical weapons.
Q.: And now Georgia. I covered the summit in Bucharest in 2008 wh ere its future membership in NATO was discussed. The open-door policy is still valid regarding Georgia even after the August 2008 war. Moscow has warned that any further steps to accept Georgia into NATO could kill the NATO-Russian Council? Do you see any possibility to integrate Georgia into NATO not the expense of relations with Russia?
A.: Let me stress one very, very fundamental principle. This is for each individual nation to decide herself whether that nation wants to belong to an alliance or not, how to organize its security arrangements. That’s for each individual nation to decide. And actually Russia has subscribed to that principle in the OSCE Charter from 1999. In that charter all of the OSCE countries subscribed to this fundamental principle that each individual nation of course can decide freely on its alliance affiliation. And that’s a fundamental principle. And of course it also leads me to the conclusion that it’s not for Russia to decide whether Georgia or certain states in the future can join our alliance. It is for NATO to decide and for Georgia to decide.
As you know, in Bucharest we decided that Georgia will become a member of NATO provided of course that Georgia fulfills the necessary criteria. That’s not the case yet. We have established the NATO-Georgian commission, and within that commission we work with Georgia to advance reforms in Georgia, so that eventually Georgia can fulfill the necessary criteria.
Q.: Can Georgia one day become a member of the alliance without Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Is Russia recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and its military presence there a barrier to Georgia’s membership?
A.: All this is quite hypothetical. Of course we hope that a peaceful solution can be found to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia issue. As you know we pursue a non-recognition policy. We urge Russia to live up to her international obligations in this respect. We strongly regret that Russia has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. That’s actually not in accordance with international law. We insist on full respect for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within her internationally recognized borders. In a direct response to your question obviously it would not be acceptable to de facto provide Russia with a right to veto a NATO enlargement.
That leads me to a more general remark on our open-door policy, because I know that Moscow is not delighted or pleased with the NATO open-door policy and NATO enlargement. But let me draw your attention to the fact that enlargements of NATO and the European Union have contributed to creating a zone of stability and economic progress in Eastern Europe. For centuries it’s been a strategic goal of Russia to seek stability along her western borders. Thanks to NATO and the EU enlargement we have actually promoted reforms and progress, economic prosperity in Eastern Europe, and by that created that zone of stability along Russia’s western borders. Furthermore, Russia has profited economically from that zone of stability, because when we study trade figures, investment figures, you will realize that Russia has profited a lot from economic progress in Eastern and Central Europe.
Q.: And now to the CFE Treaty Russia expressed its readiness to reopen negations with NATO on conventional armed forces in Europe, but without any precondition which means the alliance’s call of withdrawal of Russia’s recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and withdrawal of Russian military bases from there. Can the alliance resume the CFE negotiations without such conditions?
A.: I consider the CFE Treaty a very important framework for conventional arms control. And I think we need a framework for conventional arms control. But as you know it is an integrated part of the conventional arms control scheme - or put it another way - the so-called host nation consent is an integral part of our conventional arms control scheme. And clearly there is no host nation consent on Russia’s military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Because those area are according to the international law parts of Georgia, and Georgia has not given its consent. Obviously, it’s a major obstacle. Again this is one of the issues on which we deeply disagree with Russia.
Let me use that to conclude by drawing a line to my very introduction. I take it very seriously to actually move forward towards a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia. I think it’s in our mutual interest. And in the word strategic partnership also lies the notion that we can disagree on certain areas while we move forward in other areas. I think it’s in Russia’s interests to develop a strong partnership with NATO. Firstly, because there are a lot of ares wh ere we share fundamental security interests - Afghanistan, counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy, just to mention a few. These are the concrete interests. It’s in Russia’s interests to attract foreign investments, to stimulate positive economic development in Russia. We know it makes the whole business and investment climate more attractive, if investors feel that overall it is a secure environment. If we develop a true strategic partnership, investors will also be okay. It’s a more attractive business and investment climate. And Russia is a major energy exporter, supplier of energy to Europe. And of course it’s in Russia fundamental interests to make sure that this energy export can take place in an atmosphere of stability. Of course, if the Europeans fear that Russia want to use energy as a weapon in its foreign policy, then of course the Europeans will look for alternative suppliers, and basically that’s not in Russia’s interests. So, it’s in Russia’s interests to ensure a very positive relationship with NATO countries. Still NATO allies represent a formidable economic force in the world. And of course it’s in Russia’s interests to cooperation with that zone of economic strength.