ISSUE 3-2002
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NEW QUALITY IN NATO-RUSSIA RELATIONS – THE STRATEGIC AND POLITICAL DIMENSIONS
By Daniel Koshtoval | Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Czech Republic | Issue 3, 2002

th May 2002 at the Rome Summit, the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) and the Russian Federation (RF) adopted a Declaration of Heads of State and Governments entitled "NATO-Russia Relations: A New Quality". The aim of this analysis is to place the isolated fact that relations between NATO and the RF have improved within its strategic context. The main focus will be on the needs and problems of the USA as the prime mover in global power relations and the leader of NATO. Special attention will also be paid to the conflicting political and strategic policies of the current US and RF governments.

The Essence of the New Quality

     The Rome Declaration lays down the basic parameters for better relations between NATO and the RF. The most visible sign of change is the replacement of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council (PJC) by a new NATO-Russia Council (NRC). NRC is to serve for “enhancing ability to work together in areas of common interest and to stand together against against common threats and risks". The structure of the NRC and its working bodies is strictly separated from NATO structures. The essence of the new quality is the willingness of the Alliance countries to "work as equal partners (with the RF) in areas of common interest”, i.e. in cases and matters of their choosing and "to pursue opportunities for joint action at twenty” - “joint action” is already mentioned in the NATO-Russia Founding Act which was agreed in 1997. The new quality thus provides an opportunity to act jointly if there is consensus but also preserves NATO's integrity and capacity to act independently where this is required by Alliance member states interests.
     The Declaration amends and supplements the NATO-Russia Founding Act. It explicitly mentions the "at twenty" format, as this was a symbol for the process of improving relations – the transition from the NATO as a bloc versus the RF position, i.e. from the 19+1 format. "Equal involvement" in work and pressure on "joint decisions" were the main RF priorities during the existence of the PJC – the aim being to erode the NATO-centric model of European security. The RF partially succeeded in this with the establishment of the NRC – in areas where NATO has been willing to make it possible.

Immediate Causes of the Enhancement in NATO-RF Relations

     After Putin came to power in 2000, the RF changed its approach towards NATO (the West). He placed its policy on a qualitatively higher pragmatic basis: i.e. on a willingness to cooperate despite outstanding differences of viewpoint. Until the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington this change in NATO-RF relations was only verbal. However, the June 2001 summit in Ljubljana unleashed a new dynamics which reflected this shift towards pragmatism. After 11th September Putin succeeded in backing his words by deeds; the RF made a significant practical contribution towards coalition efforts in connection with the operation in and around Afghanistan (even though each measure he took was also in Russia's vital interests). This contributed to a willingness on the part of Alliance states to reassess their caution and circumspection towards the RF at the expense of weakening of criticism for human rights violations, particularly in Chechnya. At the heart of this process was the dynamic development of bilateral US-RF cooperation, at the beginning even at the level of intelligence services, which became a prime mover in enhancing NATO-RF relations. The starter was the Bush-Putin statement on new relations between the US and the RF of 13.11.2001; on this basis the US pushed through the "20" idea into the NATO ministerial communiqu? of December 2001. Within it the Foreign Ministers also tasked ambassadors to draft proposals for the qualitative enhancement in NATO-RF relations for their next meeting in Reykjavik. Ministers also set the same task within the framework of the PJC. Putin eventually even managed to get NATO states to convene a special May NATO-RF Summit in Rome (there was a precedent for this step: the Founding Act was approved at a special NATO-RF summit in Paris one month before the Madrid NATO Summit).

The strategic dimension of US (NATO) rapprochement with the RF

     The end of the Cold War came about with the collapse of the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. Moscow saw not only its power structure – the Warsaw Pact – fall apart but its very empire, while the USA remained the sole superpower, with relative power that continued to increase. Moscow had to contend not only with the contraction of the state down to the Russian Federation, but also with serious internal political and economic problems. It became a fact of international life that the RF was no longer among the key driving forces in the area of security and defence.
1.      Even after the end of the Cold War American power has its opponents and limiting factors. A critical factor is its dependence on the import of strategic raw material – oil. Even before 11th September, the US was starting to look for ways of diversifying its sources. The position of Saudi Arabia as the unquestionable chief exporter of oil to the USA (1.7 million barrels per day -mbd- out of 10 mbd), which the Saudis try to defend their own interest and with regard to the USA, has become increasingly uncomfortable for the US. Since 11th September there has been an additional factor: the politically intolerable "tolerant" behaviour of the Saudis towards the radical islamists who have been behind the attacks in the US or their lukewarm support for the anti-terrorist campaign led by the US. Diversification has become the order of the day for the US.
     At the time of the attacks, however, Russia managed to get into a position where it was the only country successfully maintaining an oil policy independent of Saudi Arabia with higher production and lower price ranges (18-22 USD v. 22-28 USD). Moreover, after 11th September the oil market stagnated, which led OPEC to reduce production by 3.5 mbd and a further 1.5 mbd in January 2002. The RF did not succumb to OPEC pressure and actually increased its production, thus acquiring a larger market share at the expense of OPEC. The RF is now the second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia (after the significant Russian increase in production in the last two years).
     In addition to it, after 11th September, Putin stated that he wished to be a reliable and responsible exporter providing adequate and stable production for stable, acceptable prices. This was the result both of pressure from the oligarchs seeking profits and the requirement for higher state revenues. This way emerged for the US a partner for possible ensuring its energy security; the partner which was not only willing to work together pragmatically but which has also the potential to improve its capacity significantly based on investments in the privatized oil sector, where there is even room – particularly in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region – for American involvement and thus influence. US interest was also aroused by new estimates of oil reserves in the Caspian Sea, which speak conservatively of 17 billion barrels, i.e. 115% of estimates in 2000 for the entire CIS.
     As part of their development of bilateral strategic relations, Bush and Putin approved the opening of dialogue over energy. This may so far be no more than a mere declaration, nevertheless it is a sign of the political will to significantly intensify cooperation in this area.
     This development has been welcomed by European allies which are also interested in an energy partnership with the RF. This is not just due to imports of oil products for reasonable and stable prices but to a greater extent of the interest in the import of Russian natural gas. The EU has now also formally initiated a dialogue over energy with the RF.
2.      As far as strategic weapons are concerned, the end of the Cold War brought with it a radical reduction in the likelihood of global nuclear confrontation. The size of the American arsenal (some 6,000 weapons) became unnecessary both due to the radical decline in real Russian capabilities and the disappearance of the ideological irreconcilableness between the two. The US economic interest in reducing its arsenal also coincided with the vital economic interest perceived by Russian pragmatists in reducing their budget. This led to an agreement on reduction strategic nuclear weapons to 1,700-2,200 in operational deployment.
     The problem in the view of the US became the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile technology – i.e. the possibility of blackmail or even attack by non-state or state organizations with just a handful of missiles with WMD warheads. (The Bush administration decided to resolve the problem by institutionalizing the threat with preventive action [see the new American National Security Strategy of September 2002] and with Missile Defense).
3.      In the late 1990s, a radical Islamism that rejected American values had gained considerably in strength and determination. Increasing terrorist attacks against the US all over the world culminated in 11th September in New York and Washington. The resulting anti-terrorist campaign brought proof of a radical Islamist terrorist network of global proportions as well as evidence of attempts by Al-Qaida to obtain WMD to be used against the USA. The conviction has considerably strengthened in the US that the threat of the use of WMD is now more likely to be associated with the plans of radical Islamists.
      While the USA was just recovering from the events of September 11th, the RF already saw radical Islamism as the real arch-enemy. Restraining its spread across the southern borders and maintaining the integrity of RF territory is of vital interest to the Russian government (e.g. note the Russian units in Tadzhikistan). The presence of US units in Central Asia as a result of operations in and around Afghanistan meant an erosion of RF hegemony in the region but it did contribute significantly in favour of the vital interests of the RF, for whose implementation the required finances and skills were lacking.

US and RF Differing political and Strategic Concepts

     The strategic position of the US together with NATO acts in favour of rapprochement with the RF. However, the closeness of positions and of some individual interests are subjects to an incompatible trends. The political and strategic concepts of the US and RF governments are and will continue to be a cause of contradiction.

USA:

     The concept behind the state: Ever since its foundation, the USA has been an enduring liberal-constitutional model of a limited state. It is based on democracy, the rule of law, the market economy, private ownership and freedom of expression with an emphasis on civil and human rights. Defence of this model is thus one of the chief ongoing tasks of the state.
     The concept behind foreign policy: Richard N. Haass, head of Policy Planning Staff at the US Department of State and a member of Bush's innermost security team, characterized it as "integration" (see www.state.gov) . The essence of it is model of selective cooperation depending on the problem involved (from coalitions of the willing to institutionalized alliances). The balance of power system with its “confrontation” and "containment” is rejected. It is to be replaced by “consultation” and “cooperation” with the aim of creating "a pool of power to solve problems and bring more people and countries into an expanding zone of peace and prosperity”. At the heart of the integration is the US, which cooperate with others as it needs. This concept has become part of the new American National Security Strategy.
     Strategic policy: After the experience of 11th September, the Bush administration formulated a new National Security Strategy based on the "act don't wait" approach. In view of the threat of international terrorism which could involve use of WMD, it institutionalized preemptive unilateral acts for the first time in history as a deterrence method and the actual maintaining of US security.
     Grounds for this US line: during the cold war the US confronted an adversary that was basically interested in maintaining the status quo and avoiding risk. It is much less likely, however, that deterrence based on the threat of retaliation will work against the leaders of rogue states, who are more willing to take risks. During the Cold War, WMD were a last resort. Today they are our enemies' weapons of first choice for intimidation of and aggression against neighbours, and they might enable them to try to blackmail the USA and its allies. They are also seen as a way of overcoming US superiority in conventional weapons. The overlap of states which sponsor terror and those who try to acquire WMD compel action.
     Moreover, the new US strategy declares that national forces will be strong enough to deter a potential adversary from attempting to equal or exceed American might.

RF:

     The concept behind the state: Putin defined this concept in his January 2000 address: the objective is "the RF as a great power orientated towards Europe". He described the main obstacle to this as being the state of the RF – particularly as regards the economy and state functions. It is of vital importance to rebuild the RF (for which foreign policy has to create suitable conditions). Putin says that a "return" to the target position is possible; the RF must proceed rapidly and systematically on the basis of unifying objectives and values. He assesses development in the West negatively: only some things are of use to the RF – in particular, free market competition and various types of ownership for purposes of acquiring required resources. He states that it is necessary to build on Russia's independent features – the traditional Russian values of patriotism, belief in the greatness of Russia and social solidarity. The basic all-pervasive role of a strong state, also included among the traditional values, is seen as essential and the Anglo-Saxon liberal model of development is explicitly rejected.
     The concept behind foreign policy: Putin took up the idea of creating a multipolar world (the "Primakov Doctrine") with the RF as one of the equal poles of power. Hence the RF has to be included in security systems ensuring that it has effective influence upon developments in order to maintain favourable stability (the status quo) and by this way to facilitate the return of "the RF as a great power" to the greatest possible extent. This idea rejects the NATO-centric model of European security (especially in the case of operations outside NATO territory, i.e. non-Article 5 operations). However, Putin has changed Primakov's confrontational approach (which did not bring about desirable results). He launched a pragmatic policy of cooperation based on common concerns and interests in spite of even fundamentally differing standpoints. The result is an active bilateral policy towards the USA, UK, Germany, China and India. He also succeeded in improving relations with NATO and the EU in this manner. By establishing the NRC, the RF to some extent achieved the set objective: involvement in the European security system on an equal basis.
     Strategic policy: Due to inertia, preoccupations with its own internal problems but also due to lack of resources, the RF still formally adopts the Cold-War strategy based on deterrence with offensive nuclear weapons on the principle of "mutually assured destruction" (MAD). This means sticking to at least formal (virtual) parity with the US. In the 1990s they came to be the only thing ensuring that the RF should still be considered a superpower with the right to be and get involved in everything – i.e. ensuring the maintenance of the status quo in the form of action on the basis of agreement among the great powers (UN Security Council, G-8 or other ad hoc arrangements).
     There are limits on the feasibility of multipolar world as it is incompatible with the concept of "integration". This incompatibility is also exacerbated by conflicting strategic approaches. The different strategic positions and the policies that derive from them lead to differing approaches, assessments and interests. The institutionalization of preemptive unilateral action is specific evidence of this – for the US it is a solution to problems and a defence of interests and values, for the RF it is a threat (or even a subversion) of its interest in maintaining the status quo. In addition to it, the RF declares that it does not intend to share with the West its values – it is not interested in integrating but in sharing power and cooperating where necessary.
     As for the RF, it should be mentioned that its vital interest in restoring the economy makes it willing to also cooperate with countries such as Iran and Iraq, which is unacceptable to the USA (and NATO). The present-day question of Iraq is a typical example of what to a certain extent brings the USA (and the West) and the RF together and what on the other hand divides them.

Iraq – Vital Interests First

     For the USA and for NATO as a whole, it is of vital importance to achieve energy security (Iraqi oil would considerably weaken the monopoly position of the Saudis), to deal with the threat of the use of WMD, with the threat of WMD in the hands of terrorists and with Iraqi-supported "rogues" of all kinds. Hence with the support of alliance states the US is strongly pressing for the disarmament of Iraq and a change in the behaviour of its regime, if necessary with the use of force – should other means fail.
     For the RF, WMD and terrorists are not a sufficiently cogent argument. It is primarily concerned with the repayment of what Iraq owes and the implementation of no matter how preliminary oil contracts with Iraq, which might be obtained by the government and the oligarchs, because what the RF requires most for its moribund and poorly functioning economy is money, and without it Putin's "reconstruction" of the economy and the state cannot succeed. So intervention against Iraq is a question of price – if the RF finds that intervention brings it a greater profit, it will support it. Joint suppression of terrorists is thus the watchword under which better relations between NATO (US) and the RF have been forged. Moreover, far more is at stake from the RF viewpoint: the opportunity of becoming a strategic supplier of oil to the US market. The proof is the US-RF Energy Summit in Houston (which took place 1st and 2nd October) where the historic first supplies of Russian oil to American strategic reserves were endorsed – 285,000 barrels from tankers which sailed to the USA 9th – 11th October).
     RF rejection of the draft resolution put forward by the US and British governments at the UN Security Council, which included an item on the automatic use of force if Iraq fails to meet the terms laid down, is thus necessarily more of a raised price bid for support than a fixed political or strategic standpoint on the matter – criticism of any US unilateral action or circumvention of the UN Security Council are evidently ancillary arguments in support of RF foreign policy concept but in the hierarchy of interests they come behind the RF's primary interest in getting back on its feet. This is confirmed by voices to be heard from the RF: D. Rogozin, A. Kokoshin and S. Karaganov do not see Iraq as cause for a strategic or political rift. The former two emphasize the economic aspect of US-RF relations and the reasons why the USA still has to be opposed: it does not keep its word, it has not yet annulled the Jackson-Vanik amendment; this is still in effect for the RF (although subject to an ad hoc invalidation that is limited in time. It is an irritant when seen in the context of the annulment in respect of China).
     To provide a complete picture of the situation and to support the above mentioned arguments it should be noted that the Iraq question does not have the least practical impact on the newly constituted NRC. There has not been the least indication in any official declaration or reputable political commentary that NATO-RF relations might involve "haggling" over the price for Iraq. Work in the newly constituted working bodies is under way at full pace and has even produced the first real, even though somewhat modest for some, results. From the security viewpoint probably the most important thing is the approval of the document entitled "Political Aspects of Generic Concept of Joint NATO-RF Peacekeeping Operations" at the end of September together with the fact that work on other aspects (which can only be operational and military) will continue.

Prospects for the "New Quality"

     Real common interests contribute to the development of cooperation between the USA (NATO) and the RF but this will be limited – in some cases substantially – because of the differing political (power ambitions) and strategic concepts and economic interests.
     The relative weakness of the RF, however, will contribute to its cooperativeness – confrontation would result in isolation and the loss of Western investment. The RF is now aware that on the basis of selective pragmatic cooperation it can at least partially achieve its political and economic goals. NATO endeavours to make use of this approach to improve security, stability and prosperity both for itself and the population of the RF.

The author presents his own private views, which do not express the official standpoint of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic

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