appointment of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia paved the way for a new and more constructive relation- ship and in May of that year the PJC resumed its activities. Since then, despite Western unease with Russia’s opera- tions in Chechnya, NATO and Russia have been able steadily to increase the range and number of joint activi- ties.
By spring 2001, the PJC’s work agenda had expanded to cover a wide range of issues of mutual interest, including ongoing cooperation in and consultation on peacekeeping in the Balkans, discussions of strategy and doctrine, and cooperation in arms control, proliferation, military infra- structure, nuclear issues and theatre missile defences, as well as the retraining of discharged military personnel and search and rescue at sea. Indeed, the programme was almost as broad as the one that existed at the end of 1998. In February 2001, after a year of negotiations, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson was able to inaugurate a NATO Information Office in Moscow. It was in this, more congenial atmosphere, therefore, that Lord Robertson and Russian President Putin had two constructive meetings during the latter part of 2001.
The Putin-Robertson meetings in Brussels in October and Moscow in November, and several meetings between Presidents Bush and Putin during this same timeframe have clearly put both NATO-Russia and Russia-US rela- tions on a new footing. Indeed, in a joint statement fol- lowing their meeting in Crawford, Texas, in November, the two Presidents pledged that Russia and the United States would “work, together with NATO and other NATO members, to improve, strengthen, and enhance the relationship between NATO and Russia, with a view to developing new, effective mechanisms for consultation, cooperation, joint decision, and coordinated/joint action”. Moreover, at the December foreign ministers’ PJC meeting at NATO headquarters, NATO and Russia committed themselves to “forge a new relationship” and tasked ambassadors to explore “effective mechanisms for consultation, cooperation, joint decision, and coordinat- ed/joint action”.
The rapprochement of recent months has made it possi- ble to bring far-reaching proposals to the table, including the institutionalisation of NATO-Russia cooperation “at 20”. It has also generated great expectations, on both sides, not all of which are realistic. Establishing mecha- nisms for meeting with Russia “at 20”, without pre-coor- dinated Alliance positions, does not mean that Russia will secure a veto over Alliance decision-making. The Alliance will continue to function “at 19”, and to main- tain its freedom of decision-making and action on any issue consistent with its responsibilities under the Washington Treaty. However, where common ground can be found and NATO and Russia are able to work together, it is important to build the necessary mechanisms to make this possible.
Many Western analysts believe that President Putin is currently far ahead of other players in the Russian defence and security community. Some even think that he is overextending himself and thereby making himself vulnerable. Whatever the precise nature of his situation, the pressure for success is high – both for President Putin and for NATO – and the need to deliver concrete achievements will become increasingly important as the Prague Summit approaches and the issue of NATO enlargement begins to loom larger. A carefully consid- ered and coordinated package of visible steps forward could help President Putin bridge the gap with the more conservative elements in his security elite. Moreover, a prudent public information policy is also required, since media expectations and/or speculation risk generating a dangerous level of pressure on what will inevitably be a complex political process.
The fundamental attitudes of many institutional actors in the NATO-Russia relationship have not changed. As a result, “breakthroughs” at the highest political level and/or constructive approaches in informal talks will not auto- matically be translated into practical achievements. Concrete proposals and programmes will still have to be implemented through the same bureaucratic channels and, in some instances, in spite of them. Although the environ- ment for cooperation appears conducive to progress, suc- cess is not assured and high-profile initiatives may not come to fruition soon, or at all. A more realistic approach might therefore be the time-consuming process of pushing forward smaller, formal and informal, but still substantive issues.
Russia’s principal objective has not changed. It still wants, above all, to be treated as a mature, influential partner and to have a voice in the key Euro-Atlantic secu- rity institutions and in defence and security decision- making. If the Allies are unwilling or unable to give sub- stance to this objective, the backlash could be serious and long-lasting. Although symbolic steps forward can be of value, the process will also need substance. New cooper- ative mechanisms can help to overcome the mistrust of the past and to streamline our ability to take joint action when appropriate. New mechanisms alone, however, can- not form the basis of a strong, durable NATO-Russia part- nership. There must be new attitudes, particularly on the Russian side.
As policy makers and political leaders attempt to seize an historic opportunity, they should understand what is at stake. False moves could seriously undermine the good will that has been built up in recent months and actually set back the relationship. If, however, despite the complexity and sensitivity surrounding this issue, NATO and Russia can come together and forge a new strategic partnership, this will have considerable benefits stretching well beyond the common interests of the two partners.
NATO review 21