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The New NATO

May 28, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: The leaders of 19 NATO countries gathered at a military base near Rome today. And joining them at the table was an old enemy, now a new partner: Russia. The NATO-Russia Council, as it will be known, replaces a five-year-old committee that Russia considered too adversarial. As part of the new group Russia gets an enhanced role but not a veto on major strategic issues. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the redefined relationship reflects the broader range of overlapping concerns Russia now shares with the U.S. and Europe.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): We hope that the relationship with NATO will grow, and will improve the quality of our relations. It’s difficult and important for all our work to build on our mutual cooperation and our mutual interests. Only in this way will we make sure there is a full transformation of our mutual interests into joint actions. And this is what I consider to be one of the most important tasks of the Russia-NATO Council.

GWEN IFILL: President Bush called it an “historic achievement.”

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Two former foes are now joined as partners, overcoming 50 years of division and a decade of uncertainty. And this partnership takes us closer to an even larger goal: a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace for the first time in history. And as we reach out to a new Russia that is building freedom in its own land, and is already joining us in defending freedom against a common enemy, we do so in the spirit of peace and friendship.

GWEN IFILL: The new arrangement further expands the organization created in 1949 to protect western Europe from the Soviet Union and its east European satellite nations. NATO’s uniquely Cold War-era mission has grown since then. In 1999, the coalition fought its first war in Kosovo. Also in 1999, three former Warsaw Pact nations — Poland, Hungary, and the Czech republic– joined.

Russian leaders, including President Boris Yeltsin, have long opposed that eastward expansion, and Russia continues to object to another list of new members expected to join this fall. That list includes three former Soviet republics — Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia — plus Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Albania and Macedonia have also applied for admission.

Russia may object, but would have no power to block admission of new members. However, Russia will have a formal voice and vote in other areas, including peacekeeping, arms control, and counter-terrorism.

GWEN IFILL: For more on the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance, we turn to: Gale Mattox, who worked in the State Department during the Clinton administration. She is the author of NATO Enlargement: The National Debates, and is a professor of political science at the US Naval Academy. And Jonathan Clarke, a foreign policy research fellow at the Cato Institute, a public policy research group in Washington. A former British diplomat, his commentaries have appeared in The Los Angeles Times and other newspapers. So Professor Mattox, what does this new NATO-Russia Council really mean?

GALE MATTOX: I think it moves the relationship, of course, between Russia and NATO a lot further. I think it’s a positive development in bringing Russia into the democratic community. It’s doing, I think, a lot of the things that we really wanted to do throughout even the Cold War in changing Russia, and in reassuring Europeans and Americans of a positive role for Russia.

GWEN IFILL: How is it different than the 1997 joint committee that was also designed to bring Russia into the fold and declare the Cold War dead?

GALE MATTOX: There are a lot of things that are the same there. There were some problems with implementing, with actually implementing that 1997 agreement but I think this confirms those issues that were addressed at that time. And it goes even further in looking to Russia and bringing Russia in, for instance, in our top priority, which is our war on terrorism. And I think that’s a very important element of it.

But it does other things, as well. It also looks at arms control and confidence building measures. It looks at crisis management. It looks at other issues of new threats and challenges that hopefully in the future now we’ll be able to count not only on the European allies but also now on the Russians.

GWEN IFILL: Jonathan Clarke, what, in your opinion, does Russia bring to the table on this? Why is it important or is it important to have Russia this much closer to being a part of NATO?

JONATHAN CLARKE: I always thought the missing link in the European security jigsaw was an absence of a clear role for Russia. In 1997, the permanent joint council for Russia suffered from a major disability, which was that Russia wasn’t brought in early enough. It was brought in only after the rest of NATO had reached their discussion among 19 nations. And you can imagine it was difficult to get a consensus among 19 nations. Russia was therefore presented with a fate accompli.

Now Russia is going to be in the debating room from the word go. I think that’s going to be a major issue. Russia, after all, is a huge country. It spans what, 11 time zones? It is going to play an increasingly important role on terrorism, on counter proliferation. It has a range of relationships in Central Asia. I don’t think, for example, the operations in Afghanistan would have been possible had it not been for Russian assistance with its former Soviet republics there. So I think Russia is going to play a very important role in the future of Europe.

GWEN IFILL: But without the veto power that the other 19 people at the table have, is Russia’s contribution really going to be that significant?

JONATHAN CLARKE: Well, let’s hope that we are not going to get to the sort of situation where vetoes are going to be necessary. I think that’s the whole point here, is that by having a deliberative assembly, by having the ability to discuss things properly, and, of course, by trying to get away from the old Article V core role for NATO, which is –.

GWEN IFILL: Explain what you mean by Article V.

JONATHAN CLARKE: Article V defines that an attack on any one country in NATO is seen as an attack on the whole of the alliance.

GWEN IFILL: Which NATO did vote for after the September 11 attacks.

JONATHAN CLARKE: Precisely that, yes, although NATO, as you know, has not been particularly involved since that time. Whilst that Article V remains, we are still a little bit in history, I’m afraid. I think we have got to perhaps try to move beyond that so that we can really have a post-Cold War security system in Europe.

GWEN IFILL: Gale Mattox, do you want to respond to that?

GALE MATTOX: I think the last point that he made is a very important one, and that is moving beyond the post-Cold War and actually trying to implement some new structures, some new organizations that will address the challenges that we have today. I would not move away with our European allies from Article V. I think that’s quite important in the NATO relationship. But I think it is true that we need to think beyond that, and I think that that’s what this declaration really does, is to begin to think beyond that.

GWEN IFILL: Does this declaration, in reality, actually move Russia closer to becoming a member of NATO? Or is it just a way of placating Russia at a time when the United States and other countries want Russia to be part of its war on terrorism?

JONATHAN CLARKE: I think it goes beyond placating Russia. I think it really does move Russia a bit closer to the decision-making apparatus in Europe. And that’s going to be very important. And Russia is now going to have a proper role, not just when all other decisions have been taken, but from the word go.

I mean let’s say on weapons of mass destruction, there are quite a number of issues open with Russia, particularly vis-à-vis Iran. Those are now going to be discussed with Russia as a partner, not with Russia as an adversary. And I think that is going to make a tremendous difference in the in the atmosphere and really open the way to solutions.

GWEN IFILL: Now, what does it mean that Russia has always been and continues to be, as far as we know, opposed to further expansion, especially with former Soviet republics? If you were the members of Estonia and wanted to become a member of NATO, would you be nervous about having Russia at the table?

GALE MATTOX: I think the Russians have very much backed off of their objections on the question of enlargement. This new declaration has been one of the ways that they’ve — that they now can channel their views and participate in the discussion and the dialogue within NATO.

So on the one hand, it probably does cause some nervousness before it actually is implemented and before the results are seen from the side of former Soviet states and from the side of the central European countries. But I think it reassures the Baltic states — Slovakia, Slovenia, and some of the others states — that are looking for enlargement, that now the way may be much easier in contrast to them being nervous about it.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask about the safeguards, which are included in this new agreement. Why do you need safeguards if, in fact, what you’re now dealing with is an ally? What are we guarding against in dealing with Russia this way?

JONATHAN CLARKE: Well, I think safeguard — we are not yet fully down the path of complete trust with Russia. I mean after all, an ally means somebody you’ve fought with, somebody you’ve liased with, somebody you’ve negotiated with over many years and built up a system of trust. I don’t think we’re at that point yet with Russia.

And, therefore, there are possible fears that who knows what may happen in Russian politics. There may be a recrudescence of something, which we highly disapprove of. So the safeguards have got to be there and are sensibly there. I mean, I think that the essence of the reduction of nuclear weapons is a chance that things may go wrong, so safeguards are, I think, appropriate.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about NATO itself. Now that Russia is at the table, is this a table that is worth being at? Is NATO even relevant anymore?

JONATHAN CLARKE: Well, I think that NATO– I mean I think we’ve got to start moving beyond NATO. I think the real goal in Europe is to have a system and– a security system which brings in all the nations of Europe; something that– Lord Robertson, the Secretary-General of NATO said something quite profound today; that NATO is going to be about finding solutions and finding them ourselves. I think that is a key issue here, is to enable the people of Europe as a whole, to have a say in their problems.

I think that’s, for example, what went wrong in the Balkans. With Russia not being a participant, Russia was seen as an adversarial role there. Had these structures been in place, let’s say in 1990, I think we might have avoided some of the ghastly tragedy that we saw in the Balkans. So I think that whether NATO is the right word to be using, I think we should try to move beyond NATO. But this is certainly a new beginning for European security structures.

GWEN IFILL: Move beyond NATO?

GALE MATTOX: I would– I mean my inclination would be instead to transform NATO. I think that’s exactly what NATO is doing.

GWEN IFILL: From what to what?

GALE MATTOX: Well, to move, of course, away from the Cold War and the Cold War structures. And they already started to do that in 1991-92. And each year you can trace the various steps they’ve done in that transformation and this certainly is a major step for that. I don’t think that I would– I would not advocate giving up NATO. I think we’ve put too much into NATO. I think we’ve developed a real solid structure where we can talk with our allies, where we can rely on them on September 12 to come through with an Article V assurance.

GWEN IFILL: But, if I can interrupt you, we could rely on them, but the United States still waged war on Afghanistan on its own without NATO.

GALE MATTOX: Well, it was not a NATO — it was not a NATO operation, that’s correct. However, a lot of allies did participate. There may be some ways that we might have liked a larger participation, but this was the first time, really, to go somewhere like Afghanistan.

Seventeen countries participated — countries that were of course part of NATO like the French, and the British and the Canadians. Operation Anaconda had a very substantial — at least numbers of countries — and I would say that — the participation we can probably expect to develop as NATO slowly transforms.

GWEN IFILL: So does that make NATO or whatever succeeds it as would you advocate, does that make it a political body rather than a military body now?

JONATHAN CLARKE: I think we are moving in that direction, yes. And I think one of the difficulties with the whole debate about NATO is we have been asking ourselves the wrong question. We have been saying how do we find a new role for NATO. What we really should have been asking ourselves, how do we find new security structures for Europe and how also do we find a new meaning for the transatlantic relationship? And somehow these two have got bundled up with each other because I think we do need a new transatlantic relationship. I think we are still formulating it too much in the NATO context.

NATO is not going to be what it was in the past. I think we’ve tried to move beyond that. But that having been said, we do need a new formula for expressing the transatlantic relationship, bringing in the European Union.

GWEN IFILL: Brief response if you have one.

GALE MATTOX: I mean I would agree that we need to– that we need to broaden the transatlantic relationship, but I think that we have a very good organization that has worked quite well in the past on a number of different contingencies, and that to give that up would be a real mistake.

GWEN IFILL: Gale Mattox, Jonathan Clarke, thank you both for joining us.