Throughout much of the second half of this century the mere utterance of the name NATO would have conjured up images of the cold war. Contrary to most predictions, however, the end of the cold war did not mark the beginning of the end for NATO. The Atlantic alliance has displayed an ability to endure the dramatic changes effected by the collapse of the Soviet bloc, thanks largely to the willingness of American rulers to continue to see alliances as the centerpiece of US foreign policy in the post-cold war era.
This reality was brought into sharp focus last May when NATO’s leaders welcomed Russian president Boris Yeltsin in Paris for the signing of a new pact on mutual cooperation between the alliance and its former arch-enemy. The meeting marked the culmination of six months of tedious negotiations to work out the details of the agreement. President Yeltsin, his foreign minister Yevgeny M Primakov, US secretary of State Madeleine K Albright, and the NATO secretary general Javier Solana, all took active part in hammering out the accord.
The agreement, officially known as the ‘Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Co-operation and Security’ between the alliance and Russia, commits the signatories to working for ‘a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe, whole and free, to the benefit of all its peoples.’ It also envisages the establishment of a new NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council for consultation on security issues and ‘in times of crisis or for any other situation affecting peace and stability.’
Nevertheless, the agreement stresses that the Joint Council gives Russia a mere voice, not a vote, in NATO policy. Russia’s status with respect to NATO as spelled out in the Act is that of a partner rather than a member. The Act clearly states that neither Russia nor NATO have ‘a right of veto over the actions of the other,’ and emphasizes that its provisions do not ‘infringe upon or restrict the rights of Russia or NATO to independent decision-making and action.’
At the same time, the allies gave assurances to Russia that NATO harbours no plans to deploy substantial troops or nuclear weapons on the territory of any new members.
Implicit in these stipulations is the notion that, despite acknowledging Russia’s role as a regional power, the alliance will continue to expand regardless of Russian objections. Accordingly, the Act fails in achieving its central objective, that is, to bridge the widening rift separating NATO and Russia over the eastward expansion of the Euro-Atlantic alliance. It, therefore, emerges as nothing short of a face-saving device for Yeltsin in the face of the Russians’ lingering suspicion of a NATO military buildup close to their borders.
The accord will be followed in July by the first invitations to selected East European countries to join a transformed NATO alliance. The invitations will be issued on July 8-9 at a NATO summit meeting in Madrid. The leading candidates are Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
However, discussions between NATO foreign ministers at a gathering held on May 29 in Sintra, Portugal, revealed divisions between the alliance’s 16 member countries over which east European countries should be invited. France tried to override American objections and pushed for the inclusion of Romania in the first wave, whereas Italy and Britian pushed for inclusion of Slovenia.
In his speech at the signing ceremony, Yeltsin was keen to point that ‘Russia still views negatively the expansion plans of NATO.’ This statement echoed a number of earlier statements given by many Russian officials that highlighted the abounding complexities along the murky road to trust between Russia and NATO.
The enduring distrust in the relationship between Russia and the west is likely to dispel the roseate prognosis of a stable and peaceful Europe that the pompous ceremony at the Elysee’s ornate garden ballroom tried to impart to the public. By heightening traditional Russian security concerns, the decision to expand NATO could stimulate hostile Russian reactions in the future. In this context, it seems inevitable now that Yeltsin will face serious difficulties in persuading the communist-dominated Duma to ratify the START II treaty.
In the meantime, Russia will probably resort to the time-honoured rule of alliance politics, viz., divide-and-rule, by playing NATO members against each other. As is shown in the case of the Sintra summit, there might well be much room for that. This in the final analysis could undermine another declared goal spelled out in the Founding Act: the unification of Europe.
Above all, it is rather questionable that NATO, whose self-defined parameters are security-oriented, provides a suitable vehicle for addressing the main sources of instability confronting the countries of eastern Europe in the post-cold war period. A military alliance that emerged during the cold war with the specific aim of holding back an invading Red Army is indeed ill-suited to deal with the economic, social, ethnic and other upheavals that plague the former communist States.
Muslimedia - July 1-15, 1997