[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
IT WOULD BE PREMATURE TO BURY NATO
Andrei RYABOV, chief editor of Mirovaya Ekonomika i Mezhdunarodnye Otnoshenia journal of world economy and international relations
The new NATO-Russia Council in the 19 + 1 format was created nearly a year ago. Pessimists say Russia has not gained much from it. It is kept at a safe distance from the NATO decision-making mechanisms and cannot influence the bloc's policy. But optimists argue that the progressive movement has begun at the basic, bureaucratic level. The commissions are working, information is being effectively exchanged and joint exercises (though with a limited agenda) are held.
The question of direction in which NATO is moving is not academic, as Russia's policy with regard to the bloc will largely depend on the answer to it. On the one hand, there are visible signs of the "waning" of NATO as a military-political organisation. The US-led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq clearly showed that the USA can tackle different military tasks without NATO assistance. The Americans prefer to create temporary coalitions to tackle specific crises. They relied on the assistance of Russia and Britain in Afghanistan and on Britain, Australia and Poland in Iraq.
The bloc is becoming less effective also in terms of elaborating common decisions. The Iraqi war cast a bright light on differences in the stands of groups of countries within NATO. These problems will grow with the admission of Central and East European countries to the bloc.
But though the role of NATO as a military-political bloc is apparently diminishing, it would be premature to bury it. Today NATO is the only organisation that provides legal grounds for the presence of American troops in Europe. The USA will hardly allow its European allies to create their own forces independent of NATO, no matter what smart diplomatic formulas can be invented to camouflage this independence. As before, the USA is trying to use the armed forces of NATO for maintaining peace and stability in the countries where hostilities are over, as in Afghanistan.
This means that the existence of the bloc will have a purpose in the immediate future, and not only because it will continue to play the role of a US foreign policy instrument. The thing is that despite their differences with Washington, the European members of NATO are not eager to put in practice the doctrine of the multipolar world. At least none of the European capitals (not even Paris and Berlin) are planning to create a new power centre as an alternative to the USA. Moreover, the bulk of European countries traditionally view the transatlantic ties that rest on NATO as the basis of their security.
It is true that many Europeans would like to change their relations within NATO in accordance with the spirit of the new times and their desire for the bloc to treat with greater respect their interests and their view of the modern world. But their striving for the modernisation of NATO should not be taken for a desire to liquidate it.
The changing bloc will remain Russia's partner for a long time to come. Its military functions will probably weaken, while its political and partly police functions will grow stronger. The mechanism of decision-making will change in accordance with the multitude of interests of member countries. In other words, in the long run the bloc may develop into an organisation similar to the current OSCE.
This would be very favourable for the Russian policy. While carrying on cooperation with NATO within the current format, Russia has a chance to discuss with its Western partners the new threats to international security and measures to ward them off. At the same time, it can indirectly facilitate the evolution of the bloc in a suitable direction.
However, Russian politicians should stop their attempts to incite conflicts between the USA and its European allies, and not only because the recent experience shows that these attempts are non-productive. The main task in modern conditions is not to play on the weaknesses and contradictions of the Western community but to maximally advance our ideas and suggestions through various international institutes. In this quickly changing world such tactics can help Russia to find new partners and an additional foothold.