Brussels, 11 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has finally embarked on a comprehensive program of shaping the European security system by outlining both the alliance's principal security policies and by setting the date for decisions on their implementation.
Meeting in Brussels, NATO foreign ministers proposed yesterday that the European security system should be formed by two separate but simultaneous processes.
One is the eastward expansion of the alliance. The other is the establishment of a cooperative security partnership between NATO and Russia.
NATO is to be the linchpin of the new system, encouraging stability and providing the security for Europe as a whole. Other international organizations, such as the OSCE, have also important roles to play but the Western alliance is seen as pivotal for the success of the system.
Today, these proposals were partially approved by Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov and fully endorsed by Central and Eastern European officials taking part in the session of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC).
Primakov reiterated Russia's long-standing opposition to NATO's eastward enlargement. He argued during his meeting with the 16 NATO ministers that the enlargement would endanger Russia's security and create new lines of division in Europe.
But Primakov also expressed Moscow's willingness to enter into negotiations with the alliance on the establishment of some form of "security partnership." He also said that the experience of cooperation between Russian and NATO forces in Bosnia proved both "fruitful and satisfactory," creating the foundation for future cooperative relations.
NATO ministers were reported to have been "pleased" by Primakov's position. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was reported to have said that the West fully "understands" Moscow's concerns about the enlargement. But he also said that the enlargement was not meant to be directed against Russia, and was designed to encourage stability, rather than adversely to affect anybody's interests.
Christopher said that NATO's intention not to station nuclear weapons on the territory of new members goes a long way to satisfy Moscow's security concerns. Primakov was said to have been encouraged by that move.
Christopher was also reported to have been particularly satisfied with Russia's willingness to enter into negotiations on partnership with the alliance. This view was said to have been shared by all other NATO ministers.
NATO Secretary General Solana is to represent the alliance in the negotiations with Russia. At this time, NATO has still to develop a unified position on the "security partnership," as several countries have recently proposed their own views on the issue. But, as U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns told reporters today, such a unified position is likely to be ironed out in a relatively short time.
Burns also said that NATO expects to conclude negotiations with Russia by the time of NATO's summit next year. Scheduled to take place in Madrid on July 8-9, 1997, the summit is also to invite "one or more" Central European countries to open membership negotiations with the alliance.
But Burns made it clear that the process of enlargement and that of "security partnership" with Russia are not linked and are being developed irrespectively of one another. This also was said to have been both acknowledged and accepted by Primakov himself.
Alongside these two main processes, NATO intends to develop a close cooperative relationship with Ukraine. It is not clear yet how this is to be organized and implemented, but Burns told reporters today that the rapprochement between NATO and Ukraine is likely to take a "similar" form as that between NATO and Russia.
NATO ministers have made it clear, in both the official statement from their meeting and separate statements by individual officials, that the processes of the alliance's enlargement and its drive to seek rapprochement with Russia form a part of a general quest for the establishment of a lasting and comprehensive European security system.
Secretary Christopher put this view in a nutshell when he told the meeting that NATO's goal is to create "a stable, peaceful and unified Europe in the 21 century." The Brussels meeting marked an important step in this direction.