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Could NATO Membership For Russia Break Impasse In European Security Debate?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Moscow in December.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Moscow in December.
By Robert Coalson
As global policymakers gather for the annual Munich Security Conference, Russia is growing more strident in its complaints that the European security system is dysfunctional.

At the same time, the United States and the West insist that the NATO alliance is and will remain the foundation of security on the continent.

Is it time, then, to move seriously toward a membership action plan -- and eventual NATO membership -- for Russia?


Since taking office more than 18 months ago, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has argued forcefully that the mechanisms of ensuring security in Europe are outdated to the point of being dysfunctional. Russia feels excluded from key security arrangements, and Moscow has increasingly adopted an old NATO slogan -- that security must be indivisible.

A small, but growing, number of Western observers think that Medvedev has a point -- and that one way of responding to Moscow's concerns would be to work seriously toward NATO membership for Russia. Doing so, they also argue, might also help the alliance through its own identity crisis and infuse it with a new sense of purpose.

Michael Mandelbaum, a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, has noted that following the Napoleonic wars and World War II, defeated powers were incorporated into new international arrangements, leading to periods of stability. However, after World War I, German interests were ignored and Germany was isolated, leading directly to World War II. The West, he argues, now risks making the same mistake with Russia.

"[Mandelbaum] argued that what we must do is find a way to integrate Russia into the post-Cold War security system and he goes so far as to argue that we should give Russia a NATO membership action plan, a MAP," says Richard Krickus, professor emeritus at the University of Mary Washington, who authored a study published in December by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College that argues the case for eventual Russian NATO membership. "And my argument in this book is that it makes some sense to consider it -- that is, it answers the question of how do we give Russia a voice, but not a veto, in a new European security system."

That Time Again

NATO membership for Russia is an idea that gets floated periodically, but never seems to gain traction. In 1999, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin expressed Moscow's desire to join the alliance. The idea has also been raised by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, in addition to Mandelbaum and Krickus, and was floated by Michael McFaul, who currently serves as senior director for Russian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, in a 2006 article titled "Why A Democratic Russia Should Join NATO."

On the Russian side, a report published this week by the Contemporary Development Institute, a Moscow think tank set up by Medvedev, declared flatly that NATO membership should be a goal for Russia in the 21st century. Another Russian report [English text here], issued by the Valdai Discussion Club in December, described possible Russian ascension to NATO as "quite attractive," but says it was much more possible in 1991-94. The report concludes that at present, the notion is far less likely, "but cannot be ruled out entirely."

Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the International Relations Committee of the upper house of Russia's parliament, says that a serious NATO-membership proposal could be embraced by Moscow.

"I would welcome such a turn of events, but only if it is not a game intended to weaken Russia or distract it in fulfilling some road map," says Kosachyov. "If behind this idea there really stands the possibility of Russia joining NATO, then that would be a correct way of looking at things from NATO's point of view, and it would be an interesting challenge to Russia, one that would have to be accepted."

Others are more skeptical.

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of "Russia In Global Affairs," says the prevailing view in Moscow is that NATO's day is past and that future security arrangements must move beyond it.

Cadets of Russia's Suvorov Military Academy (file photo)
"Russia, I think, views NATO as an organization in the midst of a profound crisis," Lukyanov says. "Keeping in mind that NATO cannot formulate a new strategic conception and can't in general understand why it should exist in the 21st century, the sense of joining is completely unclear. In other words, NATO is viewed as an organization that is growing weaker rather than stronger."

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, who declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article, responded to the Contemporary Development Institute's call for Russia to join the alliance with a Twitter message saying simply, "It is more likely that NATO would join Russia than the other way around."

Foregoing Empire?

Moving toward NATO membership for Russia would mean overcoming many obstacles. But advocates of the idea, like Krickus, believe the process would motivate Moscow to compromise on issues such as the dispute with Georgia over the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia or Russia's territorial dispute with Japan over the Kurile Islands. It could also hold the potential to shift the balance of political forces in Moscow, giving leverage to those who advocate giving up on what he calls Russia's "imperial project" vis-a-vis its neighbors.

"My argument would be that it is in Russia's vital interests to develop a relationship with the West which is central to its becoming a modern, normal, European society, a society of prosperity and stability," says Krickus. "And that, if Russia should refuse, well, that clears the air. Then we know really how serious they are about a close relationship with the West."

However, serious talk of NATO membership for Russia would entail changes in the alliance as well. Analyst Lukyanov says Moscow would never agree to enter an organization that is dominated by Washington.

"The question is: How would Russia enter -- on what basis? If you mean that Russia would enter NATO on a common basis, like, say, Albania, Montenegro, or Poland, I don't think this would be very interesting," says Lukyanov. "But if NATO were to change fundamentally if Russia joined, if its management system changed,... because Russia is hardly likely to enter an organization in which it is perfectly obvious that the deciding vote belongs to the United States."

Richard Weitz, a senior fellow and security analyst at the U.S.-based Hudson Institute, agrees that NATO would have to evolve away from its consensus-based model, perhaps in a process similar to the one the European Union is now trying to develop. He says Moscow could be "a very disruptive force" if it were granted membership under the current system.

As difficult as the problems associated with possible NATO membership for Russia are, even solving them would not automatically mean a more stable security environment. Lukyanov notes that expanding NATO to include Russia could merely push the security division to the east and exacerbate tensions with Beijing. If Russia entered NATO, Lukyanov notes, China would suddenly be in the same position that Russia is in now.

Russian parliamentarian Kosachyov insists that Western ambivalence toward Russia is the key reason why the question of Russian NATO membership has never been seriously raised.

"Lately I have been asking my Western, NATO colleagues this direct question: 'Can you tell me, is it that Russia can't be a member of NATO because of the way it is now, because something isn't right with its political system or the electoral system or human rights or something else? Or is it that Russia in principle isn't suitable as a NATO member, and even after it resolves all these current problems will you say "no" anyway because that can never be under any circumstances?'" says Kosachyov. "And it is interesting that this direct question always leaves them speechless."

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Danila Galperovich and RFE/RL correspondent Brian Whitmore contributed to this report
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by: Vadim
February 05, 2010 14:02
So Yeltsin said something about NATO membership-- has Putin ever said anything about it? I don't think Russia is interested in NATO membership, they would rather dismantle it. And one reason they are not interested is that NATO requires political reforms as well as military, and generally this involves extensive interactions with NATO as well as openness.

Unless they decide to just "give" them NATO membership outright, without IPAP or MAP or whatever special status they gave Ukraine. And this would go a long way toward dismantling NATO.

by: Sean from: Belgium
February 05, 2010 21:25
Vadim,

You are right on the money. I find it interesting to note that Rogozin makes some sort of remark that seems aimed at "shock value" every time they meet in the NATO-Russia Council, but the RF is happy to keep him as their spokesman. His off-the-wall comment quoted here is very typical of those remarks.

The reason the US has such a decisive vote in the Alliance is that the US provides some 60% of the Alliance's forces and more than that of the capability. If Russia wanted an equal voice in the Alliance, they would have to bring a lot more capability than they have now. For that reason, I don't think anyone could talk seriously about Russian membership anytime soon, because it is debatable that they are more capable than, say, Poland.

by: Pat Shearon from: South Carolina USA
February 05, 2010 21:40
And I Quote:
"Lately I have been asking my Western, NATO colleagues this direct question: 'Can you tell me, is it that Russia can't be a member of NATO because of the way it is now, because something isn't right with its political system or the electoral system or human rights or something else? Or is it that Russia in principle isn't suitable as a NATO member, and even after it resolves all these current problems will you say "no" anyway because that can never be under any circumstances?'" says Kosachyov. "And it is interesting that this direct question always leaves them speechless."


I will tell you why, in no uncertain terms just so we are clear. NATO does not trust the Russian leadership, even under it's current system. One does not have to go to far back to see what the leaders of Russia will do when push comes to shove. Need I remind you of "The Winter War (Finland 1939)", or how about the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland? Why don't you ask those NATO countries why? How about Ukraine? How about Kasperov? Georgia Abkhazia? Ossetia? Ask them.

You really have to ask? They do not want the Russian Bear turned loose on them to operate under a NATO umbrella and lend it legitimacy. It's not like you cant change that, but you have still a ways to go as a Nation.

You do realize your "Union" just crumbled no more than 20 years ago? If you left anyone speechless you must have been talking to a 12 year old.

Pat Shearon
Little River, SC

by: Rada from: Vojvodina
February 06, 2010 02:13
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/05/AR2010020502021.html

i m confused, russia considers joining nato, at same time president of russia signs paper where it stands that nato is their enemy(link i posted above)....
O.o

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
February 06, 2010 12:36
Wonderful article!

Yes, this is the solution to end the long confrontation between Russia and the West.

Russia joining the main western alliance is such a move that happened after the WW II when the West accepted West-Germany to join the club.

I strongly support the idea of Russian accession to NATO. (and later to EU as well).

We should unite all the nations with European origins as non-European empires such as China or India are on the rise.
We Europeans can stand in the global competition only if we unite.

Let's make the dream of Gorbachev come true:

"The common house of European nations."

Come on. Let's do it!

by: Slavabez
February 06, 2010 16:42
Pat Shearon:

Cut the Cold War rhetoric! "One does not have to go to far back to see what the leaders of Russia will do when push comes to shove. Need I remind you of "The Winter War (Finland 1939)", or how about the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland?" Sorry, bud, but this was all done by the USSR, not by Russia, which is a new and different country. USSR does NOT equal Russia!!!

And Georgia blatantly attacked Russian citizens in Aug 2008. The US would have done the same, and has done similar in the past (Grenada, Panama), WITHOUT or with very few, if any, American citizens dying first!

NATO was formed for the express purpose of opposing the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, both of which disappeared approx. 20 years ago! It's time for something NEW!

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix, AZ, U.S.A.
February 07, 2010 02:52
Much Like the Internet has revolutionized the world business community, Russian membership in NATO would revolutionize the New World Order, leaving only China to cast aside it's Comminist past and join in as well. Then we can deal with Iran and North Korea, and any other holdouts

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
February 07, 2010 09:40
Vadim:

"So Yeltsin said something about NATO membership-- has Putin ever said anything about it?"

Yes, for example right after Putin came into power happened the 9/11 New York terror attacks. And after that Russia and personally Putin was among the first who offered a helping hand for the US. Those days the membership of Russia in the NATO was considered a real possibility.

Do not forget those days when Bush and Putin were "best friends":
I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul." - President Bush

But then the control was in the hands of neoon radicals in Washington who did noit want to see Russ a as an ally but they saw it as a defeated enemy.
So instead of cooperating with Russia on an equal basis they begin to further encircle Russia and launched the unnecessary missile shield program without cooperating with Russia.
Those days the failure of a Russian membership was a fault not of Russia but of the USA.

Putin clearly favored the idea of joining the alliance:

"Putin, who won widespread praise for his swift and strong backing of the American anti-terrorist coalition following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, was in Brussels Wednesday seeking to advance Russia's integration in Europe: specifically the EU and NATO. The following day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was in Moscow to further shore up support."

And personally from then President Putin (it was in October 2001.):

"In an interview with German journalists last week, Putin was asked about possible NATO membership for Russia. His reply was straight to the point: "There is no longer any reason for the West not to conduct talks. But the obstacles on both sides are enormous."

Source:
http://www.russiajournal.com/node/5425


Meanwhile Russia still does not rule out a possible membership:
http://euobserver.com/9/27890

"Russia does not rule out NATO membership at some point in the future, but for the moment it prefers to keep co-operation on a practical, limited level, Moscow's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin told EUobserver.

"There is no such necessity at this moment, but we cannot rule out this opportunity in the future," Mr Rogozin said in a phone interview on Tuesday (31 March), one day after Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Russia should join the military alliance, if it meets the membership criteria."


by: Zoltan from: Hungary
February 07, 2010 09:43
I share the views of Mr. Gareth Evans:

" The problem is not that NATO extended to Russia's borders, but that it stopped there," said Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based advocacy group. "NATO should welcome Russia in its inner ring, provided it complies with the human rights criteria," he added, while admitting that this was not a short-term option, especially after the Georgian war.

However, Mr Evans stressed that allies should at least start to "conceptualise" Russia's potential NATO membership. "

http://euobserver.com/9/27890

by: Slavabez
February 07, 2010 11:13
To clarify:

And Georgia blatantly attacked Russian citizens in Aug 2008. The US would have done the same as Russia to protect its citizens, and has done similar in the past (Grenada, Panama), WITHOUT or with very few, if any, American citizens dying first!
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