Why We Should Build a Bridge of Trust Between NATO and Russia
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization must extend its hand towards the Russian Federation to avoid further military conflict and sow the seeds of future cooperation. A bridge of trust must be built between NATO and Russia in order to mitigate the effects of future harm in the case of continued tension and rivalry.
Amidst the wintry frigidness of February this past year, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made a call towards thawing relations with Russia, proclaiming, "Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium." The North Atlantic Treaty was founded in the wake of World War II to prevent a seismic conflict of the same scale. In turn, the Soviet Union was declared to be the next aggressor capable of subordinating the European continent to its will. Yet, the fall of the authoritarian superpower on Christmas Day in 1991 forced NATO to reevaluate its mission in a starkly different geopolitical environment.
The changing landscape of Eurasia following the Soviet Union's dissolution prompted the London Declaration on a transformed North Atlantic Alliance in July 1990 by the leaders of the North Atlantic Council. The London Declaration asserted Europe as a single, unified entity free of hostile bloc and declared that the Warsaw Pact nations of Central and Eastern Europe were no longer adversaries.
Afterwards, NATO convened for a ministerial session in Copenhagen, Denmark in June 1991 to further a partnership with Central and Eastern Europe. However, the shadow of a dark future loomed as unnamed nations issued concern over their security – primarily because of Russia. This set in motion the process for expansion for the Western Alliance to the East.
November 1991 came thereafter with the Rome Summit that led to the formal declaration of NATO's strategic reorientation through the North Atlantic Council's Rome Declaration on Peace and Cooperation per the Alliance's New Strategic Concept. This proposal led to the North Atlantic Cooperation Council facilitating conversations with new democracies including the former Warsaw Pact that led to a commitment aimed at mitigating Soviet aggression. The Strategic Concept declared, "Soviet military capability and build up-potential, including its nuclear dimension, still constitute the most significant factor of which the Alliance has to take in account in maintaining the strategic balance in Europe." Evidently, the fear of the Soviets did not end with the USSR's collapse as the Strategic Concept. Nevertheless, there existed an inconsistency as the document went on to read, "the potentially immediate threat which was the principal concern for the Alliance in its forty years has disappeared." Herein lies NATO's biggest mistake in the past quarter century: the lack of clarity in its operational objectives. By assuming member-states would use NATO holistically to end conflict, and by identifying a class of threats instead of any explicit dangers, NATO manufactured a slippery slope that shifted its goal of collective defense to collective security.
By 1992, Russia had over an 80% approval rating of the U.S., but by the end of the 1990s and its series of NATO military ventures – particularly Serbia – Russia had an 80% unfavorable rating of the US. In order to address these issues with the lessons of the necessity of international cooperation at hand, we must build on the Founding Act of 1997 to strengthen NATO's institutional bonds with Russia while ensuring the NATO's key objectives are classified. The mistakes of expansionary efforts that threaten Russia via the Bucharest Summit of 2008 and the Madrid Summit of 1997 calling for the addition of Georgia, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic must not be made. Our actions must be carefully thought through.
Realism and idealism present a false dichotomy. Realism should mean dealing with real factors and considering the consequences of our actions. NATO might have idealistic goals, but pragmatic and realistic methods that will promote these goals – goals that must be clarified – are essential in the achievement of them. We must recognize that European continental stability is a shared goal for both NATO and Russia, and work jointly towards it. An old Russian proverb states, "If you hunt two rabbits, you will catch none." We must focus on the rabbit emblematic of continental security instead of an unclear threat from Russia – and if there is one, we must be clear.
John Guarco is a student at Duke University majoring in Political Science with minors in Economics, Russian, and Philosophy. He is a rising senior involved with student government and has a deep interest in foreign affairs.
This article has been submitted for category B "NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories C and D.
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