Issues Navigator

Global Challenges

Strategic Regions

Domestic Debates

Tag cloud

See All Tags

November 24, 2010 |  1 comment |  Print  Your Opinion  

Editorial Team

Topic NATO's Lisbon Summit: Getting the Russians on Board

Editorial Team: NATO’s Holy Grail remains the elusive vision of – and a workable strategy for – a future alliance that will succeed in uniting the strategic interests of the Americans, the Europeans, and increasingly the Russians. This quest is rendered more difficult by the recent U.S. mid-term elections, which returned a Republican majority to the House. Conservative preference for NATO enlargement does not bode well for deeper cooperation with the Kremlin. Nevertheless, policymakers in NATO countries hope that the outcome of the Lisbon Summit will strengthen the Alliance’s new relationship with Moscow in the long run.

At the Lisbon Summit, German Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, hailed NATO's opening to Russia as proof that the Cold War had finally ended (Deutsche Welle). One key outcome of the meeting was the decision to establish a joint missile shield to protect Alliance members and the invitation to Russia to cooperate in the effort (New York Times). Russian assistance might be helpful to prevent possible attacks from nuclear-armed states, especially Iran. However, NATO member Turkey insisted that Tehran not be named specifically as an adversary in order not to hinder talks with Iran (Zeit).

Among NATO member countries, Germany has traditionally distinguished itself in its advocacy for closer relations with Moscow. However, the precise mechanisms of that envisioned collaboration have yet to be determined. NATO prefers an add-on strategy of complementing its missile defense with the Russian one, with a U.S. general firmly in command. Moscow meanwhile insists upon an integrated system and a true partnership. There are fears that the Kremlin could consider a NATO missile shield without Russian participation as evidence that the nuclear balance in Europe would be altered to its disadvantage. Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev argues that this could potentially incite a new arms race in Europe (FAZ).

Nuclear disarmament also weighed heavily on the minds of the Americans at Lisbon. The Obama Administration faces Republican foot-dragging in the U.S. Congress on the ratification of the START agreement. The treaty's failure to pass the House could well "anger Russia," as journalists at one German public TV seem to fear (MDR).

In Germany meanwhile, a debate in the German Bundestag several days prior the Lisbon Summit brought to light diverging attitudes toward the Alliance. Rainer Stinner of the coalition FDP emphasized that NATO had a successful record in guaranteeing peace in Europe for over half a century. NATO would need to place added emphasis on Article 4 and become a hub for information exchange and cooperation on security issues for the same to hold true for another 60 years.

Gernot Erler, the deputy head of the SPD parliamentary faction in charge of foreign policy, meanwhile was the first of many parliamentarians to criticize the lack of transparency in discussing NATO's new strategic concept. Even though the Bundestag session had been scheduled for this express purpose of discussing the concept draft, German legislators had been given only restricted access to the classified paper. The lack of transparency stood in contradiction to the Alliance's declared values. Erler's fellow party member Uta Zapf declared that the SPD would continue to demand the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from German soil. With an eye to the missile shield, she criticized what she called using nuclear weapons as glue for the fabric of the transatlantic community.

The head of the opposition Green Party, Juergen Trittin, pointed out that NATO as a military alliance was ill-suited for dealing with threats such as cyber war. As Trittin put it, NATO could not well bomb Google. Many of the issues faced by the Atlantic Alliance today could only be properly addressed in the framework of police efforts. NATO should concentrate on its core mission - the military defense of Europe - instead of losing its focus by taking on too many tasks.

Gesine Loetzsch of the Left Party meanwhile insisted that NATO had simply outlived its purpose. The Alliance provided no answers to the more pressing problems of the day, such as trade wars or climate change. In her view, the military alliance merely perpetuated conflicts by intervening in countries like Afghanistan.

The chairman of the Bundestag Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ruprecht Polenz of the CDU, summed up the debate by saying that, in his opinion, three different attitudes toward NATO prevailed among German politicians: While the coalition parties and the SPD were generally in favor of NATO, the left Party was opposed to the Alliance, and the Green Party seemed partial to a step-by-step abolition of the defense structure by insisting on NATO's unilateral disarmament (Deutscher Bundestag).

The criticism of NATO voiced during the Bundestag debate foreshadowed the manner in which the Lisbon Summit was subsequently discussed in the German media. The moderately left-leaning Sueddeutsche Zeitung revealingly entitled one op-ed: "Between delusions of grandeur and a hangover." NATO's troublesome involvement in wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, it argued, was contributing greatly to sobering up the Alliance that so recently had celebrated victory over its Cold War foe.

In the absence of a tangible enemy, the Munich-based newspaper sees too little political will binding the Alliance together today. For the Europeans, the EU would provide a far more convenient venue for realizing their aspirations, while the U.S. would traditionally be weary of multinational organizations. NATO would only be able to solve this dilemma if it worked closer with other international bodies such as the EU, the UN, the Gulf states, and other regional bodies in Asia. Most importantly, it would have to speedily clarify its relations with Moscow. Without the Kremlin's close cooperation, the various crises from across the Caucasus into Central Asia simply could not be resolved (Sueddeutsche).

The more center-right elite daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung meanwhile cautions NATO to take its new relations with Moscow with a grain of salt. While President Obama gladly acknowledged the support of NATO's East European members for the missile shield project, the Russian President would need U.S. ratification of the START agreement before he could go home and advocate closer ties to NATO. Much of the old rivalries and realities remained in place, despite declarations of the "historic" nature of the summit. Attempts to rewrite history would not suit the Alliance, which after all was not "a club of intellectuals" (FAZ).

The left wing alternative Tageszeitung (taz) meanwhile argues that the "dream of Lisbon" - i.e. full and close cooperation between the "paper tiger" NATO and Russia on security issues - was unlikely to be realized. Moscow would rather attempt to dictate the terms under which it would tolerate the shield's construction. Moreover, the assessment of the threat scenarios was vastly different in Washington and in Moscow, where rogue states such as Iran did not figure prominently. NATO by contrast provided a much needed enemy image for Russia's elite, considering its intelligence service background and the fact that its socialization took place during the Soviet era. In the final count, the Russians needed NATO just as much as NATO needs the Russians (taz).

Photo Licence: CC-BY NATO

  • 0
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this Article! What's this?

Talia  Hagerty

December 8, 2010

  • 2
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
"Rainer Stinner of the coalition FDP emphasized that NATO had a successful record in guaranteeing peace in Europe for over half a century. NATO would need to place added emphasis on Article 4 and become a hub for information exchange and cooperation on security issues for the same to hold true for another 60 years."

This is a really interesting point. While I have a hard time understanding the perspective of some lawmakers who believe we still need to take a Cold-war-esque attitude toward cooperation with Russia, I realize that that perspective exists and must be addressed, especially after the US midterm elections. Perhaps this angle- an emphasis on consultation (Artile 4), information, and cooperation- could be the necessary compromise in easing NATO-Russian relations. NATO states have to realize that it does us no good to be seen as Russia's enemy. ("NATO by contrast provided a much needed enemy image for Russia's elite") Unifying the world powers, even if that requires compromises from the West, is a significantly more constructive strategy for dealing with Iran than trying to strong arm without full cooperation. The later will be seen as weakness. This movement toward cooperation and information exchange could be the best next step for NATO, as it will promote cooperation with Russia and ultimately, positive global strategy.

Commenting has been deactivated in the archive. We appreciate your comments on our more recent articles at


You are in the archive of all articles published on from 2007 to 2012. To read the latest articles from our open think tank and network with community members, please go to our new website