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NATO’s Bucharest Summit

Prof. Nivedita Das Kundu, Ph.D, Teaches at York University, Toronto, Canada, also President, Academic & International Collaboration, Liaison College, Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
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  • May 28, 2008

    At the NATO Summit in Bucharest, Ukraine and Georgia’s loss became Russia’s overall gain. Ukraine and Georgia wanted to get the invitation for the pre-membership programme in NATO, which is the last step to full membership. Before the summit, President Bush went to Kiev and promised Ukrainian leaders that he would do all to support their country’s membership in NATO. But strong opposition from France and Germany put paid to Ukrainian and Georgian hopes.

    Ironically, in Ukraine, society in general does not seem to be very enthusiastic about NATO membership. Most people are not even aware of this programme and some even feel that NATO is an aggressive military bloc. However, a pro-NATO membership movement started in September 2007 and the government continues to favour membership. In contrast, in Georgia, both civil society and government are favourable towards membership in NATO.

    Ukrainian leaders have tried to convince Russia and other NATO members that their country would prove to be the most pro-Russian member in the organisation mainly because Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is situated on its territory, but to no avail. Both Ukraine and Georgia ask why they cannot become NATO members when Russia has established co-operative links with the organisation.

    NATO-Russia formal relations began in 1991. Russia even joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 and participated in the Western Balkans till the Kosovo air campaign. The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was formed in 2002, which laid out the foundation for co-operation in joint decision making and joint action on a range of common goals and interests with regard to Euro-Atlantic security issues. NRC meetings take place regularly at a high government level. Thus, the Bucharest Summit was also considered as a NRC Summit, in which the heads of all 27 states participated. In 2007, NATO and Russia even celebrated the 10th anniversary of their partnership. Significant areas of cooperation between NATO and Russia over the past few years include the issues of non-proliferation, arms control (CFE, open skies, nuclear experts’ consultations,) military-to-military co-operation, defence reform, civil emergencies, search & rescue at sea, counter-narcotics training, etc. At the NRC meet in Bucharest, negotiations on Land Transit and Air Transport as well as on Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI) took place.

    The question of Putin’s invitation to participate in the Bucharest Summit was one of the most discussed issues before the Summit, as many expected Putin to reiterate his strong anti-West stance by delivering a speech similar to that in Munich on February 10, 2007. But Putin was constructive in his remarks and elaborated upon all the issues discussed, though he did mention Russia’s differences with other NATO members on the issues of Kosovo, the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, missile defence and NATO enlargement. There was no joint statement at the end of Summit, particularly given the differences on missile defence as well as on enlargement. Participants agreed only to the Chairman’s statement, in which NATO Secretary-General touched upon important issues at the Summit.

    One such issue concerned Land Transit Support for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Though there was no concrete agreement, a letter signed by NATO Secretary-General and Putin spoke about the establishment of a route for the transfer of non-lethal weapons through Russia to Afghanistan. This might, however, take some time to be implemented in practice because other countries are also involved; the transit route will wind through Poland, the Baltic States, Ukraine and the Central Asian Republics.

    The other important issue mentioned by NATO Secretary-General in his concluding statement was the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. Putin clearly pointed out at the NRC meeting that if the NATO allies do not change their position, Russia will completely withdraw from the CFE. According to Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the CFE treaty as well as the issue of missile defence will remain an issue for discussion between NATO and Russia for quite sometime.

    The most important issue at the Summit was the question of NATO enlargement to include Ukraine and Georgia. The communiqué of NATO allies pointed out that Ukraine and Georgia both will become NATO members in future, but it is not yet clear when this will happen. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stated that this issue is certainly going to constrain NATO-Russia co-operation in future. Nonetheless, in December 2008, the foreign ministers of NATO member-states will discuss the question of Ukraine and Georgia joining the NATO Membership Action Plan once again. However, Russia is bound to do everything possible to stop Ukraine and Georgia from receiving NATO membership.

    As far as the outlook for NATO-Russia relations is concerned, there will be co-operation on Afghanistan, which is something that NATO allies are interested in. According to Scheffer, Russia is keen on pushing NATO to develop relations with the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Though this issue was not discussed at Bucharest, it is likely to be raised by Russia in future. But some NATO allies are not satisfied with the CSTO’s role and do not wish to co-operate with Russia in this regard. Therefore, the idea of NATO-CSTO cooperation might not fructify in the near future.

    The question of Russia in NATO has been coming up repeatedly from 2000 onwards, when Putin indicated that his country would be interested in becoming a NATO member at some point in time. But Putin’s suggestion has not been taken seriously by the Western allies and it is not seen as feasible at this juncture. But what is possible and important is to formulate and conduct regular NATO-Russia dialogue and other practical co-operation. As it is said, NATO needs Russia and Russia NATO.