New NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called for “open-minded and unprecedented dialogue” with Russia to create a “true strategic partnership” on issues ranging from Afghanistan to terrorism to nuclear proliferation. While “Russia should realize that NATO is here and that NATO is a framework for our transatlantic relationship,” he argued, “we should also take into account that Russia has legitimate security concerns.”


James Blitz, reporting for the FT, reports that Rasmussen “admitted that differences remained between the western alliance and Russia on issues including the aftermath of last year’s conflict in Georgia and NATO’s possible enlargement to the republic and Ukraine” but nonetheless thinks it possible to cooperate on issues where there is common ground. Further, he said he had “an open mind” on Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s recent proposal for a new security architecture in Europe, adding “If such a dialogue could create more confidence and take into account legitimate Russian security concerns, it could be very fruitful.”

Bloomberg‘s James Neuger also reports that Rasmussen said in a video posting that, “North Korea already is nuclear and Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. That kind of world is neither in NATO’s nor in Russia’s interest. We can do more to prevent it.” He notes that “The proposals by Rasmussen, in office since Aug. 1, marked the first time the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has considered lending a hand in diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons” and adds, “Rasmussen’s overture offered a sneak preview of proposals he will make in a Sept. 18 speech on repairing NATO relations with the Kremlin, which were ruptured by Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, a would-be alliance member.”

The outreach follows the famous Obama administration effort to “push the reset button.”   This begs the question, however, as an FT editorial notes, of whether and when Russia will do its part.

Yet in spite of the goodwill, Russia appears neither engaged nor serious about tackling the world’s big security issues. This cannot go on.

The Kremlin has been constructive in some areas, of course. Russia has begun arms control talks with the US that should conclude in December. Russia is allowing the US to transit lethal goods across its territory to Afghanistan, assisting Nato’s struggle there. But more often than not, western diplomats wonder what kind of world the Kremlin wants to create. This week, it emerged that Russia is funding Venezuela with $2bn for weapons purchases, fuelling an unwanted arms race in Latin America. Russia has just begun military exercises with Belarus, provocatively called “Zapad” – or “west”. On Iran, meanwhile, Russia looks like it will again block attempts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Russia must recognise two things. First, it faces no conceivable threat from Nato. The alliance’s expansion to Georgia and Ukraine is on hold. Mr Obama is going cool on putting a missile defence shield in Europe, a project Russia feared. Russia should therefore respond by reducing security tensions in Europe, reversing its recent suspension of the continent’s main arms control treaty. It should not be making new security demands.

Secondly, Russia must harden its position on Iran’s nuclear plans.

While this is of course correct, one can readily see why Russia would see an expansionist NATO as a threat, if not to its security, to its ambitions to reassert itself as the dominant power in Europe’s east.  Further, making common cause with despots in South America and elsewhere is understandable if ultimately counterproductive.But it’s truly baffling that Moscow isn’t doing more to make common cause on the Iranian nukes issue.  Indeed, if anything, a nuclear Teheran poses more risk for Russia than the United States.  

Obama and Rasmussen are quite right to make this effort.  But at some point, Russia will have to reciprocate with good faith behavior. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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