23 October 1998 - 24 October 1998

NATO’s Eastward Relationships

Chair: The Honorable Dr William J Perry KBE

Our conference theme was one of continuous international importance;  but we met at a time when this importance was heightened by a combination of factors, including the additional political and economic turbulence in Russia and the prospect of a high-profile summit meeting in spring 1999 in Washington to mark NATO’s fiftieth anniversary.

What was the Alliance’s record of achievement so far, alongside its own re-shaping, in developing constructive relationships with countries East of its current boundary?  Not bad, suggested some voices, and in useful ways events were leading words, as in cooperation on the ground in Bosnia;  even if, as other voices noted, the Russian troop presence there was modest and service therein no aid to promotion in the Russian army, Russian participation was useful both as stimulus to the habit of cooperation and as helping politically in respect of the Dayton accord and of dealings with Serb interlocutors.  There ranked moreover on the credit side, as regards Central Europe, the big 1997 agreement in Madrid – subsequently and significantly endorsed by the United States Congress – to admit three new Alliance members;  and also the establishment of such mechanisms as the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the NATO-Russia Founding Act, the Permanent Joint Council between NATO and Russia, and the entire Partnership for Peace programme.  But, said other voices, the substance of this was at best uneven.  The new vessels lacked sustained content, and their use needed more imagination, commitment (as for example in EAPC and PJC attendance by Ministers, not just officials) and solid implementation.  And, crucially, the relationship drive was at its least successful in respect of Russia.

We knew that Russia now faced massive change and uncertainty – even moral crisis, we heard it suggested – dramatised by the economic shock of August 1998 and then by the further decline in President Yeltsin’s physical capacity.  We were not wholly sure – nor indeed might Russian leaders themselves be – which among alternative future paths was most likely to be followed.  Was concentration upon free-market-based reform dead?  -  some thought Yes, and that the era of Western illusion about this should end;  but judgement was not unanimous.  On any view, though, it would remain hard to expect from Russia any clear new definition of its security policy or of consistent attitude towards NATO other than an instinctive preference that it should neither expand nor prosper.  The continuing demand that Russia be treated as a great power, a special country in the world, would sit awkwardly alongside conditions which would tempt those looking through economic spectacles to see just another second-order emerging market in trouble.  Within Russia, a desire among élite opinion to be a positive partner of the West might be offset by growingly resentful nationalism among publics and in the Duma.

The West for its part must want the positive-partner strand of policy to prevail, with Russia – notably though not only as a permanent Security Council member – in the international mainstream, integrated into world systems including global security policies.  Whether or not that happened would be decided primarily in Russia, but actions by the West could play a part, for example through sensitivity and consultation.  That part however could not sensibly extend to giving Russia a wholesale veto on policies towards independent countries of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, or the right to insert herself into the heart of NATO decision-making.

These generalities bore us swiftly to the tough central issue of NATO enlargement.  Westward of Russia the Madrid decision to admit Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had been widely welcomed and progress so far seemed satisfactory, though we heard it stressed that practical absorption into an already-changing Alliance was a big and complex task.  But in Russia itself the event had played badly;  whatever the arguments as seen in the West, perception and indeed myth mattered;  NATO had for several decades been seen as unquestionably a Bad Thing;  and though an occasional contrary voice might be heard (and one might suspect that simple opposition to NATO might for some be just a facile rallying-cry when other shared rallying-cries were hard to find)  no Duma member – and the Duma must be reckoned with seriously, just like the United States Congress -–could afford to be heard in any sense other than robust disapproval of the Madrid enlargement and, still more, of any further wave.

Among our Western participants there was no suggestion to be heard of abandoning Madrid’s “open door” policy, or of conceding any decisive force to Russian preferences in respect of enlargement.  But there was a strong current of opinion that the impact in Russia (whether objectively justified or not) ought to be accepted as one of several considerations pointing to a very measured pace – of both words and action – in respect of a second wave.  The Alliance was entitled to consider above all its own all-round interest, not just the importunings (even if intensified by Russian or Balkan turbulence) of disappointed suitors or their particular patrons.  It would be contrary to that interest to move on to a second wave (which would, more than incidentally, be no easy matter in the US Congress) in ways that compounded both the internal adaptation burden and the management of relationships with a European neighbour as important as Russia must always be.  Some argument was put forward that NATO enlargement was being asked to bear an inappropriately large and early share of the historic political task of reabsorbing ex-Communist countries into Europe “whole and free”, and that the real lead in that task ought to lie with the European Union;  if – as was evidently so – EU accession lay on a long and demanding road, that might be an apt reflection of prudent reality and timescale.  And for the management of disappointment meanwhile in respect of NATO membership the model of Finland – fully suited for membership if it chose, but with a long and mature understanding that real security would not be enhanced by avoidably uncomfortable interface with Russia – might play a useful role.

Ought NATO soon to define the outer limits of possible eventual membership?  What about Russia itself?  Some of us thought this last idea such manifest fantasy that pretence about it should not be attempted;  but others were not quite so sure about the unforeseeable long term, and saw anyway little merit in slamming doors.  In this as in other aspects of our theme there was positive virtue in not attempting perfect clarity, in not essaying answers to questions not immediately demanding them, and in letting relationships – especially with a Russia so unsettled – evolve pragmatically through the tackling of events, whether in the Balkans or elsewhere, rather than by grand design.  We harboured hopes that in such ways, and over time, and perhaps by renewed Alliance efforts within Russia itself at explanation, there might develop among Russian decision-makers and publics a less neuralgic view of NATO, gradually moving towards accepting what was already the received understanding among present members: that the Alliance was no longer primarily “about” a massive adversary to the East, but was directed to combining efficiently the capacity of its member countries in support of a deep political will to act together in security matters addressed simply “To whom it may concern”.  NATO positively wanted to work with and not against Russia, and needed to operate sensitively and in listening mode to that end;  but this could not be made a limiting condition of its activity if historic hang-ups continued, for example, to see NATO as just a cover for US hegemony in an old-fashioned spheres-of-influence frame of reference.

We asked ourselves how far eastward, among the states of the former Soviet Union, NATO should see its active interests extending.  It was vigorously urged that there was still too strong a habit – and a related nomenclature – of regarding the new states East and South-East of Moscow as not quite real (indeed, said one voice, the propensity among some of them to look toward Moscow when in trouble suggested that such a perception might not be purely external).  Russia remained touchy about, for example, Partnership-for-Peace exercises within the former empire.  Our debate remained inconclusive.  On the one hand, no-one was keen to concede to Russia a chasse gardée in respect of independent United Nations members (some of them, moreover, of mounting economic importance);  on the other, there were powerful arguments against regarding NATO as the best instrument for furthering what were legitimate Western interest in the region (not only in its development but also in its stability, and in combating any risks from drugs, terrorism or uncontrolled migration), and against seeking to move policy (or likely domestic political support) to rate concerns there high among NATO priorities.

The Partnership-for-Peace programme was of course a major theme in our discussions.  It had notable successes to its credit with several non-members of the Alliance, and attitudes to its further development – for example perhaps through more designation of specific military units for NATO’s Planning Review Process -were widely positive.  But there was still need for more substantial content and for more resources (inescapably, mostly from existing NATO countries) to support such content.  We heard spirited pleas for more genuine and challenging joint activity – embracing for instance combat operations, not just peace-keeping, and more exchanges of both military and civil personnel.  It was not clear that entirely new ideas were needed;  an extensive menu had already been identified, and there was strong opposition to extending this to fields like the anti-narcotics and anti-terrorist drives, for which NATO arguably had neither mandate nor primary skills;  but political impetus needed enhancement.  This would be all the more desirable if, as many of us believed, PfP needed to move closer to centre-stage to take some of the political strain from deferring further enlargement.

In respect of Russia, however, PfP remained largely without substance.  Ideas were not lacking;  there might, for example, be useful two-way learning about peace-keeping experience, as well as contacts to share NATO experience in matters – like military structural reform for new roles, the shift away from conscription and the strengthening of democratic control over armed forces – in which Russia recognised the need for change.  But little of this could be given life so long as basic Russian instincts about NATO remained so negative and the inclination towards dialogue on security matters so much weaker in Moscow than in the West.  We reminded ourselves nevertheless that there were some issues, like the re-shaping of the arms-control treaty on force levels in Europe, where discussion with Russia was of the essence.  We wondered also whether there might be further scope and value (and reassurance to Russia about the continued acceptance of her global importance) in engaging her in wider dialogue on nuclear-weapon issues – not just those directly springing from Western concerns about Russia’s own armoury, as over the security of its maintenance or the still-high numbers of non-strategic systems, but also questions of global management like the general arms-control agenda, counter-proliferation, South Asia and Chinese secrecy.

We knew, as a reality in the Alliance’s own dynamics, that the Washington summit meeting would be a powerful crystalliser of several of the issues we were considering.  We heard it said – to the dismay of many participants – that the meeting would find it hard (not least amid domestic US pressures and high media interest) to refrain from going beyond Madrid in respect of second-wave enlargement.  If, as the dismayed keenly hoped, this was to be avoided, there would be all the more need to advance the re-invigoration of PfP in order to play a major part in the presentation of summit success.  We doubted whether the burden of that presentation could be borne just by the celebration of half a century and of three new members, or new developments in the European Security and Defence Identity such as the United Kingdom government seemed to be seeking to promote, or the prospective endorsement of a new Strategic Concept for a new environment;  we noted in passing that in the latter respect there was indirectly another “Russian” angle, in that the issue of how far NATO military action outside Article V of the 1949 Treaty should be conditional upon UN legitimation imported the issue of not making such action hostage to Russian veto.  But an evident reaching-out to Russia in one way or another should be an important summit component, albeit one not easily compatible with further movement on additional enlargement.  We recognised that expectations of such movement were high among applicant countries, and that prior cooling of such expectations would be both important and difficult.  (But we recognised too that clamant needs in the Balkans – pperhaps closely involving Russia – might in the event prove to overshadow all these issues at the summit.)

We were conscious, at the end of our conference, that there were aspects too thinly discussed;  we had said little about the role of the OSCE, for example, and last-minute mischances had attenuated participation from Central European countries to the detriment of our addressal of particular developments and concerns there, though we had well registered Ukraine’s importance.  But we could not regret having focused so extensively on the lasting significance of the NATO/Russia relationship, and on the need for both sides to put constructive effort into its development.  We looked with a touch of apprehension towards the Washington summit, with its opportunities and risks, and beyond that perhaps to the possibility that the issues we had examined – especially that of enlargement – might play a part, and not necessarily a benign one for the relationship, in Presidential election campaigns in both the United States and Russia.  Prudence, patience and a mature readiness not to push too hard on the sharper issues amid awkward and competing tensions might be needed – and tested – on all sides.

This report reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: The Honorable Dr William J Perry KBE
Professor, School of Engineering and Senior Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University;  formerly United States Secretary of Defense


Professor J L Black
Professor of History, Carleton University, Ottawa
HE David Wright
Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council

Ms Mette Kjuel Nielsen
Deputy Permanent Undersecretary (International Affairs), Ministry of Defence

Rear Admiral Juhani Kaskeala
Head of Defence Policy Department, Ministry of Defence

Monsieur Marc Perrin de Brichambaut
Director of Strategic Affairs, Ministry of Defence
Monsieur Olivier Debouzy
Lawyer, August & Debouzy
Madame Thérèse Delpech
Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique, Paris;  formerly adviser to the Prime Minister on politico-military affairs
Monsieur François Heisbourg
Formerly Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies

HE Baron Hermann von Richthofen GCVO
Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council

Mr Kyoji Komachi
Managing Director, General Affairs Department, Japan International Cooperation Agency

General Hendrik Van den Breemen
Adjutant to HM The Queen of the Netherlands;  lately Chief of Defence Staff

Mr Witold Sobków
Deputy Head of Mission and Minister Plenipotentiary, Polish Embassy, London

Mr Andrei A Kokoshin
Vice-President, Russian Academy of Sciences
Dr Sergei K Oznobistchev
Director, Institute for Strategic Assessments, Russian Academy of Sciences
Dr Tatiana Parkhalina
Deputy Director, Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences

Mr Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP
Liberal Democrat spokesman on foreign affairs and defence
Dr Paul Cornish
Centre of International Studies, Cambridge
HE Sir John Goulden KCMG
Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council and the Permanent Council of Western European Union
Field Marshal Lord Inge GCB DL
Former Chief of the Defence Staff
Mr Christopher Long CMG
Lately Ambassador to Hungary
The Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC
Lately Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Mr Roland Smith CMG
Director, International Security, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Colonel Terence Taylor
Assistant Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies

HE Kostyantyn Gryshchenko
Ambassador to NATO

Mr Robert A Bradtke
Deputy Chief of Mission, American Embassy, London
The Honorable Dr Ashton B Carter
Ford Foundation Professor of Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
The Honorable James F Collins
Ambassador to the Russian Federation
The Honorable Robert E Hunter
Senior Advisor, RAND Corporation;  lately Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council
Mr Christopher J Makins
Senior Adviser, German Marshall Fund of the United States
General Brent Scowcroft KBE
Founder and President, The Forum for International Policy;  formerly National Security Adviser
General John M Shalikashvili
Visiting Professor, Institute for International Studies, Stanford University;  lately Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Dr Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall
Senior Advisor, Stanford-Harvard Preventive Defense Project; Visiting Scholar, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University
The Honorable Helmut Sonnenfeldt
Guest Scholar, The Brookings Institute
Professor Richard H Ullman
Center of International Studies, Princeton University