- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

Despite Afghanistan's recent prominence, the most important international decisions in the past few days have not been in the worldwide meetings focusing on that country's fate. Rather, the key issues have involved Russia and the West, and the crucial meetings have turned round technical adjustments to a minor, and heretofore ineffective, piece of bureaucratic machinery, the so-called NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. Though the changes thus far are wholly bureaucratic, if properly implemented they can result in a geostrategic readjustment nothing short of earthquake proportions. For the first time in history, Russia could become fully aligned with the West.

Grand historical events can often turn on small beginnings. The current grand Russian realignment, if it is successful, will have begun because an American president with limited foreign experience was willing to walk into a room with his Russian counterpart without preconceptions. The resulting positive discussion led the Russian president promptly and productively to respond when America was struck on September 11. That establishment of personal trust now allows the opportunity for implementation of actual long-term cooperation between Russia and the West.

Here, however, is where the proposed NATO-Russia bureaucratic realignment becomes crucial. For the Bush-Putin effort to become effective will require the support of the real implementers of foreign policy who are, after all, not the heads of state, but their bureaucrats. The famous Truman dictum that, upon taking the presidency, "Poor Ike he'll sit here and say 'Do this' or 'Do that' and nothing will happen," illustrates that high level motivation is not enough. This is especially true since as one Russian defense writer has noted, "The new course is bound to provoke resistance from … officials who work out decisions in the fields of foreign and defense policy."

In those fields of foreign and defense policy, much of the Russian-Western relationship turns round NATO. But an effective NATO-Russia security arrangement requires a forum in which real problems can be jointly addressed. Until now, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council had badly failed in that regard. The NATO foreign ministers determined in principle that changing it into an effective instrument is crucial, but doing so in fact will require four key steps.

First, the success of this, like any new endeavor, will be enhanced by adopting a new name. If renaming sounds trivial, consult any advertising agency about its importance. Such a change sweeps away the vestiges of the past, allowing parties to act with a new frame of mind. Of course, renaming is far from enough for real change. The second critical step will be the establishment of processes that allow parties to work together effectively. Here, the key is that Russia needs to become part of a group of participants, all of whom who are reaching for consensus. Involving Russia in real security decisions will break important new ground.

Third, new substance also is crucial. Russia is not part of NATO and should not be involved in all matters, but there can be no serious discussion without serious subjects. In reality, however, common overlapping issues of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, Central Asia and peacekeeping present an important initial agenda on which Russia and NATO can cooperate. Finally, NATO is a military alliance, and to create a new security relationship requires some significant military arrangements. Here, new approaches are required. In order to implement the key area of cooperation, Russia needs to be involved in NATO military exercises regarding terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and missile defense. More broadly, especially given Russia's involvement in Bosnia and Kosovo, contingency chains of command for new activities can be established. Likewise, units that potentially will work together can train together regularly.

Successfully implementing what has been proposed in principle will be far from easy. Indeed, it should be understood that, to make NATO-Russia security cooperation successful, some real risks will have to be taken. For example, making Russia a real participant risks that it can politically if not legalistically block agreement on important issues. There is a significant chance that Russia may not play its part in responding on issues such as missile defense or weapons of mass destruction. Certainly, Russian bureaucrats, to now, have not been forthcoming. Working together militarily likewise will not be easy. There is a good deal of suspicion to overcome as well as the more mundane problems of different structures and limited funding. But the greater risk is to leave Russia unnecessarily outside the security framework for crucial common questions. This is both because Russia has important substance to offer and because Russian geostrategic involvement with the West will increase the benefit of that very security framework that NATO provides.

At the end of the day, NATO is strong enough to take the risks involved, and the benefits from achieving common interests are substantial. The foreign ministers seized the moment. Now comes the hard work of implementation.

Franklin D. Kramer is a former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs (1996-2001).

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