- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn't be doing better. For the past three months, he has basked in the revitalized relationship with the United States as Russia has increased cooperation with America on fighting terrorism. Now British Prime Minister Tony Blair is proposing to create a Russia-North Atlantic Council in which Russia would be granted many of the rights of a NATO member without having to meet the preconditions for being one. As the NATO foreign ministers meet today in Brussels, both they and the Bush administration should make clear their skepticism toward the proposal. Russia's expanded role would not only be a recipe for bringing disunity into the alliance, but would cause NATO to compromise its objectives.

While Moscow should be commended for its support of the United States since September 11, rewarding Russia with virtual NATO membership is not appropriate. First, there is little need to create a new council. In 1997, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council was created, setting up the perimeters for joint action and increased cooperation between NATO and Russia. That council already allows for consultation on issues from security, to conflict prevention, to arms-control and exchange of information the same subjects that Mr. Blair's new council would address.

A precondition for the council established in 1997 was that consensus on joint-cooperation measures would be reached before meeting with Russia. The Blair proposal would negate those conditions, allowing Russia to participate in NATO's consensus-making process on certain issues. This would allow Russia to pit members of the alliance against each other, thus allowing Russia to have an unofficial veto right, and to stall consensus.

"It would change definitely the substance of the alliance," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told this page about Russia becoming a NATO member. "This wouldn't be any longer the alliance as we know it, even if you name it NATO," he said. "The question is, what would be the result if Putin would be successful to bring Russia really to the West … based in the same values we believe in: civil society, open society, rule of law, democratic change of power."

Russia has shown that at the present time it is not a part of the West. Mr. Putin continues an autocratic-style rule, suppressing freedom of the press and judicial independence and using the current war on terrorism to gain favor for his own genocidal campaign against the Chechen people. Aside from the difference of political and civil values, Russia poses security risks which must be resolved before Russia should be allowed to sit around the table with other NATO members in the decision-making process. For instance, Russia sold ballistic-missile goods and technology to China, Iran, India and Libya last year, and its contribution to rogue states remains uncertain, Bill Gertz of The Washington Times reported.

Russia is not ready for the Russian-North Atlantic Council, and its expanded role at this time would harm NATO's role as a consensus-builder within Europe. The Bush administration must not compromise the democratic and security values of the alliance in a quick-fix political move to please Russia.

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