- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

REYKJAVIK, Iceland NATO accepted Russia as a de facto ally yesterday in the battle against post-Cold War ills such as terrorism, and it extended its sphere of operations beyond Europe and the Atlantic.
"These are the final rites of the funeral of the Cold War, with Russia as a friend and ally and no longer as an enemy. What we can now say for certain is that Russia is coming out of the cold as a partner, ally and friend," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
The foreign ministers also established a NATO-Russia Joint Council after five months of negotiations.
The joint council brings Russia into NATO's decision-making structure. But NATO officials said Moscow will not have a veto over any decision by the alliance.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and foreign ministers from 18 other NATO members, opening a two-day meeting with their counterpart from Russia, also emphasized that NATO remained relevant in a world plagued by terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and other threats.
NATO officials stopped short of specifying where alliance forces might be sent in the future.
But they said in a communiqu that "to carry out the full range of its missions, NATO must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time and achieve their objectives."
Asked whether the alliance would become involved in conflicts outside its original and current European-Atlantic area, a senior U.S. official said September 11 had "ended the out-of-area debate."
If the United States and its allies want to "defuse the threat" of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, there should be "no front line anymore," he said.
Mr. Powell told reporters that "the challenges NATO may be facing in the future won't always be located in Central Europe." The alliance "has to have the ability to move to other places," he said.
NATO invoked the common-defense Article 5 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, which established the pact, for the first time a day after last year's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. That clause, which states that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all, would have permitted NATO action in Afghanistan.
However, the United States, with help from Britain, waged the Afghan campaign without NATO involvement.
In recent weeks, a discussion about NATO's potential involvement in a resolution of the Middle East crisis has begun in both Western and Arab capitals.
NATO troops are envisioned as monitors of a future cease-fire agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The new joint council is to meet for the first time May 28 at an Italian air force base outside Rome, during a NATO summit.
Before that meeting, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will sign in Moscow a treaty reducing the two countries' nuclear arsenals to a level of between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads each.
The United States and Russia currently have between 6,000 and 7,000 warheads each.
Under yesterday's agreement between NATO and Russia, the new council will set joint policy on a fixed range of issues, including counter-terrorism; controlling the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; theater missile defense; peacekeeping; and management of regional crises, civil defense, military cooperation and arms control.
"Countries that spent four decades glowering at each across the wall of hatred and fear now have the opportunity to transform the future of Euro-Atlantic security for the better," said NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.
Mr. Powell said the United States believes the "foundation for increased cooperation between NATO and Moscow" can be laid "while fully protecting the alliance's ability to act independently."
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, while hailing the new relationship, said Moscow had not dropped its opposition to NATO enlargement.
In Prague, the alliance is considering applications from 10 nations from Central and Eastern Europe.
"Mechanical expansion is a relic of the old epoch," Mr. Ivanov told reporters. "It doesn't contribute to world security."
Although Mr. Ivanov has made similar remarks in the past, Mr. Putin has been much more cautious in voicing objection to NATO's expansion.
A senior U.S. official said all allies were "on the same page" with Washington in its determination for a "robust" expansion from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But the communique avoided the word "robust."
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and perhaps Slovakia are believed to have good chances of receiving invitations to join.
Mr. Powell also urged Washington's European allies in frank terms to avoid the creation of a two-speed NATO where the United States would take care of immediate crises with its overwhelming high-tech military power while others largely would be reduced to being bystanders.
"The United States, which has the largest defense budget of all, is continuing to add more money to our budget in order to deal with the threats we know are out there," he said. "We think all of our colleagues in NATO should be doing likewise."


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