- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

President Bush will begin his journey to Germany, France and Russia today, where he will discuss NATO policy with key allies and make official the administration's new love affair with Russia. At the top of the agenda for the trip will be how much power Moscow should receive in the new NATO-Russian Council, a decision which will reflect how relevant the Bush administration believes NATO to be. The greater the power Russia gets, the more irrelevant the alliance is. Mr. Bush must, at the very least, make clear that Russia will not have the capability to block decisions made by NATO members.
Last week, at a NATO pep rally in Reykjavik, Iceland, the alliance's foreign ministers agreed to a proposal by the United States and Britain to create the NATO-Russian Council, which will be made official May 28 in Rome. NATO Secretary-General George Robertson boasted of the new arrangement, in which the 19 members of the alliance would sit together with Russia, as one which would consist of "20 equals." Back home, the administration is trying to allay fears about the power this arrangement would give Moscow by saying that the changes are merely cosmetic and that NATO members would be able to overrule Russia where disagreements arise. That is not what Russia is hearing, nor does it reflect where NATO policy is now. While America was sleeping, Russia was able to skip the entire membership action plan process all other potential new members had to fulfill and was given a bigger voice in formulating policy on nine topics, including the war on terrorism, theater missile defense and crisis management.
What exactly does Russia's "preferred status" mean for the United States and NATO? At best, it further contributes to the alliance's deterioration from a military alliance into a political one, adding another dissenting voice to slow down decision-making. Remember Russia's recent track record with NATO: It didn't support U.S. bombing in Kosovo, then it lied to NATO by saying it would wait until alliance troops entered the country and upstaged the alliance by claiming it had control of the Pristina airport before the alliance troops arrived. Moscow has tried to drive a wedge between NATO's European allies and the United States on missile defense, has nurtured ties with NATO enemies Iraq and Iran and attempted to block the alliance's expansion into Eastern Europe. Even if Russia is being invited into the fold to "expand democracy," NATO needs a reality check. It has politely shut its eyes to vast human rights abuses in Russia's war on the Chechens, and there is no guarantee that this inhumane behavior will stop now. And now, NATO at the prompting of the United States and Britain wants to reward Russia with virtual membership in the institution it has discounted as irrelevant on the one hand and reviled as imperialistic on the other.
How have the U.S. and other NATO member-states allowed this to happen? Perhaps they are content with NATO as a political institution, a toothless alliance whose time as a military institution has been outdated since the end of the Cold War. This is surely dangerous in a time when the United States and Europe need more than ever to be allied in the war against terrorism. Russia's virtual membership in NATO degrades the alliance that has successfully fought threats around the world for 53 years. It is time for NATO to wake up.


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