The new secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has called on NATO to form closer ties with Russia, and suggested discussing linking missile defense systems. This is an excellent idea.
Mr Rasmussen, former prime minister of Denmark, has also said that NATO and Russia should focus on their common interests, and not their disagreements. It is easy for those in politics to pander to the hardliners in their constituencies by criticising and talking tough. But since the election of Barack Obama (and probably before then), the United States has adopted a more conciliatory attitude toward all its potential opponents. As yet, this new approach has reduced tension between the US and Russia. Barack recently cancelled US plans for components of a missile shield to be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet satellites, and the Russian government responded by shelving plans to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad.
Upholding the nuclear nonproliferation regime is one common interest of both NATO and Russia. Barack has taken action to show he is committed to nonproliferation, which will probably help his diplomatic efforts in places like Iran as well. Republican accusations that these actions will embolden America’s enemies and Czech opposition worries that they will endanger its nation are unfounded. Friends and foes alike take cues from the United States. If the US is building big weapons, they will too. If the US reduces missile stocks, other governments are expected to put their weapons development on hold. Fear drives militaries to order bigger and better weapons. Barack’s moves on missiles, and NATO’s greater cooperation with Russia, will reduce fear, not increase risk-taking. And to say that the US must be a bulwark against all possible threat from Russia is along the lines of the incorrect belief that the US can contain any and all threats direct against itself or its allies. It cannot. However, the deeper its ties to Russia are, the more painful sanctions will be to Russia if it becomes belligerent.
Russia and NATO also have common interests in fighting piracy and terrorism, and energy supplies. The Georgia question, human rights and so on will need to be addressed but it will soon be possible to discuss them against the backdrop of amicable talks. Until then, NATO and Russian governments should embrace confidence-building measures. These measures should include reciprocal information exchanges among security forces, joint military exercises and cooperation to reduce the spread of small arms and land mines around the world.
Not many of these suggestions are in the works but they are all possible ways of reducing animosity between two blocs that have been considering on the brink of a war of annihilation. If Mr Rasmussen stays on course, he will leave a legacy of peace.