5.  Conclusion

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5.1.  Research focus and structure of results

In the three previous chapters I have traced and analyzed developments that have shaped the relationship between NATO and Russia since the relationship was officially given an exclusively bilateral institutionalized framework with the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation. Using the key “building blocks” of this relationship, namely the PJC, the NRC, the war in Kosovo and 9/11 and its aftermath as independent variables that have crucially influenced this relationship, I have established certain patterns of interaction between the two actors, some more unexpected than others. Breaking the different stages of this relationship down chronologically as well as by form and content has yielded important results relating to my dependent variable. In this final chapter I will first briefly summarize the major findings, referring back to the research questions and hypotheses formulated in chapter 1. I will then discuss how these findings should be situated within the larger research context, as well as what their specific meaning is as far as the dependent variable is concerned. Finally, I will place the results of this dissertation within the wider framework of existing literature, and suggest areas that might be elaborated on in future research.

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The objective of this dissertation has been to assess the quality of the relationship between NATO and Russia since its bilateral institutionalization in 1997. The bulk of this thesis consists of an analysis of the institutional frameworks that are in place and the visible outcomes produced. Unlike many other analyses that concern themselves with NATO-Russia interaction, I have tried to focus less on who is responsible for improvements and deteriorations in NATO-Russia relations, instead opting for an analysis of joint policy decisions and operations that serve as indicators of the quality of NATO–Russia interaction. Very often, analysts conclude that it is up to the Russians to decide whether or not NATO-Russia relations qualitatively improve. Also, the incidents in the past ten years that resulted in the deterioration of NATO-Russia relations are often seen as being due to Russian overreaction, implying that a change in Russian policy is required in order to get real results out of the partnership between NATO and Russia. I would argue that this is a one-sided viewpoint for several reasons. First, rather than analyzing internal Russian foreign policy formation per se, I have focused on one aspect of the outcome of this foreign policy, namely, the actual interaction between the two players. Second, bias exists where the policy analysis of a nation-state or that of an organization is concerned. Assessments of national foreign policy take into account how history, psychology, personal leadership, and many other variables factor into the process of foreign policy-making. International organizations, however, are more seldom analyzed with consideration of these “human” factors; they are more often perceived as professionalized bodies that implement fairly rational foreign policy due to their internalized processes and standards.

Therefore, most analyses hold Russia responsible for low points in the relationship between NATO and Russia. Russia’s negative attitude toward NATO, and especially NATO enlargement is the result of a “traditional self-understanding of superpower”, that coexists with the reality of a painful loss of geopolitical influence in Europe.519 In his treatise on the second round of NATO enlargement, Frank Umbach’s main point is that if Russia were to give up its great power aspirations, a whole new security scenario might become possible in Europe, including Russian membership in NATO.520 Even though Umbach’s chapter is entitled “The second round of NATO enlargement from a Russian point of view” it would be more appropriate to call it “Russia’s attitudes toward the second round of NATO enlargement from a Western point of view”. For reasons mentioned above, NATO is usually considered to be the rational organization that seeks to enhance security in Europe, whereas Russia is considered to be a fairly emotional actor whose foreign policy goes against rational considerations. Though assessments such as Umbach’s certainly also hold more than a grain of truth, it is remarkable how uneven the roles of constructive and deconstructive part are distributed among NATO and Russia in IR literature. This point was already made in the introduction with a reference to Tsygankov and Tsygankov, who caution against Western bias in IR literature.521 I have offered one possible explanation for the imbalance in assessments that relate to the NATO-Russia relationship. However, as was pointed out in the introduction, the purpose of this dissertation is not to analyze shortcomings of IR theory as far as biases are concerned. Nevertheless, keeping in mind this issue, I have attempted to avoid making a normative assessment of the relationship. Instead, I have focused on treaties, meeting minutes, joint operations and joint training exercises. It is of course impossible to write a dissertation that is wholly free of normative judgements, since they serve as ontological underpinning. Still, instead of assessing the individual players’ choices and preferences, I have opted for a structural or systemic approach; an approach that focuses more on the opportunities and constraints that the actors are faced with than on individual preferences.

For this reason, I have opted for an analysis that focuses, on the one hand, on outcomes and on theories that are located on the macro level on the other. In the beginning of the theory chapter I outlined some challenges that had to be addressed concerning research design and implementation. First and foremost there was the difficulty of analyzing two different units, or, in this case, actors: one a nation-state and the other an international organization. In an effort to establish symmetry between these two different units of analysis, I chose to consider both as unitary actors, which also implied that both NATO and Russia were assessed according to outputs, rather than according to internal decision-making procedures. This, in turn, enabled an analysis of the visible outcomes produced by my dependent variable: joint operations and missions such as IFOR/SFOR and KFOR, Operation Active Endeavour, the NATO-Russia Action Plan against Terrorism to name but a few. The independent variables, in turn, served as road map to facilitate interpretation of the relationship between NATO and Russia. Interestingly, the pairing of independent variables – PJC/NRC and Kosovo/9/11 – resulted in findings that were not initially expected: the influence on the dependent variable that each of the individual independent variables actually yielded had to be reassessed; a result that I will discuss in more detail in the next section.

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This dissertation started from the premise that NATO itself was attached to the relationship between NATO and Russia:

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has attached particular importance to the development of constructive and cooperative relations with Russia. Over the past ten years, NATO and Russia have succeeded in achieving substantial progress in developing a genuine partnership and overcoming the vestiges of earlier confrontation in order to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation.522

This passage implies that NATO and Russia have distanced themselves from considering each other enemies and have embarked on a path towards partnership. Technically, this meant finding a common language, largely by defining common threats and common approaches to dealing with them: “Working together to address these challenges is in the interest of both sides and contributes to the further strengthening of the basis of mutual trust which is essential for peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”523 Overcoming confrontation and strengthening trust and cooperation through the identification of common threats and joint action thus constitutes the basis of the relationship between NATO and Russia.

5.2. Summary of results

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The recurring theme that characterizes the findings of this dissertation is that neither cooperation nor conflict appropriately describes NATO–Russia relations, either in the past or in the present. For a better reflection of reality, I have chosen to juxtapose conflict and cooperation rather than confrontation and cooperation. Literature that concerns itself with establishing patterns of interaction often uses the dichotomous pairing of “confrontation and cooperation” as a guideline. However, the term confrontation is somewhat anachronistic as far as NATO and Russia are concerned. The relationship between NATO and Russia, or rather, between NATO and the USSR during the Cold War was what can only be described as confrontational. However, this pattern of interaction is no longer descriptive of the quality of relations between NATO and Russia. The term confrontation implies that active acts of aggression, or at least, threats of aggression, are pursued by one or another actor – a premise that is clearly not valid anymore. I have therefore opted for the term conflict, which more accurately describes current and past situations. This differentiation of terms already lies at the heart of this dissertation’s research interest: conflict implies a different status quo from confrontation. At the other end of the spectrum, cooperation implies an effective pooling of interests and capacities that serves the best interests of both parties. It is largely this status quo that official texts and treaties between NATO and Russia refer to – a spirit of cooperation that has ended a history of confrontation.

My research has revealed that neither confrontation or cooperation, or even conflict and cooperation, adequately describe the relationship between NATO and Russia. First of all, I have already pointed out in various sections of this dissertation that an assessment of NATO-Russia relations also depends on one’s own ontology. From a historical perspective, the fact that NATO and the successor state to the Soviet Union are no longer out to destroy one another according to the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction is proof enough that confrontation between the two actors is indeed a thing of the past – and that any conflict scenarios that might emerge should not be overemphasized. This assessment nevertheless runs the risk of significantly lowering expectations about the quality of relations between NATO and Russia. Conversely, interpreting developments in the relationship between the two actors as a series of thinly veiled antagonisms that stand in lieu of open confrontation is just as counterproductive.

5.2.1.  Hypotheses, theory and case study reviewed

A major finding of this research project is that the two extremes do not fit the status quo between NATO and Russia. I would also argue that it is not enough to claim that the status quo of the relationship between the two actors is somewhere in between cooperation and confrontation – though this is certainly not untrue. In the introductory chapter I introduced the concept of a certain “irritation”524 that continues to influence the way both actors perceive each other, and the actions that are a result of this perception. This irritation is embedded in the structural confines in which NATO and Russia find themselves. Therefore, the tenets of realism that privilege the concepts of power, perception of strength and imbalance of capabilities are still crucial for understanding NATO–Russia interaction. This, in turn, relates to the first hypothesis I proposed: that neither friendship nor cooperation, nor outright antagonism nor confrontation is characteristic of NATO–Russia relations. A zero-sum mentality can still be discerned – at least on the part of the Russian side. Western critics of Russian foreign policy and Russian attitudes in general usually put forward that less than perfect results of NATO–Russia interaction are due to a persistent Russian zero-sum approach to international politics, as noted earlier. This has two implications: first, it is indeed true that zero-sum logic to NATO–Russia relations keeps on resurfacing periodically. In spite of the PJC and the NRC, both rounds of enlargement were viewed with extreme scepticism by Russia, in contrast to the enthusiasm shown by NATO. The two rounds of NATO enlargement are obvious indicators of incidents where realist conceptualizations of IR theory were at play from the Russian point of view. The second implication of zero-sum logic in NATO-Russia relations is somewhat more complex, as it is really a zero-sum scenario where only one actor consistently sees himself as being caught up in a zero-sum situation, and moreover, as the loser of that game.

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This – perceived or actual – inequality has in the past led to frictions that have impeded closer cooperation; this is what I refer to as the structural “glass ceiling” that NATO and Russia hit in their efforts towards an ever-closer partnership. Whereas NATO has always insisted that it is committed to working with Russia as an equal partner – at least since 2002 – the existing structures have not succeeded in providing the equality and partnership originally sought. This is also a consequence of a lack of perspectives: in spite of the plethora of partnership programs that NATO has extended to partner countries, the ultimate goal for most of those partner countries has been membership. There are of course regions that are engaged in partnership schemes with NATO, but that are geographically too remote in order to be considered membership aspirants, such as the countries of the Mediterranean Dialogue (Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia). In the case of the former member states of the Soviet Union, however, membership has always been – and continues to be – the ultimate goal; a fact that has consistently been threatening to Russia. This, in turn, is also due to the fact that membership perspectives for Russia itself are non-existent, as well as being undesired by the vast majority of Russians. A fairly important segment of the Russian elite, the so-called “Westerners”, has consistently argued in favor of Russian membership in western institutions, including NATO. For example, Tatiana Parkhalina, Deputy Director of INION RAN, argues that Russia has no alternative to pursuing a partnership with the West, including NATO.525 Furthermore, Parkhalina argues that a Russian decision against “joining” the West would represent a policy failure with potentially grave consequences. Parkhalina specifically notes that this failure to adopt a more western-oriented foreign policy would have repercussions within the other CIS states, where anti-Russian sentiment is fairly wide-spread.526

Assessments such as these are minority opinion, however, and they mostly do not figure into the Kremlin’s decisions (anymore). Instead, Russia pursues a policy of “independence, non-Westernism, and of self-identification in an independent role”, according to Alexei Salmin, President of the Russian Public Policy Center.527 This naturally precludes becoming a member of NATO. At the same time, there is no precedent that could serve as a guide to approaching this problem: Russia is too large and geographically too close to Europe not to figure prominently on the agenda of western institutions. At the same time, it is questionable whether Russia in NATO would be in either actor’s interest, as this “ultimate” enlargement would imply a transformation of the Alliance that goes beyond the effect that the end of the Cold War in itself has had on NATO. Furthermore, whether accepted by NATO and the West in general or not, Russia continues to claim a different status and thus more attention for itself than any other post-Soviet state. To the West, this is the cause for many problems between Russia and NATO. To Russia, it is the reason for those problems – a dichotomy that is not likely to be resolved in the near future. Alexei Salmin explains that the loss of empire experienced by Russia was not fully understood by the West on the one hand, and, on the other, it happened to quickly in order for Russians to be able to adapt to it.528 Parkhalina adds to this statement that NATO continues to be afraid of Russia, albeit to a lesser extent than that to which Russia objects to NATO. According to Parkhalina, the crisis over Kosovo revealed not only how Russia still acts according to Cold War patterns, but also how NATO does; this situation is criticized by Parkhalina, who argues that being too cautious vis-à-vis Russian concerns is counter-productive for NATO, the West, and for Russia, which would better be served by seeking closer ties with the West.529

The mutual ambivalence that is characteristic of NATO and Russian attitudes towards each other continues to shape both actors’ actions and perceptions. Additionally, the perceived imbalance of power positions from which the two actors are negotiating further complicates matters. As I have explained previously, the general attitude towards NATO-Russia cooperation, and western–Russian relations more generally, is that if Russia stopped mourning the loss of empire, then partnership schemes and cooperation would be easier to achieve. Conversely, Russia feels that this attitude is patronizing and that unless Russian interests are being taken into consideration, partnership and cooperation will lack substance. According to Alexei Salmin, this position is a combination of Russian cultural history and of perceived anti-Russian sentiments that are especially present in the new member states of the EU and of NATO.530 Salmin argues that the two sides are not ready to understand each other, but that a mutual understanding needs to be established over time. This is also the reason why, according to Salmin, present institutional arrangements are less than adequate.531 Salmin views the NRC as a tool that imitates cooperation while at the same time still reflecting the traditional situation of conflict between the two actors.532 Salmin argues that the NRC is “necessary but not yet adequate”, and that a lot remains to be done in terms of defining cooperation and partnership. This is largely due to a lack of trust, which becomes apparent when looking at the results and outcomes of the NRC. If the NRC worked properly, according to Salmin, then there would be more visible results – and this would also entail enhanced military and technical cooperation, in which, at the moment, neither side invests adequately.533 Finally, Salmin makes the point that certain issues should not be confined to the NATO-Russia sphere, because they are really of global importance, e.g. the fight against terrorism. Salmin also makes an implicit call for multipolarity, as he argues that building local alliances will be essential for solving global problems.534

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The second component of Hypothesis 1 stated that there is a certain misconception regarding how key dates that have influenced the way NATO and Russia interact. For the purposes of this dissertation, this has meant evaluating the independent variables and their influence on the dependent variable. In chapter 3 I demonstrated that the most important divergence from the bulk of analytical pieces that my research has identified is the impact that the Kosovo crisis has had on NATO–Russia relations. It was topical to speak of a “new ice age” between the two actors after NATO decided to engage in air strikes against Serbia without a UN mandate – which would never have been possible in the first place due to an inevitable Russian veto in the Security Council. The crisis in Kosovo and the temporary disbanding of the PJC is considered to be the nadir of NATO–Russia relations, or, to use the terminology of this research project, Kosovo is the event that stands for outright conflict. However, I concluded that this is an oversimplification of the facts and, moreover, obscures the underlying issues that were contributing to an escalation of the conflict.

One NATO official argued that “Kosovo didn’t destroy anything that had been of value”535 with regard to NATO–Russia interaction. There are several reasons why this assessment is important. First of all, it reveals that the existing institutional structures were not adequate for dealing with a crisis like Kosovo: the PJC formula of 19 plus 1, or 19 against 1 as Russia saw it, was not seen as a platform of negotiation and cooperation, but rather as an instrument to solidify existing imbalances of assets and capabilities, and therefore, of power. Hence, the eruption of the crisis over NATO intervention in Kosovo was a consequence of structures that Russia had felt uncomfortable with since the implementation of the PJC. In chapter 2 I refer to the development of NATO–Russia relations as a pendulum that swings between cooperation and conflict, never really stabilizing on either side. During the Kosovo crisis and for months after, the pendulum remained towards the conflict end of the spectrum. It did not, however, change the quality of the entire relationship. With the exception of the dash for Pristina airport536, there were no pronounced hostilities among troops stationed in the Balkans during 1999. Moreover, the PJC resumed its meetings, and, as empirical evidence shows, the topics that were discussed at the 2000 PJC meetings did not differ significantly from those that were discussed up until April 1999. Therefore, Kosovo did not constitute the great fall-out between NATO and Russia that it is often made out to be.

Similarly, the antonymous counterpart to Kosovo in terms of representing the initiative to cooperate, namely 9/11 and its aftermath, also needs to be evaluated with more care. It is true that immediately after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Kremlin made an unprecedented move by offering unconditional support to the US. It is also true that the joint fight against terrorism is the most visibly successful endeavor that NATO and Russia have embarked upon. Cooperation in Operation Active Endeavour (OAE)537 and the NATO-Russia Action Plan on Terrorism538 would not have been possible without the events of 9/11 and the ensuing re-evaluation of global strategies and alliances that took place. Also, there is a marked increase in the actual quality of cooperation that both OAE and the NATO-Russia Action Plan on Terrorism have generated. From the outset, OAE has been what one NATO official calls “the flagship of NATO–Russia cooperation.”539 Therefore, 9/11 and its aftermath can certainly be associated with a new spirit of cooperation between NATO and Russia, and an argument could be made that OAE and the NATO-Russia Action Plan on Terrorism are the two joint NATO-Russia ventures that resulted in the pendulum swinging further towards the cooperation side. These developments might suggest that the pendulum as an indicator of the qualitative relationship between NATO and Russia not only lingered on the cooperation side, but was even in the process of remaining there.

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While the achievement that the existence of OAE and of the NATO-Russia Action Plan on Terrorism represents should not be slighted, it is not a foregone conclusion that the spirit of cooperation will prevail. In fact, this spirit has already undergone significant changes in the last few years and is no longer characterized by the unequivocal support that Russia offered to the United States in September of 2001. As I have outlined with reference to empirical evidence throughout chapter 3, there are indications that the window of opportunity for cooperation has closed and that once again the old structural confines limit the quality and quantity of cooperation between the two actors. The promise of unwavering support that Russia made after the 9/11 attacks has also become somewhat more relative, as there is a strong consensus among analysts that this decision was largely taken in order to give Russia bargaining power: a directly reciprocal scenario where Russia would promise its support in return for a western promise to reduce criticism of Russia’s handling of Chechnya.540 This bargain did not materialize, however, and Russian participation in the fight against terror – apart from its participation in OAE – remains conspicuously low-key. This, in turn, suggests that 9/11 should not exclusively be associated with cooperation, just as Kosovo should not be associated exclusively with conflict between NATO and Russia.

The second hypothesis put forward in the introductory chapter was of a more theoretical nature. Hypothesis 2 stipulated that neither realism nor constructivism wield sufficient explanatory power to explain the developments in and the quality of the relationship between NATO and Russia. Whereas realism does not explain how it was possible for NATO and Russia to develop institutionalized relations in the first place, constructivism doesn’t account for the difficulties that have characterized this relationship from the outset. In my theoretical chapter, I demonstrated that realism and its concept of constant struggle among actors to gain advantage over one another do not capture the status quo. However, neither does the constructivist proposition of norm convergence, according to which NATO and Russia should gradually develop a shared sense of security interests. Empirical evidence does not support the claim that the two actors have reached a state where one can really speak of a convergence of norms, ideas and interests. In chapter 2 I presented a thorough analysis of which aspects of realism and constructivism are useful in order to theoretically conceptualize the status quo of NATO–Russia relations, as well as indicating which aspects are not convincing. I explained my reasons for choosing constructivism and realism as theoretical approaches – as well as why I did not focus on institutionalism – in the beginning of chapter 2. The two poles of cooperation and conflict superficially coincide with the two theoretical approaches of constructivism and realism. The actual status quo fits neither theoretical approach – in the same way as it is not accurate to choose either cooperation or confrontation to describe the status quo.

Finally, chapter 4 tested the dependent variable in relation to developments in an external region: Central Asia. In order to test the dependent variable against a case study, it makes sense to focus on a geographically limited region, or on a particular event, so long as the choice of region is geographically and politically relevant for both actors. For the purposes of this dissertation’s research interest, the potential choices of case study turned out to be fairly limited. Obvious choices such as NATO–Russia cooperation in the Balkans, or negotiations over the two rounds of enlargement are first of all already well documented. Moreover, these straightforward options also yield relatively little explanatory power over the present and future state of NATO–Russia relations. Both the Balkans and enlargement are events confined to the past and thus serve to assist understanding the history of the relationship. However, they are no longer defining parameters for the future of NATO–Russia relations. Geopolitical interests pertaining to NATO and Russia have thus far mostly been confined to a clearly defined area, the so-called post-Soviet space. The concept of the post-Soviet sphere is used for lack of a better word, and using this term by no means implies any normative judgement. The post-Soviet space is first and foremost synonymous with the republics of the former Soviet Union, though not exclusively. According to Moscow, the post-Soviet space extends all the way to Serbia, due to cultural and linguistic commonalities between the two countries. I have referred to the concept “sphere of influence” at certain points of this dissertation; a concept that is just as normatively charged as the notion of post-Soviet space: both concepts are frowned upon in IR literature. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to discuss NATO-Russia relations since the mid-1990s without reference to these concepts.

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Points of contention between the two actors have usually arisen out of differentiating interests with regard to the post-Soviet space: the two rounds of enlargement are testimony to this, as is persistent Russian apprehension about anti-Russian sentiment in the new NATO member states. My case study set out to test if and how previous patterns of interaction of the two actors with regard to the post-Soviet area were repeating themselves in the case of Central Asia, and, if so, what those patterns said about the nature of the relationship. According to my hypotheses, NATO–Russia interaction over Central Asia should be characterized by an uncomfortable side-by-side that is neither cooperation nor open conflict, but which is still characterized by an interplay of structural habits containing the remnants of old rivalries, including a perceived imbalance of power. Empirical evidence in chapter 4 demonstrates that my case study supports this hypothesis, albeit with one important variation: there is no NATO–Russia cooperation in any form regarding policies towards Central Asia. Rather, individual priorities in relation to Central Asia differ on important issues such as democratization, security, and future alliances. Also, as outlined in chapter 4, some analysts claim that Russia’s contribution to the war against terror has turned out far smaller than might have been expected; in the case of Operation Enduring Freedom for example, Russia did not involve itself at all. Certain acts of irritation that are reminiscent of “great games” that are supposedly confined to the past keep resurfacing. Instances of such irritations are for example reactions to the Andijan events of May 2005 on the West’s part, or the rather open Russian support for the Uzbek decision to ask US troops to leave the Karsi-Khanabad airbase. In fact, the Andijan events continue to shape NATO’s attitude towards Uzbekistan: in a statement on the first anniversary of the events of 12-13 May 2005, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed his concern:

On behalf of NATO, I express my deep disappointment that the Uzbek authorities have failed to take action on the calls by NATO and other international organizations for an independent, international inquiry into the tragic events which took place in Andijan on 12/13 May 2005. During the past year, NATO’s relationship with Uzbekistan has been under close review by the Allies. It will remain under review, and the Allies will continue to expect Uzbekistan to uphold the principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.541

No such statement has emanated from the Russian side, indicating a clear divergence in norms and values as far as the Central Asian countries in general, and the Andijan massacre in particular is concerned.

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Empirical evidence, theoretical approach and case study thus all support the hypotheses that I put forward in the introductory chapter of this dissertation. However, the research results that I have compiled have also yielded some initially unanticipated results. These results are possibly the most revealing ones as they are the result of the in-depth analysis of primary sources, mainly evidence that I have drawn from primary documents and interviews that were conducted with policy-makers and experts. I will underline these findings in the concluding section of this chapter. First I will place my own hypotheses, theoretical findings and research results within the larger framework in order to highlight the most important issues.

5.2.2. NATO, Russia and the larger picture

The focal points of this dissertation are two very different actors: on the one hand, an international organization that is hailed as the most efficient organization of all times, and on the other a nation-state that is still in transition and which struggles with the legacy of its own past. At the same time, the interaction between the two protagonists goes beyond a “normal” relationship in international politics: present NATO-Russia relations are the result of the past. In my introductory chapter I introduced the notion that NATO-Russia relations are to a certain extend indicative of the state of international relations after the end of the Cold War. This statement needs to be refined to a certain extent: the post-Cold War NATO-Russia constellation cannot be equated with the Cold War NATO-Soviet Union constellation. At the same time, present-day NATO-Russia relations can not be equated with East-West relations per se, as the meaning of East-West relations has changed a great deal since the end of the Cold War. Instead, the current relationship between NATO and Russia is of a rather singular and unprecedented kind; a relationship that needs to be taken out of the clichéd context. The two poles of conflict and cooperation leave a lot of room for a qualitatively differentiated relationship that is by no means static and linear in its development.

Briefly taking a step back from the quality of NATO–Russia relations, I would like to return to the two actors themselves and their positioning vis-à-vis the other. Both of my theoretical approaches, realism and constructivism, attach a great deal of importance to the perceptions and images that one actor has of the other. When confronted with the question of NATO’s present purpose in international relations, 30 percent of Russian respondents are of the opinion that NATO is an aggressive military bloc that is opposed to Russia and its allies.542 To 23 percent, NATO is a defense organization consisting of European and North American countries entrusted with keeping international order and with the fight against international terrorism.543 25 percent see NATO as an organization that lost its raison d’être with the end of the Cold War. Finally, 22 percent said they did not know what NATO’s present function is. A second question is concerned with the larger political shifts and alignments that have taken place in the last few years in East and Central Europe. When asked what the motivation of East and Central European countries is in seeking NATO membership, 29 percent of respondents said that this happened in accordance with the wish of the people and the governments of these countries to enhance their national security.544 46 percent of respondents were of the opinion that the US and other NATO member states were actively seeking to expand their own sphere of interest, and 25 percent of respondents did not know an answer to that question.545 Question 3 asked whether the accession of some former CIS states to NATO would influence Russia’s national security: 7 percent of respondents said that membership of former CIS states in NATO would enhance Russia’s national security; 43 percent said that it would threaten Russia’s national security; 29 percent were of the opinion that it would not significantly influence Russia’s national security; and, finally, 21 percent of respondents did not have an answer to that question.546 The fourth question related to the accession of the Baltic states to NATO: 5 percent of respondents were of the opinion that this accession had a positive effect on Russia’s national security; 46 percent said the effects were negative; 29 percent thought that it did not affect Russia’s national security at all, and 20 percent had no opinion.547 In a final question, the respondents were asked which options corresponded best with Russian national interests: 5 percent responded that Russian membership in NATO would be the best option; 43 percent were in favor of Russia working together with NATO; 14 percent advocated a creation of a rival security institution to NATO; 22 percent wanted Russia to stay away from any military bloc; and 16 percent had no opinion.548

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These figures reflect the ambiguity that is characteristic of NATO-Russia relations. Furthermore, the numbers are a good indicator of the split within Russian society: the small percentage of respondents who advocate Russian membership in NATO corresponds with the group of the so-called Westerners who see Russia’s future as lying with western institutions. On the other side of the political spectrum there are those who see Russian interests actively threatened by NATO and NATO expansion: here the numbers indicate that this fear is still very much alive within significant segments of the population. However, a growing segment of the population feels neither enthusiastic about nor threatened by NATO and thus has no objections to Russia working together with the organization. Overall, mistrust of NATO is still the most widespread attitude in Russia, an empirical fact that is important in order to understand Russia’s position vis-à-vis NATO, as well as the foreign policy decisions that are taken by the Kremlin.

Similarly, Western perceptions regarding Russia are also paradoxical. On the one hand, there is a wide-spread consensus that Russia is not a real democracy and that efforts to modernize and democratize Russia have not only stalled but actually taken a turn for the worse, especially in the past couple of years. At the same time, however, a poll conducted by French newspaper “Le Figaro” revealed that 55 percent of respondents were of the opinion that Russia – and Ukraine – could one day be members of the European Union, provided that the accession criteria are met. In contrast, only 45 percent of respondents advocated Turkish membership.549 This poll once more reveals how Russia is seen as a European and a non-European country at the same time. Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Lilia Shevtsova comes to the conclusion that Russia and Europe have reached a mutual understanding concerning important issues: on the one hand they recognize their differences, and on the other they agree on the necessity of imitating a partnership.550 The word imitate suggests with biting sarcasm that Shevtsova does not consider relations between the EU and Russia to be adequate. She argues that both sides have lost the will, or the ability, to seriously advance their interaction.

What, then, should the verdict on the relationship between NATO and Russia be – bearing in mind that Shevtsova’s assessment of EU–Russia relations is also debatable? First of all, Shevtsova compares EU-Russia relations with US-Russia relations, also reaching a rather negative conclusion: she contends that relations between Moscow and Washington are characterized by a well-known triad: international terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and the energy dialogue.551 Shevtsova argues that a “polite smile” compensates for the lack of actual progress made in these three areas. The relationship between Russia and the United States is still characterized by an atmosphere of mistrust, even though both sides are actively trying to conceal this. Simultaneously, Russia is fairly open about its quest to squeeze the US out of the post-Soviet territory – this refers mainly to the presence of US (and NATO-led) troops stationed in Afghanistan and the corresponding air bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.552 This rather negative statement should not be extended wholesale to NATO-Russia relations, even though there is more than a grain of truth to it. NATO-Russia interaction has changed and deepened significantly since the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation was signed in May of 1997, and an honest wish to create efficient institutional frameworks for a successful cooperation was certainly a main motivator for the implementation of the PJC and later on the NRC. Even so, as I have proved in this dissertation, existing structural confines continue to shape the successes and failures of the relationship.

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Shevtsova hints at this dilemma by stating that both sides (in her case, the West and Russia, not specifically NATO and Russia) have interacted on a basis of misconceptions about each other, resulting in an attitude that privileges path-dependency over innovative solutions. According to her, both actors work with a set of illusions about the other one.553 The West, currently occupied with problems of its own, is hoping that Russia won’t cause any problems. In a case of conflict, it is hoped that Russia will give in, as it has done consistently for the past 15 years.554 Even though Shevtsova argues forcefully against a traditional Russian great-power approach to foreign policy, she concedes that in the past interaction between Russia and the West has very often occurred according to great-power logic and zero-sum considerations, or, in other words, key realist assumptions. Moreover, Shevtsova argues that the (in)balance of power that has been characteristic of western-Russia relations ever since the end of the Cold War might be shifting in Russia’s favor, largely because of the ever-increasing need of the West for natural resources. According to Shevtsova, western politicians are not paying attention to the fact that the Kremlin will find it increasingly hard to make concessions without losing face. Russia is currently under the illusion that it has ever-increasing room for manoeuvre in order to shape events in international relations in its favor because the rest of the world needs Russian energy.555 Shevtsova also argues that it is wholly unrealistic for the Russian political elite to think that they can control events in international relations based only on the comparative advantage Russia enjoys with regard to natural resources. Still, a realist interpretation of Shevtsova’s hypothesis would take into account potential geostrategic shifts that might tip the scale of NATO-Russia relations in Russia’s favour. A constructivist would not contend that a shift in the actors’ capabilities necessarily leads to a reconfiguration of the interaction between the two actors per se. As far as NATO is concerned, the energy variable obviously does not figure as prominently as it does in bilateral relations between Russia and western states, or even Russia and the EU, because NATO is first and foremost a military organization. Nevertheless, the energy variable might shape individual NATO member states’ policies and attitudes toward Russia, which could potentially also affect the relationship that Russia has with NATO. In the final section I will now reiterate the main results of this research project before I turn to consider the outlook for the future of the relationship between NATO–Russia. I will also indicate where future research on the subject might complement the results of this research project.

5.3. Outlook

Figuring prominently among the results of this research project is an insight that was gained contrary to common sense assumptions, namely the frequently-voiced hypothesis that NATO’s main problem ever since the end of the Cold War is that it is no longer useful and therefore anachronistic. This state of affairs, according to many, is the culprit for policy outcomes that are less than optimal, and it is also a reason why Russia and NATO continue to interact with each other in a state of imbalance of power and capabilities. The end of the Cold War has made NATO obsolete; NATO has lost its raison d’être. In fact, this statement misses half the picture. On the one hand, critics who contend that NATO has lost its place and meaning in international relations after the Cold War will always have a point. Fifteen years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, questions may still legitimately be raised about the feasibility of the “NATO-project” and its actual cost/benefit balance sheet. It is a matter of personal opinion whether or not redesigning NATO in order to enhance the security of its members makes sense. Yet contrary to the theoretical assumption that international organizations are often plagued by inertia due to the problem of path dependency556, today’s NATO is no longer the NATO of the Cold War. In fact, today’s NATO is not even the NATO of the 1990s. The two rounds of enlargement have changed the composition and purpose of the organization, as has the debate about what exactly it means for NATO to go “out of area”, culminating first in the Kosovo intervention and more recently, in ISAF. Though other institutions, most notably the EU, have undergone similar changes in terms of enlargement, NATO has achieved a level of transformation that goes beyond merely taking in new members. The Washington and Prague summits, the Defence Capabilities Initiative and Prague Capabilities Commitment557 all indicate that NATO has undergone quite significant structural changes. These changes have consistently occurred as a reaction to something and not so much as part of a master plan concerning itself with the future of NATO, therefore, there is legitimacy to the claim that NATO has been fairly reactive to change in international relations: nevertheless, reactive change is better than stagnation.

Therefore, the argument that NATO is a Cold War dinosaur does not quite reflect reality. But in spite of the rather thorough transformation that NATO has undergone, it remains an Alliance that has the upper hand in a purely realist capabilities/balance of power game – at least with regard to Russia. As such, NATO continues to be seen in a negative light by a significant proportion of the Russian population and leadership, thus continuing the state of irritation between the two actors that I have referred to throughout my dissertation. My main argument is that this irritation is caused by structural confines that have their roots in a perceived imbalance of power scenario that has not been overcome yet and that is not likely to be overcome: NATO and Russia will most likely always engage differently with each other than NATO and other third countries. Paradoxically, the consistent perception of an imbalance of power has simultaneously led to a trivialization of the relationship: as I have already noted, on many levels the EU is perceived as being far more problematic with regard to Russian national interests than NATO. The constructivist argument in support of this claim would be that a norm convergence has taken place resulting in a decreasing number of contentious issues between the two actors. Conversely, a realist would argue that Russia sees that it has relatively little room for manoeuvre and therefore focuses on channelling its efforts into areas that are still within its control, instead of generally trying to reach a more balanced level of capabilities.

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Again, neither explanation fits the actual situation: a convergence of norms is taking place only within the realms of the smallest common denominator. At the same time, outright hostilities over issues that define the state of comparative advantage of NATO over Russia558 are not occurring anymore. The current state of NATO-Russia interaction is a series of small steps, taken one at a time. The milestones in this relationship, namely the establishment of institutionalized fora – the PJC and the NRC – were reached with the intention of finding a common language. While it is undeniable that both the PJC and the NRC have indeed contributed to the establishment of a political dialogue, the events that ended up having the greatest effect on the relationship between NATO and Russia have always been outside events that did not emanate from the forum of dialogue that was established for precisely this purpose. This suggests that a certain amount of unpredictability continues to figure prominently in the relationship between NATO and Russia.

Is Shevtsova right in offering a rather negative viewpoint on the future of relations between Russia and the West? I would argue that, in accordance with my hypotheses, Shevtsova’s argument is too pessimistic, since it veers too much toward the conflict end of the spectrum. This is a general observation that pertains to Russia’s relationship with the West, whether bilateral or institutional, but is also applies to the way that NATO and Russia interact. This dissertation should by no means be understood as a call to reconsider the entire NATO-Russia relationship, nor do I contend that the negatives outweigh the positives in this relationship. What I do advocate, however, is a more dispassionate discourse about the shortcomings of either actor in academic research on the subject. Instead of focusing on what attitudes needs to be changed for NATO-Russia cooperation to become effective, one should focus on specific areas where there is already a significant amount of cooperation in place: this might be an opportunity for further research projects. A steady process of small steps works better for NATO and Russia than any grand schemes for convergence, especially since the structural confines are such that grand schemes are not necessarily realistic, as I have pointed out previously.

At the same time, elements of Shevtsova’s assessment might become increasingly relevant, especially with regard to the ever-increasing competition for natural resources – a factor that is of particular relevance in relation to the states of Central Asia. In fact, if I once again start from the premise that the Central Asian region can be considered to be an indicator with regard to future geostrategic developments, an entirely new constellation might emerge in the next ten years or so. The inevitable question that arises regarding NATO's, Russia's, and Central Asia's futures, is whether NATO will be able to reverse certain trends that have already been set in motion. The feasibility of NATO involvement in Central Asia would be very well suited for a separate research project. Moreover, there is evidence that suggests that the great games and questions of the future will not necessarily include NATO and Russia in the same constellation. It is very feasible that the rise of China as a regional power will reshape set patterns of interaction between the big global players. Therefore, one might ask the question whether NATO and Russia, in their habit of pursuing a policy of small steps, might not have foregone the opportunity for forging the close ties that would be necessary in order to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation, should the pawns on the great chessboard of international relations be rearranged in the future.


Fußnoten und Endnoten

519  Umbach, Frank: “Die zweite Runde der NATO-Osterweiterung aus der Sicht Russlands”, in: Pradetto, August (ed.): “Die zweite Runde der NATO-Osterweiterung: zwischen postbipolarem Institutionalismus und offensivem Realismus”, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Europäischer Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2004, pp. 279-317, p. 315.

520  Ibid, p. 316.

521  Tsygankov, Andrei and Tsygankov, Pavel: “New directions in Russian international studies: pluralization, westernization, and isolationism”, in: “Communist and post-communist studies”, vol. 37, March 2004, pp.1-17, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=MImg&_imagekey=B6VGF-4BJ20KY31&_cdi=6037&_user=964000&_orig=browse&_coverDate=03%2F31%2F2004&_sk=999629998&view=c&wchp=dGLbVlb-zSkWb&md5=7478e0b5f93ca05be2cc11e8f03c06ad&ie=/sdarticle.pdf [last accessed on 20 July 2005].

522  Cooperation between NATO and Russia, NATO Handbook, Brussels: NATO Office of Information and Press, 2001, p. 80.

523  Ibid, p. 86.

524  See chapter 1.

525  Interview with Dr. Tatiana Parkhalina, Deputy Director INION RAN, 10 March 2005, Moscow.

526  Ibid.

527  Interview with Dr. Alexei Salmin, President Russian Public Policy Center, 11 March 2005, Moscow.

528  Ibid.

529  Interview with Dr. Tatiana Parkhalina, Deputy Director INION RAN, 10 March 2005, Moscow.

530  Interview with Dr. Alexei Salmin, President Russian Public Policy Center, 11 March 2005, Moscow.

531  Ibid.

532  Ibid.

533  Ibid.

534  Ibid.

535  Interview with NATO Official #3, 16 September 2005, NATO HQ, Brussels, see chapter 3.

536  See chapter 3.

537  See chapter 3.

538  See chapter 3.

539  Interview with NATO Official #2, 13 September 2005, NATO HQ, Brussels.

540  See chapter 3.

541  Statement by the NATO Secretary General on the first anniversary of the events of 12/13 May 2005 in Andijan, 12 May 2006, NATO Brussels: NATO public data service [natopress@listserv.cc.kuleuven.ac.be], on behalf of NATO Integrated Data Service [natodoc@hq.nato.int].

542  Kerneck, Barbara: “Russlands Sicht of EU und NATO – wie es die russischen Politiker mit ihren außenpolitischen Programmen halten”, Berlin: Köster, 2004, p. 74. The study was conducted in January 2003 with a sample of 1600 Russian citizens.

543  Ibid.

544  Ibid.

545  Ibid.

546  Ibid.

547  Ibid, p. 75.

548  Ibid.

549  N24 News, 24 March 2005, http://www.n24.de/politik/ausland/index.php/n2005032411401800002, [last accessed on 16 May 2006]. The “Le Figaro” survey was taken in Germany, France, Poland, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy in March 2005.

550  Shevtsova, Lilia: “Bürokratischer Autoritarismus – Fallen und Herausforderungen”, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte #11, Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2006, pp. 6-13, p. 12.

551  Ibid.

552  Ibid.

553  Ibid, p. 13.

554  Ibid.

555  Ibid.

556  See chapter 2.

557  See chapter 1.

558  Such as NATO enlargement.



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