Friday, December 03, 2010

NATO and Russia at Lisbon Summit: You just might want to put off a decision on sharing a system to defend against a nuclear threat from Iran

Alexander Golts, a Russian security and military affairs analyst with a reputation for considerable integrity and cheek … writing in The Moscow Times about his view of the [Lisbon] summit’s ultimate futility, insisted that, since the fall of the Soviet Union, grand notions of deep cooperation between Russia and NATO “inevitably” fall apart.
Thus reads John Vinocur's latest column in the International Herald Tribune.

Is that unreasonable, or just undiplomatic? In truth, there are seriously limiting elements both to the NATO-Russia relationship’s possibilities and to NATO’s own flexibility in acknowledging and confronting its members’ most serious security concerns:

• Russia, in its official military doctrine, continues to designate NATO as its prime external threat. …

• Iran was not discussed at the Lisbon meeting or mentioned in any of its documents, or in a message to Europe from President Barack Obama that preceded the conference. This may have been out of U.S. deference to Turkey and Russia, which do not explicitly acknowledge Tehran’s push for a nuclear weapon. Still, the silence appeared so mousy to President Nicolas Sarkozy that he said, “In France, we call a spade a spade” (well, sometimes), and, in a news conference, singled out Iran as the basic “threat” behind the need for missile defense.

• In comments about possible cooperation on a joint strategy (against the effectively whited-out Iranian nukes), Russia has insisted on “absolute equality” and murmured warnings of no deal otherwise. …

With this tone and level of noninformation, you just might want to put off a decision on buying a used car, not to mention sharing a system to defend against a nuclear threat from Iran. …

A coda: the high-pressure gush at Lisbon was successfully slip-streamed by France so that in the midst of all the self-congratulatory talk no one uttered a word about French efforts to sell the Russian Navy two helicopter-carrying assault ships, a NATO first. The French could certainly cheer, Long live Mr. Obama’s reset!