NATO Leaders Agree to New Start With Russia
LISBON — Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, two sworn enemies — NATO and Russia — agreed over the weekend to put aside differences and cooperate on a range of issues, notably a U.S. missile shield to protect Europe.
The accords, reached between President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia and the 28 NATO leaders, could be the beginning of a long-term strategic and security partnership, according to leaders at the summit meeting.
“We agreed to cooperate on missile defense, which turns a source of past tension into a source of potential cooperation against a shared threat,” President Barack Obama said at the end of the two-day NATO meeting in Lisbon. “We see Russia as a partner, not an adversary.”
European leaders also signaled their approval.
“The fact that we are talking to Russia about common threats and the chance to cooperate with Russia on missile defense is an extremely important step,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. “That could be proof that the Cold War has finally come to an end.”
Although the meeting generated excitement among allies and was described by both sides as historic, much of the main work was focused on Afghanistan. NATO and Afghanistan agreed Saturday to the goal of a phased transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government by the end of 2014, though NATO officials acknowledged that allied forces would remain in Afghanistan, at least in a support role, well beyond that date. (Page 4)
Plans by the United States to deploy a missile shield across Europe had been staunchly opposed by Russia, especially by Vladimir V. Putin, who was one of the most outspoken critics of the system during his tenure as president. Mr. Putin, who is now prime minister, had said that deploying parts of the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, countries that were once part of the Warsaw Treaty, would undermine Russia’s security.
Such arguments were weakened after Mr. Obama altered the shield’s deployment and embarked on “resetting” relations with Russia. That included inviting Russia to participate in the shield and, more importantly, negotiating a new arms treaty aimed at further reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.
While Republicans in the United States this month declined to act quickly on ratification of what is being called the New Start treaty, an unusual alliance has emerged, with Mr. Obama winning support not only from Russia but also from leaders in Eastern Europe for the speedy approval of the treaty.
“Throughout the summit, there was intense lobbying by the administration to win support for the ratification process,” said the Czech defense minister, Alexandr Vondra.
Mr. Obama underlined that support from his NATO allies.
“I have received overwhelming support from our allies here that Start — the New Start treaty — is a critical component to U.S. and European security,” Mr. Obama said. “And they have urged both privately and publicly that this gets done.”
And even though the Baltic states remain skeptical, if not suspicious, about NATO’s more open policy toward Russia, they could not refute Mr. Obama’s argument that fewer nuclear weapons in Europe meant greater stability, security and trust.
“There are a whole range of security interests in which we are cooperating with Russia and it would be a profound mistake for us to slip back into mistrust as a consequence of our failure to ratify Start,” Mr. Obama said.
Several other deals were struck between NATO and Russia. The NATO-Russia Council, long a talking shop over security issues and often criticized by Russia for lacking substance, will be revamped. NATO leaders and Russia agreed to use the council to create “a common space of peace, security and stability.”
Those words are close to the language set out in what was Russia’s foreign policy goal to establish a new security architecture across this area and one that would be legally binding. But Russia’s plans won little support from NATO allies, most of whom said the idea behind the Russian plan was to undermine NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Russia also agreed to allow more NATO supplies, including equipment, to travel across Russian territory to Afghanistan, increasingly important for NATO after the recent attacks on its equipment and convoys that use neighboring Pakistan as a base. Both sides will also establish a common fund to maintain helicopters in Afghanistan.
“We have large plans, we will be working in all areas, including European missile defense,” Mr. Medvedev said at a news conference with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general. Mr. Rasmussen said this new relationship with Russia meant much more.
Now comes the hard part, as Mr. Medvedev acknowledged in Lisbon. He said many details of the missile defense shield still had to be worked out.
“The scheme would only be peaceful when it is universal,” he said.
Gen. Nikolai Y. Makarov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, said there were good reasons to link the Russian and NATO missile defense systems.
“Now there is the technical side, how to join the two systems,” he said. “It will all depend on the configurations.”
The NATO-Russia Council also will produce results soon, officials said, in order to give credibility and momentum to the Lisbon agreements, while also legitimizing Mr. Medvedev’s decision to move closer to NATO.
With Russia due to hold presidential elections next year, diplomats said Mr. Medvedev now would have to sell this new NATO relationship domestically. That includes convincing hard-liners who remain deeply suspicious of NATO, despite Mr. Rasmussen’s assurance at the news conference with Mr. Medvedev that “we pose no threat to each other.”