Landmark NATO accord makes Russia a partner

Ex-enemies to cooperate on terrorism, arms control and crisis management

May 15, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

REYKJAVIK, Iceland - More than 50 years after its founding and a decade after the end of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization approved yesterday a landmark agreement accepting Russia, the former enemy it was formed to fight, into a new partnership with the West on terrorism, arms control and international crisis management in a post-Sept. 11 world.

"Together, the countries that spent four decades glowering at each other across the wall of hatred and fear now have the opportunity to transform Euro-Atlantic security for the better," said NATO's secretary-general, George Robertson, at a meeting of foreign ministers here.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the agreement "the funeral of the Cold War," which he pronounced "kaput."

Coming just a day after the United States and Russia announced that they had reached agreement on a new treaty to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear warheads by two-thirds, the decision yesterday solidified an almost surreal sense of a major change in Russia's relations with the West.

"We don't yet quite have a cliche to capture this all," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday evening.

NATO's rapprochement with Russia occurred not far from the rustic wooden guesthouse where President Ronald Reagan and Russian President Mikhail S. Gorbachev met in October 1986 for the "snap summit" that narrowly failed to end the nuclear arms race but wound up marking the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

The ministers also approved a communique pledging to improve their military capabilities and compatibility, and declaring that NATO "must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed." In doing so, they acknowledged that the alliance now faces unpredictable threats far from Europe, even as some have questioned the continued relevance of the alliance because the United States made only selective use of the members' forces in the Afghanistan campaign.

The need to reduce the gap between the United States' military capacity and Europe's comparatively outdated forces had been a central U.S. demand for this meeting. Senior Bush administration officials said they were pleased with the communique's strong language, which says that "NATO must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives."

Under the agreement, Russia will for the first time become an equal partner in discussions and actions with alliance members on a range of issues, including nonproliferation, military cooperation, civilian emergency planning and other topics the members agree to in the future. The accord will be signed by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and the 19 heads of NATO member countries in a meeting near Rome on May 28.

But those 19 nations, including the United States, will preserve full control over membership in the alliance and over core military decisions and the use of allied troops to defend member nations.

The two-day meeting here also continued NATO's review of requests for new membership from nine nations in Central and Southeastern Europe, and added a 10th applicant, Croatia, to the list.

Powell, speaking after the main morning meeting yesterday, said: "We believe we can lay the foundation for new cooperation between NATO and Moscow while fully protecting the alliance's ability to act independently."

After an hourlong meeting with Powell, Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, said: "We must now, together, build the new world order, and this will be a long process, a difficult process." In its relations with the United States, he added, Russia wants "partnership relations, constructive relations and predictable relations."

While the United States is set to spend about 3.7 percent of its gross domestic product on defense this year, spending by about half of the alliance's European members has dropped below 2 percent of gross domestic product, barely the level that the United States expects applicants for new membership to meet.

Robertson, emphasizing that point, warned that "NATO must change radically if it is to be effective," and said it must "modernize or be marginalized."

Even participants seemed hard-pressed to absorb the change that will result from yesterday's agreement.

Describing the latest arms control agreement with Moscow to reporters during his trip here, Powell inadvertently referred to the "Soviets" before smiling and correcting himself, saying: "When you're as old as I am ..." He noted that the current point of tension between the United States and Russia was not the arms race but Russian barriers to U.S. poultry imports.

"I am more worried about chickens going back and forth than missiles going back and forth," he said. "This is good."

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