Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 8 Issue: 11

?Only two days after the finish of the Russian-U.S. summit, Presidents Bush and Putin proceeded on to Italy, where they participated in yet another high-level meeting of potentially historic significance. The May 28 Russia-NATO summit, hosted by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and held just outside of Rome, was depicted by its participants as a landmark event embodying an historic reconciliation between Cold War era opponents. The key document produced during the summit was the “Rome Declaration.” It formalized a months-long effort to promote Russia’s integration into the West by creating a new cooperation agency, dubbed the NATO-Russia Council. Conceived as a “council of twenty,” the new agency supplants the Permanent Joint Council, which was created in 1997, and differs from it by conferring upon Moscow a status equal to that of the nineteen NATO member countries that will sit with Russia on the council.

The functions and authority of the new council are limited, however, and its success and scope of action will depend ultimately on the sustained political will of the parties involved. The NATO-Russia Council neither replaces the North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s primary decisionmaking body, nor enmeshes Moscow in NATO’s collective defense obligations. The new council will deal initially with only a limited number of security topics, including counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, arms control and nonproliferation, civil emergencies, and air and sea search-and-rescue missions. Russia will have no say over core NATO decisions, such as the admission of new members. Any issue brought for discussion to the new council, moreover, can be withdrawn if consensus is lacking.

Political analysts are divided over the significance of the new council. Some in Russia believes that it, much like the strategic arms reduction treaty signed on May 24, falls far short of what Russia requires or deserves as a result of Putin’s decision to ally with the West. Others, however, believe that Putin got just what he wanted in the arms control and NATO-Russia agreements–that is, accords which diffuse tensions over security matters so that the Kremlin can focus on the key trade and economic issues that are really driving its embrace of the West. Some commentators have argued similarly that the Kremlin was willing to sign a less-than-optimal cooperation agreement with NATO because it believes that broader changes in the European and international security environments, including NATO’s decision to enlarge itself this fall, are in fact changing the alliance in precisely the ways that Moscow has long sought. That is, they believe that the marginalization of NATO during the U.S. antiterror war and the alliance’s impending enlargement are transforming it from a military alliance into a more purely political grouping.