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12 Feb, 2010 14:02

Cold comfort as “Titanium Lady” Madeleine Albright visits Moscow

Cold comfort as “Titanium Lady” Madeleine Albright visits Moscow

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in town this week in an effort to reduce Russia’s anxieties over NATO expansion and a proposed US missile defense system in Romania.

Albright, who leads NATO’s Wise Men Group, was on a two-day visit in Moscow to speak in defense of the military bloc that she says faces dangerous new risks.

“NATO is a defensive alliance committed to protecting its members from external threats,” Albright said in interview with Interfax upon her arrival on Tuesday. “In the modern era, such threats are more varied, dispersed, and unpredictable than in earlier decades. Thus, to achieve its mission, NATO has adapted both militarily and politically.”

Beseeching her audience to cast their gaze to the future as opposed to the past, Albright said in a speech at the Moscow State University of International Relations that NATO, as well as Russia, feel threatened by “the same lawless forces.”

“The truth is that NATO members feel threatened by many of the same lawless forces that concern Russia, including terrorism, violent extremism, the spread of nuclear weapons, drug trafficking and crime,” she said.

The former Secretary of State, who also sits on the board of the influential Council of Foreign Affairs, said it was important for Russia and NATO to cooperate on these issues.

“And that’s why the alliance has invited Russia to work cooperatively to confront and to defeat these dangers,” Albright said. “And it’s why I believe we should look to the future not as rivals but as partners.”

NATO has not renewed its strategic concept since 1999, and would like to receive “outside participation” on defining the organization’s mission.

Addressing Russia’s new military doctrine

Moscow has been increasingly concerned – especially with NATO operations in Afghanistan becoming dangerously protracted and heroin shipments inundating Russia – about the general direction that the 28-member military organization has been taking.

Many in Russia seem to share the view that NATO is an anachronistic organization that cannot shake its Cold War worldview; a deeply entrenched state of mind that does Russia absolutely no favors. Indeed, the very subject of NATO cannot be raised without entertaining the existential question: What is the real purpose of this military organization, especially when the Soviet Union fell by the wayside many years ago?

It was with these legitimate questions in mind that Russia set about rewriting its military doctrine, signed into force last week by President Dmitry Medvedev. The document ranks the expansion of NATO as the number one external threat now facing the country.

This is serious, and should be a huge wakeup call to the European nations, which somehow believe that Moscow can be lulled into compliance by constantly uttering the pledge that “NATO will never attack Russia,” or that “these anti-missile defense systems are not aimed at your nuclear arsenal.” After all, NATO officials promised Russia it would not expand the organization following the collapse of the Soviet Union; those verbal assurances were quickly abandoned at the very first opportunity.

These meaningless guarantees are equivalent to what may happen if your next door neighbor one day decided to purchase a pit bull to protect his property. When you voice your objections to the slobbering security system, possibly out of concern for the safety of your children, you are told, “Don’t worry, this savage beast is not here to defend me against you, just my enemies.” But what the dog owner fails to understand is that there exists the possibility, however remote, that the "mad dog on the block" may one day decide to attack unsuspecting neighbors due to the slightest provocation.

Yet, these empty assurances continue to be uttered by intelligent people.

When asked by a student at the Moscow State University of International relations whether or not NATO considers Russia among its potential threats, Albright simply reiterated the words of the NATO chief, who visited Moscow in December with boisterous assurances: “In a speech in Moscow,” Albright reminded the audience, “NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said that ‘NATO will never attack Russia. Never.’”

“And we do not think Russia will attack NATO,” Albright said, still quoting Rasmussen. “We have stopped worrying about that, and Russia should stop worrying about that as well.”

Well there now, Mr. Rasmussen says NATO will never attack Russia, so let's forget our worries and just move on.

She also recalled Rasmussen saying that “if we can build real trust and confidence in the relationship between Russia and NATO, then Russia can stop worrying about a menace from the West that simply doesn’t exist.”

This brings to mind a quotation by Thomas Hobbes, who wrote that “words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools.”

In other words, it would be really nice to take NATO’s friendly words and promises at face value, and right now everything is going swell, thanks, but how many successful foreign policies have been constructed upon the unpredictable foundation of promises? It doesn’t take an overly fertile imagination to come up with any number of hypothetical scenarios (Georgia, Ukraine and the just-announced anti-missile defense shield for Romania, a NATO member, come instantly to mind) that envision NATO and Russian interests being pitted against each other to various degrees.

As just one example of a potential future flashpoint, the U.S. interceptor missiles planned to be deployed in Romania, once refitted, will be able to shoot down not only Iranian medium-range missiles, but also Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, Vladimir Yevseyev of the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations said on Thursday.

"Apparently, more powerful missiles will be deployed. They will be able to intercept not only Iranian missiles, but also Russian ones in the boost phase of flight," Yevseyev said during a video conference between Moscow and Chisinau.

The U.S. plans to upgrade its SM3 interceptor missiles to involve a major improvement of these missiles' specifications, he said. This will enable the system to efficiently intercept missiles in the boost phase, Yevseyev said.

Today the U.S. does not perceive Russia as an equal player, he added.

NATO: Russia’s main threat?

So should anybody be surprised that NATO features so prominently in Russia’s revised military doctrine?

Russia’s updated military doctrine, which was endorsed by President Medvedev last week, singles out NATO when it mentions among other external threats “the desire to invest the military potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with global functions carried out in violation of international law and advance the NATO member states’ military infrastructure closer to Russia’s border, particularly by expanding the block.”

Now that NATO ranks as a formal threat in the minds of Russia’s military staff, it will be very interesting to see how NATO responds when it revises its own strategy in May.

“I believe that our colleagues will want to clarify certain points related to Russia's new military doctrine,” Russian Permanent Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin told Interfax on Friday, prior to a Russia-NATO Council meeting, which is focusing on joints methods for combating terrorism.

Rogozin said it was vital that NATO’s doctrine, which is to be released in May, does not “run counter to our interests.”

“The idea is to make sure that NATO’s strategic concept does not contain any provisions, points or messages that would run counter to our interests,” Rogozin told Itar-Tass. “It is important for us that Russia is mentioned there, in the worst possible case, as a neutral country, or, at best, as a partner for NATO.”

Rogozin added that Russia had no plans to join NATO, nor does it have any desire to participate in any military-political alliances.

“First and foremost we rely on ourselves, and what is around us is different from that of an average European country,” he said. “This is also linked to the big size of Russia and the fact that it is destined to be a great power.”

At the same time, he noted that during briefings in Brussels “some NATO partners accidentally or on purpose suggest: what if NATO starts building its future by taking into account Russia’s interests and maybe even with Russia’s participation?”

In this case, the Russia-NATO Council could be replaced by a Russia-NATO Alliance, he added.

In the meantime, the most important challenge for the Russian and NATO representatives is to build an unbreakable bond of trust between them, possibly based on shared technologies, like anti-missile defense, which could be built in a far less provocative location than Romania, as well as putting the finishing touches on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which expired on December 5.

As the US Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle said Thursday, “It is necessary to carry on the negotiations and cooperation instead of taking up the old habits of hostility and confrontation.”

Robert Bridge, RT