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Speech by Minister of State Werner Hoyeron prospects for a “strategic partnership” between NATO and Russia

07.07.2011 - Speech

In a speech given before a German-Russian audience in Berlin, Minister of State Werner Hoyer uses concrete examples to throw light on cooperation between NATO and Russia and looks ahead to the prospects for developing this partnership.

Minister of State Werner Hoyer gave the following speech in Berlin on 6 July 2011 at a conference organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Embassy of the Russian Federation on the prospects for a “strategic partnership” between NATO and Russia.


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It’s a great pleasure for me to be with you today to take a look at the prospects for the partnership between NATO and Russia. I well remember the last conference on the European security architecture here at the Embassy. I’m certain that today we will be able to continue our productive exchange of views of September 2010 – especially as there have been many developments in relations between Russia and NATO since then.

I’m especially pleased that Polish, Russian and German participants have come together again. For, in common with many others, I’m convinced that this particular format can provide important impetus for the future of European security.

Not because our positions always concur. On the contrary, our countries’ histories have been marked by different – often contrary – experiences and sensibilities. However, the potential of this format is so considerable because we are united by the will and indeed by our responsibility to shape the future from these experiences.

Going back to the role played by Germany and France in the young European community, this approach was described as dealing productively with differences. And, indeed, I believe that Poland, Russia and Germany can play a similar role: as catalysts in the European security project.

On 7 June 2011, ladies and gentlemen, a Polish aircraft took off from Krakow and deviated from its flight plan shortly afterwards. When air traffic controllers tried to make contact, the aircraft switched off radio communication. Instead of the scheduled route, the aircraft headed without contact with the ground for Kaliningrad, that’s to say for Russian airspace.

A little later, air defence aircraft took off from Polish and Russian territory. They managed to force the rogue aircraft to change course. During this manoeuvre, the Polish handed over control to the Russian air defence aircraft. They escorted the Krakow aircraft to Malbork airport, that’s to say back to Polish territory.

Ladies and gentlemen, this plane hijack didn’t actually take place. No aircraft has ever been hijacked in Krakow. No-one was harmed. Rather, this was a joint exercise.

Polish and Russian fighter planes do practise dealing with such scenarios across the boundaries of their airspace. In other words, NATO and Russia work together to protect their airspace against terrorist attacks. Such a statement would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. And for European security, it’s an important and concrete step forward.

When I spoke here in September, I drew an optimistic picture of the outlook for NATO-Russian cooperation. And indeed, it has developed since then in terms of quality. In November 2010, the Heads of State and Government of NATO states and Russia emphatically renewed their partnership. The goal of building a “true strategic partnership” has, as it were, been the leitmotif of the dialogue and cooperation in the NATO-Russia Council since Lisbon.

“A true strategic partnership” – what do we mean by that?

True: above all, that means substantial, going beyond mere political lip service. That’s an important statement in view of the tensions of previous years, the war in Georgia being a sad low point we still recall. However, “true” is also an expression of the serious intentions of both sides – for there is a tendency in international politics to all too readily refer to a country as a “strategic partner”. And not least, “true” means being able to tell the truth – especially where our positions diverge: straight forward, without any polemics and with the aim of simply understanding each other.

“Strategic” indicates the necessity and purpose: a partnership in the face of global challenges and in the service of common security in Europe. This also requires a common basic understanding on values and goals.

“Partnership” describes how we deal with each other. Being honest and transparent, taking into consideration each other’s sensibilities, building confidence and leaving behind us the zero-sum logic in security policy thinking. Increasing our own security with each other and not at each other’s expense – that’s the partnership approach to cooperative security.

All in all, the goal formulated by the Heads of State and Government in Lisbon was not a modest one. How close – or how far – are we from this political vision?

The cooperation between NATO and Russia is already more substantial and more broadly-based than many opinion pieces would have us believe. For this cooperation often takes the form of very concrete projects.

For instance, for many years the NATO-Russia Council has been training police and border police officers from Central Asian countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the counter-narcotics sphere. This training takes place in centres in Russia and Turkey or by way of mobile trainer teams who operate in the countries in question. The networking of participants and the promotion of regional cooperation is one of the main aims of the project. By the end of 2010, 1300 officers had been trained, many of whom are now in leading positions.

The cooperation between NATO and Russia on stabilizing Afghanistan has also taken on concrete form in other areas: Russia allows the NATO operation ISAF transit across its territory – an indispensable support which was expanded at the Lisbon summit. And recently, at the NATO-Russia Council meeting at Foreign Minister level held in Berlin in April, a training and maintenance fund in support of the Afghan helicopter fleet was established under German auspices. I hope it will be possible to launch this project this summer. This, too, is a very concrete joint contribution towards handing over responsibility in Afghanistan.

To ensure that dialogue evolves into cooperation and that this cooperation bears fruit, more than unceasing commitment is required. The political situation has to be right, too. The “Vigilant Skies” exercise I described at the beginning of my speech illustrates that. It is based on a project launched back in 2005, “Cooperative Airspace Initiative”. Only this year – following the reset in NATO-Russian relations – will the substance and practical use of this exercise be apparent to everyone.

NATO and Russia are also working to expand their experience with joint exercises in other sectors. For example, joint rescue manoeuvres on the high seas are being carried out and another exercise on averting terrorist threats is scheduled for 2012. In addition, Germany offered to organize a missile defence exercise – an issue which I’ll talk about at greater length.

I find this development encouraging. For by carrying out joint exercises for concrete scenarios we will strengthen trust and broaden the basis for joint action. That’s why I called for more joint exercises when I spoke to you in September, as well as in the discussions about NATO’s New Strategic Concept.

In the medium term, we also have to include exercises which serve national defence. For manoeuvres in border regions have also provoked concerns in the recent past and fuel continuing doubts as to whether the spirit of Lisbon really has been internalized on the respective other side.

Germany will therefore urge that partners are informed about exercises as early as possible, systematically and comprehensively. Let’s invite each other to participate or observe. Let’s begin by conducting a regular and open dialogue on our military planning in the NATO-Russia Council.

The aim of such confidence-building is no more or no less than a change in security policy culture. Safeguarding our own security through transparency, through information and tried and trusted confidence: what’s taken for granted in the Alliance must become reality in the entire Euro-Atlantic area. Military contingency planning and manoeuvres to deal with outdated scenarios would then almost naturally fade into the background.

Trust is also the key on the road from dialogue to cooperation – from talking with each other to joint action. NATO and Russia have already embarked upon this path with some success in certain areas: in their joint efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, to contain the dissemination of drugs, to combat international terrorism.

However, the challenges go further. The New Strategic Concept adopted by the Alliance’s Heads of State and Government in Lisbon names them. Protection from cyber-attacks and the security of our energy infrastructure are among them, as well as joint responsibility for disarmament and non-proliferation and, of course, the issue of missile defence. We still have to struggle for the right measure of trust so that we can finally join forces in an active and efficient manner. This is the greatest challenge of the coming months and years.

Experience shows that anyone who wants to bring about concrete progress in the cooperation between NATO and Russia requires much patience. But it’s worth the effort. What matters is that the basis for practical cooperation is constantly broadened so that relations between the partners, which are still sensitive, will not be called into question even in case of occasional setbacks.

Let me now broach an issue which has been the focus of a great deal of attention in NATO-Russia relations during the last few months: cooperation in the sphere of missile defence.

Ever since Lisbon, missile defence has time and again been described as a potential game changer in relations between NATO and Russia.

And indeed, if NATO and Russia could manage to join forces to protect themselves from attacks with ballistic missiles, this would help bring about a breakthrough in the strategic partnership – in keeping with the criteria for a “true strategic partnership” I mentioned earlier on.

Joint missile defence would, without doubt, create a new level of trust, would overcome the zero-sum logic in security thinking and represent a substantial contribution towards pan-European security.

But we have to be careful! As great as the potential may be: calling this a game changer is not without risk and can impair other equally important cooperation projects. I would like to state quite clearly that the justified focus on missile defence must not be used as a pretext to slacken efforts in other areas.

No-one who has taken a serious look at the sensitive NATO-Russian relations can expect missile defence cooperation to kick off automatically. Missile defence has often had a bad press in Russia, starting with the Reagan Administration’s SDI project in the eighties, as well as the cancellation of the ABM Treaty.

Developing a joint project from a decades-long dispute is anything but an easy venture. Such a sea change requires patient negotiations, growing trust, a sustained will to succeed and creative ideas.

The member states of the NATO-Russia Council initially used the months following Lisbon to outline their ideas on a joint cooperation framework for missile defence. As is well known, these ideas diverge. While President Medvedev proposed the development of an integrated system among equal partners, the US and the majority of NATO member states favour a dovetailing of separate systems. Russia is focusing its attention on guarantees anchored in international law regarding the status quo of its nuclear deterrence potential. In contrast, many NATO member states are most concerned by the idea of a Russian veto against a necessary missile launch.

There’s no doubt that this represents a pattern of thinking from an era which many in Germany regard as obsolete and some think has been overcome. But there’s no use in complaining. For the interests and reservations reflected in this mindset are based on historical experience, and they are understandable and legitimate. We therefore have to make them the starting point of our quest for practical solutions.

Germany has spoken out in favour of an incremental approach. This would initially be based on the realities of separate systems, but would leave open the possibility of a joint system. To enable Russia – also without committing to a joint distant aim – to agree to this approach today, we should undertake practical, confidence-building steps. I believe ongoing information on the state of planning on NATO’s side, liaison as well as elements of verification should be considered.

Russia should agree to concrete cooperation steps under these conditions and without any commitment to a joint distant goal. The development of two centres – on data exchange and threat analysis as well as on generic operational planning – are concrete proposals on the negotiating table. We shouldn’t wait any longer with fleshing them out. And we should put our cooperation to an initial practical test at the first opportunity. Germany is prepared to organize a joint missile defence exercise in 2012.

The importance of missile defence to the NATO-Russian partnership is considerable – as is its significance within the European security architecture. It’s therefore all the more important when dealing with missile defence to strike an optimal balance between sober analysis and lofty ambitions. Excessively high expectations mustn’t blind us to what is doable. And, inversely, realism shouldn’t lead us to lose sight of political visions.

However, such an “ambitious-sober” approach requires NATO and Russia to move closer to each other and to find joint answers to the threat posed by ballistic missiles. This would considerably widen the scope for progress in nuclear disarmament and conventional arms control.

Naturally, I’m thinking here first and foremost of the substrategic nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. The main reason why these weapons still exist is the vestiges of old bloc thinking. In its New Strategic Concept, NATO declares its readiness to create the prerequisites for further reductions in these weapons. In view of the considerable Russian arsenal, this is a question of pan-European security.

Both sides must play their part. A first step towards acting in partnership would be the start of a dialogue on transparency and confidence-building in the NATO-Russia Council, as proposed by Germany together with partners, in particular Poland.

Nuclear disarmament and conventional arms control must go hand in hand. For only effective conventional arms control can prevent nuclear disarmament from being offset by larger arsenals of conventional arms.

A modernized regime of conventional arms control will strengthen security, transparency and confidence in Europe. That’s why we have to undertake joint efforts to revive conventional arms control in Europe, which has stalled, and adapt it to the demands of our age. Konstantin Kosachev and I had an interesting discussion before this meeting in which we agreed that we need to take a fresh approach to conventional arms control. We have to get out of the current combination of dead end and one-way street. If you like, we have to press the reset button.

I’m quite certain that my personal view on the prospects for a strategic partnership – its enormous potential and the challenges on the road to that goal – will be disputed. I wish you all a lively and productive discussion.

Let me conclude with a remarkable quotation from Alexander Kramarenko, the Head of the Policy Planning Staff at the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“Russia will never knock at the Alliance’s door, but if NATO invites Russia to join, it will be difficult to decline.”

It would be difficult to sum up all the psychological burdens, as well as Russia’s desires in its relations with the West any better than that. And probably the same applies in the other direction.

I’ve said on many occasions that the NATO-Russia partnership could develop in many different ways. That includes reflecting on Russia’s accession to NATO.

Today, a considerably larger number of Russians see NATO in a more positive light than they used to. In fact, the proportion of those well-disposed towards it is higher than in some NATO member states. And just a few days ago, the NATO Ambassadors travelled to Sochi for talks with President Medvedev, Foreign Minister Lavrov and Deputy Defence Minister Antonov. These are all good signs.

These are all remarkable developments which I find encouraging. For more important than the question as to whether Russia’s accession to NATO will ever become a concrete political goal, is that we create the conditions which will make this possible in the first place.

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