Ariel Cohen: NATO summit in Lisbon - geopolitical challenges of new millennium for North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Azerbaijan, Baku, Nov. 19 /Trend, E.Tariverdiyeva/

The NATO summit to be held in Lisbon on Nov. 19-20 could become a turning point for geopolitical reorganization of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as it moves to define its role in Afghanistan; to agree on joint missile defense; and examines  the Alliance's cooperation with Russia, said Ariel Cohen, the Heritage Foundation's leading expert on Russia, Eurasia and international energy policy.

"Moscow still sees a threat in NATO's enlargement, but conducts a dialogue with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This is understandable, as the real threats to Russia come from the instability in Northern Caucasus and Central Asia, and in the long term, from the increases in China's military and economic power. Russia shares the longest border in the world with China, and suffers from low birth rates and imbalances of population and of military forces in Siberia and the Far East," Cohen said. 

The cooperation between Moscow and NATO can happen in the areas where Moscow and Brussels see common interests, such as Afghanistan; drug trafficking; combating religious extremism; and piracy" Cohen told Trend. "Yet, Russia's insistence on limiting of NATO troops levels in Eastern Europe and warning on troops movements is a non-starter, especially after Russia abandoned the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. 

A new strategic concept of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will be presented in the Portuguese capital. This is a paper that summarizes the strategic goals of the Alliance to ensure the collective security of NATO member-countries, covering the next 10 years. The NATO summit is supposed to be attended by 27 state heads. The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also gave his consent to attend the NATO-Russia summit.

Cohen said that Russia and NATO countries, led by the United States, often have fundamental differences: on the approach to European security, missile defense systems, deployment of NATO forces in Eastern Europe, on Georgia.
However, , Russia and the alliance could cooperate successfully in areas of mutual interest.

"First of all, it deals with the cooperation between NATO and Russia in the military operations in Afghanistan and combating drugs. Moscow could play a role in strengthening security in Afghanistan and Central Asia, since it is in Russia's interests," said Cohen, a member of the Trend Expert Council.

Cohen noted that if Afghanistan falls under the Taliban's control, it will be a source and the exporter of Islamist extremism, and Russia, who suffers from drug traffic coming from this region, can contribute to the coalition forces, by cooperating with and even training Afghan anti-drug services and supplying helicopters, light arms and other security equipment the Afghans are familiar with.

In addition, Cohen said Russia's civilian experts may participate in the reconstruction and even in post-conflict operations in Afghanistan if its government and the command of NATO and U.S. troops give consent for this. As for the combat operations, Russia did not express interest to involve its forces in Afghanistan.

Another topic of negotiations between Russia and NATO could become the question of interaction of the missile defense systems of the Alliance and Russia, said Cohen. Many experts in the NATO headquarters in Brussels believe that both sides can benefit from the exchange of threat assessments. However, Cohen noted, joint control is not on the agenda. These negotiations can be politically and technically extremely complicated, and no positive outcome can be guaranteed. 

After bilateral talks with the U.S. President Barack Obama during the summit of the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation organization in Japan, President Medvedev said that a meeting of NATO would mean "the improvement of relations between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization" and noted that he was going to discuss with U.S. President the issues of European missile defense systems at the Lisbon meeting.

"Exchange of data on common threats, including in relation to the potential missile defense program cooperation, dispels the ideas that NATO has designed this missile defense system to mitigate the Russian nuclear deterrent. But Russia may see this cooperation as part of a new security architecture in Europe, proposed by President Medvedev," Cohen said.

"Unfortunately, in Moscow there are politicians and experts of the old school who promote continuous distrust between the West and Russia and for whom it is politically and professionally beneficial. It creates a concept of a hostile encirclement [of Russia], consolidates people around regime, and justifies the disproportionate growth of military expenses, often misspent for other purposes."

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