NATO and the winds of change

THE NEW LINKAGE between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and its old enemy, Russia, illustrates the political preferences of the NATO's chief architect, the United States, in its present status as the campaign-leader in a `globalised' war on terrorism. With post-Soviet Russia and the U.S.-led NATO, a 19-member military alliance, signing an accord in Rome on May 28 to set up a Council linking the two sides, the stage is now set for a new strategic ethos for the Euro-Atlantic politics rooted in the notion of Western supremacy. It has of course been made amply clear that Russia now gains only a say in, and not a veto as such over, the NATO's new priorities. Yet, if the U.S. considers it essential to consult Russia over the NATO's agenda, the reason has not a little to do with Washington's recognition of the relevance of post-Soviet Moscow to the current war against terrorism. For over a decade since the end of the old U.S.-Soviet Cold War in the early 1990s, the trans-Atlantic organisation has remained in a state of nebulous identity. While the latest NATO-Russia accord cannot fashion the former's new profile complete with a mindset for the foreseeable future, an effort has indeed begun to find out whether this alliance can serve the West's interests not only in the Euro-Atlantic theatre but also across the entire international stage itself. Not surprisingly in this context, the new NATO-Russia Council is being depicted by some of its protagonists as an "incubator" for the "integration" of post-Soviet Russia with Europe and the entire West over time.

As some Western leaders tend to see it, Moscow's willingness to work closely with the NATO flows from a dramatic decision by the present Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to make common cause with the U.S. in its fight against international terrorism of direct interest to Washington. To be viewed against this background is the basic reality that the trans-Atlantic organisation, now dubbed variously as a Cold War relic and as yesterday's military alliance, is hardly in a position to make its presence felt across the entire world. In fact, the European allies of the U.S. within the NATO framework seem to be in no great position to bridge the widening gap of military acumen between Washington and themselves. Most recently, the U.S. has demonstrated its superior offensive know-how of the post-modern kind in the war against the Al-Qaeda-Taliban terrorist mafia in Afghanistan. While a similar reality might apply to Moscow as well at this moment, the fact remains that Russia's prospective consultations with the NATO might enable the outfit to take a broader view of the emerging challenges from terrorists and their state-sponsors. This subtle argument is derived from Washington's apparent willingness at present to treat Russia as a nuclear superpower.

Russia's new consultative relationship with the NATO may only impinge on, without really determining, the eventual expansion of the forum to cover the entire Euro-Atlantic domain. Seen in this perspective, the NATO-Russia Council might, in the short term, zoom its laser beams onto issues of international terrorism. A prime challenge facing the civilised societies is to prevent the growing number of terrorists from acquiring nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. In Washington's reckoning, the terrorists roaming the world might acquire such weapons either through clandestine means or with the help of some state-actors themselves. It is in this context that the U.S. appears eager to engage Russia, versed in the art and sciences of nuclear security, within the larger NATO framework. It is for Russia to decide whether or not to run the risk of becoming a U.S.-satellite within the NATO's expanding domain, but Washington seems to value Moscow's expertise at arms control as well.

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