On May 28, NATO leaders, including President George W. Bush, joined with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Rome to create a new NATO-Russian body intended to enable greater cooperation between the 19-member alliance and Moscow.
The NATO-Russia Council will meet at least once a month at the ambassadorial level and twice per year at the level of defense and foreign ministers to discuss issues of common concern and, if possible, to take joint action. The 20 countries have agreed to conduct joint assessments of the current terrorism threat and the global spread of weapons of mass destruction. Other possible agenda items include crisis management, talks on theater missile defense cooperation, and pursuit of greater military-to-military contacts.
All decisions within the council are to be made by consensus. Yet Russia and NATO are free to act on their own, and Russia has no veto over any alliance decision or action. The White House explained May 28, “The NATO Allies retain the freedom to act, by consensus, on any issue at any time,” and they “will decide among themselves the issues” to be addressed by the council.
The NATO-Russia Council replaces the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council (PJC), which was established five years ago to mollify Russian opposition to NATO expansion by giving Russia a voice at NATO. The PJC failed by all accounts, and its breakdown was highlighted by Russia’s temporary suspension of its PJC participation to protest NATO’s 1999 military campaign against Yugoslavia.
Expectations are tempered about whether the new council will work better than its predecessor. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow cautioned in March that Russia needed to “overcome a legacy of mistrust and competition” with NATO and that the alliance needed to become “more open and more flexible in taking Russia’s views into account.”
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, who will serve as chairman of the council, told the 20 leaders gathered in Rome that “the success or failure of this council will not be determined by me, but by you.”