NATO mulls relations with China, India, Russia at conference

Sunday, February 7, 2010

MUNICH - NATO officials pondered extending cooperation with China, India and Pakistan at the Munich Security Conference Sunday - even as the vexed question of the alliance’s relationship with Russia refused to die down.

Relations with Russia took up most of the debate at the weekend conference. Russia has looked on nervously as NATO has expanded to Russia’s western border, taking on members who used to be allies or members of the Soviet Union.

“The problem is the enlargement, the artificial enlargement, the politicised enlargement,” said Konstantin Kosachev, who chairs the Russian Duma’s International Affairs Committee. “The process by which NATO develops is very important for us.”

It was not the first time Russian officials have voiced the concern during the three-day conference, and NATO representatives were quick to respond that Russian fears about NATO expansion were unfounded.

“(NATO) is not against a country, it is for a concept,” said Madeleine Albright, a former US secretary of state who is heading a panel on NATO reform.

“NATO was an alliance against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union no longer exists.”

The exchange followed comments by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that NATO needs to launch a security partnership with rising powers such as China, India and Pakistan if it wants to be able to guarantee its members’ safety.

“What would be the harm if China, India, Pakistan and other countries were to develop closer ties with NATO? There would only be a benefit in terms of trust, confidence and cooperation,” Rasmussen said.

The idea would be to set up a permanent system in which the world’s major players could discuss security problems and strategies. The initiative could even lead to joint training or planning.

But those comments only seemed to feed into Russian worries.

“What we are concerned about is that Russia is still being informed in this concept, but not being involved. In case NATO continues to stay within its borders, that would be absolutely logical to keep Russia out, because Russia is not a member state of NATO,” said Kosachev.

He noted that similar moves by Russia would unsettle NATO.

“Just imagine if we put it as official Russian doctrine, how concerned you would get immediately.”

On other topics, Rasmussen said that the alliance would have to change its defence systems to deal with new “asymmetric” threats such as terrorism, piracy and cyber-warfare.

NATO is currently debating a new “strategic concept”, to be approved at a summit in Portugal in November. That concept is expected to call for more investment in new defence systems and concepts, moving away from the focus on land warfare in Europe.

However, that debate has provoked concern in former-Soviet vassals in Central and Eastern Europe, for whom the main point of NATO membership is to have protection against possible Russian attack.

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