NATO Sees Threats, but Is Reluctant to Say Just Who the Enemy Might Be


BRUSSELS — NATO’s secretary general expects two headlines out of this month’s annual summit meeting in Lisbon: an agreement to build an alliance-wide missile defense system, and NATO’s own “reset” with Russia, whose president has accepted an invitation to the meeting and says Moscow will explore cooperation on missile defense.
NATO is still negotiating key points in a new strategic doctrine, its first since 1999, to be published in Lisbon. These issues include nuclear disarmament, which divides France and Germany, and the alliance’s relationship with the European Union, which gets tangled up, as always, in the complications of Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.
And there is the equally problematic issue of missile defense, starting with the basic rationale for having such a thing. The alliance’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, was reluctant in an interview in his newly remodeled office here (Danish modern, with an Oval Office-like carpet with the NATO seal) to specify where such a missile threat might come from.
“More than 30 countries in the world have missile technology, and some of them can hit targets in allied territory,” he said.
The main threat is perceived to be from Iran, which is building sophisticated missiles to go with its nuclear program. But President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.
Russia is also not mentioned as a threat, given the desire for a better relationship with Moscow and the willingness of Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, to come to Lisbon and discuss Russian participation in the new missile shield, which his predecessor and possible successor, Vladimir V. Putin, has regularly condemned.
It all marks a change from 2008 in Bucharest, Romania, when Mr. Putin crashed the summit dinner and lectured President George W. Bush about encirclement and the dangers of inviting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.
In Lisbon, Mr. Rasmussen said, “I would expect NATO allies to decide that we will develop a NATO-based missile defense system. But at the same time we will invite Russia to cooperate, and then, of course, we have to work out how to cooperate.” Missile defense, he argues, presents “the greatest potential for enhancing our cooperation.”
Mr. Rasmussen will have a delicate task to perform when he visits Moscow on Wednesday to prepare for the summit meeting two weeks later, as relations between NATO and Russia have been strained.
Mr. Putin regards NATO expansion to parts of the former Soviet Union as offensive, while the West was affronted by Russia’s occupation of two key provinces of Georgia after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, which it generally saw as Moscow’s riposte to NATO’s vague promise of membership to Georgia. Moscow still refuses to remove its troops.
Asked what he would tell anxious Georgians about the “reset” with Russia, Mr. Rasmussen said that the alliance would not recognize the independence, autonomy or annexation of the two provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia; that it continues to respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; and that NATO would keep its promise to some day admit both Georgia and Ukraine.
He argued that a closer alliance relationship with Russia would help Georgia regain its territory, saying, “I do believe that an improved relationship between NATO and Russia is the best chance to ensure peaceful solutions to such disputes.”
Many Georgians and East Europeans, however, do not believe Russia will ever cede the two provinces or come to see NATO as a partner.
Asked about planning to defend all NATO members, including the Baltic nations and Poland, which had previously been left unclear, Mr. Rasmussen said carefully: “We never go into details about our military plan. But I can assure you, and that goes for all allies, that we have the necessary plans in place to defend them against any threats.”
Mr. Rasmussen and NATO are emphasizing the new strategic doctrine, nearly finished. One question has been how to balance a Russian reset with NATO’s principles.
But Mr. Rasmussen argues that NATO and Russia are best served finding areas of mutual security interest and then acting together on those — issues like Afghanistan, terrorism, narcotics, piracy, cyberwar and even missile defense — while leaving aside areas of contention, like Georgia and Ukraine.
When it was suggested that it was generally accepted that Russia launched a cyberattack against a NATO member, Estonia, in 2007, he stopped for a moment, then said that Moscow’s involvement was never fully proved.
“The problem is that attacks from cyberspace can be very difficult to trace,” he said. “So we have to develop a capacity to protect our societies across the board.”
NATO is trying to find a similar balance in its new doctrine between France, a nuclear-armed nation that insists on the primacy of nuclear deterrence, and Germany, which wants to enshrine the aspiration of a nonnuclear world.
While NATO officials and ambassadors say the language is not finished, it will probably follow President Obama’s own formulation — to work toward a nonnuclear world while maintaining a nuclear deterrent. “We are pretty close to a consensus,” Mr. Rasmussen said. Missile defense, he said, enhances deterrence, but does not replace it. While nuclear weapons still exist, he said, “The alliance will remain a nuclear alliance.”
In general, Mr. Rasmussen gets high marks for managing the new strategic doctrine, naming an expert group led by Madeleine K. Albright, the former secretary of state. Her report was unwieldy, but found key compromises, while identifying areas of disagreement.
Mr. Rasmussen then wrote his own version, a terser statement of what NATO is and wants to be in this century, a time when the cold war is over; European tank battles are unimaginable; and new threats come from terrorism, missiles, failed states, piracy, poverty and cyberwarfare.
The point of the new doctrine is educational, trying to answer the question, “Why is NATO still here?” The summit meeting, one ambassador said, “is designed to turn an organization founded on territorial defense against an identified threat to a more dynamic, flexible organization that is about building security and enhancing the safety of its citizens through cooperating with others.”

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