NATO deputy secretary general: We remain open to dialogue with Russia

NATO Deputy Secretary General Patrick Turner. PHOTO: Erik Prozes

The Russian Embassy in Belgium is one way to communicate, while the channel between NATO military chiefs and the head of the Russian armed forces also remains open, NATO Deputy Secretary General Patrick Turner says of the state of affairs in the alliance.

Russia closed its entire NATO representation in mid-October when the alliance decided to revoke the accreditation of eight Russian diplomats over espionage. That was also the reason the NATO Information Office in Moscow was closed.

NATO no longer has an accredited Russian representation since November 1, while the NATO Information Office in Moscow has also been closed. What difference does it make?

Russia’s choices are unfortunate, while it does nothing to change our approach that is still strong deterrence, defense and openness to dialogue. We still have channels of communication, including between our top military leaders and [head of the Russian armed forces] Gen. Valeri Gerassimov.

NATO allies maintain a dialogue with Russia. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana with Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko. In other words, we are still talking.

Our stance is unchanged. We regret Russia’s move. It is even more important to talk to each other in order to avoid miscommunication and miscalculations in a situation where relations are as strained as they are.

We have been saying for six months that we are ready to return to the NATO-Russia Council – the ball is in Russia’s court.

When was it last held?

Approximately two years ago. In other words, we have been waiting for a while.

When you decided to revoke the accreditation of eight Russian diplomats, did you anticipate Russia’s reaction and decision that it does not need a NATO representation?

We did it because we held what those people were doing to be unacceptable. We did not calculate a possible reaction as that is a good way to get nothing done.

But as I said, we can still talk to Russia. We can still have a dialogue with the Russian Embassy in Brussels. That said, NATO not being represented in Russia and the closing of the Russian mission to NATO has certainly complicated matters.

NATO is working on a new strategic concept, while the EU is all but plagiarizing it, putting together a strategic compass. Do you see a fundamental difference between the two from NATO’s point of view?

I’m not an expert on the strategic compass – neither as concerns its contents nor goals – but as far as I can tell, it is a document that should help realize the European Union’s global strategy. It is different from the NATO strategic concept the aim of which is to set our course for the next four years – how we see the world, our own priorities and what we will be doing.

I do not see those two documents as competing with one another. Of course, it is important for NATO and the EU to see the world as similarly as possible and pursue cooperation, while we are not worried in NATO about what the EU strategic compass says. We are concentrating on our strategic concept.

What is the point of the strategic concept? Does it prescribe any red lines leaders must not cross?

The actions of allies and NATO will always matte more than what is written on paper. But the strategic concept is an important public document below the Washington Treaty that describes how we see the world, the purpose of NATO, its values, priorities, how we plan to fulfill our main mission of protecting the one billion residents of our member states.

The strategic concept is also based on plans made in recent years. We are in the middle of a process of great adjustment. The [security] environment really is very different from 2010 when the previous concept was put together.

To what extent do everyday developments like the end of the Afghanistan mission, the coronavirus crisis or developments in the Pacific affect what the concept will include?

NATO is currently in the process of analyzing lessons from Afghanistan. There is that as crisis regulation is and will remain among our core tasks.

While collective defense of allied territories is our number one task, NATO will remain active outside the alliance’s borders, currently in Iraq and elsewhere in the future.

On the one hand, we learned lessons in Afghanistan, while that does not rule out future activities. Another important topic is the challenge posed by China – China was not mentioned in the previous strategic concept.

What about the coronavirus crisis? Has NATO drawn any conclusions here or is it just the environment around us?

The coronavirus crisis illustrates quite a few things. One is the importance of national resilience that is included in Article Three of the Washington Treaty.

Secondly, it proved that half a million allied soldiers were a great help in the first phase of the Covid crisis. It demonstrated the value of investing in defense and defense forces, planning, logistics and command systems. They are not just there for collective defense but also to assist civilian authorities in emergencies.

At the same time, we have managed to retain NATO readiness and capacity for operations. We could also facilitate assistance between allies and for partner states. There have been a lot of examples of NATO helping allies and partners and the latter helping each other.

Afghanistan was one place where NATO gained a lot of allies and partners. Both the ISAF and Resolute Support formats [that saw the participation of dozens of countries, including from outside NATO] gave reason to bring representatives of Middle Eastern, Asian and Pacific countries to NATO HQ in Brussels. How to maintain these partnerships?

These partnerships are strong and based on more than joint action in Afghanistan. We have a lot of partners who are still on mission with us, for example, in Iraq and KFOR [in Kosovo].

Considering the global context in which we operate and the challenges we face, we have more reason than ever to maintain partnerships. Secretary General Stoltenberg keeps repeating the message that NATO is an alliance of 30 allies but a host of partners.

Looking at the challenges of the 21st century – authoritarian regimes and climate change – we need partnerships to ensure that we can win and rise to the occasion.

What will be the pretext for inviting the Australians of Japanese to the NATO HQ next time?

Allied leaders said in Brussels this June that partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region are crucial and will become more important in time. We hope to develop them in the middle-to-long-term.

We already have partnerships in places where we never expected to have them – both in North Africa and southern America. Our Pacific partners – Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand – have all been very clear in wanting a strong relationship with NATO. I hope we can clearly demonstrate it at next year’s summit.

In other words, those countries will be invited to the NATO summit next year?

We will see. No decisions have been made.

There will be a number of meetings with partners, while we have not yet decided on the format.

What could be the perfect work allocation between NATO and the EU?

I would not put it in those categories. One thing that is clear is that NATO is responsible for allied collective defense. We do not want there to be any confusion about that or anything to weaken the transatlantic bond between USA and Europe.

For me, defense spending is the most important thing – 2 percent of GDP – that is the goal NATO has set for its allies, while it could also be a key initiative in the EU, as is all the work we do to boost readiness.

The NATO Readiness Initiative – battalions, squadrons, ships – getting all of it done will benefit both NATO and the EU.

But you can see that below the level of collective defense, there are operations and missions handled by the EU, things where countries choose NATO and places where we pursue NATO-EU cooperation – such as Kosovo and Iraq. Both are present there and I believe doing a good job.

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