George Robertson Is Engine of Russian Army Reform

No matter what results NATO Secretary General George Robertson’s visit brings, it’s clear that he won’t be thrown tomatoes at

George Robertson is again visiting Moscow. Over the past two years the NATO secretary general visited Russia so many times that it comes to mind that the alliance actually considers Russia a strategic partner. Which by the way provides no answer to the question how far the limits of this partnership may reach.

This time George Robertson came to Russia to participate in a conference "The Role of the Military in Combating Terrorism." Unfortunately, the problem of terrorism is pressing for both, NATO and Russia. The NATO secretary general mentioned several times already that to his opinion cooperation in resistance to terrorism would be especially effective for both parties. However, it is not clear yet how exactly this cooperation will shape. Lately, NATO spoke oftener and oftener about closer cooperation between the alliance’s military structures and Russia. This very fact was confirmed by the NATO secretary general upon his arrival to Moscow. And how this cooperation may develop is not clear as well. To begin with, all discrepancies between Russia and NATO must be settled.

It is perfectly clear that NATO’s further expansion is the key problem in the relations between the alliance and Russia. It seems that NATO decided to follow an extensive development model. The process of expansion is rather long by itself, it is connected with lots of bureaucratic procedures; these procedures concern NATO member countries, as well as those which claim to NATO membership. And as there are still many countries that desire to enter the military alliance, the NATO leadership doesn’t need to think of what will happen further. A question arises: do we need this organization, in its present-day form at least? This idea highly likely occurs to NATO leadership from time to time.

It is an open secret that until recently the USA carried the main burden for military operations (no matter what enemy was chosen at that); European NATO members almost always acted as a subsidiary force. At that, if necessary, the USA can wonderfully do without assistance of other members of the alliance (although this possibility rather should be considered hypothetically). All attempts of European states to create “fast deployment forces” have brought no considerable result yet, as the idea is too expensive by itself.

It seems that NATO actually understands perfectly well that the alliance has reached “a crisis of ideology”, so to say. At least, George Robertson declared at the conference in Moscow that the alliance was thoroughly modernizing its political line, structures, forces and methods; they are currently oriented on participation in the international campaign for struggle against terrorism and mass destruction weapons proliferation. In his words, it means that NATO is turning not into a world-wide gendarme, but a much more effective partner to the international community in the struggle against the threats of the 21st century. In fact, George Robertson told all skeptics that main idea of NATO’s existence at present was to struggle against terrorism.
Meanwhile, it is clear that participation of the military in anti-terrorism operations makes sense only in that case if terrorists have large armed units at their disposal. Vice-president of the Academy of geopolitical problems, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov said in this connection that “military organizations of Russia and NATO are the structures that develop their potentials for running classical military operations, and struggle against terrorism is first of all the function of law enforcement authorities and special services.” In his words, “even NATO generals in command of military units and formations can hardly imagine themselves how they will fight against the secret groups belonging to the international terrorist network.” Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Ivanov declared today that it’s untimely to say that Russia and NATO will carry out joint anti-terrorist operations. 

The NATO secretary general also touched upon the problem of the Russian army reforming. His words were rather diplomatic concerning the problem: “The armed forces of Russia and NATO are hypertrophied; they had been designed with a view to fight in the third world war. They are too large and expensive for our economies.” In his words, main objective of the army today is to resist to the threat of international terrorism and carry out joint peacemaking missions. The NATO secretary general is sure that the armies need less conscripts, but more professionals, less tanks and more high-precision weapons. Does it mean that George Robertson cares about the state of the Russian army not less than about the armies of other NATO members? If so, he is unlikely to reach mutual understanding with the Russian leadership on the problem.

On the whole, we cannot say that an era of unlimited trust between Russia and NATO will come soon. The attitude of the alliance to  its Eastern neighbor is too ambiguous. On the one hand, NATO calls upon Russia for a joint struggle against terrorism; on the other hand, NATO provides no guarantees that no military bases will be situated on the territory of former Baltic republics. But if such bases are located there, NATO armed forces will be too close to the Russian border.

Vasily Bubnov

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Author`s name Michael Simpson