NATO has formally accepted its old enemy, Russia, as a new partner in security cooperation to tackle what the alliance's secretary-general, George Robertson, calls their common enemy - global terrorism. U.s. President George W. Bush, 18 other NATO leaders, and Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated a NATO-Russia Council Tuesday at an Italian airbase near Rome.
The Cold War has been declared dead many times, but one NATO official describes the new agreement between the alliance and Russia as the Cold War's ultimate funeral.
In remarks to the summit, President Bush echoed that sentiment, saying the two former foes are now joined as partners, ending 50 years of division and a decade of uncertainty. Russia, says Mr. Bush, is united with the West in fighting a common enemy. "The attacks of September 11 made clear that the new dangers of our age threaten all nations, including Russia," he said. "The months since have made clear that, by working together against these threats, we multiply our effectiveness."
President Putin said NATO and Russia have come a long way from their Cold War confrontation to today's cooperation. "The significance of this meeting is difficult to overestimate," he said. "Even only a very short time ago, a meeting of this type, bringing together the leaders of Russia and NATO member states, especially bearing in mind the format in which we meet today and its quality, would have been simply unthinkable, whereas today it has become a reality."
The NATO-Russia Council will give Moscow an equal say on many of the alliance's decisions, especially those involving the fight against terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Initially, its deliberations will involve such areas as peacekeeping, crisis management, and search and rescue operations.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson says the agreement signed Tuesday joins nations that stretch from Vancouver eastward toward Vladivostok as a force to tackle the common enemy of global terrorism. But he warns the Council's 20 members not to let their body become a talking shop. "There are high expectations of all of us, expectations that this will not be just another protocol event but a real breakthrough, expectations that the new NATO-Russia Council will not just talk but will act, not just analyze but prescribe, not just deliberate but take decisive action," said George Robertson. "We have a profound obligation to ensure that these expectations are not disappointed. And if we require any reminder of why that is so, then there is a simple answer. There is a common enemy out there."
NATO officials insist that Russia will not have a veto over any of the alliance's decisions. They say that, if a NATO member wants to take a certain issue off the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council, it will be able to do so to allow the alliance a free hand in setting and implementing its own policies.