NATO's Secretary-General on Reaching Out to Russia

NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been on the job for only six months, but the former Danish prime minister will soon draft a road map for the alliance's next 10 years. He sat down with NEWSWEEK's Tracy McNicoll in his Brussels office last week to discuss his challenges and a new idea for engaging Russia. Excerpts:

France just sold a Mistral assault ship to Russia, which has made other NATO members nervous. What's NATO's role here?
NATO as such doesn't have a role to play [in the sale], and I take for granted that it will take place in full accordance with all international rules. I also understand the concerns voiced by some allies. The way forward is to improve the relationship with Russia—[make] sure we do not consider each other enemies. We established the NATO-Russia Council nearly eight years ago. So Russia already has status as a partner. It should be possible for NATO allies to have a normal trade relationship with Russia. If we could develop a true strategic partnership, then exchanging military equipment would not be that controversial.

You've focused on improving NATO-Russia relations. But when Moscow released its new military doctrine this month, it singled out NATO as the largest threat Russia faces. Why?
This statement in the Russian military doctrine does not reflect the reality of the world. NATO is not an enemy of Russia. NATO will never attack Russia. Simple as that. So the document reflects Cold War thinking. It seems a bit strange that the Russians would publish it without consultation with NATO. NATO is in the process of preparing a new Strategic Concept, and we have invited Russia to provide input. Compared to that, the Russian process has been very closed. Having said that, we have to overcome this old-fashioned thinking. Because the bottom line is Russia and NATO allies share security concerns. We are faced with the same threats: Afghanistan, terrorism, WMD proliferation, piracy. We should cooperate in those areas.

Russia also feels threatened by missile defense, yet Obama wants NATO on board. What do you do?
NATO will be involved. I welcome the new American approach to missile defense because it will allow deployment sooner than the previous plans—and I do consider the missile threat real. [The new plan] will include all allies, have the possibility to protect all allies, and will be developed within a NATO framework. Having said all that, I would very much like to see Russia integrated in a common U.S.-NATO-Russia missile defense system. Proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery constitutes a common threat to Russia and NATO. So we should cooperate to address this new threat.

I would like to stress this point: the Russians have during the last couple of years devoted a lot of attention to what they call a new "European security architecture." President Medvedev has presented some ideas, and the Russians have presented a draft European security treaty…

That the U.S. is concerned about.
Yes, but my point is, instead of focusing on treaties and papers and documents, we should create a real common security architecture that matters in the real world, that really protects people in Russia, Europe, and North America. We could, by creating a common shield against hostile missiles. That would be a real common security architecture that would matter for ordinary people.

Some would call that idealistic.
I would call it realistic. Instead of establishing a talk shop on treaties and doctrines and documents, I think we should explore the possibilities to do something that really matters for people and their security. And an integrated missile defense system, a common shield, against rogue states would really—really—create a common security architecture. I think it could be the way forward. It would create a new atmosphere, an improved security environment to the benefit of all in Russia, Europe, and North America.