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Commentary | 14 February 2011

Hans Blix: Speech on NATO-Russia Relationship, ELN Meeting, London, 25 January 2011

Image of Hans Blix

Hans Blix |Former Foreign Minister and Director-General Emeritus of the IAEA

NATO Russia Russia-West Relations Euro-Atlantic Security

Dr Hans Blix discusses the NATO-Russia relationship following the publication of the NATO Strategic Concept at the Lisbon Summit.


As delivered

I want first to thank the organizers for bringing us together today and I appreciate the opportunity to contribute a few thoughts.

Eight months ago we felt very hopeful: START had been signed, the Washington conference about control of nuclear material had taken place and the NPT review conference had signaled a new fragile consensus that called for both nuclear disarmament and support for non-proliferation.

To-day our optimism is tempered. We are relieved that the US Senate did ratify START. However, we have seen that a massive effort – that we admire – was needed to get the necessary Senate support for arms control measures that were important but modest.

In the US today there might be a growing feeling that military expenses must be reined in, but disarmament is below the political horizon and much of the military establishment and Congress are averse to disarmament. Despite the US-Chinese January summit statement supporting entry into force of the CTBT there is little hope for early US ratification.

In Russia, there is strong resistance in the military establishment to go beyond START while the US is still on course to develop a Missile Shield that might allow the US to strike any point on the globe without risking retaliation. A well filled nuclear arsenal to pierce a shield appears to be a Russian answer.

It is clear that the military security strategists in both the US and Russia have by no means accepted the view of both senior American and Russian civilian statesmen that nuclear deterrence is obsolete between the US and Russia and obsolescent elsewhere. There seems thus in both countries to be an important difference between the view of some seasoned civilians, who appear to think there can no longer be war between great powers and the more cautious view that still prevails in military doctrine, budget and planning that deterrence remains vital.

Are the prospects of further East-West disarmament then dim?

There has been much talk about NATO-Russia cooperation on missile defense and it seems highly desirable that talks continue. Agreement could, indeed, help much to reset the button. If missile defense is about ‘rogue’ states and terrorists – as we are told – it is hard to understand why there should not be close cooperation US – Europe – Russia – and even China.

In NATO as in the US Senate there appears to be interest in seeking a withdrawal of Russian tactical nuclear weapons and to discuss the exit of the some 200 US nuclear weapons stationed in Europe generally said to have little or no military value. I fear an attempt to tackle this issue by negotiation may not yield much good will.

If, indeed, the NATO weapons have no military value, why should Russia pay for their exit? It might be wiser to let them exit – as a matter of economy. It would be seen by Russia as a gesture of confidence and might trigger a positive response.

To seek to resuscitate the CFE (the treaty on conventional forces in Europe) would seem highly desirable but hard, as it may raise problems relating to South Ossetia and some other entities. Constructive diplomatic thinking should be encouraged. The gain could be considerable. It is an anomaly that the treaty is in limbo. Perhaps it could be part of the discussion that Russia has proposed about a new European Security Architecture.

The briefing paper before us reminds us that the new NATO Strategic Concept is not pleading for the elimination of nuclear weapons but seeks only to ‘create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons’.

Some would perhaps argue that such conditions could be created only in a world with genetically modified human beings. Others – like myself – might argue that the conditions already exist through the interdependence that makes war unthinkable between the US, Russia, Europe and China. MAD is being replaced by MED – mutual economic dependence! Putting this question aside, what can be done to improve current conditions? My answer: create more East-West détente!

Is there a genuine fear in the West of a new Russian imperialism? Was the Russian action in Georgia a sign of an ambition to re-conquer? Most in the West hardly believe that any longer but Russia might do well to demonstrate through a policy of good neighborliness that there is no reason for such concerns.

On the other hand, NATO should make it understood that the alliance is not seeking a further expansion of membership. Russia should not need to worry about plans for a new policy of containment that would call for it to rearm but should feel that it can join the West in a policy of partnership.

Russian suggestions for a new security architecture in Europe have sounded a bit grandiose and have had a lukewarm reception. I think the West should be open to serious discussion, for instance how the OSCE could be made more useful but also how bigger changes could be made.

Lastly, the fundamental idea behind EU is that reliable peace can be achieved through economic integration. To solidify peace with its big neighbor Russia the EU should now strive for intensified economic and cultural relations with Russia and both parties should avoid old fashioned concepts of zones of influence or privilege. In all likelihood, independence is precisely what the third states themselves would prefer.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.