When I took office in 2009, many were surprised that I devoted my first keynote speech to Russia. And some may be surprised again that during my visit to the United States this week, one of the themes I will speak about is the NATO-Russia relationship. There is a very good reason for this.
With its allies in NATO, the United States has worked hard to create a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. Over the past two decades, we have come closer to achieving that goal.
We now have a great opportunity to build security not only in Europe, but across the entire Euro-Atlantic area — as NATO and Russia set aside old differences to work more closely together. The U.S. can be a major driver behind that process too.
Long after the Cold War ended, NATO and Russia continued to look at each other with suspicion. Yet, the case for broader, more solid NATO-Russia cooperation became more and more compelling as threats to the security of our nations increased in number and complexity. Terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber crime and piracy are just some of the new global threats that now affect all of our nations.
The only way to meet these threats, and to defeat them, is through the broadest possible cooperation between nations and organizations. NATO and Russia have a vital stake in that international synergy and have a major responsibility for taking it forward.
In Lisbon last November, President Barack Obama and his 27 NATO colleagues agreed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to develop a strategic NATO-Russia partnership. This decision was grounded in a sober assessment of the new security environment. But it was also based on a shared, strong conviction that, by working together, NATO and Russia can enhance security well beyond their own borders.
Of course, a solid NATO-Russia partnership will require much more than a solemn pledge by political leaders. It will require genuine and sustained political will and pragmatism on all sides.
NATO and Russia still have disagreements of principle on issues such as Georgia. NATO insists on full respect for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we call on Russia to live up to her international obligations in that respect. We must not shy away from discussing these disagreements. But neither must we allow these differences to paralyze our partnership.
The U.S., through its bilateral relations with Russia and its prominent NATO position, has been instrumental in driving that partnership forward. I have no doubt that it will continue to do so.
After having pushed the "reset" button with Russia, the U.S. has worked hard to draw Russia closer, including advocating her membership in the World Trade Organization. And the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the U.S. and Russia is a strong boost, not only for international arms control, but also for our overall relationship with Russia — and it's a major achievement of the Obama administration and Congress.
I believe missile defense offers another great opportunity to advance our relationship with Russia. Today, more than 30 countries have or are acquiring ballistic missile capabilities. And several of these capabilities potentially pose a direct threat to various nations.
For a number of years, the U.S. has been leading an international effort to defend against this threat. At a NATO summit in Lisbon last November, we decided to make that an alliance mission and to build a NATO missile defense system. We also invited Russia to work with us to explore possibilities for linkages between the independent NATO system and Russia's own missile defense capabilities. President Medvedev took up that invitation.
That work of connecting two systems, with one purpose, is ongoing. There are many difficult technical, legal and political issues still to be solved, but we are making good progress.
If we can make our missile defense systems coordinate and communicate, it will be the first time that — instead of building security against each other — NATO and Russia will build security together. This is well within our grasp. With the continued support and leadership of the United States, I am convinced we can make it a reality.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen is secretary-general of NATO.
The Chicago Tribune