In NATO’s annual “state of the alliance” report published yesterday, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen details the areas in which Russia and NATO expanded their “practical cooperation” last year. Russia continued to allow NATO governments to transport supplies to their military contingents in Afghanistan through Russian territory, and joined with the alliance in developing the Afghan Air Force through the NATO-Russia Council Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund. NATO and Russia also expanded cooperation in counterterrorism, including the Vigilant Skies 2013 exercise, which simulated a joint mid-air response to the hijacking of civilian aircraft, and tests of their joint IED-detection technologies developed under the STANDEX project.
Nonetheless, NATO-Russia relations have remained strained over missile defense, conventional arms control, NATO membership enlargement and other issues. Russia negatively shapes NATO’s agenda and policies at a time when the alliance wants to—and should—focus on other issues. In some cases, such as Afghanistan, complementary interests can bridge this gap. But in many other instances, the gap between NATO and Russia is too large to paper over.
As a result, the relationship is on balance distinctly negative. The parties cooperate on many issues, especially within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), but this collaboration is shallow and not critically important. In addition to the areas of cooperation listed in the annual report, areas of joint NATO-Russia activities include maritime counterpiracy, military exchanges, crisis management, WMD nonproliferation, maritime rescue, civil emergencies and new security threats. But in almost all cases this cooperation entails little beyond joint seminars, conferences and a couple of symbolic exercises.