Special Report by Chris Graeme
An historic summit of more than 50 world leaders in Lisbon over the weekend finally saw the Cold War spectre of confrontation and nuclear war between Russia and the Western World laid to rest.
Friday and Saturday’s NATO Summit was hailed by United States President Barack Obama and the NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as a resounding “success” in which for the first time all NATO objectives for peace and world stability were agreed upon by the main participants.
As expected, NATO leaders signed an agreement for Afghan forces to take control of their country’s security forces in a deal which will mean a gradual withdrawal of NATO troops from next year and a measured handover by 2014.
But, more importantly, Russia astounded the world by agreeing to be part of a pan-European/United States Missile Defence System to protect the citizens of the western hemisphere against conventional and nuclear missile attacks from rogue states.
At the end of the two-day conference, in which the Portuguese were praised by President Barack Obama for their organisation and hospitality, Anders Fogh Rasmussen held a press conference brandishing what he called a blueprint for peace and a new Strategic Concept.
This is to be a “true strategic and modernised partnership based on the principles of reciprocal confidence, transparency and predictability” with the aim of creating a common space of peace, security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
“Today we launch a fundamentally new phase in relations between NATO nations and Russia. Today we help not only bury the ghosts of the past that have haunted us for too long. We exorcise them. Today we make a fresh start,” he said.
Summing up the 3rd NATO-Russia Summit, he said: “We have agreed, together, on which security challenges NATO nations and Russia actually face today. We have agreed we pose no threat to each other. That alone draws a clear line between the past and the future of NATO-Russia relations,” said the NATO Secretary General.
And it was the words from the President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, that were the most surprising when he said that the “period of cold wars had ended. We look to the future with optimism and we will aim to strengthen ties between NATO and Russia in all areas,” he said, adding that a “period of very tense and difficult relations had been overcome.”
This was made possible because Barack Obama made a pledge last year to include the Russians in plans to develop the Missile Defence System – something that his predecessor George Bush had refused to do.
Recognising this, President Medvedev praised President Barack Obama for the courageous rejection of the version of the Missile Defence System proposed by his predecessor in the White House.
“Russia now knows, without any doubt, that this system cannot be used against her and for the first time in history, NATO and Russia will cooperate in areas of Defence,” said Rasmussen.
Russia has also signed up to increasing its support for NATO forces in Afghanistan, a pledge which was echoed by Portugal which has agreed to send military training personnel to the region.
There will also be increased cooperation with Russia on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, piracy and counter narcotics.
But on the Missile Defence System Russia warned that it couldn’t allow the existing nuclear arsenal balance to be altered when Medvedev stated: “Moscow does not want to be a mere decorative figure in the European Missile Defence System.”
On the sidelines of the main press conferences held by the Russian and United States presidents and the NATO Secretary-General were a series of smaller ones made by individual Government leaders and heads of state, including one by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
In Lisbon on Saturday, David Cameron stated his commitment to withdraw British troops out of Afghanistan by 2015. “Let’s be clear, this is a deadline and I believe the British public deserves a deadline. We have been in Afghanistan for nine years and we have paid a high price,” he said.
The British have told their NATO allies that they will not be involved in combat operations in Afghanistan after 2014 although they have signed up to a commitment to retain a British presence in the region in the long term.
Russia, which was involved in a disastrous military campaign in Afghanistan during the late 1970s and early 1980s categorically stated at the summit that it would not get involved in active fighting on the ground.
However, it has pledged to offer logistical support for the Alliance, allowing equipment to move across its territory as well as providing some specialised military hardware such as Mi-17 helicopters.