The NATO summit which will convene in Lisbon on November 19-20 will adopt the alliance's new strategic concept switching NATO from regional defense to global-scale missions. In practice, the reform will institutionalize the West's victory in the Cold World War III. The already visible results of the victory include the ongoing departure from the Yalta-Potsdam system and the downscaling of the role played by the UN – or at least by the UN Security Council – in international relations.
These days, Russia's rapprochement with NATO would take more than a political decision. Rather, it would have to be a civilizational choice, and the question arising in the context is: are Russians – not the outspoken Westernized minority, but the majority – willing to forge an alliance with the forces which fought against Russia for centuries and are currently waging a Cold War against it, employing novel indirect-impact strategy and chaos control? Since, at least nominally, Russia's strategy in international politics is that of pragmatic partnerships based on common interests rather than on shared values, the first step should be to explain the underlying common interests of the potential alliance.
The new world order built as we watch on the ruins of the Yalta-Potsdam system automatically energizes a range of negative global processes and is prone with new wars or major regional conflicts. At the moment, the situation in the Far East already appears similar to that in Europe on the eve of World War II.
Futurological studies conducted by the Russian Academy of Science showed that:
1. The world's climbing out of the 2008-2010 global recession is unlikely to translate into sustainable growth, and another global economic downturn can be expected already by 2012-2013;
2. Social and military-political conflicts will proliferate in 2014-2020.
At present the world is confronted with a spectrum of global models not necessarily leading to Pax Americana. While the fact that a global transformation is underway is beyond doubt, the direction in which the process evolves continues to stir debate. The change may be understood as a drift towards established capitalism and a world dominated by transnational corporations or as the onset of a globally segregated post-capitalist society opening access to prosperity to some 20% of the world's population and locking others in poverty and chaos.
In any case, we are enduring the epoch of a systemic crisis and decline of capitalism which, in addition to its intrinsic problems, faces increasing pressure from the rising Asia. Under the circumstances, Russia's priority should be to avoid being dragged into the epicenter of the coming collapse. Hoping to get rid of competitors in the post-capitalist world and to enforce a “final solution” of the Russian problem, the West is luring Russia into this very epicenter.
So, what is NATO offering Russia? So far, we are only invited to jointly assess security threats. The idea is not bad in itself: history abounds with examples of seemingly credible alliances induced by common threats, but what common threats could the Russia-NATO strategic alliance repel? Upon filtering out verbiage, the essence of the proposed alliance boils down to the following:
1. Russia would find itself involved in a standoff with the Muslim world.
2. Russia would be neutralized during the planned attack against Iran which would render Tehran unable to play an independent role in international politics or compete over the regional leadership.
3. Russia would be donating its resources to the NATO campaign in Afghanistan which is rapidly losing momentum.
4. Moscow would see its promising dialog with Beijing suspended as China would end up fully encircled.
Do we really need any of the above?
Why would Russia agree to the role of NATO's frontier in case a conflict in Asia breaks out? We would be better off watching the hostilities unfold, given that the potentials on the opposing sides are more or less equal. We would be in an advantageous position waiting at a distance for the outcome of the battle between the two giants – the US and China – as the two clash over currencies and industrial affairs.
Russia's pro-Western politicians argue that:
1. Russia should opt for the membership in the Western world and help preserve the existing (and crumbling) world-system, if necessary remaining its peripheral element.
2. NATO can issue the desired pass to the Western world.
3. The strategic alliance with NATO would be a step towards full NATO membership and consequently towards the admission to the EU, etc.
What those who hold the above views tend to ignore is the cost of the problem. Let us examine briefly the costs Russia would face if it choses to integrate into NATO. Russia's losses would be due to the following circumstances:
1. Decision-making in NATO is consensus-based.
2. Settling all territorial disputes is a prerequisite for the admission to NATO.
3. A NATO candidate must fully switch to the NATO standards.
4. Russia's ability to implement independent policies in the military-political sphere, including the arms trade, would be severely clipped.
5. Russia's strategy aimed at debarring post-Soviet republics from NATO would become unsustainable.
6. Russia's financial contributions to the NATO budget would occasionally support causes Russia has no reasons to regard as its own.
7. For Russia, pledging allegiance to the mythical Atlantic solidarity would entail joining “the energy NATO”, an arrangement incompatible with Moscow's initiative to build the “gas OPEC”.
The first and the second of the above points deserve to be treated in finer detail. To have its territorial disputes resolved,
1. Russia would have to cede to Japan the so-called northern territories, namely four Kuril Islands. In fact, even greater concessions can be required. In a relatively distant past, the US Congress passed a resolution – with no expiration date, notably – calling for a revision of the San-Francisco peace treaty. The resolution recommended that the US government regard all the Kuril Islands plus the Sakhalin Island as illegally occupied territories. Recently the US Congress expressed support for Japanese protests against president Medvedev's Kuril Islands tour.
2. Russia would have to back off in the Arctic dispute with Denmark and Canada and – as a minimal concession – renounce its claim to the Lomonosov Ridge. Moreover, Russia might have to altogether drop its positions in the Arctic region and accept the EU approach by which the Arctic region should be internationalized like Antarctica. It has already been announced that NATO regards the Arctic region all the way to the North Pole as its responsibility zone.
3. Russia might also face unformalized territorial claims that exist de facto. Estonia and Latvia uphold claims to the Pechersky and Postalovsky districts of Russia's Pskov province. Disagreements persist between Russia and Ukraine over the status of the Strait of Kerch and the Sea of Azov. The demarcation of the Black Sea border between Russia and Georgia cannot be expected to take place in the nearest future. Finally, Russia's Caspian neighbors – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan – are keenly interested in the partition of the Caspian Sea.
In addition to territorial claims, NATO's consensus-based decision-making can present a serious problem for Russia. Admission of a candidate to the alliance materializes only in case all of the NATO members consent to it. As a result, Russia will inevitably run into roadblocks put by Poland and the Baltic republics which are eager to supervise the West's relations with Moscow. Oddly enough, they continue to demand that Russia compensate them for the alleged Soviet-era occupation! Currently 8 countries, most of them – NATO members, have material claims against Russia, the corresponding total exceeding the amount accumulated in Russia's stabilization fund.
Therefore, even a sketchy analysis demonstrates that for Russia rapprochement with NATO makes absolutely no sense. For Russia, the optimal strategy in the nearest future and in the mid-term is to pursue the policy of active neutrality relying on the country's strategic deterrent and otherwise backed by military force.
Not joining NATO but mobilizing resources to strengthen the country's defense potential can help Russia route around the coming global military conflict. To watch the conflict from a distance as the reasonable strategy advises, Russia should be mindful of historical lessons and maintain commensurate military potential, including the nuclear deterrent. Besides – also in line with the traditional strategic wisdom – Moscow should not allow the West to save its civilization by sacrificing Russia.