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Opinion

Russia should be rewarded with NATO membership

Russia should be on the agenda for NATO summit in Chicago this weekend. In spite of recent tensions, the historically fractured relationship between Russia and NATO is the most ripe for transformation. Obstacles like missile defense and Eastern Europe can be resolved.

By Kennette Benedict / May 15, 2012

Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolay Makarov speaks at the Ministry of Defense’s Conference on Missile Defense in Moscow May 3, where he threatened that Russia will use preemptive force against a US missile defense system if it is deployed in Europe. Op-ed contributor Kennette Benedict says: 'It is time to recognize how much Russia has accomplished in less than a generation, how much it could contribute to the military capacity of NATO...'

Sergey Ponomarev/AP

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Chicago

At first blush, the NATO summit to be held in Chicago this weekend has an ambitious and exhaustive agenda, which includes everything from the effects of government financial crises on defense budgets, to lessons from the successful action in Libya. You name it – exit strategies from Afghanistan, relations with Asia in a global NATO, cyber security – and it’s there. Yet one issue that is fundamental to the future of the alliance is conspicuously missing: the NATO-Russia relationship.

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In late March, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the cancellation of the NATO-Russia Council Summit, slated to be held in conjunction with the NATO Summit. The official statement explained that the “timing is difficult...because Russia has a very busy domestic political calendar.” And just last week President Vladimir Putin canceled his trip to the G8 Summit at Camp David.

Whatever the reason, it is no secret that the relationship between Russia and NATO remains troubled. This is unfortunate. In spite of recent tensions, the historically fractured Russia-NATO relationship is the most ripe for transformation.

Since 1997, when NATO and Russia laid the foundation for future cooperation and security, the connection has been nothing but fragile. Of course, the first rupture came when NATO offered membership to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – all countries sharing borders with Russia – as well as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

At a time of great vulnerability, Russia felt the affront deeply; it had peacefully backed down from the superpower struggle, only to have its erstwhile enemy incorporate former Soviet states into the US-dominated alliance. Hardliners in Russia were ready to lash out with a military response, but President Boris Yeltsin and others committed to transforming the country prevailed, instead focusing inward on domestic problems.

And the problems were many. In the 1990s, observers worried that Russia itself would be fragmented by ethnic strife and civil war. They aired concerns that the transition from a command to a market economy would leave many without employment and in dire poverty, and that the humiliation of a defeated Russia would give rise to hyper-nationalist leaders who might be even worse than communist bureaucrats. And they feared that some 40,000 nuclear weapons from poorly guarded and unsecured sites would leak out across the world.

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