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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.

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They see the plans as threatening, even though the US approach to missile defense – placing around 500 sea- and land-based interceptors throughout Europe over the upcoming years – is still not able to distinguish nuclear warheads from decoys or other debris. According to a September 2011 Defense Science Board report, as well as a recent US National Academy report, this failure of the European system renders the US defense so deeply flawed as to be useless.

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Discussions in March between the US and Russian missile defense experts focused on a more limited but possibly more effective missile defense system, the Forward Active Defense, proposed by Ted Postol, a missile expert at MIT. Whatever the outcome of developing this particular system, US-Russian technical collaboration is precisely the kind of cooperation that will help overcome the missile defense obstacle to Russian-NATO integration.

On the second obstacle, Eastern European memories of Soviet domination are beginning to fade as new generations are born into a world free of the cold war. As Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states develop economically and become more integrated into the world economy, memories of the humiliation and hostility associated with Soviet domination have been blunted.

In addition, cooperation on energy sources, including nuclear power, is likely to grow and to produce a new sense of partnership in the region. Transforming those commercial partnerships into the kind of trust required for formal Russian NATO membership will not be easy, but the alternative is continued political tension that distracts the region from the long-term and very real problems of nuclear weapons proliferation, energy insecurity, and economic stagnation.

As NATO continues to expand its reach globally, it makes sense to invite the alliance’s most prominent and able neighbor as a member. Russia possesses sophisticated military technology and already engages in military-to-military exchanges with the US. Russia also has a military-industrial infrastructure that could contribute capabilities that NATO currently lacks, and that the US has sought from its European partners for at least 20 years.

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, and how much its full cooperation could enhance global security if it were rewarded, finally, with membership in NATO.

Kennette Benedict is the executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a magazine established by Manhattan Project scientists in 1945 to inform the public about the dangers of nuclear weapons and other catastrophic threats to humanity. From 1992-2005, she directed the international peace and security program at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She also established and directed the foundation’s initiative in the former Soviet Union from 1992-2002.


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