Since the demise of the Berlin Wall, hardly a year has passed without pronouncements being made about how the Cold War is finally over. The break-up of the Soviet Union, new strategic arms treaties, the aftermath of September 11 and, finally, the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council in Rome last month, have all been hailed as historic changes that close the era of confrontation between the two former superpower rivals once and for all.
The politicians doth protest too much, of course, for everyone knows that US-Russian relations, even at their better moments, have had more than their share of problems over the last decade. Today, concerns that despite all the forward momentum, evidenced by backslapping summitry and new treaties the two countries could return to a competitive, if not confrontational relationship, are ripe. For one thing, the warmth between the two presidents does not spread to their broader domestic constituencies. For another, the foundation for lasting partnership - military alliance - remains elusive.
For all the good intentions, years of effort to bring Russia closer to a strategic partnership with NATO have delivered surprisingly little. The Partnership for Peace served as basis for cooperation on defense planning and budgeting, military exercises and civil emergency operations, but no role in NATO military planning or operations. The 19+1 agreement, or dvatsatka, offered arrangements for Russia to cooperate with NATO as long as no NATO member state dissents. The NATO-Russia Council provides further structure, but NATO reserves the right to act unilaterally on any issue, at any time.
The simple truth is that however many new Brussels councils will be established, NATO will not succeed in integrating Russia until both sides can find an area where strategic cooperation can actually occur. So far this has not worked: Most regional conflicts are buried either in the heritage of "old" Cold War competition or the "new" emerging rivalries, or both.
In the Middle East, Israel and Palestine could readily benefit from widespread international engagement, but Russia's cozy relations with the United States' regional enemies makes mutual efforts unlikely. A US attack on Iraq might yield Russian acquiescence, but not active participation.
Meanwhile, the Caspian has the United States and Russia pursuing dramatically different goals regarding regional energy policy. Russia continues to provide arms and nuclear technology to "evil axis" member Iran. Meanwhile, Moscow's fears that the United States is setting up shop in Russia's southern backyard has only deepened with US troops in the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan, and military advisers in Georgia.
Even in Russia itself, the United States does not share Russia's position that the war in Chechnya is a war against terror. Combine this with Russia's continued unwillingness to support NATO enlargement (Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will be skipping this November's Prague summit), and the prospects for alliance any time soon seem dim.
Yet there is one conflict where Russia-NATO cooperation can occur. That is the conflict between India and Pakistan.
This is the one conflict in the world where the major global powers prefer any outcome to armed confrontation. Neither the United States nor Russia has primary geostrategic or economic interests in the subcontinent. However, as the situation in Kashmir escalated to military confrontation, the threat to global stability could hardly have been more evident.
First, there is the obvious danger of nuclear exchange. Second, President Pervez Musharraf's ouster and replacement by a militant Islamist regime is a threat to all parties concerned. And third, the prospect of heightened military alert leading to diffusion of Pakistan's nuclear weapons from central command and control, and their loss or sale to terrorist organizations.
US-Russian cooperation has already been seen on this front when President George W. Bush asked Putin to help initiate mediation between India and Pakistan. At the Asian Summit in Almaty, Putin extended an invitation to the leaders of both nations to meet with him in Moscow while working hard to bring them to the negotiating table. For Russia, the India/Pakistan conflict is an obvious chance to reassert itself as a major power in the international arena, demonstrating that it is up to par with other NATO members. As the talks progress, Russia is likely to become more broadly involved in Kashmir and could play a key diplomatic part in ending the standoff. For his part, Putin could step up to play a role akin to that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the early days of the post-Sept. 11 crisis (a function more difficult for Blair to exercise at present, as his own popularity erodes).
Progress will not come easily. Musharraf's ability to close down terrorist training camps in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and to prevent militants from slipping over the border into India will destabilize his regime if not met with concessions on Kashmiri status by India. And such concessions will prove extremely difficult to extract from an Indian government that seeks to appease its own domestic constituency. Part of any answer, beyond the negotiations, is an international military presence to help enforce a settlement and separate the two sides. The sides are far from making a deal happen.
Yet it is hard to imagine that the United States will muster the commitment or the focus to pull it off on its own. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell have both been directly engaged in the Pakistan/India conflict in the past months, and it has taken valuable time and effort away from US attempts to resolve problems in the Middle East and, most importantly, plans to remove Saddam Hussein from power. In Washington, at the very least, Russian support on Pakistan-India would be welcome.
And aside from Putin's willingness to engage, Russia has a useful role to fulfill. It has a reasonably good relationship with India, through growing bilateral trade relations and arms sales, and can leverage its authority accordingly. Russia's intelligence resources in the subcontinent far outstrip those of the United States.
It would not be the first time Moscow played a constructive role in the subcontinent. In 1966, Soviet leaders were successful in brokering peace between the two sides, resulting in the Tashkent Declaration. Times have changed. As we have heard often enough, the Cold War is over. Looking back in a decade, the India-Pakistan conflict may be remembered as the event that brought Russia into NATO once and for all.
Ian Bremmer is President of Eurasia Group, Co-Chair and CEO of Lehman Brothers Eurasia Group joint venture, and Senior Fellow & Director of Eurasia Studies at the World Policy Institute. Dr. Bremmer received his PhD in political science from Stanford University and has held positions at the Harriman Institute, Hoover Institution, the East West Institute, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. An expert on US foreign policy, Eurasian states in transition, and international political risk, he has published widely on nation- and state-building, and international relations in global emerging markets. Dr. Bremmers recent publications include New States, New Politics: Building the Post Soviet Nations, and articles and essays in International Affairs, World Policy Journal, Journal of Democracy, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, The International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times. He is a regular commentator on CNN, CNBC and CBC Newsworld, and a regular contributor for The F