After a successful conclusion to the Cold War, can the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) regroup to respond to the new threat from Moscow?
Vladimir Putin’s intentions were made clear in a telling comment by Andranik Migranyan, head of the Kremlin-controlled “Institute for Democracy and Cooperation” reported in the Fiscal Times in response to analogies between Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and Germany’s in the 1930’s:
“One must distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939…the thing is that Hitler collected [German] lands. If he had become famous only for uniting without a drop of blood Germany with Austria, Sudetenland and Memel, in fact completing what Bismarck failed to do, and if he had stopped there, then he would have remained a politician of the highest class.”
Moscow’s worrisome military moves are not restricted to former Soviet satellites. In December, the Kremlin confirmed that it had deployed ISKANDER tactical nuclear missiles on NATO’s border. The move was not in response to any western action.
There have also been a number of incidents in which Moscow’s nuclear-capable bombers and submarines have come threateningly close to the airspace and coasts of NATO nations both in Europe and the United States.
Richard Perle, former chair of the Defense Policy Board for President George W. Bush and current fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, recently stated in a Newsmax interview that Putin is attempting to “put Humpty Dumpty back together again and re-create something that looks like the old Soviet Empire.”
NATO’s forces have shrunk considerably since the end of the Cold War, symbolized by the diminishing military budgets of both European nations and the United States. The United States has also unilaterally withdrawn all of its most vital land weapons, tanks, from the European continent.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014, which the United States and the European Union say violated international law, will likely poison relations with NATO for the foreseeable future. “We clearly face the gravest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War,” said Secretary-General Rasmussen of Russia’s intervention.
Russia’s invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, as well as its deployment of ISKANDER tactical nuclear weapons to its European border, have brought back the threat most had thought vanished with the fall of the Soviet Union. But NATO’s individual governments, including most importantly the United States, have slashed military budgets.
NATO’s sharp reduction in forces, even in the face of increasing threats, has brought into question the viability of the alliance. A 2012 Brookings Institute study
“There have long been debates about the sustainability of the transatlantic alliance and accusations amongst allies of unequal contributions to burden-sharing. But since countries on both sides of the Atlantic have begun introducing new – and often major – military spending cuts in response to the economic crisis, concerns about the future of transatlantic defense cooperation have become more pronounced.
“A growing number of senior officials are now publicly questioning the future of NATO. In June 2011, in the midst of NATO’s operation in Libya, Robert Gates, then US Defense Secretary, stated that Europe faced the prospect of “collective military irrelevance” and that unless the continent stemmed the deterioration of its armed forces, NATO faced a “dim, if not dismal Future.” Ivo Daalder, the US Permanent Representative to NATO, and James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, have argued that “if defense spending continues to decline, NATO may not be able to replicate its success in Libya in another decade.”
“The alliance’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has warned that “if European defense spending cuts continue, Europe’s ability to be a stabilizing force even in its neighborhood will rapidly disappear.” While Norwegian Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide has claimed that “exercises have shown that NATO’s ability to conduct conventional military operations has markedly declined. […] Not only is NATO’s ability to defend its member states questionable, it might actually deteriorate further as financial pressures in Europe and the US force cuts in military spending”
Russia’s aggression represents a disappointing end result for NATO’s numerous attempts to establish a relationship with Moscow based on a post-Cold War (or “Cold War 1” as it is becoming known) era of cooperation rather than confrontation. According to a recent NATO document,
“Over the past twenty years, NATO has consistently worked for closer cooperation and trust with Russia. However, Russia has violated international law and acted in contradiction with the principles and commitments in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council Basic Document, the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and the Rome Declaration. It has gravely breached the trust upon which NATO-Russia cooperation must be based.”
Russia’s NATO envoy, Aleksandr Grushko, responded in a statement reported in the Russian publication RT that “…NATO still has a double standard policy. And Cold War stereotypes are still applied towards Russia…”
NATO turned 65 in 2014, a year that also marks the 15th, 10th, and 5th anniversary of members who joined since the end of the Cold War, enlarging the alliance to a total of 28 member states. It is, arguably, the most successful military alliance in history, winning its original goal of preventing a Soviet invasion, without having to actually go to war.
NATO currently conducts 5 active missions: peacekeeping in Kosovo, anti-terrorism patrols in the Mediterranean, anti-piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa, assistance to the African Union in Somalia, and fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. But it is the Russian threat that looms largest. NATO seems unprepared to deal with.
Particularly under Vladimir Putin, Russia, despite numerous NATO overtures for peace and cooperation, has viewed NATO’s growth with anger. Moscow, which spends a greater percentage of its GDP (4.1%) on defense than either the U.S. (2.4%) or NATO nations (averaging about 2%) maintains that it opposes NATO growth because it views it as a threat to its nation, despite all evidence to the contrary. A more accurate analysis indicates that the alliance prevents the Kremlin from re-forming the Soviet Empire in a different format.
The Council of Foreign Relations notes that NATO’s Bucharest summit in the spring of 2008 sharply deepened the distrust. The alliance delayed “Membership Action Plans” for Ukraine and Georgia but declared its support for eventual full membership for both, despite repeated warnings from Russia of political and military consequences. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in the summer, following Georgian shelling of South Ossetia after what it termed an occupation by Russian forces, was a clear signal of Moscow’s intentions to protect and enlarge what it sees as its sphere of influence.
Many had hope that Moscow’s opposition to NATO’s growth had been resolved in 1997, when the alliance and Russia adopted a security agreement in which Moscow consented to NATO’s growth in return for a promise that masses of troops, equipment or nuclear missiles would not be placed on Russia border. The hope was not realized.
The Report continues next week.