On April 20, 2016 the NATO-Russia Council meeting took place. This meeting was necessary because of the continuous offensive policies of Russia (mainly in Ukraine), but also because of the increasing tension along Eastern borders of the Atlantic Alliance. The Russian growing naval engagement in the Baltic region and in the Black Sea has caused NATO reaction, which has significantly increased its presence in the Eastern borders during the last year. For this reason, NATO and Russia strongly requested a Council meeting on April 20 in Brussels. The aim of this meeting was to both discuss the Ukrainian issue concerning the illegal annexation by Russia of the Crimea, and transparency between the two parties in order to reduce the risk of a conflict. Since 2010, NATO has put in place a new strategy based on collective security, conflict prevention and cooperation with neighbours countries in order to neutralize any type of threat for its member countries. This article initially will examine the post-Cold War NATO’s key strategies, stressing out its « new » principles to deal with the threats of a multipolar world. Then, we will examine NATO reactions against the offensive policy of Russia and the conclusions of the meeting of 20 April. Finally, we will consider NATO policies founded on the increasing military presence along the eastern border of the Alliance, highlighting the current political-military situation based on the concept of “action-reaction”.
NATO’s new keys strategies: the Strategic Concept
On November 19, 2010 at their Summit meeting in Lisbon, NATO leaders adopted a new «Strategic Concept». It served as an Alliance’s roadmap for the following ten years and that reconfirmed the bedrock of Euro-Atlantic security: the commitment of countries to defend one another against attacks. The document presented NATO’s vision for an evolving Alliance that wanted to defend its members against modern threats and commits NATO to become more agile, more capable and more effective. Stressing that «the time has come for NATO to develop new capabilities and new partnerships», the new Strategic Concept paved the way for the Alliance to modernise its ability to carry out its core mission of collective defence, while continuing to promote international stability. The document highlighted that NATO wanted to stay ready for playing an active role in crisis management operations. NATO wanted ensuring common defence and security, continuing to be effective in a changing world, against new threats, with new capabilities and new partners. Three essential core tasks were underlined:
- Collective defence: NATO’s member states want to assist each other against attack, in accordance with Article 5 of the Washington Treaty;
- Crisis management: NATO’s want to develop political and military tools in order to manage crisis and prevent it.
- Cooperative security: the Alliance engages itself to enhance international security, developing partnership with other countries and international organisations.
Deterrence remained a core element of NATO strategy. Member states ensured their will to increase their capabilities to deter and defend their population against any threat, to maintain an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces, to make more robust, mobile and deployable the NATO Response Force (established in 2003), and to carry out training, exercises contingency planning and information exchange to ensure defence.
NATO identified new threats, such as proliferation of ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, but above all instability beyond its borders. In fact, since his return to the Kremlin, as reported by the «Group of policy experts report to the NATO Secretary General», President Vladimir Putin has imposed an authoritarian leadership over the Russian federation, undertaking an important significant military modernization programme. In 2014, in Ukraine, the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych government (faithful ally of Kremlin) provoked Putin reaction, to avoid the loss of a strategic partner. The illegal annexation of Crimea (the Ukrainian region, mainly populated by Russians) was an evident demonstration of the Kremlin offensive intentions. Russia has imposed arbitrary economic sanctions on Ukraine and is providing military, operational and material support to armed separatists.
According to the «Strategic Concept», NATO developed its prevention politic, based on the concept «action-reaction»: NATO measures depend on Russia actions. At NATO Summit in Wales, in September 2014 Allied leaders met Petro Poroshenko, Ukrainian President in the NATO-Ukraine Commission. In a joint statement, they condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its continued and deliberate destabilisation of eastern Ukraine violating of international law. They also agreed a comprehensive package of measures to help Ukraine dealing with its security. Trust Funds – a mechanism which allows individual Ally and partner countries to provide financial support on a voluntary basis – have been set up to support the launch of substantial new initiatives in five critical areas, including:
- Command, control, communications and computers (C4): to support the modernisation of Ukraine’s structures and capabilities;
- Logistics and standardization: to help reform Ukraine’s logistic system and increase its interoperability with NATO,
- Cyber defence: to help Ukraine developing technical capabilities to contrast cyber threats, provide training and advice on policy development;
- Military career transition: to assist Ukraine’s defence ministry with the development of a sustainable resettlement programme
- Medical rehabilitation: to ensure that injured Ukrainian servicemen and women have access to appropriate rehabilitation services.
NATO leaders also agreed to establish a «Very High Readiness Joint Task Force» (VJTF). It consists of a land brigade numbering around 5,000 troops, supported by air and sea. NATO has already patrolled the Black Sea and has considered a more persistent military presence in the region, with a particular focus on maritime capabilities. This continuous arms race was the basis of the debate that took place in Brussels during the NATO-Russia Council meeting. The policy of deterrence persevered by the former Secretary General Anders Rasmussen, has been continued by his successor, Jens Stoltenberg, who has inherited the burden of a policy begun before his assignment to NATO. In fact, since 2015, the new Secretary General had to continue a chain reaction already started and forwarded. The meeting of April 2016 strongly asked both by himself and the Kremlin was a hope for a truce, but the results were not what we all expected.
«No business as usual»: the Stoltenberg answer
«We should not have high expectations from the NATO-Russia Council because Russia now perceives the Alliance as an enemy» said Bruno Lete, an expert on NATO affairs at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) during an interview. In his opinion, one of the reasons why it is important for NATO to hold meetings with Russia is due to the Alliance’s desire to understand Moscow’s intentions before the big upcoming NATO meeting in Poland, where relations with Russia and the enlargement of NATO forces in the Baltic States will be one of the key issues on the agenda.
In the last two years NATO has continued to maintain a political and military dialogue with Russia in order to monitor the evolution of the crisis in Crimea (see article «NATO-Russia Council: on 20 April the new D-day for the international equilibrium»). On February 5, 2016, during the informal meeting of the European Ministers of Defence in Amsterdam, the debate dealt with two issues: the civil war in Syria and the Turkish engagement in the migration crisis. Moreover, the informal meeting was also the occasion to announce the United States plans in Europe. In fact, during this meeting, NATO Secretary General confirmed that the US have increased four time the amount they spend on military presence in Europe funding more troops in the Eastern part of the Alliance, and financing heavy equipment, tanks and armoured vehicles. In Amsterdam, NATO collaboration with the US and the European Union was strengthened in order to fight against hybrid threats, such as the effects of the Syrian civil war and migration. The Syrian civil war was another point stressed by the Alliance: the intense Russian airstrikes, mainly targeting opposition troops, was undermining the efforts to find a political solution in Syria and at the same time was causing increased tensions and violations of Turkish airspace. According to the Alliance, this created risks and heightened tensions inside NATO’s space. In his statement, Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, repeatedly hinted that NATO reacts in order to prevent a conflict: every political and military measure implemented were the natural reaction to a measure already accomplished by the Kremlin.
In fact, on March 17, 2016, during the NATO meeting with Prime Minister of Latvia Republic, Stoltenberg presented the ongoing adaptation process to face the challenges that may endanger the security of the Alliance members. On one side, NATO wants to adapt to new threats, and on the other to become more flexible: this is the combination to become stronger. Actually, NATO doesn’t see any imminent threat against the Baltic allied members, but it sees a more assertive Russia with a significant military build-up in the region. This is the reason why NATO is responding and responded increasing its presence in the Baltic Region with air policing, with naval presence in the Baltic Sea and also with more exercises of troops on the ground on a rotational basis. NATO decided to further increase its presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance including the Baltic region, and the readiness and responsiveness of its forces: now the Alliance has tripled the size of the NATO Response Force so it can deploy forces quickly if needed. According to NATO this is the reaction to the Russian military presence in the Baltic region with more planes, with more naval presence and also with more troops and that is the reason why NATO is responding both with increased military presence and with increased readiness and preparedness of forces to deploy if needed. The aim is the prevention. According to Stoltenberg declaration «everything NATO does is defensive, it is proportionate and it is absolutely in line with our national commitments. And we do not seek confrontation with Russia».
On 20 April, in this scenario marked by the action-reaction principle the NATO-Russia Council was opened. At the end of the meeting, NATO position remained unchanged: the concept of preventive action based on the action-reaction principle was reaffirmed. First, the press conference began with the phrase «..we all agree that it is in all our interest to keep political channels for political dialogue open. However, this does not mean that we are back to business as usual». In other words, the meeting was an opportunity to meet and discuss the issue of Ukraine, military activities, and transparency in order to reduce the risk of a conflict. However, NATO reaffirmed its support to Ukraine and to the preservation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Secondly, NATO activities in the Baltic and the Black Sea were defined transparent and in compliance with international law. The discussion was characterized by frankness, and the fact that NATO and Russia have diametrically opposing ideas position is not a mystery. However, if on the one hand, Russia has shown its territorial claims to Ukraine and the legitimacy of its military actions in the eastern borders of the Alliance, on the other once again we find the concept of action-reaction NATO. In fact, again, NATO message consist of:
- Everything NATO does, even in the Baltic Region, is proportionate, it is defensive, and it is fully in line with its international commitments.
- What NATO is doing is an answer to substantial military build-up in Russia.
It is important to remember that what NATO has done in the Baltic Region is in response to illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s destabilizing behavior in Eastern Ukraine. NATO’s increased military presence in the Baltic Region happened six months after the illegal annexation of Crimea. The actions taken and their timing confirm that what NATO has done is a response to the actions of Russia in Ukraine.
Strengthening the Eastern Europeans border with NATO troops is a response to Russia’s dangerous escalation, stated the Secretary General of Alliance Jens Stoltenberg. On May 2, according to an interview granted to Deutsche Welle, a Germany‘s international broadcaster, the future NATO Summit in Warsaw will provide further answers, and will precise NATO strategies. The three most important points for the future of NATO-Russia relationship are the Polish question, the establishment of a new base in Romania, and finally the Summit in Warsaw.
NATO is discussing the possibility of deploying four battalions in the three Baltic countries and Poland. According to NATO, this multinational presence, with soldiers coming from different countries in each of these units, could send a very clear signal: an attack against one of the Baltic countries would be an attack against the entire alliance. Even if there is not an imminent threat against a member of NATO, this measure is justified by Russia behaviour: it has tripled its military expenditure since 2000, and it has used force to change European borders.
In May this year a defence missile station will be installed in Romania. However, the statements suggest that at the practical level, this base is a defensive one: the aim is to intercept ballistic missiles. Romania in this case is a very strategic country. No clear reference is against the Kremlin, not only the base has a defensive purpose; anyway the decision to create it was taken a few years ago, even before the annexation of Crimea. Once again, the Secretary General said that NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia, or a new Cold War. It’s always the prevention concept: the Alliance is conducting a dual approach towards Russia, being both strong and predictable, in order to avoid an international crisis.
On 12 May 2016, during NATO press conference in Romania, Secretary General underlined the importance of defending the Alliance from ballistic missile threat. In fact, in Deveselu, it was the ceremony for the activation of the Aegis Ashore missile defence that will provide defensive coverage of NATO territory against medium and short-range missile attacks. Indeed, since 2014, several Alliance’s countries increased both their defence expenses and their participation in NATO operation. NATO thanked Romanian government and people for the contribution they have made to NATO’s collective defence in hosting the new site. Poland will host a second Aegis Ashore site at Redzikowo. Spain is providing a base for the Aegis ships. Germany is providing a missile defence command centre. Turkey hosts an early-warning radar station. The United Kingdom is investing in more ground-based radar. Denmark and the Netherlands are upgrading their frigates with new radar. The United States is making a major investment in Europe collective defence (the European phased adaptive approach). The four American multi-mission Aegis ships based in Spain will make a significant contribution to NATO’s missile defence system. According to Stoltenberg the system NATO is building is defensive. The projectiles NATO uses to knock out incoming missiles do not contain explosives; they simply punch their targets out of the sky. In other words, NATO could not use them offensively. Yet Russia has declined all NATO proposals for cooperation on missile defence, including the establishment of joint centres and a regime to ensure missile defence transparency. Moreover, NATO will continue to engage in dialogue with Russia when and where it can. Moreover, NATO-Russia Council proved that despite divergences, keeping channels of communication open is important. Notwithstanding the considerations of the international community, which sees the NATO-Russia issue as a return to the past in which the Alliance is controlled by the United States, and Russia is offensive and destabilizing power, we should keep distance from clichés, because the political causes of NATO and Russia antagonism are much deeper.
Today’s NATO is not the same NATO of the Cold War. The new policy, strategic and military objectives are not only consequence of external threats, but also of internal pressures, and these must be considered. NATO’s enlargement process incorporated countries that for many years have been under the Soviet control. This is why these new countries have a vision of the Alliance similar to that of the Cold War years. We must consider that after 1989, NATO had to re-invent its job in order to stay alive. The famous Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which sets out the terms of collective defence, was the magnet for adhesion of new countries between 1999 and 2004 (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia). Furthermore among countries seeking to entry into NATO there are Georgia and Ukraine. Leaving aside the weaknesses of NATO as institution, we must consider that after 2004 a curtain in the Eastern borders was created.
NATO now runs at two speeds. On one side, there is the group of « elders » founders who see Russia as a threat (but that can be neutralize with economic and political instruments), they perceive NATO as a strong regional institution to be asked in case of extreme necessity (for them NATO is almost an accessory force). Then, on the other, there is the «newcomers» group, in which half of the countries see NATO as the anchor of salvation according to «anti-Soviet». If we add the deterioration of the international scenario and the Russian offensive politic we can understand NATO measures. Thus, today we find NATO hit by external pressures and internal differences. This is the reason of Jens Stoltenberg’s appointment as NATO Secretary General (strongly supported by Germany, USA, UK, and countries of northern Europe) in 2014: a socialist, and a non-European who for years when he was prime minister of Norway was able to speak with Russia on issues related to the economy, politics and diplomacy.
The result of NATO policy is simply the sum of the matters listed above. There is a defensive policy (but never offensive), an adaptation to new threats, an increase in military spending (but in order to answer to Russian offensive), new military basis (but created to prevent). In short, a NATO that still adapts itself because of exogenous and endogenous forces, and who wants to satisfy all its member countries, be able to please everyone, founding itself (since 2014) on a policy based on conflict prevention.
Maria Elena Argano
For further information:
- NATO website, Doorstep statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the NATO-Russia Council meeting: http://www.nato.int/cps/fr/natohq/opinions_129999.htm?selectedLocale=en
- NATO website, Doorstep statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Informal meeting of the European Ministers of Defence in Amsterdam: http://www.nato.int/cps/fr/natohq/opinions_127626.htm
- NATO website, NATO adopts new Strategic Concept: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_68172.htm
- NATO website, Active Engagement, modern defence: http://www.nato.int/cps/fr/natohq/official_texts_68580.htm?selectedLocale=en
- NATO website, Collective Defence, Common security: http://www.nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/pdf_2014_06/20140606_140602-peg-collective_defence.pdf
- The German Marshall Fund of United States Site, We should not expect too much from the NATO-Russia Council: http://www.gmfus.org/commentary/%E2%80%9Cwe-should-not-expect-too-much-nato-russia-council%E2%80%9D
- NATO website, Joint press point – by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_129339.htm
- 24 Heures Site, OTAN nous ne voulons pas d’une guerre froide : http://www.24heures.ch/monde/OTAN-Nous-ne-voulons-pas-d-une-nouvelle-guerre-froide/story/25515640
- NATO website, Defending our nations from ballistic missile threat: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_130662.htm
- NRK Site, Stoltenberg letter på sløret: Merkel ringte meg om NATO-jobben i oktober: http://www.nrk.no/norge/merkel-ringte-stoltenberg-i-host-1.11637880