U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, April 1, 2014. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/Reuters
NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance that has protected America and western Europe from attack since the end of World War Two, is no longer fit for purpose.
The growing aggression of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his territorial ambitions, as displayed in his annexation of Crimea and his supplying pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, has shown the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to be ill prepared.
There is even doubt whether major powers like the U.S., Britain, France and Germany would be prepared to intervene if smaller NATO nations, like the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, were invaded by Russia.
That is the stark verdict of British lawmakers, members of the Commons Select Defence Committee. In a scathing assessment of NATO’s inability to respond to emergencies such as Russia’s war against Georgia and Ukraine in Crimea, and Russia’s use of stealth methods to destabilize Ukraine, they conclude that the Atlantic alliance has been “too complacent about the threat from Russia, and it is not well prepared.” They call for the next NATO summit, to be held in Wales in September, to station more military forces in the Baltic states to deter a Russian invasion.
“NATO is currently not well prepared for a Russian threat against a NATO Member State,” the committee’s report says. “A Russian unconventional attack, using asymmetric tactics … designed to slip below NATO’s response threshold would be particularly difficult to counter. And the challenges which NATO faces in deterring, or mounting an adequate response to, such an attack poses a fundamental risk to NATO’s credibility.”
“The risk of attack by Russia on a NATO Member State, whilst still small, is significant,” said the committee’s chairman, member of parliament Rory Stewart. “We are not convinced that NATO is ready for this threat.” He warns that “the nature of Russian tactics is changing fast — including cyber-attacks, information warfare, and the backing of irregular ‘separatist groups’, combining armed civilians with Russian Special Forces operating without insignia. We have already seen how these tactics have been deployed by Russia and its proxies in Ukraine to destabilize a NATO partner state, annex part of its territory, and paralyze its ability to respond.”
Stewart warns that Russia may extend its ambitions westwards – and that NATO has no plan to counter an invasion. “The instability in Russia, President Putin’s world-view, and the failure of the West to respond actively in Ukraine means that we now have to address urgently the possibility – however small – of Russia repeating such tactics elsewhere,” Stewart says.
The Committee recommends:
• Pre-positioning military equipment in the Baltic States.
• Continuous NATO troops on training and exercises in the Baltic.
• Large-scale military exercises.
• Improvements to NATO’s rapid reaction force and the establishment of a new Standing Reserve Force.
• Improved warning procedures of imminent attack.
• New tactics to respond to the threat of “ambiguous” attacks from Russia – including how to counter threats from cyber, information warfare, and irregular militia.
• A reconsideration of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that set up NATO that requires that an armed attack on one NATO State to be treated as an attack upon them all, to allow for a response to less conventional attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin heads the Cabinet meeting in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence. (Alexei Nikolsky/AP)
By Editorial Board, July 30 2014
A MONTH ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to be successfully executing his campaign to destabilize Ukraine. While Russian-backed insurgents consolidated a breakaway republic, weak and divided Western governments ignored their own deadlines for imposing sanctions. Now, suddenly, Mr. Putin faces twin reversals: relatively tough sanctions from the United States and European Union on Russian banks and oil companies, and a string of military defeats that have pushed back his proxy forces. It’s a dangerous moment for Mr. Putin — and, perhaps, an opportunity for Ukraine and its allies.
The Obama administration and European governments deserve credit for agreeing on joint action against Russia after months of haggling and hesitation. But Mr. Putin is mostly responsible for his own setbacks. Having recklessly supplied his Ukrainian proxy force with advanced anti-aircraft missiles, he was surprised when one downed a Malaysian passenger jet, causing a heavy loss of European lives. Even then he might have avoided significant sanctions, but his response to the tragedy was to stonewall and deny responsibility even while escalating his weapons deliveries to the flailing insurgents.
President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders have bent over backward to avoid a full rupture with Mr. Putin over Ukraine. Mr. Obama said Tuesday that the sanctions did not represent “a new cold war” but rather was “a very specific issue” related to Ukraine. Yet the combination of economic losses from the sanctions and Ukraine’s potential defeat of the rebels could pose a threat to Mr. Putin’s hold on the Kremlin. Having whipped up nationalist passions over Ukraine with his state-directed propaganda apparatus, the Russian ruler might have trouble explaining the rebels’ eclipse. While the effect of sanctions will take time to sink into the economy — the Russian stock market and ruble rose Wednesday — Mr. Putin has already been on thin ice with Russia’s middle class and its private-sector businessmen.
It’s not yet clear how Mr. Putin will react to these reversals. He is capable of surprising shifts of direction — such as his sudden offer last summer to help strip his ally Syria of chemical weapons. Ukrainian officials, like some of their counterparts in the West, worry about a reckless lashing out by a ruler who feels cornered. Mr. Putin, they counsel, still should be offered a face-saving way of retreating from Ukraine. President Petro Poroshenko and the interim government, which have been offering such compromises all along, are set to renew negotiations with the Russian-backed forces this week.
While such initiatives are worth trying, the reality is that Mr. Putin is more likely to escalate than back down. Ukraine and the West must be prepared for a more forceful and overt Russian military intervention. That should mean more support for the Ukrainian military, which is seeking drones and better communications equipment from the West, and more economic support for the new government, which has been forced to spend heavily on the armed forces. Russia should not be allowed to permanently entrench its proxy forces in eastern Ukraine, creating a “frozen conflict.”
The West also should not shrink from the destabilization of Mr. Putin’s regime. Once considered a partner, this Kremlin ruler has evolved into a dangerous rogue who threatens the stability and peace of Europe. If he can be undermined through sanctions and the restoration of order in eastern Ukraine, he should be.