assessments

Russia: Creating Fissures in NATO

5 MINS READJan 14, 2010 | 13:22 GMT
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Summary
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos on Jan. 12 praised Russia's proposal for a new European security treaty as "timely" and in line with Europe's interests. By putting forth that proposal Russia is not necessarily hoping to get Europe to agree to a particular security arrangement; rather, Moscow is looking to sow discord among European countries, particularly NATO members.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos visited Moscow on Jan. 12. Moratinos, whose country currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, called Russia's proposal for a new European security treaty "timely" and said its implementation would be in line with Europe's interests. He also specifically mentioned NATO's ongoing efforts to create a new "Strategic Concept" document, saying that these efforts manifest "considerable interest" in the Russian security proposal. Moratinos' comments were not echoed at a Jan. 12 session of a group of experts, led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, which met in Prague to draft proposals for the new NATO strategy document. Central European delegates at the meeting expressed considerable anxiety over NATO's future, asking for assurances that NATO's Article 5 — the very heart of the NATO alliance, which states that attack on one member is attack on the entire alliance — is still alive and well. At the core of Central Europe's unease are Russia's ever-improving relations with Western European states. NATO is undergoing its most significant strategic mission revamping since 1999, when it last updated its Strategic Concept document. In that update, NATO took into account the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and outlined the parameters for NATO operations outside its membership zone, paving the way for the alliance's role in such theaters of operations as Afghanistan. In 2010, the alliance plans to update its strategic vision at a conference to be held in Lisbon at the end of the year, prior to which it will hold a number of meetings such as the one in Prague. (click here to enlarge image) Central European NATO member states are well aware that they now form the buffer zone between Western Europe and a resurgent Russia. Ever since the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008, Central Europe has asked for greater reassurances from the United States that NATO is willing to protect them. Poland, the Czech Republic and most recently Romania have been involved with U.S. ballistic missile defense, while the Baltic states have asked the United States for greater military cooperation on the ground. The response, however, has not been to their satisfaction. First, Western Europe and the United States stood idly by while Georgia, a stated U.S. ally, lost its brief war with Russia in 2008. Second, Washington decided to (briefly) abandon its BMD plans in Poland and the Czech Republic in the fall of 2009 in an effort to elicit Russia's cooperation in Afghanistan and on the Iranian nuclear program. While the U.S. eventually amended its decision, Prague and Warsaw got the sense that they were expendable in the grand geopolitical game. Finally, Central Europeans are closely observing Russia's warming relations with the main Western European states — particularly Germany, France and Italy. The Kremlin is signing energy deals with these states and offering lucrative assets in the upcoming privatizations of state enterprises in Russia. The last straw for Central Europe may be Russia's proposed new European security treaty, meant to integrate Russia more into Europe's security decision-making. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev first hinted at the proposal after the Georgian war. It was then put forward as a slightly less vague — but still unclear — draft at the beginning of December 2009. For Russia the draft and the treaty itself are not important. Moscow understands well that Western Europe has no intention of abandoning NATO. However, the positive response the draft received from Western European nations — such as the Spanish foreign minister's comments — is exactly what Russia wanted. For Russia, the point is not to sway Western Europe into an unrealistic new security alliance (although it would love to do just that), but rather to sow discord among NATO member states. The Central Europeans therefore are taking the lead in refocusing the debate about NATO's new strategy — which until now has been about identifying new global threats such as energy security, cyberwarfare and climate change — toward Russia. They are asking for concrete assurances that Article 5 is alive and well. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, hosting the Jan. 12 meeting on NATO's new strategy, explicitly said that "it is critical for us that the level of security is the same for all members, meaning that Article 5 … is somehow re-confirmed." One of the proposals at the meeting included drafting a clear and precise defense plan in the case of an attack against the region, presumably by Russia. The question now is how these demands will be met by Western Europe — and Berlin specifically — which is unwilling to upset its relationship with Russia, particularly not for the sake of Central Europeans. While the United States and Western Europe may be willing to grant a token reaffirmation of Article 5, it is unlikely that Berlin would want to get into the specifics of designing a military response to a hypothetical Russian attack, particularly not one that would be publicly unveiled. Washington might be more amenable to such concrete proposals, but with Russian supply lines crucial for U.S. efforts to sustain a troop surge in Afghanistan, it is not certain that even Washington would be able to give a more direct reassurance. Ultimately, a token reassurance may not be enough for Central Europe. The coming debate over NATO's 2010 strategic revamp — with the next meeting scheduled for Jan. 14 in Oslo — could therefore open fissures in the alliance, an outcome Moscow had in mind from the start.

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