NATO’s ex­pan­sion de­bate

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Asiya Ma­har Email:asiyama­har@hot­mail.com

LAST week Bri­tain, Germany and the United States agreed a plan to de­ploy four bat­tal­ions with around 4,000 NATO sol­diers in Es­to­nia, Latvia, Lithua­nia and Poland. Af­ter the end of the Cold War, it is NATO’s biggest mil­i­tary buildup in the re­gion. Al­though the troops will be sta­tioned near Rus­sia’s bor­der, NATO’s Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg said the al­liance isn’t try­ing to start a new Cold War. The de­ploy­ment will bol­ster NATO’s de­fences against Rus­sia while at­tempt­ing to avoid any un­war­ranted es­ca­la­tions in ten­sions with Moscow and is also one of the mea­sures to make sure NATO’s mem­ber states in East­ern Europe feel se­cure. To en­sure that, Sec­re­tary Gen­eral added that NATO de­fence min­is­ters [will] make a de­ci­sion to fur­ther in­crease the strength and ca­pac­ity of the 13,000-strong NATO Re­sponse Force (NRF) to 30,000 or 40,000 troops in East­ern Europe.

Re­gard­less of how many jus­ti­fi­ca­tions may be pro­vided, NATO’s re­cent an­nounce­ment is likely to anger Rus­sia which has long crit­i­cised NATO’s ex­pan­sion in Europe, call­ing it a threat to its na­tional se­cu­rity as well as the sta­bil­ity of the con­ti­nent. How­ever, NATO’s ex­pan­sion pro­po­nents ar­gue that its mem­bers are demo­cratic in­de­pen­dent coun­tries that sought mem­ber­ship in the trans-At­lantic al­liance; they were not forced into it. These coun­tries saw NATO as a way to in­te­grate with Tran­sAt­lantic com­mu­nity, so­lid­ify their democ­racy, their free mar­ket con­nec­tions and their com­mit­ment to strong Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions, hence they got in­te­grated.

Ac­cord­ing to Putin, the buildup vi­o­lates NATO-Rus­sia found­ing act. But the ro­ta­tional ba­sis of the de­ploy­ment of bat­tal­ions is specif­i­cally de­signed to not to vi­o­late the agree­ment. More­over, NATO ar­gues that the agree­ment refers to ‘given the cur­rent se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion’NATO will not place its forces in the East, nev­er­the­less the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion has rad­i­cally changed over the last 5 years thus the prin­ci­ples be­ing re­ferred to as be­ing vi­o­lated may not hold. Con­tend­ing an­a­lyt­i­cal views have emerged af­ter this NATO-Rus­sia on­go­ing de­bate adding mul­ti­ple di­men­sions to the sub­ject of NATO’s ex­pan­sion. Some in­ter­pret it as an un­nec­es­sary provo­ca­tion that tends to desta­bi­lize the re­gion, oth­ers favour it by not see­ing it as NATO’s self-trig­gered ac­tion ratheras a re­sponse to Ukraine cri­sis and con­tin­ued Rus­sian as­sertive­ness in the Baltic Sea re­gion and more broadly in Europe.

Re­port­edly, Rus­sia over the last few years has con­ducted ma­jor ex­er­cises in the Baltic re­gion. Few weeks ago, Rus­sian jets flew too close to the US guided mis­sile de­stroyer Don­ald Cook in the Baltic Sea. These de­vel­op­ments have made Baltic Sea re­gion a key fric­tion zone be­tween NATO and Rus­sia. Some se­cu­rity ex­perts re­mark the an­nounce­ment as NATO’s never end­ing pur­suit of more al­lies closer to Moscow, a pat­tern of east­ward ex­pan­sion which it has fol­lowed since the end of cold war. They con­tend that ap­par­ently, there aren’t any real en­e­mies for the al­liance since dur­ing his ad­dress to the na­tion in April2016; Vladimir Putin made it clear that Rus­sia is not go­ing to start a war in Europe.

On the other hand, to some se­cu­rity ex­perts, it ap­pears hard to un­der­stand how Rus­sia thinks that four bat­tal­ions will be a strate­gic threat men­tion­ing that a re­port is­sued by RAND Cor­po­ra­tion in­di­cates that NATO isn’t the dom­i­nat­ing power in the re­gion and Rus­sian force pres­ence or pos­ture in the western mil­i­tary districts is far larger. There­fore some an­a­lysts opine that more de­ploy­ment by NATO may be seen in the com­ing years. Al­though larger build up in terms of boots on the ground is less likely but the al­liance can man­age to do other things in terms of lo­gis­tics, re­con­nais­sance, in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing, air de­fence and com­mand and con­trol ar­range­ments to make its de­ter­rence layer thicker and to be able to bet­ter re­spond to any pos­si­ble Rus­sian ag­gres­sion.

Eco­nomic ex­perts view it the an­nounce­ment with a dif­fer­ent lens as­sert­ing that NATO’s present ex­pan­sion might be driven by the eco­nom­ics of the US mil­i­tary by be­ing all about bil­lions of dol­lars ex­pected to be prof­ited from this. US’s want to prompt NATO al­lies to put more than 2% of their GDP into the de­fence spend­ing, which at the mo­ment ei­ther 3 or 4 al­lies are ac­tu­ally manag­ing to do. This ar­gu­ment is re­jected by other econ­o­mists based on the fact that putting per­son­nel on ro­ta­tional ba­sis in the Baltic States and Poland isn’t much of in­vest­ment.

What­ever the rea­sons may be, re­gional ex­perts re­mon­strate that build­ing up huge NATO forces near Rus­sia’s western bor­ders isn’t a right thing to do as it will neg­a­tively im­pact diplo­matic ef­forts by show­ing un­be­lief of Rus­sia’s in­ten­tions. This ar­gu­ment was pro­pounded by Ge­orge Ken­nan, great Amer­i­can diplomat and the ar­chi­tect of the con­tain­ment pol­icy of the Soviet Union, in 1998 when re­spond­ing to NATO’s ex­pan­sion plan he told New York Times that this is mad­ness and a bad idea to which Rus­sia would even­tu­ally re­act badly, and ex­actly that’s what hap­pened.

As no one in this frag­ile world would like to have an­other war es­pe­cially when there are so many nu­clear weapons and non-state ac­tors; it is ex­pected that NATO’s build up will be cou­pled with an at­tempt to have dia­logue with Rus­sia on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent is­sues. That is what is needed, in­stead of ex­ac­er­bat­ing cri­sis today, re­spon­si­ble ac­tors need to dif­fuse cri­sis sit­u­a­tion by us­ing the force of diplo­macy and have diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tions at all lev­els. — The writer is As­sis­tant Re­search Of­fi­cer, Islamabad Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute, a think tank, based in Islamabad.

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