High hopes and (dis)heart­en­ing out­comes

Who’s to party in 2020 – the Euro-At­lantic com­mu­nity, Ukraine and Ge­or­gia, or Rus­sia?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Mark Voyger, vis­it­ing scholar at the Penn Bi­den Cen­ter for Diplo­macy and Global En­gage­ment

Who's to party in 2020 – the Euro-At­lantic com­mu­nity, Ukraine and Ge­or­gia, or Rus­sia?

The Bri­tish cap­i­tal Lon­don, NATO’s first home af­ter it was formed in 1949, served as the cel­e­bra­tion venue mark­ing sev­enty years of the strong­est and most suc­cess­ful Al­liance in his­tory, along with the thir­ti­eth an­niver­sary of the fall of the Iron Cur­tain. The much-an­tic­i­pated meet­ing of the North At­lantic Coun­cil that took place on 03-04 De­cem­ber 2019 served also as NATO’s 70th “birth­day party”. Un­der­stand­ably, it was fraught with high hopes and great ex­pec­ta­tions, but it also charged with emo­tions, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive, while the out­comes it de­liv­ered left many won­der­ing about whom the big win­ner of this event would be in the com­ing crit­i­cal year 2020 and be­yond. Quite as ex­pected, it also did not go with­out the usual drama, caused (as it has be­come the norm at such gath­er­ings of trans-At­lantic lead­ers in re­cent years), by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whose over­re­ac­tion to the com­ments made on his be­half by Justin Trudeau, the Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter, proved that he is not as thick­skinned as the tar­gets of his in­ces­sant ver­bal at­tacks over the years. Trump left the meet­ing abruptly be­fore it ended, ap­par­ently feel­ing deeply of­fended by Trudeau’s jok­ing re­marks to a group of NATO lead­ers in­clud­ing French Pres­i­dent Macron, as those mo­ments were cap­tured by an open mi­cro­phone and also caught on cam­era, prov­ing yet again, that any­thing a pub­lic per­son says in the age of dig­i­tal me­dia, by de­fault gets shared with the world in an in­stant, re­gard­less of the venue and that per­son’s in­tent.


Trump’s ab­sence from the fi­nal cer­e­mony in Lon­don and his sub­se­quent pug­na­cious me­dia re­marks re­gard­ing Trudeau, were hardly the low­est point of the cel­e­bra­tion, how­ever, for its over­all mood had been marred be­fore it even started by none other than Pres­i­dent Macron, who pub­licly ac­cused NATO of be­ing “brain dead” barely a day be­fore the event, and who also re­jected the no­tion that Rus­sia is the main threat to NATO, opt­ing in­stead to di­rect his ire at Is­lamist ter­ror­ism. Such harsh and un­jus­ti­fi­able re­marks would not have shocked NATO’s al­lies and part­ners so much had they come from the cur­rent White House res­i­dent, and not from the “en­fant prodige” of Eu­ro­pean pol­i­tics who once, not so long ago, had raised high the bea­con of hope that his Carte­sian ra­tio­nal­ism could serve as Eu­rope’s lib­eral re­sponse to the ir­ra­tional, re­ac­tionary forces ex­em­pli­fied by Trump and the Eu­ro­pean far-right. Macron’s state­ments were not in­spired by Descartes’ love of rea­son, how­ever, but reeked of the rai­son d'état pro­mul­gated by Descartes’ con­tem­po­rary Car­di­nal Riche­lieu – a du­plic­i­tous for­eign pol­icy that seeks to el­e­vate France to the cen­ter of Eu­ro­pean pol­i­tics, by pro­mot­ing its own par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ests at the ex­pense of those of al­lies and part­ners alike, espe­cially weaker and vul­ner­a­ble dis­tant ones, such as Ukraine and Ge­or­gia. The ex­pec­ta­tions that such poli­cies will bring back the long-lost gran­deur of France as Eu­rope’s for­eign pol­icy heavy­weight to com­pen­sate for Macron’s se­ri­ous trou­bles at home, are short-sighted and ego­tis­ti­cal, in the con­text of an al­liance that de­pends vi­tally on the loy­alty and ded­i­ca­tion of its mem­bers, espe­cially in th­ese trou­bled times. Macron’s naïve at­tempts to pla­cate and ap­pease Rus­sia are ul­ti­mately doomed to fail, but they threaten to cause as much dam­age, if not more, that Trump’s er­ratic be­hav­ior and pli­a­bil­ity be­fore Putin. Macron’s words have al­ready, un­doubt­edly, proven in the eyes of the Krem­lin, that the co­he­sion of the North At­lantic Al­liance, as its cen­ter of grav­ity, can be put to the test, given the de facto re­fusal of the US Pres­i­dent to act as the pri­mary leader of NATO (self-im­posed due to his lack of will and bizarre affini­ties for Putin, and not caused by any ac­tual lack of US ca­pa­bil­i­ties); the fad­ing away of Merkel’s po­lit­i­cal en­ergy as her man­date draws near its end; and John­son’s ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate the un­fath­omable Brexit morass. Th­ese are ex­actly the sig­nals that Putin’s regime would likely in­ter­pret as a “green­light” for ex­pand­ing its ag­gres­sive poli­cies against the al­ready em­bat­tled Ukraine and its in­ex­pe­ri­enced new pres­i­dent; to con­tinue prob­ing NATO’s re­solve along the en­tire Eastern flank, while ul­ti­mately seek­ing to re­con­sti­tute its new Eurasian im­pe­rial project by push­ing Ukraine away from the West and at­tempt­ing to swal­low Be­larus as the next po­ten­tial col­lat­eral dam­age of the new Cold War of the 2020s.


This was the pan-Eu­ro­pean and global se­cu­rity con­text that NATO’s lead­ers had to con­sider as they gath­ered in Lon­don last week de­ter­mined to send out mes­sages of the Al­liance’s co­he­sion, re­solve and com­mon pur­pose that would re­as­sure its al­lies, con­vince its part­ners, such as Ukraine and Ge­or­gia to con­tinue their long and ar­du­ous paths of re­forms and in­te­gra­tion, and de­ter threats em­a­nat­ing from state ac­tors such as Rus­sia, as well as non-state ones, such as trans-na­tional ter­ror­ism.

In that re­gard, the open­ing state­ment of NATO’s Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenber­g, was sig­nif­i­cant in de­lin­eat­ing NATO’s pri­or­i­ties for the com­ing decade. The men­tion­ing of ter­ror­ism in the be­gin­ning of the list of global threats, was no doubt NATO’s col­lec­tive curt­sey to France with its per­pet­ual pri­mary fo­cus on the Mid­dle East, Africa and the Mediter­ranean. NATO’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia came as num­ber three in Stoltenber­g’s list, fol­lowed by a novel item – China, men­tioned promi­nently as a se­cu­rity chal­lenge in an of­fi­cial NATO com­mu­nique for the first time in his­tory. To­gether with arms con­trol, those three items seemed to out­weigh Rus­sia in the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral’s state­ment, as it was not even di­rectly ref­er­enced as a threat. Still, Stoltenber­g was quick to em­pha­size that NATO’s pres­ence in, and com­mit­ment to the Baltic States and Poland is stronger than ever, as it has fi­nally matched the plans (in­tent) with the com­bat-ready forces (ca­pa­bil­i­ties) present on the ground there.

When con­fronted with a ques­tion on Macron’s “braindead NATO” state­ments, Stoltenber­g was quick to dis­miss them by stat­ing solemnly that “NATO is ag­ile, NATO is ac­tive, NATO is adapt­ing” to the chal­lenges of the new era. He also cor­rectly pointed out that there had been dis­agree­ments among the al­lies dur­ing pre­vi­ous his­tor­i­cal pe­ri­ods, be­gin­ning with the Suez Cri­sis of 1956, when none other than the US put pres­sure on Britain and France to stop their mil­i­tary ac­tion against Nasser’s Egypt, and into the 21st cen­tury with the Iraq War of 2003 and the rifts be­tween the al­lies that it cre­ated or ex­posed. At the time, those


dif­fer­ences were the re­sult of the op­pos­ing stances of the US, the UK, and the new NATO mem­bers in Eastern Eu­rope (“New Eu­rope” as they were dubbed by Don­ald Rums­feld back then), and op­po­nents of the war such as France, Turkey and oth­ers. The fact that at present the main de­trac­tors of NATO unity and their dis­sent­ing voices have re­mained largely the same (both France and Turkey), while the Eastern Eu­ro­pean NATO mem­bers feel di­rectly threat­ened by a resur­gent Rus­sia for the first time in three decades af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, comes to prove that the ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion and his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of na­tions are the strong­est in­vari­able that shapes their poli­cies within the Al­liance. Nei­ther France, nor Turkey felt di­rectly threat­ened by the Iraqi regime in 2003, they ap­par­ently have found their modus vivendi with Putin’s Rus­sia nowa­days, while ter­ror­ism (Is­lamist for France, Kur­dish for Turkey) was high on their list then and now. On the op­po­site side of the equa­tion, while the Eastern Eu­ro­pean mem­ber-states had ral­lied in sup­port of the US-led in­va­sion of Iraq to demon­strate their re­li­a­bil­ity as new NATO al­lies, now they are torn be­tween their fear and mis­trust of Putin’s re­van­chist Rus­sia, alarmed by the Krem­lin’s ag­gres­sion against Ukraine, and forced to seek the benev­o­lence and win the fa­vor of an Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent with un­sta­ble be­hav­ior and short at­ten­tion span who clearly fa­vors dic­ta­tors such as Putin to democ­ra­cies, al­beit im­per­fect and cor­rupt, like Ukraine. In­deed, NATO has evolved since 2003, as it con­tin­ues to adapt to the chal­lenges of the day, and in­crease its ca­pa­bil­i­ties de­signed to de­fer an ever more as­sertive Rus­sia, but its pub­licly man­i­fested in­ter­nal dif­fer­ences and sheer lack of will among some of its top lead­ers, have put in ques­tion the Al­liance’s re­solve, which was never the case what­ever dif­fer­ences and in­ter­nal clashes might have ex­isted dur­ing the Cold War and the first two post-Com­mu­nism decades.

The Sec­re­tary Gen­eral, thus, was faced with the un­easy task to project an im­age of con­fi­dence amidst all those com­pet­ing is­sues, which he man­aged by bring­ing up the new do­mains NATO is to op­er­ate within, such as space and cy­ber; the NATO adap­ta­tion mea­sures for the Eastern flank, and its im­proved in­fra­struc­ture and in­creased mil­i­tary spend­ing. Dur­ing his fi­nal press

con­fer­ence, he also an­nounced that the Al­lies have reached an agree­ment on the NATO Readi­ness Ini­tia­tive by com­mit­ted 30 bat­tal­ions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 com­bat ships, avail­able to NATO within 30 days.


The in­creased de­fense spend­ing was re­flected strongly in the fi­nal dec­la­ra­tion of the sum­mit, in which the Al­lies solemnly stated that they are “de­ter­mined to share the costs and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties” of their in­di­vis­i­ble se­cu­rity through their De­fence In­vest­ment Pledge that calls for in­creas­ing their de­fense in­vest­ment in line with the 2 per­cent (of their bud­get) and 20 per­cent (in­vest­ing in new ca­pa­bil­i­ties) guide­lines, and con­tribut­ing more forces to mis­sions and op­er­a­tions. Given Pres­i­dent’s Trumps strong crit­i­cism of the past in­suf­fi­cient de­fense spend­ing of NATO’s Eu­ro­pean mem­bers, and the an­nounced re­duced US pay­ments for NATO, the Al­lies were forced to demon­strate that this has not af­fected the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the or­ga­ni­za­tion by in­vest­ing off­set­ting the US bud­get cuts through in­creased nonUS spend­ing and by an­nounc­ing the in­vest­ing of over 130 bil­lion US dol­lars more for de­fense pur­poses. The Al­lies’ state­ments that: “We are mak­ing good progress. We must and will do more” serve to re­mind every­one that sub­sti­tut­ing for the US in NATO’s de­fense bud­get will be a long un­even process that will re­quire the con­tri­bu­tions of all mem­bers.

The Al­lies fur­ther re­in­forced their strong com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing their ter­ri­tory and their shared val­ues, such as democ­racy, in­di­vid­ual lib­erty, hu­man rights, and the rule of law. At least on pa­per, they also reaf­firmed the en­dur­ing transat­lantic bond be­tween Eu­rope and North Amer­ica, and their com­mit­ment to Ar­ti­cle 5 of the Wash­ing­ton Treaty that stip­u­lates that “an at­tack against one Ally shall be con­sid­ered an at­tack against us all.” Since, how­ever, Ar­ti­cle 5 is not trig­gered au­to­mat­i­cally, but re­quires reach­ing a con­sen­sus among the al­lies, they rec­og­nized that pe­cu­liar­ity of NATO’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing process in case of a mil­i­tary con­flict, and tasked the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral with de­vel­op­ing a pro­posal on fur­ther strength­en­ing NATO’s po­lit­i­cal di­men­sion in­clud­ing con­sul­ta­tion among the al­lies. This comes in re­sponse to many years of crit­i­cism of the po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion­mak­ing process within NATO by a suc­ces­sion of SACEURs, be­gin­ning with Gen­eral Phillip Breedlove in 2014, who cor­rectly pointed out that should the North At­lantic Coun­cil pro­long its de­lib­er­a­tions in case of a Rus­sian overt or hy­brid at­tack against the Baltic States, for ex­am­ple, his task will turn from a de­fen­sive op­er­a­tion into a “lib­er­a­tion cam­paign”. Ap­par­ently, the con­sen­sus within NATO that the whole po­lit­i­cal con­sul­ta­tions process needs to be re­vamped and stream­lined to pro­vide the top mil­i­tary com­man­ders with more flex­i­bil­ity, has reached a crit­i­cal mass, and the Al­liance has taken up this task se­ri­ously, in or­der to in­crease the speed of threat-recog­ni­tion in case of hy­brid at­tacks, as well as shorten the re­sponse time.

While the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary’s state­ments only spoke of “NATO’s re­la­tions with Rus­sia” as part of the of­fi­cially adopted NATO pol­icy of de­ter­rence and di­a­logue with Rus­sia when­ever pos­si­ble, the fi­nal com­mu­nique of the Al­lies clearly ranked Rus­sia and its ag­gres­sive ac­tions as the num­ber one threat to EuroAt­lantic

se­cu­rity cur­rently; al­beit not a per­sis­tent one, such as ter­ror­ism in all its forms and man­i­fes­ta­tions, or more elu­sive ones, such as ir­reg­u­lar migration, cy­ber and hy­brid threats. Still, it was crit­i­cally im­por­tant for NATO to speak de­ci­sively as the main cham­pion and de­fender of the rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der against threats com­ing from all strate­gic di­rec­tions and em­a­nat­ing from all types of ac­tors – state and non-state alike.

An­other im­por­tant as­pect of the NATO-Rus­sia re­la­tions in the diplo­matic and mil­i­tary spheres is the risks that Rus­sia’s de­ploy­ment of new in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­siles poses to EuroAt­lantic se­cu­rity. The Al­lies re­it­er­ated, as they al­ways do, that NATO is a de­fen­sive Al­liance and poses no threat to any coun­try, but that at the same time they shall re­mained com­mit­ted to a strong nu­clear pos­ture for NATO, com­bined with the preser­va­tion and strength­en­ing of ef­fec­tive arms con­trol, dis­ar­ma­ment, and non-pro­lif­er­a­tion. They clearly stated that they are open not only for mere di­a­logue, but more im­por­tantly – to a con­struc­tive re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, but con­di­tioned it upon the chang­ing of Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sive in­ter­na­tional be­hav­ior.


Last, but not least — the Al­lies also stated their com­mit­ment to NATO’s “Open Door” pol­icy as one that strength­ens the Al­liance by bring­ing se­cu­rity to mil­lions of Euro­peans. They men­tioned North Mace­do­nia specif­i­cally as NATO’s new­est Ally in the near fu­ture. This comes to demon­strate that do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal co­he­sion when it comes to set­ting the pri­or­i­ties of NATO mem­ber­ship are of pri­mary im­por­tance for coun­tries that as­pire to be­come part of the Al­liances, such as Ukraine and Ge­or­gia. Their prom­i­nent ab­sence from the fi­nal dec­la­ra­tion speaks vol­umes about the chang­ing at­ti­tudes within Eu­rope re­gard­ing the en­large­ment process – it was only re­cently in Septem­ber, that Sec­re­tary Stoltenber­g stated his con­vic­tion that Ge­or­gia will be­come a mem­ber of the al­liance one day. Of course, one should not read be­tween the lines too much, as it is highly likely that both coun­tries were not men­tioned by name to reach a con­sen­sus with the anti-en­large­ment camp led by France. The US, on its turn, was quick to reaf­firm its sup­port for Ukraine, by stat­ing its full sup­port for the ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity of the coun­try, and an­nounc­ing that it will in­crease its mil­i­tary aid. Thus, of­ten the con­crete ac­tions of in­di­vid­ual mem­ber­states can, to a cer­tain ex­tent, off­set tem­po­rary set­backs such as omit­ting names from im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional dec­la­ra­tions. Nonethe­less, per­cep­tions mat­ter tremen­dously in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics, as well as in the do­mes­tic one. If Rus­sia in­ter­prets those de­tails as a sign that NATO is di­vided on the mem­ber­ship of Ukraine and Ge­or­gia, espe­cially in the con­text of the on­go­ing protests in both coun­tries against any po­ten­tial con­ces­sions dur­ing the cur­rent round of the Nor­mandy talks; and against the pro-Krem­lin course of Ge­or­gian’s gov­ern­ment; then it will, with­out a shadow of a doubt, seek to fur­ther drive a wedge be­tween those na­tions and NATO; as well as be­tween their peo­ple and their gov­ern­ments. Should the po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on Ukraine’s gov­ern­ment not de­liver the re­sults de­sired by the Rus­sian lead­er­ship, the Krem­lin would ul­ti­mately feel em­bold­ened to escalate mil­i­tar­ily and even re­sort to fur­ther ter­ri­to­rial ex­pan­sions and oc­cu­pa­tion in or­der to pun­ish Ukraine and force its lead­er­ship to ne­go­ti­ate from the po­si­tion of weak­ness. Any leader who is de­ter­mined to play and win the hy­brid chess game against Putin must first learn to nav­i­gate be­tween the high and low tides of Euro-At­lantic in­te­gra­tion, lest he is swept aside by the waves of pop­u­lar dis­con­tent, or over­whelmed by the deadly tsunami of yet an­other ag­gres­sion on the part of the Krem­lin.


Fun­house. Trump left the meet­ing abruptly be­fore it ended, ap­par­ently feel­ing deeply of­fended by Trudeau's jok­ing

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