As noted in Part One of this two-part series, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will open a summit this week in Wales. Among the issues at the forefront of debate, discussion, and strategizing sessions at the summit will obviously be the degeneration of security in Eastern Ukraine and, specifically, the influence of the Russian government in facilitating the unrest and fomenting insurrection. USA Today characterized the summit as, “The most important since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
As NATO has evolved from its original mission of collective defense to its post-Cold War collective security focus and back to collective defense following the attacks on New York City and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, strategists and policymakers guiding the focus of NATO have worked diligently at alternate times to sustain the relevancy of the alliance.
This diligence has been often focused upon anticipating the next threat that NATO may be tasked with meeting and defeating while also remaining malleable enough to adjust to an unanticipated threat or attack. The issue of battling to maintain stability in Northern Iraq is best characterized as a collective security mission.
While an argument can be made that the intensifying capacity of the Islamic State (IS) to wage war in the region threatens the security of a member-state (Turkey), the mission in Kurdish Northern Iraq is more appropriately characterized as one of ensuring lasting security in a region of vital interest to the individual member-states of the Atlantic Alliance. At the present time, Turkey is not directly threatened by the IS and so the role of NATO in the crisis is (presently) at best a collective security issue.
The ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine is an entirely different problem for the alliance. While debate on enlarging NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia has often elicited saber rattling from Moscow and apprehension from some member-state leaders, the instability festering in Eastern Ukraine continues to be a threat to spread to member-states, specifically those with significant ethnic Russian minority populations: The Atlantic Alliance member-states of Estonia,Latvia, and Lithuania as well as the threat to non-member state Moldova.
This degradation of security in Eastern Europe, highlighted by both the present conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the threat of wider insurrection and fracturing of the territorial integrity of Moldova makes the issue of enlarging the Atlantic Alliance a complex and difficult one for NATO strategists.
While many observers claim that the previous iterations of enlargement in 1999, 2004, and 2009 unnecessarily antagonized Russia and perhaps catalyzed blow back in the form of a reborn imperialist Russian foreign policy supported by an escalating Russian nationalist movement, many others claim that to maintain order in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, NATO must expand to place the former Warsaw Pact member-states firmly under the protective umbrella of NATO membership.
There are good arguments for both perspectives on NATO enlargement but the argument over the potential enlargement of the alliance has never been as hotly debated as it is at the present moment.
As the battle in the east has intensified, the government in Kiev has progressively moved further and further towards the permanent embrace of the West. Most vividly, the comments of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk earlier this week reflected the strengthening position of the Kiev government:
Ukraine is on its way to shed its non-aligned status and will move towards applying for NATO membership, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk announced on Aug. 29. His Cabinet gave preliminary approval to a bill to cancel non-aligned status and will now send to the parliament.
The move comes after an offensive in eastern Ukraine by regular Russian troops and separatists earlier this week. Calls for joining NATO intensified in Ukraine after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in February and gained even more prominence after Russia annexed Crimea and started sending mercenaries and weapons to the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts earlier this year. (Kyiv Post, August 29)
The somewhat startling words of Yatseniuk were dismissed by those of established Ukrainian military expert Oleksiy Arestovich who noted that the Atlantic Alliance is unlikely to admit Ukraine as a member in the near future:
Ukrainian military expert Oleksiy Arestovich agreed that territorial disputes per se would not prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. However, he dismissed Yatseniuk’s statement on acceding to the alliance as campaign rhetoric in the run-up to the Oct. 26 parliamentary election.
“NATO membership is unrealistic in the near future,” he said by phone, adding that the process could only be completed after the end of the war with Russia and would take years. (Kyiv Post, August 29)
In a move sure to have impact upon the domestic politics of member states such as Germany, France, and Great Britain, the United States will reportedly move to ensure an increase in the the required defense budgets of all NATO member-states.
The history of free-riding and the disproportionately high amount of burden that the United States has shouldered throughout the history of the Atlantic Alliance would seem to dampen expectations that a rise in each state’s defense spending is easily attainable given domestic political concerns in Europe over escalating the crisis in Ukraine and a recent history of anti-American populist rhetoric by national politicians in several member-states in the wake of the invasion of Iraq a decade ago.
However, the U.S. delegation will pursue an expanded effort to diffuse the uneven burden of defense spending in the alliance:
To counter Russia’s aggression, the U.S. has urged NATO member states to increase their military spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over the next 10 years.
The issue will be considered at next week’s summit in Wales. However, Canada is determined to block the move, a source close to the negotiations told Reuters on Aug. 28. (Kyiv Post, August 29)
As the U.S. administration prepares to ratchet up the pressure both in public statements and with sanctions, many observers are wondering aloud about how far the U.S. and its allies are willing to go in halting Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine. While sanctions have had a tangible and destructive effect on the Russian economy, sending the Rouble to a six-month low in comparison with the U.S. dollar, many analysts and observers are growing impatient with the perceived lack of effect on Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
Deployment of NATO personnel eastward is now a real possibility. As policymakers assess the likelihood that Russian aggression may not recede from within the borders of Ukraine and could in fact spread to neighboring states such as Moldova, NATO permanent basing further east in Europe becomes more and more likely.
As the crisis in Ukraine stumbles onward and escalates, areas with ethnic majority Russian populations in places such as the Baltic countries and Moldova could be ripe territory for Russian intelligence and military disruptive operations. As we continue to bear witness to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, it will be important to remain cognizant of the logical next step for both sides in the crisis. That will be the subject of my next article.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Twitter)