NATO: The Unexamined Alliance

July 29th, 2018 - by admin

Conn Hallinan / Dispatches from the Edge & The European Leadership Network – 2018-07-29 23:24:16–Conn-Hallinan

NATO: The Unexamined Alliance
Conn Hallinan / Dispatches from the Edge & The Berkeley Daily Planet

(July 24, 2018) — The outcome of the July11-12 NATO meeting in Brussels got lost amid the media’s obsession with President Donald Trump’s bombast, but the “Summit Declaration” makes for sober reading. The media reported that the 28-page document “upgraded military readiness,” and was “harshly critical of Russia,” but there was not much detail beyond that.

But details matter, because that is where the Devil hides.

One such detail is NATO’s “Readiness Initiative” that will beef up naval, air and ground forces in “the eastern portion of the Alliance.” NATO is moving to base troops in Latvia, Estonia Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Poland. Since Georgia and Ukraine have been invited to join the Alliance, some of those forces could end up deployed on Moscow’s western and southern borders.

And that should give us pause.

A recent European Leadership’s Network’s (ELN) study titled “Envisioning a Russia-NATO Conflict” concludes, “The current Russia-NATO deterrence relationship is unstable and dangerously so.” The ELN is an independent think tank of military, diplomatic and political leaders that fosters “collaborative” solutions to defense and security issues.

High on the study’s list of dangers is “inadvertent conflict,” which ELN concludes “may be the most likely scenario for a breakout” of hostilities. “The close proximity of Russian and NATO forces” is a major concern, argues the study, “but also the fact that Russia and NATO have been adapting their military postures towards early reaction, thus making rapid escalation more likely to happen.”

With armed forces nose-to-nose, “a passage from crisis to conflict might be sparked by the actions of regional commanders or military commanders at local levels or come as a consequence of an unexpected incident or accident.” A

ccording to the European Leadership Council, there have been more than 60 such incidents in the last year.

The NATO document is, indeed, hard on Russia, which it blasts for the “illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea,” its “provocative military activities, including near NATO borders,” and its “significant investments in the modernization of its strategic [nuclear] forces.”

Unpacking all that requires a little history, not the media’s strong suit.

The story goes back more than three decades to the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual re-unification of Germany. At the time, the Soviet Union had some 380,000 troops in what was then the German Democratic Republic. Those forces were there as part of the treaty ending World War II, and the Soviets were concerned that removing them could end up threatening the USSR’s borders. The Russians have been invaded — at terrible cost — three times in a little more than a century.

So West German Chancellor Helmet Kohl, US Secretary of State James Baker, and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev cut a deal. The Soviets agreed to withdraw troops from Eastern Europe as long as NATO did not fill the vacuum, or recruit members of the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact. Baker promised Gorbachev that NATO would not move “one inch east.”

The agreement was never written down, but it was followed in practice. NATO stayed west of the Oder and Neisse rivers, and Soviet troops returned to Russia. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991.

But President Bill Clinton blew that all up in 1999 when the US and NATO intervened in the civil war between Serbs and Albanians over the Serbian province of Kosovo. Behind the new American doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” NATO opened a massive 11-week bombing campaign against Serbia.

From Moscow’s point of view the war was unnecessary. The Serbs were willing to withdraw their troops and restore Kosovo’s autonomous status. But NATO demanded a large occupation force that would be immune from Serbian law, something the nationalist-minded Serbs would never agree to. It was virtually the same provocative language the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had presented to the Serbs in 1914, language that set off World War I.

In the end, NATO lopped off part of Serbia to create Kosovo and re-drew the post World War II map of Europe, exactly what the Alliance charges that Russia has done with its seizure of the Crimea.

But NATO did not stop there. In 1999 the Alliance recruited former Warsaw Pact members Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, adding Bulgaria and Romania four years later.

By the end of 2004, Moscow was confronted with NATO in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to the north, Poland to the west, and Bulgaria and Turkey to the south. Since then, the Alliance has added Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, and Montenegro. It has invited Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to apply as well.

When the NATO document chastises Russia for “provocative” military activities near the NATO border, it is referring to maneuvers within its own border or one of its few allies, Belarus.

As author and foreign policy analyst Anatol Lieven points out, “Even a child” can look at a 1988 map of Europe and see “which side has advanced in which direction.”

NATO also accuses Russia of “continuing a military buildup in Crimea,” without a hint that those actions might be in response to what the Alliance document calls its “substantial increase in NATO’s presence and maritime activity in the Black Sea.” Russia’s largest naval port on the Black Sea is Sevastopol in the Crimea.

One does not expect even-handedness in such a document, but there are disconnects in this one that are worrisome.

Yes, the Russians are modernizing their nuclear forces, but the Obama administration was first out of that gate in 2009 with its $1.5 trillion program to upgrade the US’s nuclear weapons systems. Both programs are a bad idea.

Some of the document’s language about Russia is aimed at loosening purse strings at home. NATO members agreed to cough up more money, but that decision preceded Trump’s Brussels tantrum on spending.

There is some wishful thinking on Afghanistan — “Our Resolute Support Mission is achieving success” — when in fact things have seldom been worse. There are vague references to the Middle East and North Africa, nothing specific, but a reminder that NATO is no longer confining its mission to what it was supposedly set up to do: Keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.

The Americans are still in — one should take Trump’s threat of withdrawal with a boulder size piece of salt — there is no serious evidence the Russians ever planned to come in, and the Germans have been up since they joined NATO in 1955. Indeed, it was the addition of Germany that sparked the formation of the Warsaw Pact.

While Moscow is depicted as an aggressive adversary, NATO surrounds Russia on three sides, has deployed anti-missile systems in Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the Black Sea, and has a 12 to 1 advantage in military spending. With opposing forces now toe-to-toe, it would not take much to set off a chain reaction that could end in a nuclear exchange.

Yet instead of inviting a dialogue, the document boasts that the Alliance has “suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.”

The solution seems obvious. First, a return to the 1998 military deployment. While it is unlikely that former members of the Warsaw Pact would drop their NATO membership, a withdrawal of non-national troops from NATO members that border Russia would cool things off.

Second, the removal of anti-missile systems that should never have been deployed in the first place. In turn, Russia could remove the middle range Iskander missiles NATO is complaining about and agree to talks aimed at reducing nuclear stockpiles.

But long range, it is finally time to re-think alliances. NATO was a child of the Cold War, when the West believed that the Soviets were a threat. But Russia today is not the Soviet Union, and there is no way Moscow would be stupid enough to attack a superior military force. It is time NATO went the way of the Warsaw Pact and recognize that the old ways of thinking are not only outdated but also dangerous.

Conn Hallinan can be read at and middleempireseries,

Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Conn Hallinan /CounterPunch

(May 4, 2016) — “Aggressive,” “revanchist,” “swaggering”: These are just some of the adjectives the mainstream press and leading US and European political figures are routinely inserting before the words “Russia,” or “Vladimir Putin.” It is a vocabulary most Americans have not seen or heard since the height of the Cold War.

The question is, why?

Is Russia really a military threat to the United States and its neighbors? Is it seriously trying to “revenge” itself for the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union? Is it actively trying to rebuild the old Soviet empire? The answers to these questions are critical, because, for the first time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, several nuclear-armed powers are on the edge of a military conflict with fewer safeguards than existed 50 years ago.

Consider the following events:

* NATO member Turkey shoots down a Russian warplane.

* Russian fighter-bombers come within 30 feet of a US guided missile destroyer, and a Russian fighter does a barrel roll over a US surveillance plane. Several US Senators call for a military response to such encounters in the future.

* NATO and the US begin deploying three combat brigades — about 14,000 troops and their equipment — in several countries that border Russia, and Washington has more than quadrupled its military spending in the region.

* US State Department officials accuse Russia of “dismantling” arms control agreements, while Moscow charges that Washington is pursuing several destabilizing weapons programs.

* Both NATO and the Russians have carried out large war games on one another’s borders and plan more in the future, in spite of the fact that the highly respected European Leadership Network (ELN) warns that the maneuvers are creating “mistrust.”

In the scary aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, the major nuclear powers established some ground rules to avoid the possibility of nuclear war, including the so-called “hot line” between Washington and Moscow. But, as the threat of a nuclear holocaust faded, many of those safeguards have been allowed to lapse, creating what the ELN calls a “dangerous situation.”

According to a recent report by the ELN, since March of last year there have been over 60 incidents that had “the potential to trigger a major crisis between a nuclear armed state and a nuclear armed alliance.” The report warns that, “There is today no agreement between NATO and Russia on how to manage close military encounters.”

Such agreements do exist, but they are bilateral and don’t include most alliance members. Out of 28 NATO members, 11 have memorandums on how to avoid military escalation at sea, but only the US, Canada and Greece have what is called “Preventing Dangerous Military Activities” (DMA) agreements that cover land and air as well. In any case, there are no such agreements with the NATO alliance as a whole.

The lack of such agreements was starkly demonstrated in the encounter between Russian aircraft and the US The incident took place less than 70 miles off Baltiysk, home of Russia’s Baltic Sea Fleet, and led to an alarming exchange in the Senate Armed Services Committee among Republican John McCain, Democrat Joe Donnelly, and US Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, soon to assume command of US forces in Europe.

McCain: “This may sound a little tough, but should we make an announcement to the Russians that if they place the men and women on board Navy ships in danger, that we will take appropriate action?”

Scaparrotti: “That should be known, yes.”

Donnelly: “Is there a point . . . where we tell them in advance enough, the next time it doesn’t end well for you?”

Scaparrotti: “We should engage them and make clear what is acceptable. Once we make that known we have to enforce it.”

For the Americans, the Russian flyby was “aggressive.” For the Russians, US military forces getting within spitting range of their Baltic Fleet is the very definition of “aggressive.” What if someone on the destroyer panicked and shot down the plane? Would the Russians have responded with an anti-ship missile? Would the US have retaliated and invoked Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, bringing the other 27 members into the fray?

Faced by the combined power of NATO, would the Russians — feeling their survival at stake — consider using a short-range nuclear weapon? Would the US then attempt to take out Moscow’s nuclear missiles with its new hypersonic glide vehicle? Would that, in turn, kick in the chilling logic of thermonuclear war: use your nukes or lose them?

Far-fetched? Unfortunately, not at all. The world came within minutes of a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis and, as researcher Eric Schlosser demonstrated in his book “Command and Control,” the US came distressingly close at least twice more by accident.

One of the problems about nuclear war is that it is almost impossible to envision. The destructive powers of today’s weapons have nothing in common with the tiny bombs that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so experience is not much of a guide. Suffice it to say that just a small portion of world’s nukes would end civilization as we know it, and a general exchange could possibly extinguish human life.

With such an outcome at least in the realm of possibility, it becomes essential to step back and try to see the world through another’s eyes.

Is Russia really a danger to the US and its neighbors? NATO points to Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia and its 2014 intervention in eastern Ukraine as examples of “Russian aggression.”

But from Moscow, the view is very different.

In 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker and German Chancellor Helmet Kohl pledged to then Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move eastward, nor recruit former members of the East bloc military alliance, the Warsaw Pact.

By 1995, NATO had enlisted Pact members Romania, Hungry, Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and signed on Montenegro this year. Georgia is currently being considered, and there is a push to bring Ukraine aboard. From Moscow’s perspective NATO is not only moving east, but encircling Russia.

“I don’t think many people understand the visceral way Russia views NATO and the European Union as an existential threat,” says US Admiral Mark Ferguson, commander of US naval forces in Europe.

Most NATO members have no interest in starting a fight with Russia, but others sound like they think it wouldn’t be a bad idea. On April 15, Witold Waszczykowski, the foreign minister of Poland’s rightwing government, told reporters that Russia is “more dangerous than the Islamic State,” because Moscow is an “existential threat to Europe.” The minister made his comments at a NATO conference discussing the deployment of a US armored brigade on Poland’s eastern border.

Is Russia reneging on arms control agreements? The charge springs from the fact that Moscow has refused to consider cutting more of its nuclear weapons, is boycotting nuclear talks, deploying intermediate range nuclear missiles, and backing off a conventional weapons agreement. But again, Moscow sees all that very differently.

From Moscow’s point of view, the US is continuing to spread its network of anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia, which the Russians see as a threat to their nuclear force (as does China). And as far as “reneging” goes, it was the US that dumped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, not Russia,

The US is also pouring billions of dollars into “modernizing” its nuclear weapons. It also proposes using ICBMs to carry conventional warheads (if you see one coming, how do you know it’s not a nuke?), and is planning to deploy high velocity glide vehicles that will allow the US to strike targets worldwide with devastating accuracy. And since NATO is beefing up its forces and marching east, why should the Russians tie themselves to a conventional weapons treaty?

What about Russia’s seizure of the Crimea? According to the US State Department, redrawing European boundaries is not acceptable in the 21st century — unless you are Kosovo breaking away from Serbia under an umbrella of NATO air power, in which case it’s fine. Residents of both regions voted overwhelmingly to secede.

Georgia? The Georgians stupidly started it.

But if Russia is not a threat, then why the campaign of vilification, the damaging economic sanctions, and the provocative military actions?

First, it is the silly season — American elections — and bear baiting is an easy way to look “tough.” It is also a tried and true tactic of the US armaments industry to keep their production lines humming and their bottom lines rising. The Islamic State is scary but you don’t need big-ticket weapons systems to fight it. The $1.5 trillion F-35s are for the Russkies, not terrorists.

There are also those who still dream of regime change in Russia. Certainly that was in the minds of the neo-cons when they used The National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House to engineer — at the cost of $5 billion — the coup that toppled Ukraine into NATO’s camp. The New American Century gang and their think tanks — who brought you Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria — would to leverage Russia out of Central Asia.

The most frightening aspect of current East-West tension is that there is virtually no discussion of the subject, and when there is it consists largely of distorted history and gratuitous insults. Vladimir Putin might not be a nice guy, but the evidence he is trying to re-establish some Russian empire, and is a threat to his neighbors or the US, is thin to non-existent. His 2014 speech at the Valdai International Discussion Club is more common sense than bombast.

Expansionist? Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The US has 662 bases around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The US is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the US will out-spend Moscow by a factor of 10. Who in this comparison looks threatening?

There are a number of areas where cooperation with Russia could pay dividends. Without Moscow there would be no nuclear agreement with Iran, and the Russians can play a valuable role in resolving the Syrian civil war. That, in turn, would have a dramatic effect on the numbers of migrants trying to crowd into Europe.

Instead, an April 20 meeting between NATO ministers and Russia ended in “profound disagreements” according to alliance head Jens Stoltenberg. Russian ambassador to NATO, Alexander Garushko said that the continued deployment of armed forces on its borders makes it impossible to have a “meaningful dialogue.”

We are baiting the bear, not a sport that ever ends well.

Russia and NATO:
How to Overcome Deterrence Instability?

Thomas Frear, Lukasz Kulesa and Denitsa Roynova / The European Leadership Network (April 2018)

Executive Summary

The current Russia-NATO deterrence relationship is unstable, and dangerously so. Part of the problem is the deterrence and defence postures, which have been developed by Russia and NATO. While they are meant to prevent war, some elements in the deterrence postures currently make this adversarial relationship unnecessarily prone to crises:

* Russia’s “integrated strategic deterrence” envisages taking significant pre-emptive actions in all domains with an aim of dominating the early stages of any conflict. Russia seems to rely on creating a sense of unpredictability, and on keeping the opponent off-balance through statements and actions that come across as assertive or aggressive.

* NATO’s “modern deterrence” remains work in progress. As a consequence, NATO’s posture remains torn between the aspiration of projecting restraint and the concern that the current posture is too weak to deter Russia. That results in an often-confusing deterrence signalling.

* The negative ‘interplay’ between the two deterrence concepts and postures and the danger of misunderstanding the other side’s deterrence signalling can cause rapid and uncontrollable escalation during a Russia-NATO crisis.

* The Russia – NATO deterrence relationship is at an in ection point. Between 2014 and 2018, both sides focused their attention on demonstrating their deterrence resolve and improving their ability to defend against an attack. They should now focus on making their existing deterrence postures fail-safe against the risks of incidents, accidents and inadvertent con ict in two areas:

1. Addressing the perceived hostile intentions and minimising the likelihood of military coercion or surprise attack.

* Russia should review its current deterrence posture, initiate early practical changes towards a less destabilising posture.

* At the July Summit, NATO should launch a review to assess the effectiveness of its existing deterrence posture and inform any further decisions about its modification.

* Both sides should work to re-introduce restraint into conventional deterrence postures through reviving the restraint pledges made in the 1990s, developing additional measures of restraint, and utilizing better the existing toolbox of con dence-building measures.

* Both sides should avoid increasing the role of nuclear forces in their deterrence postures.

* Both sides need to minimise the risk of cross-domain escalation from cyber and space operations.

2. Creating space for crisis management diplomacy and avoiding rapid escalation.

* Both sides should build crisis-management procedures into their deterrence postures. The need for rapid reaction cannot become an over-riding imperative for Russia and NATO.

* Russia and NATO ought to maintain multiple channels for routine and crisis communication. Effective crisis management cannot depend on the NATO-Russia Council in its present shape, nor on ad hoc emergency communication channels.


The current relationship is unstable, and dangerously so. Part of the problem is the deterrence and defence constructs which have been developed by Russia and NATO. This paper offers ways to minimize the risk factors and modify the postures in order to move the two sides towards a more stable deterrence relationship.1

Russia and NATO maintain deterrence postures to prevent the other side from initiating moves that could lead to a direct conflict. In case deterrence fails, these postures enable the conduct of defensive and offensive operations. At its core, a deterrence posture is about convincing the other side that taking an aggressive course of action would result in an unacceptable outcome. Deterrence is supposed to prevent war.

However, as the report will show, there are elements in the deterrence posture of Russia, but also of NATO, which currently make this adversarial relationship unnecessarily unstable and prone to sudden and acute crises. Some of these features were introduced into the postures by design, some appear to be a by-product of the developments of recent years. The presence of these elements creates friction which can make a Russia-NATO clash more likely. They also hinder the opportunities for a meaningful dialogue on crisis management and de-escalation.

Even though this report looks at both postures, the basic asymmetry of making comparisons involving Russia and NATO needs to be highlighted. At the political level, they subscribe to different values and norms of international behaviour. At the practical level, Russia is a single entity with considerable freedom of manoeuvre.

NATO is a collective alliance of sovereign member states governed by consensus, grouping countries with different strategic cultures and interests. These differences have implications for all levels of NATO’s and Russia’s deterrence constructs from formulating policy goals, through decision- making procedures and force disposition, to the practical ability to move forces.

Another fundamental problem is the difficulty of assessing what credible deterrence really means. The judgment here depends not only on the military means and force ratios but also on the perceptions of those doing the deterring, and those who are to be deterred.

The inevitable differences in perception by either side of what is credible or not result in an endless search for enhanced security. It is this dynamic of deterrence relationship and differences in perception that this report aims to identify and make better understood.

* Some may argue that Russia alone is the source of instability in the current standoff as it is deliberately using a range of instruments which increase the danger of a conflict. According to this logic, there is no Russia- NATO deterrence instability problem, just a problem with Russia. This report treats such arguments seriously.

It does not suggest NATO and Russia are both to be blamed for the present situation. It identifies the Russian approach to deterrence as much more dangerous with significantly higher escalation potential. But it argues that both sides would benefit from re-thinking the potentially dangerous elements of their own respective deterrence approaches and their interplay.

* This paper starts by providing a critical assessment of the deterrence thinking and postures of Russia and NATO. It then proceeds to identify areas of friction and sources of instability in the mutual deterrence relationship, focusing on the risks of escalation during a NATO-Russia crisis. Finally, it recommends measures for modifying the deterrence postures of both sides and moving towards a more stable deterrence relationship.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, for noncommercial, educational purposes.