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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 20 New Delhi May 4, 2019

Nato 70 Years and Expanding — Differences with Russia Aggravating

Saturday 4 May 2019

by R.G. Gidadhubli

On April 4, 2019 the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) celebrated the historic occasion of the 70th anniversary of its existence in Washington, when Foreign Ministers of 29 member-states attended the function. US President Donald Trump and NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg addressed the delegates highlighting the achievements, issues and challenges facing the organisation. The NATO was formed on April 4, 1949 in Washington with 12 members of the USA and European states in the aftermath of the Second World War to counter the military power of the former Soviet Union and other communist states which had formed a military bloc known as the Warsaw Pact. Hence the major objective of NATO countries was to come to each other’s defence if any of them was attacked. Subsequent to that prevailing scenario, most unexpected major changes have taken place in that region during the last few decades that were not visualised when the NATO was formed.

Hence several questions arise. What is the relevance of the NATO considering the fact that the USSR disintegrated in 1991 and the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1989? Why has the NATO expanded from the original 12 to 29 members? What is the NATO’s approach towards Russia? What are the major tasks and objectives of the NATO? An effort has been made to analyse some of the issues.

Firstly, looking back into history there was a short period in the early 1990s when there were formal cordial contacts and cooperation between Russia and the NATO in the prevailing context of the end of superpower rivalry, no ideological conflict and evolution of the concept of ‘Partnership for Peace’. Hence in June 1994 both Russia and the NATO signed a Founding Act on Mutual Relations. It was significant that a roadmap was also laid on lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area. Moreover, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and Fall of Berlin Wall further added to the end of the threat perception of the Cold War era. But this era of cordiality, cooperation and hope between Russia and the NATO did not last long.

Secondly, much to the disenchantment of Russian leaders who expected that the NATO might also cease to exist as there was no threat from Moscow and the Warsaw Pact bloc was dissolved, the NATO leaders pursued the policy of Eastward Expansion with the admission of several East European countries after the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Apart from that it is a matter of reality that primarily due to the strained relations between Russia and some former Soviet Republics, namely, Georgia and the Baltic States and the impact of ‘Coloured Revolutions’ which made them to seek support of the West the relations between Russia and the NATO were affected and the latter took advantage of increasing its membership, relevance and strength.

Thirdly, the United States has been a dominant player and is by far the largest contributor of funding to the NATO, followed by Germany, Britain, and France. Being the largest contributor of defence expenses of the NATO for decades and hence to reduce its own burden, US President Donald Trump has urged all members to contribute their share of military spending. In fact during the previous NATO meeting held in 2018 Donald Trump chided the NATO leaders for failing to meet their commitments of spending two per cent of the GDP on defence. He was candid in stating “We are protecting countries that have taken advantage of the United States, since the United States pays for a disproportionate share of NATO, and we just want fairness.” In fact the issue of defence expenses has become quite serious and hence this has also been reiterated by the NATO chief, Stoltenberg, when he was addressing delegates during the occasion. At the same time he was fair in stating that there is some progress in members stepping up their spending but added there is more work to be done.

Fourthly, during the last over a decade apart from defence issues, it is appreciable that the NATO has been involved in other global social and economic issues concerning the interest of member-countries. For instance, as opined by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the world has entered a “new era of great power competition”. He was specific in stating: “We must adapt our alliance to confront emerging threats whether that’s Russian aggression, uncontrolled migration, cyber attacks, threats to energy security, Chinese strategic competition, including technology and 5G, and many other issues.” But these are complex and complicated global issues which are challenges the NATO will face in the years to come.

Fifthly, as opined by some Western analysts, Trump has openly questioned the most important aspect of Article 5 of the NATO alliance as to whether an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members. This is a crucial issue and might assume significance in the context of, say, growing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine. But notwithstanding these issues it is appreciable that the NATO chief has stated that the organisation has made progress in its objectives and vision to ensure ‘Freedom and Peace’ in the world.

Nato-Russia Differences Persisting

Notwithstanding several positive developments, differences between the NATO and Russia persist. These are evident from the contentions made at the Washington meeting. Firstly, there is an allegation made by the NATO that Russia had violated the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as a part of a “pattern of destabilising behaviour”. The INF Treaty was signed by the United States and Soviet Union in the last years of the Cold War. Russia has denied this allegation. Moreover, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman was highly critical and hence reiterated in stating that the two-day gathering in Washington on April 4 showed that the NATO had no intention of abandoning its plans to step up military and political confrontation with Russia.

Secondly, issues concerning Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine and allegation of annexation of Crimea in 2014 assumed significance at the NATO meeting. The NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, mentioned the Black Sea situation and urged Russia to release Ukrainian vessels and their crews. But Russia is bent on contending that due process of law was being followed. Russia’s response was candid and Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on April 4 that the two-day gathering in Washington shows that the NATO “has no intention of abandoning plans to step up military and political confrontation with Russia.

Thirdly, at the NATO meeting, some members insisted that Germany should not import oil and natural gas from Russia and not enter into a deal of Russia’s pipeline project from the Adriatic Sea to Germany. But this does not seem to be rational and not in compliance with the basic principles of international trade; and it is against WTO rules which promote global trade. Hence it will not be fair on the part of the NATO to restrict economic relations between Russia and Germany which are close and cordial for several years. Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to Germany and to many European countries and for Russia this has been a major source of earning petrodollars. Hence the argument and contention that Germany should not enter into a deal with Russia on the energy pipeline issue amount to hitting Russia below the belt. In fact this Nord Stream 2 project is scheduled to be completed in 2019, and this pipeline would run directly from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing several European transit countries including Ukraine. While this will help Russia to avoid transit-fee payment and other disputes, there is contention that it will also increase Western Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas and give Moscow more negotiating leverage over unrelated political issues.

Fourthly, Turkey is a member of the NATO and it has also cordial political and economic relations with Russia which is also helping the country to face problems of terrorism and security issues in the region. Hence Turkey’s President has entered into an agreement with Moscow to purchase surface-to- air missile S-400 which is cheap and effective. But the USA is critical of Turkey. Now the USA and other NATO countries have demanded that Turkey should cancel its deal with Russia, which is not compatible with the NATO systems and is considered a threat to the US F-35 aircraft. In fact the US Vice President, Mike Pence, was candid in stating: “Turkey must choose. Does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making such reckless decisions that undermine our alliance?”. In fact the Pentagon spokesperson has stated that it has suspended dialogue with Turkey for selling F-35 even as the United States and other NATO countries have demanded that Ankara should call off its deal with Russia to purchase the S-400. The issue persists since Ankara is keen on going ahead with the deal.

Thus in lieu of conclusion it may be stated that the NATO has emerged as a successful global organisation and has diversified its activities apart from security issues even as problems of funding need to be considered. The USA has been a dominant player in funding. The NATO chief,Jens Stoltenberg, has every reason to be content in stating: “We have experienced an unprecedented period of peace. So the NATO alliance is not only the longest-lasting alliance in history, it is the most successful alliance in history.” But as stated above, problems persist and hence there is need for the NATO to have a fair deal with Russia rather than aggravating differences.

Dr Gidadhubli is a Profesor and former Director, Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai.

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