The Way Ahead for NATO: The Ukrainian Crisis Intrudes


2014-03-13 By Andrew Haggard

British Prime Minister David Cameron will host the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s next ministerial summit in September 2014 at Cardiff, United Kingdom.

Previously, the alliance was expected to focus on “capabilities, partnerships and Afghanistan,” which U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel described as, “three priority areas for the summit.” [ref] Merle David Kellerhals Jr., “NATO Defense Ministers Lay Groundwork for 2014 Summit,” IIP Digital, October 24, 2013, [/ref]

While still actively participating in the discussion on NATO’s role in Afghanistan, to which Poland and the Baltics have contributed troops and other resources, NATO’s newer members are likely going to push for a greater emphasis on the former two priority areas n the wake of the Ukraine crisis and the apparent Russian invasion of Crimea.

Poland and the Baltics have long brought up the threat that Russia poses to regional and NATO security.  

NATO’s Central European members are obviously worried about the threat Russia poses to their territorial sovereignty as evidenced by the emergency summit called by Lithuania and Poland under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which mandates emergency meetings when a member state feels its territorial integrity is threatened.

The main security threat to Ukraine since independence has been that Russia will seek to incorporate all or some parts of its territory. Credit Image: Bigstock
The main security threat to Ukraine since independence has been that Russia will seek to incorporate all or some parts of its territory. Now that this is happening, what next?Credit Image: Bigstock 

In 2008, Dimitry Medvedev, the then-Russian president, laid out part of the doctrinal basis for the Kremlin’s war in Georgia and, now, its invasion of Crimea when he declared, “protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country.  Our foreign policy decisions will be based on this need.  We will also protect the interests of our business community abroad.  It should be clear to all that we will respond to any aggressive acts committed against us.”  [ref] “The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy,” Stratfor, accessed March 11, 2014, [/ref]

The Baltics have legitimate concerns about Russian designs to limit their sovereignty. 

Each of the three Baltics—Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia—all have significant minority populations of ethnic Russians, who migrated to the Baltic states after their Soviet annexation and in line with a policy of “Russification,” wherein the Soviet authorities tried to dilute nationalist sentiments by making the Baltics more Russian.

While Lithuania has done a better job of integrating its Russian population, Estonia and Latvia face criticism from Moscow for their treatment of their Russian populace.  In Estonia, for example, Russian is not an official language and Russian speakers, for the most part, cannot obtain Estonian passport until they pass an Estonian-language test and can prove that their ancestors resided in Estonia prior to the Soviet invasion.  Language discrimination has also been reported in jobs where Russians with poor command of Estonian are occasionally dismissed from their jobs. [ref] David Greene, “Russian Minority Struggles In Post-Soviet Estonia,”, accessed March 9, 2014,[/ref]

General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, clearly understands the concerns Washington’s NATO allies have.  He recently told PBS’ Newshour, “If Russia is allowed to do this, which is to say move into a sovereign country under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, it exposes Eastern Europe to some significant risk, because there are ethnic enclaves all over Eastern Europe and the Balkans.” [ref] “Dempsey Reassures NATO Allies on Ukraine,” accessed March 12, 2014,[/ref]

While Poland doesn’t have the risk of concentrated pockets of Russian speakers that the Baltics do, Poland is one of the European Union and NATO’s staunchest supporters, much to the chagrin of the Kremlin.

In recent years, the Kremlin has issued not-too-veiled threats against Poland if it would host the proposed missile defense system initially proposed by the George W. Bush administration.  One such threat came in 2008 when the commander of Russia’s nuclear forces declared, “Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 percent.” [ref] By Damien McElroy in Tbilisi, “Russian General Says Poland a Nuclear ‘Target’,”, 15:36, sec. worldnews, [/ref]

Knowing Judo and Karate Maybe Better Training for Diplomacy Than Playing Gulf.
The Russian leader is not going to be influenced by the mere words of Club NATO. 

Moscow followed up this threat a year later with joint war games with Belarus in which the allies simulated a nuclear strike against Poland and the suppression of an uprising of ethnic Poles in Belarus. [ref] By Matthew Day in Warsaw, “Russia ‘Simulates’ Nuclear Attack on Poland,”, 16:37, sec. worldnews, [/ref]

Furthermore, both Lithuania and Poland are concerned about Russia’s military build-up in the Kaliningrad enclave, a geographical anomaly that is Russian territory, but not contiguous to the Russian mainland, a region akin to Alaska for the United States, that borders Poland to the north and Lithuania to the southwest. [ref] Scott Neuman, “Poland, Lithuania Nervous Over Reports Of Russian Missiles,”, accessed March 12, 2014, [/ref]

In the upcoming NATO summit to be held in Cardiff, United Kingdom, the former-Soviet bloc countries are going to want to focus on developing a mature response policy in the event of Russian aggression.

To this end, the former-Warsaw Pact members are going to be seeking more concrete security assurances from NATO’s heavy-hitters, notably the United States, given its capabilities and force-projection abilities are par none.

Thus far, the United States has made a good initial impression in the last few weeks.  Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said he recently received “full security guarantees” during a call with U.S. President Barack Obama. [ref] Joe Parkinson And Marcin Sobczyk, “Ukraine Neighbor Nations Seek NATO, U.S. Security Assurances,” Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2014, sec. World,[/ref]

Meanwhile, the United States has enlarged its contribution and presence in NATO exercises currently being hosted by the Baltics and Poland.

As well, these countries are likely going to push for NATO’s defense capabilities to be developed rather than relying too heavily on rhetoric about developing European military capabilities, which a former Polish defense minister calculated was “still very premature.” [ref] “How Safe Is Poland?,” Warsaw Business Journal, May 20, 2013,[/ref]

To develop their capabilities, the countries that fear Russian aggression the most are going to request a larger NATO footprint and more frequent NATO military exercises in their neighborhood. [ref] Milda Seputyte and Aaron Eglitis, “U.S. Fighters Circle Baltics as Putin Fans Fear of Russia,” BusinessWeek: Undefined, March 7, 2014,[/ref]

Estonia would definitely welcome a greater emphasis on the NATO’s cyber defense capabilities given its experience of cyber attacks emanating from Russia and its well-developed I.T. industry.  Latvia, which is investing in its own cyber defense capabilities, would certainly also welcome increased interest in the issue given that cyber defense has become a key priority for Latvia’s defense plans. [ref] Latvia Launches Cyber Defence Unit to Beef up Online Security | Sci-Tech | DW.DE | 04.03.2014,” DW.DE, accessed March 12, 2014, [/ref]

In order to finance this, there could be renewed calls for increasing national defense budgets.

Poland, which budgets just shy of the recommend two-percent of GDP, is currently undergoing a $45 billion modernization of its armed forces.  Donald Tusk, Poland prime minister, said that Russian aggression in Ukraine meant his country would need to speed up the pace of military modernization. [ref] Andrius Sytas and Pawel Bernat, “As Ukraine Crisis Deepens, Russia’s Neighbors Boost Defenses,” Reuters, March 7, 2014,[/ref]

Meanwhile, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite has suggested her attitude towards defense spending has shifted and her country would pursue raising its defense budget. “Life always gives many corrections, including to political decisions,” Grybauskaite was quoted as saying in reference to her previous stance on defense spending while in Brussels after the Crimea crisis began. [ref]Ibid.[/ref]

Adding additional members to NATO could be another policy option that NATO’s frontier members could pursue.

Aside from the obvious choices of Ukraine and Georgia, whose potential memberships have been supported by Polish politicians in the past, they could encourage Sweden to join NATO as a full member given that the Jan Bjorklund, the Swedish deputy prime minister, has recently indicated his government’s was undergoing a doctrinal shift related to its defense policies. [ref]Ibid.[/ref]

Finally, the newest members would also like to see one of their own at the political helm of NATO.  Currently, some commentators are speculating Radolsaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, would be an ideal choice to replace Anders Fogh Rasmussen NATO Secretary General, whose term expires in September.  Sikorski is often described as a true Atlanticist and that he is, but he is also an adept reader of the environment.  In an interview with Foreign Affairs earlier this year, Sikorski said that he viewed conflict between Europe and Russia as “imaginable” while holding out hope that differences could be mediated and promises kept. [ref] “The Polish Model,” Foreign Affairs, April 3, 2013,[/ref]

Editor’s Note: It would behoove the Administration and the key European countries to shape CREDIBLE military options.  Certainly among them would be air and defense integrated capabilities. At the top of the list would be deploying THAAD and F-22s to the region, and not pretending that the Russians are not modernizing their forces along with expanding their ambitions.

With Euro Zone in Crisis and Washington in the throes of drawdowns in defense, the question of what is the most credible defense modernization approach, rather than simply rhetorical flourishes so evident in the past years are on offer.

And the Afghan drawdown itself could be affected with denial of Russian air space and related measures, which Russia surely could undertake.

By the time September rolls around, the world could look quite differently with Ukraine, Syria, and Iran in play.

For earlier pieces on the Ukraine see the following: