NATO has been pegged to a history of enhanced military presence in various regions around the world, with the propagated rhetoric of increasing the Soviet Union’s inability to conclusively commit to a direct conventional conflict against the West during the Cold War.
This article was submitted by Nicolas George Taylor, a recent graduate in International Relations & Politics from Oxford Brookes University.
However, since 1991, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union an argument has for years been formed suggesting that NATO has shifted to a political alliance, inept to consider the growing reality that Russian aggression is not only a possibility but, as the former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) Sir Richard Shirreff has stressed, Russian aggression has, since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, been a disregarded reality leading to what Shirreff calls a ‘Cold War 2.0’, and not enough is being done to deter such aggression.
Firstly it must be mentioned that NATO, at the fall of the Soviet Union, had assumed a very different role and thus most definitely, in order to survive the turn of a new era, it assumed reform ‘that prepared it for the emerging European security landscape’.
Shirreff has voiced his concerns that NATO states had de-prioritised the use of the alliance as a military powerhouse and have instead promoted it as a ‘political tool’. NATO reform is therefore relative to the rise of a substantial international threat. This may indeed be down to the Russian consequences of the end of the Cold War, as administration of state owned assets in the newly formed Russian Federation was poorly distributed and added to the poor economic standing in the new Federation. To add to this, Russian defence spending deteriorated during the Yeltsin years from 4.9% in 1992 (from 15% in 1988) to 3.3% in 1999. Therefore, NATO states decreased military expenditure to accommodate itself to the decreased threat to peace.
The issue with NATO in the turn of the 21st century lies with the inability to acknowledge that since the rise of the Putin administration followed by his increased mandate in Russian politics from outstanding, yet controversial, presidential election results, Russian foreign policy can be seen to have formed a newly extended arm in international affairs, especially by militaristic means. Starting with the Georgian War in South Ossetia in 2008 to the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 under the universal appeal , as scholar Roy Allison suggests, of protecting Russian citizens, leaves one to the idea that Russia is manipulating the narrative of protecting Russian citizens as a means of maintaining a military directive and to fundamentality change the defensive role of the use of military power as an ‘instrument of policy to enforce compliance with its neighbours’ which would reinforce political home power and reassert regional hegemony.
NATO is arguably over-complicated by the subordinate nature of the military structure to that of its political structure. Basing the alliance under a democratic type system, the North Atlantic Committee (NAC) which is the political body of the alliance must produce a unanimous vote, essentially meaning that every member must agree that a NATO member has been attacked and that the triggering of Article 5 (NATOs invoking of Collective Defence) is the only rational course of action and is imperative to maintain the peace in the region. Unfortunately, as international relations scholar Kurt Volker suggests, under a realists perspective, NATO is bogged down by the idea that the lack of a common perceived threat is and has always been the chink in NATOs decision making armour.
Russia’s cross-border mandate has been based traditionally under the pretence that Russia is under threat of encirclement from NATO expansion, especially with the prospect of integrating Georgia and Ukraine ,which are Russian bordering states, into the alliance.
A document released by the Defence Intelligence Agency corroborates with the idea that with hindsight the expansionary presence of the alliance to the Baltic region and to Russian bordering states has added to the historic anxiety of Russian encirclement, a narrative that has been backed by British Ambassador Sir Robert Lynce who regretfully states ‘we created the anxieties’ Russia is feeling today. One can see this perceived threat in the current deployment of NATOs Enhanced Foreign Presence, in which NATO have taken advantage of the proximity to the Russian border. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have all been the bases for large multinational exercises one can only assume have been produced to specifically project power in the region. In total 4,762 troops have been deployed across this region as of November 2017.
The perceived threat Moscow have so deeply been encouraging to its population has arguably been merely state propaganda to lend blame for the current declining economic situation within the country, which in retrospect have been provoked by western sanctions and have seen the decline of the Russian Rubles value. For the reality is that NATOs formidability and defensive realist agenda produced during the Cold War has been atrophied by the decline in spending budgets within NATO states themselves.
The U.S, Greece, Poland, Estonia, and the U.K are all, according to NATO, meeting the required 2% of GDP minimum despite there being overwhelming argument for increased spending, while nations such as France, Germany, and Italy are all falling short despite being some of the largest economies on the continent.
NATO is ultimately under threat of being a physically formidable alliance, yet practically over-complicated and an incapable alliance due to the lack of commonality in the role of acknowledging a perceived threat. Fortunately, Russia under Putin have not yet physically attacked a NATO member and NATO deterrence is still in date, however with the increase in his popularity and the increased investment in its military, as most recently seen with Sarmat – dubbed ‘SATAN 2’ missiles, its modernisation of its armoured vehicles with the new T-14 Armata to name some examples.
Along with the ongoing proxy conflict in eastern Ukraine with Russian backed separatists, followed by the annexation of Crimea, and more recently with current threats of conflict by Dmitry Medvedev to Georgia, who are in talks to join the alliance, one must consider whether NATO would ever press the article 5 button, or whether NATOs fall would be at the hands of indecision.
NATO have a combined defence expenditure of $946 billion, but this means nothing if a unanimous vote in the NAC cannot be achieved.