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NATO at 70: Anniversary Amid a Crisis

2-04-2019, 11:00

The NATO countries’ shared decision to extend the current mandate of the organization’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg until September 2022 demonstrates the desire of the North Atlantic Alliance to ensure the continuity of its activities and priorities. The NATO member states expressed their support for Mr. Stoltenberg’s effort aimed at “the adaptation and modernization of NATO.” [1]

Jens Stoltenberg’s term as NATO Secretary General was originally scheduled to run out in the fall of 2018, but in December 2017, the leadership of the Alliance decided to extend his mandate until September 2020. [2]

The decision to extend Mr. Stoltenberg’s term in office until 2022 was reportedly dictated by purely practical considerations, including his forthcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Their planned meeting was initially reported on March 27 by the Turkish news agency Anadolu Ajansi. The information was later confirmed by President Trump’s press service, which said that the two would meet at the White House on April 2 ahead of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The press service emphasized that Trump and Stoltenberg will discuss NATO’s "unprecedented" successes in world politics, and the distribution of obligations between its members, including the issue of financing the Alliance. [3]

Jens Stoltenberg would apparently hate to meet Donald Trump, the leader of the country which is NATO’s primary financial and military-technical contributor, in the status of an outgoing leader, or, in American political parlance, a lame duck. All the more so now that the relations between the Alliance members on both sides of the Atlantic are the most strained in the organization’s entire 70-year history.

The creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 signaled the start of the military-political confrontation between the West and the East in addition to the ideological differences that existed between the Soviet Union and the Western nations.

According to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Jens Stoltenberg’s predecessor as NATO Secretary General, “NATO was born into a dangerous world. As the Soviet shadow deepened across Europe, 12 nations from both sides of the Atlantic committed to individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law determined to stand together to safeguard their security.” [4]

NATO’s first Secretary General, Ismay Hastings, had a wider view of the tasks facing the alliance though. According to him, the purpose of NATO was to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

In keeping with the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty concluded in Washington on April 4, 1949, NATO sought “to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.”
The document emphasized the organization’s resolve “to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.” [5]

Over the course of the decades that followed, the NATO leadership was often very constructive in dealing with its potential adversary, namely the Soviet Union. As early as in 1954 (following the death of Joseph Stalin), Washington and Brussels reportedly mulled integrating the Soviet Union into the North Atlantic Alliance. Confrontational ideology then prevailed, however, and the creation of the Warsaw Pact Organization in 1955 secured inter-bloc divisions in Europe.

Despite their existing confrontation, the great powers, the USSR and the United States, were still able to come together and find geopolitical ways out of the most difficult moments of world history, most notably the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. A raft of nuclear and conventional arms control accords signed during the 1970s and 1980s also proved the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries’ and their leaders’ ability to agree on key global security issues.

The negative turn in NATO’s behavior in terms of theory and practice occurred during the late-1980s and early-1990s. The breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, as well as the growing instability in and around the former Soviet republics created in Brussels and Washington dangerous illusions about their own exclusiveness and the uselessness of the system of military-political checks and balances. The promise given to the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev regarding NATO’s refusal to deploy its military structures close to the Russian borders in exchange for Moscow’s concessions regarding German unification and other issues was never met. Moreover, NATO’s plans in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet republics posed a serious threat to Russia’s strategic interests.

The tragic developments happening in the former Yugoslavia became a crucial point with NATO seeing them as a convenient excuse for “pushing Russia aside,” bolstering its position in a strategically important part of Europe and, simultaneously, working out scenarios of actions (including military) in a new situation of its global dominion. In 1994-1995, NATO aircraft were used for the first time in a major military operation in Europe, namely in Bosnia and Herzegovina, beyond the territorial responsibility of the Alliance. Mass-scale bombings of Bosnian Serb positions by NATO aircraft during the ethnic and civil conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina were meant to ensure a military victory for the local pro-Western forces, while simultaneously causing maximum damage to the Serbs, viewed by the West as being Russia’s allies.

The large-scale military operation against the Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), codenamed “Deliberate Force,” was launched on August 30, 1995, continued for two weeks and resulted in numerous civilian casualties.

By the way, coordinating the NATO airstrikes was the commander of the local Muslim forces, Rasim Delic, who showed the NATO command Serbian targets for immediate missile and bomb attacks. Such cooperation characterizes NATO’s actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (just like its 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia) not as a peacekeeping operation, but rather as powerful military support for one of the parties engaged in a conflict, which flies in the face of the fundamental principles of peacekeeping.

There is another thing indicating that the 1995 Western operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a rehearsal of their subsequent actions in Kosovo and other strategically important regions of Europe and the world. Both in 1995, and 1999, incidents with clear signs of being faked were used as a formal reason for the bombings. While in 1999 NATO was quick to show to the world the victims of Serb-organized “ethnic cleansing” in the Kosovo village of Racak, even though reports said that it was the work of Kosovo Liberation Army militants in civilian disguise, in Bosnia and Herzegovina an explosion at the Markale street marketplace in Sarajevo played a similar role. Bosnian Serbs provided documented proof that “Muslims simply planted the bodies of their soldiers killed at the front and gave them up for the victims of the explosion,” and Russian officers at the headquarters of the UN Sector Sarajevo testified that from the Serbian positions it was theoretically impossible to hit the market with mortar fire. This was all in vain though,  because the Bosnian Muslim leaders and Western allies were playing out their own military scenario, apparently prepared well in advance.

The NATO bombings of Yugoslavia, which began 20 years ago, on March 24, 1999, ushered in a new era in international relations. For the first time in the history of post-war Europe, NATO launched, without any UN mandate, a military operation against a sovereign non-member state. Even the Soviet military interventions in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968 look more logical from a legal standpoint, since both these socialist countries were Warsaw Pact members. NATO’s actions in March-June 1999 were precursors of military operations later carried out by both the Alliance per se and a number of its leading members, led by the United States elsewhere in the world - from Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 to their desire to call the shots in Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. 

The United States was then pursuing a very special goal in the Balkans, a goal which clearly went beyond NATO’s scope. By supporting Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians, Washington expected to score propaganda points in the Islamic world, which later helped it to at least partially offset the protests over its operations in Muslim countries, primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq. In June 1999, the US commander of NATO’s “Operation Allied Force,” General Wesley Clark, issued a handwritten order to resist Russian peacekeepers who had moved into Kosovo in line with a pertinent decision by the United Nations – a move that was fraught with grave consequences for the entire world.

Therefore, it would hardly be an overstatement to say that NATO’s 20-year-old military campaign helped stoke up tensions in other areas of ethnic and religious conflicts - and not only in terms of encouraging separatist sentiments. It was certainly with those power scenarios earlier implemented in the Balkans in mind that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his NATO-trained troops to storm Tskhinval in 2008.

Russia is naturally worried by NATO’s desire to play a more active and sometimes even provocative and aggressive role beyond the area of its military-political responsibility. Suffice it to recall the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest that was preceded by titanic efforts by Washington to draw Ukraine and Georgia into the anti-Russian bloc under the pretext of the imaginary “Russian threat.” Even though the plan fell through due to the European members’ lukewarm response to it, it was perfectly clear that the United States and its allies now view NATO not only as a means of countering the Soviet/Russian “threat,” but also as a tool for promoting their own interests in various parts of the globe, including those in the areas of Russia’s historical interests, disregarding the fact that this is destabilizing the existing system of international relations.

NATO’s reluctance to halt its eastward enlargement is a continuation of the “old policy when Russia was perceived at least as an adversary,” Russian President Vladimir Putin then emphasized.

“The inability to change the subject, as [Winston] Churchill said, is a sign of radicalism,” he added.

Orchestrated and provoked by the West, the 2014 crisis in Ukraine gave NATO another convenient excuse for moving its infrastructure closer to the Russian borders. As General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, later admitted, it was exactly when the Alliance got seriously hooked on the idea of turning Poland and the Polish Baltic Sea port city of Szczecin into its largest base in Eastern Europe.

The Times quoted General Breedlove as saying that even though possible bases were being discussed, the Polish city and port of Szczecin, located on the Baltic Sea coast, was seen as a favorite choice for setting up a military base. For fairness’ sake, however, it should be noted that Szczecin was returned to Poland after the end of WWII thanks to the constructive position of the Soviet Union: the resolution of the Potsdam Peace Conference redrew the earlier agreed new Polish-German border running along the Oder River (Szczecin is located just west of the river).

Meanwhile, working together, Russia and NATO could have defused a number of real crises that in recent years have emerged in various parts of the world. During his tenure as NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that the North Atlantic Alliance should actively prepare to ward off “future threats,” including the situation in Afghanistan, international terrorism, cyber crime, drug trafficking; and to ensure nuclear missile security. However, Russia's desire to cooperate with NATO on all these key modern-day threats and challenges has invariably been rejected by the United States and its allies. By announcing America’s withdrawal from existing treaties and arms control arrangements, President Donald Trump is simultaneously twisting the arms of his European allies forcing them to toe Washington’s line from energy to trade, and spend more on defense.

The current crisis of NATO, including domestic problems facing its members ahead of the Alliance’s 70th anniversary, has certainly not been lost on Western analysts and the media. The Times observer Roger Boyes sarcastically remarked that if it were not for Russia, NATO could well have fallen apart by now.

“Consider this: only one in ten Germans currently considers Donald Trump to be a reliable ally. Absurdly, some consider his unpredictability to be the biggest threat to world peace. Little wonder that the birthday party in Brussels is set to be a muted affair,” he wrote. [6]

The differences of opinion that currently exist between the United States and Europe (above all, between Washington and Berlin) are skillfully being used by other world players. And not just by China or Iran, but also by Turkey, which wants to play an increasingly active role in Eurasian affairs.

“Turkey has managed to negotiate itself into a privileged position because its location allows NATO to project influence inside the Middle East,” The Times rightly notes.

Turkish warships are participating in NATO’s “Sea Shield” naval exercises, currently underway in the Black Sea. [7]

The fact that Ukrainian and Georgian warships are also taking part in that drill means that Brussels still thinks in the categories of “containment” and “blockade” of Russia, instead of trying to engage in a dialogue with Moscow on key global issues - including those posing a direct threat to NATO countries themselves.

The opinion of the author does not necessarily reflect the position of the Editorial Board. 

____________________________________________________________________________

[1] URL: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_164942.htm

[2] URL: https://www.rbc.ru/politics/28/03/2019/5c9cecb99a7947441bf366c6

[3] URL: https://regnum.ru/news/2599483.html

[4] URL: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/10748433/Why-it-is-more-important-than-ever-to-invest-in-defence-of-democracy.html

[5] URL: https://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natolive/official_texts_17120.htm

[6] URL: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/nato-should-thank-its-lucky-stars-for-putin-twg9cml7d

[7] URL: https://twitter.com/BoudewijnBoots/status/1111300057423405058


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