When I was a boy, world was better spot
What was so was so, what was not was not
Now I am a man, world has changed a lot
... 'tis a puzzlement!
When I was a boy ... a couple of the great pillars of existence were the Conservative Party and NATO. Everyone knew what they were for and, revealingly, their raisons d'être were negatively defined. In the case of the Party this was explicit in its rulebook: "Membership of the Conservative & Unionist Party is open to all who oppose Socialism and Communism". NATO managed to avoid name-calling in its concise founding treaty of 1949, but no-one was in any doubt it existed to be in opposition to Soviet Russia.
Well, the world has certainly changed a lot. NATO command structures were seriously deployed in a shooting war for the first time in the first Gulf War 1990-91, in the service of George Bush Senior's grand coalition force. (The Russians were mightly impressed with the salutory technical success this represented: they'd believed the sheer volume of air traffic implied by the Air-Land Battle doctrine was infeasible. It also became clear that France's long period of refusal to commit troops to the NATO frontline in Germany hadn't dimished her operational ability to fit in nicely when it mattered.) NATO qua NATO actually went into action in Bosnia / Herzegovina in 1995, and errr, Afghanistan, following the first-ever invoking of Article 5 (who attacks one, attacks all) in respect of 9/11.
Additionally, for some while now NATO has had an 'enlargement' policy:
NATO membership is open to “any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.”And of course it has followed through with this, accommodating most of the former Warsaw Pact states notwithstanding the 'verbal agreement' given to Gorbachev that NATO would not push eastward. Well, Turkey has long been a member, so perhaps Bulgaria isn't such a provocative inclusion after all. And Poland, Hungary & the Baltics are EU and historically fairly 'European'...
But now we find NATO - and its playground pal the EU - playing silly-buggers, so that its website offers translation into French, Arabic, Russian and yes, Ukranian, even though Ukraine explicitly doesn't qualify for membership (though incidentally, neither did Croatia and Slovenia, having an active border dispute between them). Russia, of course, has finally taken the bait and decided (albeit when oil was still at $115) there's nothing in practical terms to prevent them re-drawing the borders of the 1991 dispensation if they choose. Plus or minus some financial sanctions, annexation of Crimea and the latest events in Ukraine lend credence to Putin's judgement on this.
So what are we to make of Mr Fallon and the rather bellicose Jens Stoltenberg warning us that the Baltics might be next ? C@W commenters have suggested this is just a ploy to boost defence spending, which is plausible enough but not, I think, the whole story. Just as the neocons have decided the cheapest strategy against Russia is to bait it along its borders, so Putin will have noticed that two can play this game. Sending subs into the North Sea and Tupolevs to Cornwall (sic) is flamboyant and fairly cheap, too: but in the Baltics there's the prospect of real turmoil.
Obviously the correct answer is for both sides to row back from this childish provocation, and get on with trade and other important things we all have in common.
But, pace Hatfield Girl, I'm no advocate of a 'Russia-in-Christendom' policy: I've lived there, their culture is different and they're capable of crazy things. Also, if my theory is correct, that the USSR held back from a first strike partly because their Marxism told them they were going to win anyway, well that particular restraint obviously no longer applies. So NATO it is, but without the mission-creep. Being negatively defined is just fine. 'Attack is the best form of defence' may be a maxim worth considering for a general in the field, but not for statesmen in countries of such wealth (and strength) as the USA. What was wrong with 'speak softly, and carry a big stick' ? It saw off the USSR handily enough.