Thursday 19 February 2015

What is NATO For?

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'ĂȘtre 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.



Jer said...

The Baltics do share some of the characteristics of Ukraine. They have large Russian communities, and the Russians are discriminated against in their own nations.

It may not end well.

Hopefully the posturing is just that, hopefully it works and Russia decides that the suffering of its kith and kin warrants only diplomatic pressure.

Hopefully Cameron doesn't do something twatish.

I'm reasonably optimistic, except on the last point.

hovis said...

Let me nuance and expand my previous comments re the Baltics.

(1)It appears the 'crisis' about threat tothe Baltics has all come from NATO & UK Govt apparatchiks. I have yet to see any overtly threatening moves by the Russians against teh Baltic.

(2) NATO is an organisationin search of a role and a place to justify it's existance. Framing the Russians as the the big bad bogey men means more £££ and a justification for it's existance

(3) The Baltics are NATO members so any confrontation has wider implications. Do you believe the Russians are feeling so existentially threatened to risk a confrontation as this?

(3a) Ukraine a non member should be protected as it is really near the North Atlantic.

(4) Poland has many beefs with the Russians and would just love to stir the pot for it's advantage.

(5) Flying old 'Bear' bombers in international airspace is a real threat to the UK ?? This is just playful tweaking of tails.
FFS they used to shadow them with Phantoms in the early 70's when I was a kid. Has our airforce got that bad they are a thret because we have reverted to usng Sopwith Camels??

Agree with Jer
@ the Russian populations - but then perhaps the Baltics should stop dicking around with their Russian populations - if they genuinely are.

and also Cameron is a twat and will happily look to do something stupid and continue to cut defence spending too.

hovis said...

Oops, left the tag off 3a

Raedwald said...

I don't think I'm too far away from the emerging consensus. Poland, Hungary, the Czechs and Slovaks and the Balts have all recovered their westernisation rather rapidly. Too quickly for my taste; by the time I started to travel widely in the former USSR satellites, they all had identical glass and chrome Malls with identical Subway, H&M, Zara and Swarofski outlets, new cars on the street indistinguishable from any other European city, and new 'International' hotels with long-legged prostitutes and English language newspapers.

Plus none of them used Cyrillic. So integration was less culturally ambiguous than in Ukraine.

The danger is from excitable and bellicose Poles, Hungarians and Balts not wanting to be on the front line with Russia. Naturally enough, they'd all prefer a buffer. So they'll talk-up conflict and support asinine raids such as the EU / NATO tried to make on Ukraine. The job of the rest of NATO is to get them to keep calm and not to start anything. Whilst ramping up forward facilities and pre-positioning kit and supplies.

Frankly, I'm more scared of some manic excitable little Balt starting something than of Putin putting a foot wrong.

CityUnslicker said...

NATO is for naught.

Always was. Russia did not invade WE and if it had the forces were supposed to last 3 days - see if the politco's could crack a deal otherwise MAD it was.

Now Putin knows this and he also suspects the Ukranians are in the pay of the CIA. Nothing will stop him, not Nato for sure. As long as he just feasts on Eastern Ukraine that is....

andrew said...

For once Cameron should be congratulated.

In doing nothing and saying pretty much nothing he has done exactly the right thing.
If he does say anything, it is about sanctions on the political leaders - not the businesses, again hte right thing to do as it encourages a separation between church and state.

rwendland said...

It is a sign of the times that a plane the RAF called "Tu-95 Bear maratime reconnassance aircraft" in 2003, and "military reconnaissance (Bears)" last year, are now being called "bombers" all over the media! Spinners at work somewhere - its as if they want to big up the threat.

Also ironic that if the Tu-95 carried any weapons, they were probably Ukrainian engined cruise missiles.

NB I generally agree with hovis again.

Anonymous said...

"what is Nato for" ?

It's the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, innit, set up to protect the sea lanes twixt USA and Western Europe.

I could just about stomach the post-war interest in the Black Sea (Turkey), when Stalin and then Kruschev were threatening to bury us and the Comintern was a global threat.

But the attempted expansion of NATO to the Caspian sea and the successful expansion to the east side of the Baltic sea suggests that it's not Russia who are the imperialists.

rwendland said...

NB The U.S. also of course send planes close to Russian airspace in the Baltic. Usually this gets little publicity, but I've just a-spied a Daily Telegraph report from last year of a U.S. RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft actually infringing Swedish airspace fleeing an intercept:

"An American spy plane engaged in a Cold War-era aerial game of chicken over (sic) Russia a day after the downing of Malaysian Flight 17 by rebels in Ukraine.

The US State Department confirmed that the RC-135 Rivet Joint escaped [an intercept] by flying into Swedish airspace without permission ..."

Whether these regular events get large-scale publicity in the media seems essentially a political decision by the spinning classes. Last year the RAF was saying "Intercepting Russian Bear aircraft is a routine occurrence for us" but this year it is the cause of much excitement!