Leading article

The slow death of Nato

Without Cold War clarity, it's failing miserably to face up to Putin

24 May 2014

9:00 AM

24 May 2014

9:00 AM

The Cold War was won by 26 words contained within article five of the Treaty of Washington, which founded Nato in 1949: ‘The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.’

There was no wriggling and no qualification. The message to Stalin was perfectly clear: you nibble at one inch of Western Europe and you won’t just get an ad hoc response from war-weary Europeans; you will have to face a nuclear-armed Uncle Sam. The last time Britain held a Nato summit, in 1990, the organisation was triumphant. Little wonder that the newly liberated nations of Eastern Europe flocked to join Nato in the years which followed; membership promised to end any threat of their falling under Russian influence again. A few years later, the Kosovo campaign showed Nato’s relevance after the Cold War.

But its relevance today is harder to ascertain. That Nato’s next summit will be held at a Welsh golf club seems to symbolise the problem. Nato has slipped into a middle-age comfort zone, reminiscing about its past achievements.

Article five remains unchanged in the Treaty of Washington, but it is becoming less and less credible by the day. Where Joseph Stalin had no reason to doubt that the founder members of Nato were serious, Vladimir Putin can be confident that if he causes mischief today, there will be no coherent or strategic response from an exhausted and indebted West. Putin has already helped himself to a chunk of the Ukraine without a single Nato tank being moved. It’s true that Ukraine is not a member of Nato, but common sense would dictate that, as Putin encroaches eastwards, the forces of Nato should not play dead.

Putin, keen to test these new boundaries, may reasonably wonder what the reaction would be were he to send an expeditionary force across the border of one of the Baltic states, which are Nato members. He can use the same pretext as he used in Ukraine — ethnic Russians need defending. Perhaps one of the Baltic mayors or local government officials whom Moscow has been carefully grooming could appeal for help. Or perhaps Putin could stir up some more trouble in Kosovo. The result would surely be more hand-wringing, followed by more inaction.

As a measure of how unprepared Nato is for the newly emerging threat from Putin’s Russia, the best it could muster for a rare exercise in the Baltic states last year was 6,000 troops. A joint Russian-Belorussian exercise at the same time involved 60,000 troops. As for air defence, the Nato mission in the Baltic states usually consists of a miserly four aircraft, modestly bolstered in recent months since the Ukraine crisis.

A draft Nato report leaked to Der Spiegel magazine this week appears to concede the West’s impotence, describing the situation as ‘destabilising and threatening’.

Defence and foreign ministers will meet next month to discuss the response to Ukraine. But even if they do decide on the need for a big reinforcement in Eastern Europe, what could they muster? Tanks and planes have got to come from members’ own forces, and those forces have been relentlessly cut across Europe over the past few years, in the false belief that the peace dividend from the end of the Cold War meant that defence resources could safely be transferred to social programmes instead.

Nato membership has played a part in the atrophy of European defence forces. Governments reckoned that they could safely reduce their forces on the grounds because they could rely on mighty America to guarantee their security. The US still spends more on its armed forces than Nato’s other 27 members put together. Under President Obama, however, America has shown a declining commitment to carry on bearing the cost of defending Europe. Putin must recognise that the size of a military doesn’t matter so much as the will to use it, and there’s precious little of that left in the West.

For years, Britain urged other countries to keep military spending to the bare Nato minimum: 3 per cent of gross domestic product. Now, David Cameron cannot bring himself to make even that commitment. He has no problem with foreign aid or health spending targets. But defence? There are no targets for our servicemen and women, other than a reduction in their overall numbers.

So when the Nato generals descend on the Celtic Manor Resort in September they will be like latterday Francis Drakes, reckoning that they have time to finish their rounds of golf before dealing with a security crisis. The difference is that Sir Francis did at least have a plan in place before he began playing bowls. Nato doesn’t.

It is becoming painfully clear that if Putin were to send a tank over the border into Lithuania, the response from Nato countries would be exactly the same as it was when he annexed Crimea. Our leaders would wave their metaphorical eight-irons in Putin’s direction. But the only real weapons which Nato countries would have to offer would be rhetorical ones. That is not how the first Cold War was won, and it won’t win the second.

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  • Terry Field

    This is yet another disguised attempt to get the US to intervene to the advantage of Europe, but not to the advantage of the USA. Why should here be US led military intervention to support cynical, anti-US, pro-‘multi-polar’ world Europe? And why would the US shed blood to help the arrogantly anti-American French and the demilitarised Germans who trade aggressively with the ruskies?..
    Europe wanted the US to decline; now they can deal with the Russians, if they have the bottle to do so.

    • Ivan

      For the last century Europe has struggled. The French humiliated , the Germans guilty and the British pretending not to be bewildered, have lead to a Euro fantasy land. Yes, the beneficiary was the USA. Someone needs to explain the basics , and reality and the truth again to the West.

      • Terry Field

        That will be an uphill task, old Ruskie cocker, an uphill task. It’s all over for Europe; all over.

        • tolpuddle1

          Inevitably – as the West worships Mammon instead of God, the end is nigh.

          Same is true of USA. The ideals went long ago, though the rhetoric long remained.

          • Kaine

            India and China seem to be getting on quite well in the Great Game without Jesus.

          • Phill

            I don’t think he is talking about the economy. Anyway you wait until the Communist party eventually loses it’s grip and freedom of religion is finally found in China. Christianity has a little habit of planting seeds where people have been oppressed. They tend to grow…

            It’s flourishing in South Korea and it will most certainly spread to the North, once it’s regime also throws in the towel.

            We’ve had our chance and we have turned back on our tradition and God. Maybe it’s time for the East to grow and make it’s choices.

          • Kaine

            Should the Chinese people cast off their dictatorship, I fail to see why they would run into the arms of another.

          • tolpuddle1

            The Great Game – the scramble for money, status and power – isn’t worth playing.

            If life itself was simply a scramble for money, power, status and pleasure, terminable at any moment by the Big Sleep – then life wouldn’t be worth living: “Better never to have been born” as one of the Ancient Greeks said.

            Many Chinese have become Christians, though China itself is riding a tiger. India is even unstabler, now that Indians have have abandoned their traditional Hindu mentality and embraced Yuppyism.

          • Terry Field

            A didactic statement. The obvious response; who is worth to inherit the West according to your prescription???
            Who follows ‘God”?
            The Vatican State?
            You sound a simple person, avers to complex thought.
            Are you unintelligent?
            Ever been tested??

          • tolpuddle1

            The believers always beat the unbelievers – the former have backbone and a sense of direction, the latter don’t.

            Now that Europe has abandoned the Christian faith, its probable destination is Eurabia; only a miracle can prevent this.

    • Bonkim

      Well said Terry – in fact the stupid EU Commissioner actively encouraged the mob in Kiev to overthrow their legitimate President – regardless of how corrupt he was – in fact Ukraine as Russia are run by corrupt Oligarchs – remnants of their old Party systems. The West should be weary of walking into their internecine conflicts.

    • global city

      Excellent points. Britian should remain aloof from this also, but no chance while still enmeshed in the political project.

      European politics will drag us into something truly nasty once again, especially if we put ourselves under the diktat of their foreign offie.

  • tolpuddle1

    Putin is merely responding to the threat posed to Russia by NATO’s encroaching eastward since 1990, swallowing up 10 of the 12 legacy-states of the old Soviet Union.

    Though it’s true enough that NATO has become a paper tiger – because we’re not living in the semi-socialist West of the 1940’s; global capitalism is hardly a spur to patriotism; as Adam Smith foresaw, Capitalism “depresses the martial spirit of the people.” It’s England Expects versus Loadsamoney, with the latter winning.

    If the Spectator and its wealthy backers deplore this, they can well afford to buy a ticket to Ukraine and strive heroically against Putin – or is heroic death strictly for the less affluent, the less well-educated ?

    BTW, the West didn’t win the Cold War – the Soviets lost it. Their belief system died in about 1949, and the whole system collapsed when Gorbachev removed the tanks and tyranny that had been propping up the corpse.

    • global city

      It was the EU that was interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, not NATO. Remember all those EU flags being flown during the early days of the protests? What do you think happened to them and/or their carriers? Did they all decide by coincidence to stop carrying them at the same time, or did they even more coincidentally lose them on the same day? I think not.

      They were EU insiders trying to make it look like a popular Ukrainian support for the EU and for their country to move under the protective yolk of the Commission.

      When the shit began flying they all mysteriously disappeared!

      • Kennybhoy

        “It was the EU that was interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, not NATO. ”

        Correct. EU and their NGO and media allies. Yugoslavia redux.

  • Bonkim

    It is not NATO’s job to look after Europe – its role was to safeguard the Western World against the threat from the Soviet East Block.

    Ukraine is not NATO’s problem – it is an internecine conflict between Slavic people, and also the old Christendom (Catholic) versus Eastern Orthodox. Best for US/Britain the mainstay of NATO to keep out of. Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and other ex-Soviet Bock countries – their internal affairs arise from their Soviet history – they need to sort it out themselves without involving the West. Most have ultra-Nationalistic/racist elements quite out of place in our Western democracy. The West should not allow itself to be polluted by such ideologies or get into any war with Russia. Doubt if the British or German population would want to get involved in any mutually destructive conflicts.

    NATO Heads should not be allowed to make political statements such as their alarmist calls in the Russia/Ukraine tiff.

  • alabenn

    How many of Europe`s newest citizens will rush to the banners if Russia does decide to invade, lets hope the Russians don’t before 2020 when all BAOR are removed.

  • Kaine

    The lauding of Kosovo by liberal interventionists belies the fact the Kosovo itself is the root of the problem. It said that action outside the UN to save a persecuted minority, including the dismemberment of a sovereign state, was acceptable. Moreover, the decision of who was in danger was up to those who had the power to act.

    While Kosovo continues to be defended as the shining example of a ‘just war’, then Russia, and others, will continue to cite it as justification for their own interventions.

    • Kennybhoy

      Alas the Godless one is correct…

  • evad666

    Simple Google Ukrainian Defence Companies. The foolish EU just goes storming on .
    Here in the UK we should not get involved.

  • gustavoluiznascimentopinto

    the cold war wasn’t the war, it was just a battle…..

  • Might look like that, but also good reading:

    How NATO Can Defend Estonia Against Russia
    by Felix F. Seidler. Felix is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany and runs the site Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik”
    NATO would have to defend Estonia for geopolitical and strategic reasons. Therefore, special forces are the most promising military mean to counter Putin’s way of warfare.
    “Russia’s way of conquering territory starts with destabilization of the particular area. Thereafter, Vladimir Putin uses a salami-slicing tactic to take full control. He is acting below the threshold of open warfare to avoid a situation where Barack Obama has no other choice than giving a strong US response. By the way, China is following the same approach in the South China Sea. ”
    Estonia is probably also on Putin’s target list, because his’ final strategic aim is the division of NATO.
    Frankly, a self-paralyzed and unwilling West will not take any serious action in case of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. No Western government would be willing to give major sacrifices for Kiev, Chisinau or Tbilisi. That is because the four main Western powers, by their own fault, are in a very weak state. In Washington, we have an unwilling, poorly reliable US President with a foreign policy close to chaos. Britain and France suffer from economic and social troubles. Germany suffers from a political class, almost completely fundamentally opposed to pursue hard lines in foreign policy. In consequence, Western responses to Russian conquests will be more tiny and useless sanctions, which Moscow will keep on laughing about.”