NATO strategy for Russia

Arun Srivastava

With the spectre of an uncertain future staring in the eyes, the NATO while have been watching keenly the next move of the American President, Donald Trump who will be meeting leaders of NATO at a summit in late May, the allies are also exploring the mechanism to improve their relations with Russia. 
Trump agreed to meet alliance leaders in Europe in May in a phone call on March 12 with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that also touched on the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Trump was elected on a pledge to push NATO members to increase their funding to the western alliance to ease the financial burden on the United States. Trump and Stoltenberg also "discussed the potential for a peaceful resolution of the conflict along the Ukrainian border."
During the presidential elections, Trump had criticized NATO as "obsolete," but recently in a surprise move he expressed "strong support" for NATO. This has raised the level of expectations amongst the NATO allies. They look at this statement as manifestation of change of heart of Trump.
Both, the NATO and Russia continue to trade charges against each other, it is quite noticeable to watch NATO SG Jens Stoltenberg say after the NATO-Russia Council meeting: “We had a frank and substantial discussion on issues of importance to our common security. In times of tension, dialogue is more important than ever. So we remain committed to dialogue. And we will continue to keep channels of communication open.”
He came out with this observation even after the failure of the NRC to throw some positive indication for sorting out the problem. Ukraine continues to be the main contentious issue. Allies reiterated their strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Allies are not willing to recognise Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.
After the 2014 Ukraine conflict all civilian and military cooperation under the NRC were suspended but channels of political dialogue and military communication were kept open. Since then, two NRC meetings took place in 2014 and three in 2016, as well as two meetings of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council including Russia (in 2014 and 2015).
On its part Russia has accused NATO of a series of provocations, threats and hostile actions: NATO's Open Door policy creates new dividing lines in Europe and deepens existing ones, its enlargement in the Balkans is destabilizing, it unnecessarily tried to "drag" Ukraine into the Alliance and Russia has the right to demand a "100% guarantee" that Ukraine will not join NATO. Russia also accuses NATO of trying to encircle it and purpose is to weaken it. It also holds that NATO enlargement followed the same process as the expansion of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact.
For more than two decades, NATO has strived to build a partnership with Russia, developing dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. But no significant gain could be achieved. But now Trump in command, the NATO leadership is having some sort of fresh introspection. Trump is adamant that countries in the decades-old military alliance must spend more on defense and not simply count on the United States to cover for them. “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism. But our partners must meet their financial obligations.” Only five of the 28 member states currently meet the alliance's spending target of 2% of GDP. And while Mattis stated the US was committed to NATO, he did warn that Washington would not be shy in confronting those who are failing to pull their weight financially.
The NATO defence ministers’ meet in Brussels turned out to be a routine affair with the participants emphasizing on their defence and deterrence posture and reconfirming strong transatlantic ties with the new American administration. Slovenian minister however expressed commitment to fair burden sharing, which is demonstrated in the 12 percent increase in defense spending in 2016 compared to 2015. It would annually increase defense expenditures by 20 to 30 million EUR, representing a 5-8 percent annual growth in defence spending.
In a significant move, the Russian Defence Ministry has invited NATO's top leadership and officials to the Moscow Security Conference. Through this move Russia reciprocated the NATO move and reaffirmed its persistent pursuit of open dialogue which offers a unique opportunity for international defense officials and organizations, as well as non-governmental experts and journalists to address key security issues. One of the main goals of the upcoming event is to try and “unite the efforts of the defense ministries in the search for more effective measures to counter common challenges and threats.”
Possibly the first step in improving the relation would be the NATO should do away with the strategy of accusing Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that NATO’s “newly-declared official mission to deter Russia” and constant attempt to “drag” Moscow into a confrontation contributes to global security degradation. NATO continues to insist that there is “room for dialogue and for engagement with Russia” even if practical cooperation is suspended, while Moscow believes that idle talks with the military alliance make little sense without joint work in the defense sphere.
In the backdrop of the fast changing global political and military buildup, the initiative lies with the NATO. It has to make a conscious decision whether to confront Russia or toe the Trump’s line. US president believes Russia is no more a communist country. Obviously the Russian action has to be analysed in the prevailing context. In a veiled reference to Russia, Trump has already remarked, “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.” “We want peace, wherever peace can be found,” he added later, noting. “America is friends today with former enemies.” (IPA)

Monday, 20 March, 2017