Tagged: NATO

The Cornered Bear – Russia’s Foreign Policy Paradigm

Understanding the Kremlin’s new found aggression towards Ukraine requires an understanding of Russia’s history, and President Vladimir Putin’s foreign-policy motif.  An understanding is essential in avoiding the frigid hostility of the Cold War.

Russian Bear

In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia.  The world turned a blind eye, partly because Georgia is an insignificant state on the fringe of Europe but mostly because the costs of cutting Russia adrift would be too high. Days after the Sochi Olympics, Russia annexed Crimea. The world accepted it because Crimea should have been Russian all along – the territory had been transferred to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954.  If the Soviet leader were alive today he would likely admit that in hindsight the transfer was a mistake.  Now the Russian army is infiltrated eastern Ukraine, albeit subversively.  Putin denies any such action, however this is highly implausible. The attacks were co-ordinated, and in strategically useful places that had seen few prior protests. Ukraine is a part of Europe, it was moving towards EU membership, and despite Moscow’s perception it is a sovereign state.  Disregarding minor sanctions, why is the West standing by while Russia destabilises its neighbour?  The answer is that ultimately, Ukraine remains within Russia’s sphere of influence and the land matters more to Putin than it does to any Western leader.  Those two reasons are what the whole conflict is over, after all.

The Russian military mobilization along the Ukrainian border

The Russian military mobilization

Its all about geography – the vast Russian landmass and its foreign policy

The Russian foreign-policy paradigm is one I have examined many times; recent events make the explanation relevant once again.  The Russian landmass is incredibly large, flat, and thus vulnerable.  Throughout history, the peoples that populated this landmass secured their frontiers aggressively.  This is true of the Scythians, the Huns, the Mongols, the Russian Empire of the Czars, the Soviets, and the modern Russian Federation. Throughout Russia’s history, it has acted as “a land power that had to keep attacking and exploring in all directions or itself be vanquished.”  We see this in the 1800s when Russia pushed into Eastern Europe in an attempt to block France, and again in 1945 when Moscow used Eastern Europe as a buffer-zone against a resurgent Germany.  Russia has also pushed into Afghanistan to block the British during the Great Game, and conquered the Far East to block China.  These same motives were at play when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979.  Moscow again felt vulnerable when the Soviet Union dissolved and it lost the buffer-zone it gained in 1945.

Russia lost even more territory in 1919 than it did in 1991

Map of 1919 Europe – Note that Russia lost even more territory in 1991 than it did in 1919

Today Russia is the most vulnerable it has been in centuries

During the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow gave up much of its influence of both the Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Republic states.  Many of these states subsequently joined the EU and NATO. This left Russia even smaller, and in Moscow’s eyes even more vulnerable as a result than it was in the aftermath of the First World War, when it was bitterly defeated by the Central Powers.  Indeed, Russia holds a similar amount of territory today as it did under Peter the Great.

Expanding EU integration is seen by Moscow as an attempt to install Russia-hostile political regimes in Russia’s former sphere of influence. In contrast to the EU’s value-driven foreign policy, Russia’s government places importance on stable governance, it believes the promotion of democracy and the rule of law risks regional stability. Thus, Moscow remains very wary of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, an attempt to deepen EU ties with the post-Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. To Moscow this is an attempt by the EU to contain Russia by removing the legitimate authoritarian regimes and installing Russia-hostile governments.  This is why today Putin believes the European Union is a threat, and why the Ukraine is of utmost importance.  If the country were to slip out of Moscow’s sphere of influence, Russia would be left that much more vulnerable.  The nation feels cornered.

The man with the plan

Putin has stated that “the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”  He sees the world as in a state of transition from an American dominated power balance that began with the fall of the USSR to one that is made up of several global powers.  As such the Russian President’s goal is to re-establish Russia as a great-power, if not in a bipolar state system than in a multipolar state system.  Allowing Ukraine to drift westwards is in direct conflict with this goal, and thus the overthrow of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in favour of a European oriented interim government is anathema to the Kremlin.  The Ukraine is in particular a more personal-desire to the Russian national narrative, as it was in Kiev that the modern Russian state was born.  Furthermore the country borders Russia, cutting deep into its southern flank.  To the Kremlin, a western-oriented Ukraine is likely even more undesirable than a western-oriented Poland.


So what does Putin hope to achieve in the Ukraine?  It is unlikely that the intention is to annex Ukraine’s east, occupation would come at heavy costs, both politically and militarily.  It is more likely that the Kremlin hopes to incite civil conflict to erode the authority of the new pro-Western government in Kiev.  In Putin’s eyes, a destabilised Ukraine is better than a Western one.

The West’s Balancing Act

Catherine the Great, the Czar who originally conquered Crimea in 1783

Catherine the Great, the Czar who originally conquered Crimea in 1783

With this in mind, how best can the West counter Russia’s new found aggression?  Both sanctions and NATO military exercises are certainly necessary, the latter to assure the Baltic states that they are not second-class NATO members, and can count on NATO to come to their defense.  However, the West must be very careful not to overact, thereby plunging the world back into a Cold War, or worse.  A complete isolation of Russia would be devastating to Europe’s economy, a distraction to America’s “Asian Pivot,” and destructive to overall global security.  A cornered bear is a dangerous one, and West must understand where it can act, and what is outside of its own sphere of influence.  Henry Kissinger eloquently described the balancing act the West must achieve in order to counter Moscow without ostracising it, and it all comes down to understanding Putin’s motives.

“Paradoxically, a Russia is a country that has enormous internal problems … but it is in a piece of strategic real estate from St Petersburg to Moscow.  It is in everybody’s interest that it becomes part of the international system, and not an isolated island.  One has to interpret Putin not like a Hitler-type, as he has been, but as a Russian Czar who is trying to achieve the maximum for his country.  We are correct in standing up to him, but we also have to know when the confrontation should end.”

Works Cited

Bugajski, Janusz. Expanding Eurasia: Russia’s European Ambitions. Washington D.C.: The Center for Strategic and International Studies Press, 2008.

Insatiable, The Economist, 19 April 2014.

Kaplan, Robert D. The Revenge of Geography. New York: Random House, 2012.

Kissinger, Henry. GPS, 11 May 2014.

Light, Margot. “Russia and Europe and the process of EU enlargement.” In The Multilateral Dimension in Russian Foreign Policy, edited by Elana Wilson Rowe and Stina Torjesen, 83-96. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Lucas, Edward. The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009).

Mankoff, Jeffrey. Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012.

Zagorski, Andrei. “The limits of a global consensus on security: the case of Russia.” Global Security in a Multipolar World (2009): 67-84. Accessed March 6, 2012.http://www.iss.europa.eu/uploads/media/cp118.pdf

Turkey: The Country that can End Assad’s Bloody Reign

More must be done to solve the conflict in Syria, I believe more can come from Turkey’s relationship with NATO.

Libya NATO BombersAs estimates now pass 30,000 for those dead in the Syrian civil war, many look to NATO to perform a Libyan-style no fly zone which would potentially lead to Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power and certainly slow the bloodshed. I will not argue a Western-led intervention is not ideal, nor is it impossible, but I will argue it is very unlikely and quite impractical. Despite this, Syria remains a situation that needs immediate attention. I believe this attention must come from a regional actor, a secular democracy, a NATO member, and a state with a vested interest in bringing the bloody civil war from a state of stalemate to a peaceful end. This state is of course Turkey.

The rising violence – from The Economist

No Western intervention without American firepower

Before exploring why a Western intervention is impractical, it must be made clear that a Western intervention in Syria would essentially be an American one. Unlike in Libya where the United States ‘led from behind,’ in Syria America would have to ‘lead from the front.’ Syria’s population (which is several times larger than Libya’s) is “tucked in or alongside mountainous terrain” presenting “a set of challenges for interveners looking to minimize civilian casualties.” The geography of Libya on the other hand is much more favourable to an air-campaign. Furthermore, “Syria’s military is more than eight times what Colonel Qaddafi’s was.” An intervention is by no means impossible, but to minimize Western casualties, American firepower would be essential to eliminate all of Syria’s anti-aircraft capabilities. Therefore a Western intervention is essentially an American one with Western support, all reasons for the impracticality of an American intervention thus cause impracticality for any Western nation’s intervention.

Mapping the violence – from The Economist

The legality of an intervention

It is illegal under international law for any state to invade any other sovereign state unless its security is at state.  Thus it is currently illegal for America to intervene in Syria. An American intervention can become legal under the UN’s 2005 principal, The Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The principal calls for “intervention for human protection purposes.” It is through this method that the Libyan intervention was deemed legal, the UN Security Council adopted Article 1973, authorizing NATO “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under attack in the country.” The R2P doctrine could be used to intervene in Syria, however to be deemed legal an intervention must be authorised by the Security Council. As of now it appears as if Russia and China would veto an intervention in Syria, and thus as of yet a legal-intervention is impossible.

The United States and its NATO allies could still intervene in Syria illegally. The 1999 NATO air-campaign in Kosovo was launched without a Security Council resolution. NATO never went to the UN to justify the Kosovo campaign because Russia clearly would have vetoed such a resolution as Kosovo is seen as within its sphere-of-influence. In 2003 the US and the ‘coalition of the willing’ invaded Iraq without UN approval. Unfortunately the invasion of Iraq has made illegal – but perhaps justifiable – interventions such as those in Kosovo or potentially Syria appear illegitimate. Barack Obama’s entire foreign policy is based on overcoming the damage Iraq did to America’s reputation. Obama’s The Audacity of Hope argues that the use of multilateral force is critical to the US’s interests – “[w]hen the world’s sole superpower willingly restrains its power and abides by internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, it sends a message that these rules are worth following, and robs terrorists and dictators of the argument that these rules are simply tools of American imperialism.” Therefore I believe it is both impractical and unlikely America (and thus the West) will intervene in Syria.

Until very recently a Syrian intervention was also impractical because the rebels had not become a unified force like they had in Libya. The recent creation of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Revolution in Qatar’s capital Doha may change this, but as of now the implications of this development are unclear.

I have outlined why an American intervention is currently illegal, and thus both impractical and unlikely. Through this reasoning, an intervention can become legal if a) Russia and China decide to pass a UN resolution under R2P that would authorize an intervention for humanitarian purposes, or b) an American ally’s security is put at jeopardy and that state decides to invade Syria. If a NATO ally’s security was put at stake, it would be imperative for all member states to intervene, including the US. The first possibility, that Russia and China change their stance on intervention seems extremely unlikely. Both nation-states approved of the Libyan intervention to not appear as if they were against the Arab-World’s opinion – both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were actually involved (although to a limited degree) in the Libyan air-campaign. However both now believe NATO went too far. In Russia and China’s opinion NATO did not simply “take all necessary measures to protect civilians under attack in the country” as Article 1973 authorised, the intervention blatantly was meant to remove Qaddafi from power. Since both Russia and China are essentially authoritarian regimes, both fear similar resolutions could be used against themselves. Therefore both will certainly veto any resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria. That leaves us with the second possibility.  Turkey could argue its security is threatened, and it is a NATO ally.

The remaining option

I will admit that Turkey invoking NATO’s Article 5 is extremely unlikely. The invasion of Afghanistan is the only instance in which the article has been invoked and Turkey’s current situation is nowhere near that of the USA on 9/11. However I believe it is a possibility that has been overlooked. In an interview with The Guardian, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu asked: “How long can this situation continue? I mean in Bosnia, now we have Ban Ki-moon [the UN secretary general] apologising 20 years after. Who will apologise for Syria in 20 years’ time? How can we stay idle?” If this is what the Turkish government believes, why does it not do more to add legality and legitimacy to an intervention? Ankara could easily argue its security is put at jeopardy by the war-ravaged region to its South that is Syria, thus making a NATO intervention legal and legitimate (see graph and map).  A legal NATO intervention would mean the United States could legally intervene, using its superior military force to end the reign of a dictator who kills his own people.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

As previously stated the invoking of Article 5 by Turkey is unprecedented in such a situation, however the appearance of this as a possibility could be enough to end the civil war. The very threat of a possible NATO intervention may put enough pressure on Assad’s underlings to cause a coup within Damascus, thus ending Assad’s bloody reign. The fact that Assad seems to have escalated the violence as it became clearer that an intervention would not occur adds evidence to the assertion that the possibility of an intervention may if nothing else slow the violence. Even if Turkey does not invoke Article 5 itself, making moves in this direction may be enough. The fact is clear: Turkey can do more to end the violence in Syria.

Works Cited
“A force for good.” The Economist vol. 398 no. 8726, 26 March – 1 April 2011.

Bellamy, Alex J. and Nicholas J. Wheeler. “Humanitarian intervention in world politics” in Baylis, John et al. The Globalisation of World Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 522-539.

“Death from the skies.” The Economist. 15 September 2012.

Heather Roff and Bessma Momani, “The tactics of intervention: Why Syria will never be Libya,” The Globe and Mail, 25 October 2011.
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/the-tactics-of- intervention-why-syria-will-never-be-libya/article2212174/

Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope. New York: Random House Inc., 2006.

“Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Libya.” Whitehouse Website, last modified 28 March 2011.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/03/28/remarks-president- address-nation-libya

Sanger, David E. The Inheritance. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009.

Simon Tisdall. “Turkey calls on major powers to intervene in Syria.” The Guardian, 19 October 2012.

“Syria’s Opposition: Come Together.” The Economist. 12 November 2012.

Taylor, Paul and Devon Curtis. “The United Nations” in Baylis, John et al. The Globalisation of World Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 312- 328.

NATO at a Crossroads – The Case for European Defense Cooperation

Robert Gates’ retirement speech expressed frustration over European NATO spending last year.  Europe must co-ordinate its defense spending to achieve more.

NATO is at a crossroads. Just as the conflict in Afghanistan illustrated how NATO has remained a defensive pact since its conception, the conflict in Libya has displayed it cannot be an institution concerned with security or humanitarian operations unless Europe is willing to cover more of the bill. Robert Gates’ retirement speech highlighted America’s frustration over Europe’s lack of military support for NATO’s intervention in Libya. His successor, Leon Panetta, has been quick to voice this dissatisfaction as well.

Article 5 of the NATO treaty calls for intervention by member states when one member state is attacked. Article 5 is a fundamental principle of NATO, since NATO is concerned with national survival. Member state survival is the reason NATO was originally signed – to prevent Russia from invading European NATO states. British general and author Rupert Smith defines a defence policy as one that is concerned with the “absolute imperatives of the survival of the state.” To invade Afghanistan, NATO invoked Article 5, but to invade Libya it did not – there was no threat to the survival of a NATO member state because no member state was attacked. Therefore NATO’s intervention in Libya is not a defensive operation.

The Libya operation can be at most a geopolitical security goal. Smith defines security policy as one defined by “lesser imperatives.” Political science professor Jean-Yves Haine argues the EU’s foreign strategy “aims to promote the emergence of a ‘ring of friends’ across Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.” Therefore an intervention in Libya is in the interest of Europe – overthrowing Gaddafi, a tyrannical dictator of a unstable country, certainly promotes a ‘ring of friends.’

The UN’s 2005 principle the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) calls for “intervention for human protection purposes.” The UN’s Security Council imposed a no fly zone over Libya by adopting Article 1973; authorizing NATO “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under attack in the country.” Therefore Libya can be justified as a humanitarian intervention. However, no NATO member state’s survival was at stake; therefore no NATO member state is obliged to act, however justifiable intervention may be.

Former secretary of defense Robert Gates

Gates’ frustration

According to Gates Libya is “an operation where Europeans are taking the lead with American support.” Intervention in Libya is a security goal for Europe; it wants to promote a ‘ring of friends’ across the Mediterranean. This mission however has thus far relied on American firepower, supplied by the American taxpayer. Gates points out: “the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country – yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference.” Leon Panetta echoed his concerns, re-affirming shortages in intelligence and surveillance capabilities, refuelling tankers, and supplies – all gaps the US had to fill.

American frustration is understandable; Britain and France pushed for a security – not a defence – operation in Libya. The operation is a humanitarian mission located in Europe’s sphere of influence and is in the interest of Europe’s geopolitical security policy, yet many NATO members are “unwilling or unable” to share the “risks and costs”(Gates). This comes at a time when both American and European governments are cutting their defence budgets. But for Europe to improve its military capabilities an increase in defence spending is not needed – co-ordination in spending is.

France ACC’mon Europe . . . Co-operate!

According to NATO’s press releases, Europe’s armies account for nearly 2 million military personnel – 500,000 more than the American army. This European advantage is useless. Haine points out that Europe can only deploy 10 percent of these troops. The US can supply far better technology because it spends it 750 million dollar budget on military capabilities rather than simply large armies. Europe’s 300 million dollar combined defence budget is almost half that of the US’s, thus budget size is not the issue. To improve capabilities “the Union must improve spending”(Haine). Panetta’s October speech argued that with cuts looming, nations must co-ordinate cuts and pool their capabilities. Haine argues improved communication, intelligence, surveillance, as well as research and development are all paramount and can be achieved by co-ordinating spending. Cameron and Sarkozy have begun to realise this; to cut costs British and French forces have begun to co-operate, agreeing to maintain a single aircraft carrier between them and co-ordinate research and development. More of this is needed.

The US is perfectly willing to intervene in Libya because of the UN’s R2P. If Libyan intervention is in Europe’s geopolitical security interest, why do the EU’s member states put this assistance in jeopardy by not co-operating further on defence to improve its shortfalls? Militaries are essential for a nation’s sovereignty, perhaps the EU member states are clinging to this as a symbol of independence. But after a single market and even movements towards a common foreign policy, a co-ordinated defence hardly seems unreasonable, especially since co-operation amongst the member states’ defence departments does not mean the end of national sovereignty. Tony Blair realised this in 2000 when he pushed for a “superpower, not a superstate.” Furthermore, scholar Ingo Peters points to failures such as Yugoslavia (a similar operation to that of Libya today) as examples of Europe’s “inability to act independently of the United States.” In this sense, an integrated defence, focusing on co-operation and co-ordination amongst states, can only make Europe more autonomous when handling its own regional security; without assistance from the US it can truly be independent.

If the Europeans want to enjoy the benefits of using NATO as a tool beyond its original purpose – a defensive alliance – they must be willing to pay a decent share of the costs. The costs to EU member states will be political rather than monetary. European defence budgets are not small when combined, it is smarter spending and co-ordination that is needed. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 declared that the “Union shall define and implement a common foreign and security policy . . . which might in time lead to a common defence.” The time for a common defence has come, or else essential humanitarian operations like those of Libya may become impossible in this time of austerity.

Works Cited
“A force for good.” The Economist vol. 398 no. 8726, 26 March – 1 April 2011.

Baldor, Lolita C. “U.S. warns NATO it can’t pick up shortfalls.” The Globe and Mail, 6 October 2011.
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/europe/us-warns-nato-it-cant-pick- up-shortfalls/article2191496/

Bellamy, Alex J. and Nicholas J. Wheeler. “Humanitarian intervention in world politics” in Baylis, John et al. The Globalisation of World Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 522-539.

Daalder, Ivo and James Goldgeier. “Global NATO.” Foreign Affairs vol. 85, no. 5, September – October 2006, pp. 105-113.

Eichenberg, Richard C. “Trends: Having it Both Ways: European Defence Integration and the Commitment to NATO.” The Public Opinion Quarterly vol. 67, no. 4 (Winter 2003), pp. 627-659.

“Entente or Bust.” The Economist vol. 397, no. 8704, 16-22 October 2010.

“Financial and Economic Data Relating to NATO Defence.” NATO Public Diplomacy Division Press Release, 10 March 2011.
http://www.nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/pdf_2011_03/20110309_PR_CP_2011 _027.pdf

Haine, Jean-Yves. “The EU’s Soft Power.” Conflict and Security, Winter/Spring 2004.
http://www12.georgetown.edu/sfs/publications/journal/Issues/ws04/hainelocked.p df

Hutchings, Robert. “The United States and the Global Security Agenda.” Global Security in a Multipolar World October 2009, pp. 103-120.

“On Target.” The Economist vol. 399, no. 8738, 18-24 June 2011.

Peters, Ingo. “ESDP as a Transatlantic Issue: Problems of Mutual Ambiguity.” International Studies Review vol. 6, no. 3 (September 2004), pp. 381-401.

“Security Council Approves ‘No-Fly Zone’ Over Libya, Authorizing ‘All Necessary Measures’ To Protect Civilians, By Vote of 10 in Favour and 5 Abstentions.” Security Council Department of Public Information, 17 March 2011.

Smith, Rupert. The Utility of Force. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2006.

“Transcript of Defense Secretary Gates’s Speech on NATO’s Future.” The Wall Street Journal – Washington Wire, 10 June 2011.
http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2011/06/10/transcript-of-defense-secretary-gatess- speech-on-natos-future/

“What is Article 5?” NATO Website, last updated 18 February 2005.