Released on Friday at the close of the 2014 NATO Summit, the Wales Summit Declaration is an eye-glazing mishmash of bureaucratic boilerplate interspersed with several reckless provocations aimed in the direction of Russia, including an account of the Ukrainian crisis that is both disingenuous and selective. According to NATO, “the violence and insecurity in the region caused by Russia and the Russian-backed separatists are resulting in a deteriorating humanitarian situation and material destruction in eastern Ukraine.” The declaration goes on to praise the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) yet, perhaps not unintentionally, neglects to cite the contents of any of the SMM’s reports, because doing so would simply upend NATO’s preferred narrative—which is that Russia is solely to blame for the violence in eastern Ukraine. No mention was made of Kiev’s deployment of notoriously indiscriminate GRAD rockets, of its continuous shelling of civilian population centers and hospitals or of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s employment of foreign-born neo-fascists (some of whom have come as far afield as Sweden, Italy and Ireland) who have flocked to eastern Ukraine to fight the Russian-backed rebels. Indeed, according to the declaration, the alliance seeks to “encourage the Ukrainian armed forces and security forces to continue to exercise the utmost restraint in their ongoing operation so as to avoid civilian casualties among the local civilian population.” (Emphasis mine.) A cursory glance at any of the aforementioned SMM reports would reveal that such “restraint” has not been a particularly pervasive feature of Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation.”
The declaration also noted that NATO will form a Rapid Reaction Force in response to Russia’s “escalating and illegal military intervention in Ukraine.” Consisting of 4,000 NATO troops, it will initially deploy to the Baltics this fall. Clearly, NATO does not view such a deployment as a violation of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, in which NATO had promised not to place combat forces on the territory of new member states. In any event, that deployment will be followed by two weeks of joint NATO-Ukrainian military exercises outside of L’viv in September, followed in short order by bilateral UK-Polish military exercises in October.
As Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen has repeatedly warned, what makes this new Cold War even more perilous than the old one is that the dividing line between East and West, rather than running through Berlin, now runs right through the heart of Slavic civilization in Ukraine. The action has moved eastward, all the way to Russia’s doorstep.
Does anyone really believe that a 4,000-troop NATO force would be effective in thwarting an offensive by the vastly larger Russian conventional forces? Of course not. NATO’s actual motive behind the formation of the Rapid Reaction Force is to give it a pretext to build much-desired military infrastructure in Poland and the Baltics. It should be noted that, of these countries, only Estonia currently meets NATO’s required 2 percent of GDP defense expenditure. The military buildup on Russia’s borders, coupled with renewed calls for the placement of missile defense sites, is an unprecedented and, given the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, dangerous step.
While the new force would be basically worthless in the face of a concerted Russian advance (by some estimates, Russia has amassed between 15,000–20,000 troops on its border with Ukraine), it may well encourage such virulently Russophobic NATO members such as Poland and the Baltic states, as well as NATO “partnership for peace” states like Ukraine and Georgia, to act more provocatively toward Russia than they otherwise might have in the absence of a Rapid Reaction Force. What the stationing of NATO forces on Russia’s borders actually does is institutionalize and militarize this new Cold War.
Steps towards further militarization were laid out in the Joint Statement of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Building on the official communiqué of NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Summit, which flatly declared that Georgia and Ukraine “shall” become NATO members, the Wales Declaration tells us, “Allies will launch substantial new programmes with a focus on command, control and communications, logistics and standardization, cyber defense, military career transition, and strategic communications.” Further, allies “are reinforcing their advisory presence at the NATO offices in Kiev…and many Allies are providing additional support to Ukraine on a bilateral basis, which Ukraine welcomes.” (Emphasis mine.) Exactly which allies and exactly what kinds of support they are providing were left unremarked upon, but the implications of all of this are clear: NATO is tacitly granting Ukraine (or at least the part of Ukraine its clients in Kiev currently control) Article 5 protection, which states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all member states. And we see this laid out in the declaration’s plans to further incorporate Ukraine into the alliance: “NATO and Ukraine will continue to promote the development of greater interoperability between Ukrainian and NATO forces, including through continued regular participation in NATO exercises.” Any worries over whether the aforementioned plans might somehow compromise NATO’s stated position that Ukrainians should be allowed to “decide their own future and foreign policy course free from outside influence” were also not elucidated in the declaration. In fact, we are assured that the NATO-Ukrainian partnership “will contribute to building a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe.”
These efforts at “building a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe” will by no means be limited to Ukraine. The declaration states that the Black Sea region also “remains an important component of Euro-Atlantic security” and that NATO will “continue to support, as appropriate, regional efforts by Black Sea littoral states aimed at ensuring security and stability.” If I were them, I’d worry. A quick review of NATO’s track record with regard to “ensuring security and stability” in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo does not exactly inspire confidence.
Lest I give the impression that the Wales Summit was solely focused on the Ukrainian crisis, the member states certainly did give equal attention to the threat that ISIL poses to the West. A ten-member coalition of the US, the UK, France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark has agreed to help supply and provide air support for anti-ISIL forces operating in Iraq and Syria. At almost exactly the same moment this new Near East joint venture was rolled out, ISIL militants sent a video message to the Russian president, which warned:
This is a message to you, oh Vladimir Putin, these are the jets that you have sent to Bashar, we will send them to you, God willing, remember that…. we will liberate Chechnya and the entire Caucasus, God willing…. Your throne has already teetered, it is under threat and will fall when we come to you because Allah is truly on our side.
Yet the addition of Russia to the ten-member anti-ISIL coalition, which would make a good deal of sense, is of course made impossible by the coalition’s unceasing hostility toward Vladimir Putin. That hostility is, according to Sergey Karaganov, dean of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, being paid back with interest. According to an article by Karaganov in Izvestia, Moscow is no longer “interested in a way out of the confrontation” between Russia and the West. The view among Russian elites is that “the United States has shifted to a policy of destabilizing key regions of the world” and a Russian defeat in the confrontation over Ukraine “would be to suffer real defeat for decades.”
Long ago, Edmund Burke wrote, “The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.” It is blindingly obvious that the circumstances in which we find ourselves today—in which a tenuous cease-fire has taken hold between the rebels and Kiev; in which a species of militant Islam poses a significant threat to both Russia and the West; in which large swaths of Ukraine lie in ruin and over a million of its people have fled; in which a new Cold War threatens to upend the arrangements that have given rise to a peaceful, prosperous Europe—most emphatically do not lend themselves to NATO’s plans to further embrace Ukraine at the expense of a confrontation with Russia. But that, sadly, seems to be the direction in which NATO seems intent on heading.