Originally appeared at DWN, translated by John T. Sumner exclusively for SouthFront; Edited by Desislava Tzoneva
NATO prepares a veritable military build-up in Eastern Europe: German soldiers are operating in Lithuania, the British undertake Estonia and US soldiers will protect Latvia. The Canadians will deploy forces in Poland. Also in the Mediterranean, combat units are reinforced. Russia considers these activities a threat, however, it has not yet announced any counter-measures.
In mid-July at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, the Alliance will pass a resolution concerning a massive military presence against Russia. Russia is classified by NATO as a threat. NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, had recently stated in Washington that the US and the EU, representing NATO, are entitled to defend their territories even on foreign soil. Critics of this strategy believe in the possibility that this military build-up might increase the risk of a military conflict between the superpowers significantly.
At a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday, the defense ministers of the military alliance want to take decisions on this issue, which are then to be sealed by the heads of states and governments in Poland. NATO wants to strengthen military presence on its eastern flank significantly and respectively deploy a separate battalion of foreign combat troops in Poland and in the three Baltic states. Germany will represent the core of the army group in Lithuania, the British will send troops to Estonia, and United States forces are expected to be sent to Latvia. It remains unclear, however, who will send soldiers to Poland.
Maybe this task will be assigned to Canada, as Polish diplomatic sources were quoted as saying by Reuters. “The Summit in Warsaw will be the last for US President Barack Obama, and the US wants it to become a success. They will ensure that a fourth nation will be added to the framework – which may put pressure on Canada,” a senior Polish Diplomat said. Germany is willing to send at least 600 soldiers to Lithuania, who will form the core of the local battalion consisting of about 1200 soldiers.
The battalions are to include around 1000 soldiers each and will not be permanently stationed in the eastern countries, but will be replaced regularly. By this rotation, the military alliance wants to avoid a formal breach of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, prohibiting permanent stationing of a “substantial” number of combat troops in the east. The precise meaning of “substantial”, however, is controversial.
However, NATO plans do not go far enough for Poland and the Baltic states. Among other things, they demand [an] enhanced air surveillance above the Baltics by fighter jets of the alliance partners. In the past, Poland had also repeatedly demanded a permanent stationing of NATO combat troops [also]. The Baltic states and Poland feel threatened by Russia since the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014.
The NATO defense ministers will also discuss a new mission in the Mediterranean. What exactly is planned there, is difficult to judge. Officially, the rise of the extremist militia IS and the refugee crisis, are given as reasons. The IS is financed and supported by Saudi Arabia, the closest ally of the West in the Middle East. A convincing reason why the most powerful military machine in the world is not capable of defeating a group of more or less random ragtag mercenaries, not even to some extent, remains unknown. Russia is fighting on the side of Syria against IS and against the al-Nusra Front, previously backed by the US officially.
Because the NATO mission “Active Endeavour”, adopted after the attacks of 9/11 in the US, designed to fight off the extremist organisation Al-Qaeda by patrolling ships in the Mediterranean, has actually become obsolete, the Alliance is looking for a new objective in the Mediterranean. Therefore, the ministers want to consider whether the campaign should be transformed into a more general mission in order to strengthen security in the Mediterranean. Closer cooperation with the European Union which maintains its own naval deployment off the Libyan coast against human traffickers and for the rescue of refugees in distress, under the name “Sophia”, is being considered as well. Hence, the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, and government representatives from the non-NATO countries – Finland and Sweden – will be present at dinner in the NATO headquarters on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the future of the NATO mission in Afghanistan will be on the agenda, too. According to current plans, the US wants to reduce the number of its troops on the Hindu Kush from 9800 to 5500 until the end of the year. Whether Obama will stick to this withdrawal despite the deteriorated security situation in Afghanistan, is not yet clear. According to the latest information from US government circles, possibly no decision will be made ahead of the upcoming NATO Summit.