The TASS research center examines NATO’s priority – terrorism or the “eastern front”
Source: TASS; Appeared in Bulgarian at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
On August 23, President of the Council of Chiefs of the Armed Forces of the US, General Joseph Dunford expressed concern about Russia’s actions in Crimea, her alleged threats against Georgia and Moldova, and her help for Syria, calling them an attempt “to undermine the position the most successful alliance in history – NATO”. “Russia is trying to shake it.” he said in a speech to students at the National Defense University in Washington.
But what can be considered a success for the alliance and is stoking fear about Russia the only factor that unites NATO and justifies the existence of the organization?
NATO is readiness to defend
“The point of NATO’s existence is back to what it was 30 years ago. After the July meeting in Warsaw, although discussed different things were discussed, the main is obvious – the containment of Russia. This is a return to the task that existed during the Cold War.” said Fyodor Lukyanov.
Moreover, the expert notes that outside the boardroom, perceptions of threats vary, including the threat from Russia. We have Eastern Europe, which really is afraid of Russia. And these fears are supported by Britain and the United States. We have European countries who are not afraid of Russia. ” But since they can not find another unifying theme, they sign on to this.” says Lukyanov.
Literally a few hours before Dunford words, in Riga, Latvia, US Vice President Joe Biden and the presidents of Latvia Raimonds Veyonis, Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania and Estonia’s Toomas Hendrik Ilves, signed a joint declaration on deepening cooperation in the security field.
“Moscow should pay attention that NATO is ready for collective defense” said Biden in his address to the Baltic nations during the visit in Riga. “Let there be no doubt that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty will be implemented. An attack on one is an attack against all. We want Moscow to know that we think exactly what we say” he added.
In this way Washington reaffirmed its commitment to its obligations to its eastern NATO partners, and put an end to the discussion about who is the main threat for the alliance, and for what purposes billions of dollars will be spend on the military budgets of member states.
What a storm Trump caused?
The discussion about the effectiveness of the North Atlantic Alliance and its tasks, arose after a statement of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, during the election campaign. This is the first time presidential candidates deviated so much in their views on NATO.
Unlike the traditional Washington position of the Democratic candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that NATO “is one of the most successful investment in the future, made by America” Trump questioned the very existence of the alliance, saying that the structure is outdated and too costly for Washington. According to him, NATO must change its priorities and focus on the fight against terrorism, instead of deterring Russia. On top of that he threatened that if he wins the elections, the United States will not support those NATO allies that do not comply with their financial obligations within the alliance:
“If we are not properly compensated for the huge costs of protecting other countries, we’ll be ready to tell those countries: Congratulations, now you defend yourselves”.
And so the billionaire placed under doubt NATO’s fundamental principle – the 5th article of the Treaty which was quoted by Biden in Riga.
“Coming from Trump it sounds outrageous, but actually he repeated what many on the sidelines say – that European allies are parasites who do not pay for their safety, and rely only on Washington” says Lukyanov.
According to TASS’s research center, about 72% of NATO’s defense spending comes from the US, and only 28% – from other countries. At the meeting in Warsaw it was agreed that all participants in the alliance will raise military spending to 2% of GDP by 2020 as they are supposed to under NATO’s charter. As of now, this “norm” is met by only five countries – the USA, Greece, Poland, Great Britain and Estonia. On average, NATO members spend 1.4% of GDP on defense. While pushing for an increased military spending by its allies, the United States is considerably increasing its military presence in Europe. In the last year of his presidency, President Barack Obama increased the support budget to allies in Europe fourfold – from 789 million USD in 2016, to 3.4 billion USD in 2017.
The question is for the need of these expenditures, and the cost of deploying additional NATO forces along Russia’s border?
“The fear of the Russian bear is far-fetched just as it was during the Cold War … From a national perspective, there are more reasonable alternatives. We can bet more on cybersecurity, and investing in intelligence and security services. We must reinforce the last two if we want to better protect ourselves from the terrorist threat” believes Dirk van der Malen, a member of the Belgian Parliament of the Flemish Socialist Party.
According to him, the overblown fear of Russia is an excuse to increase defense spending, while many countries would prefer not to spend 2% of their GDP, as required by internal arrangements within NATO. Or, if money is spend, then at least it should be spend to counter real and not hypothetical threats. Trump is saying roughly the same thing. However those who believe that if elected, he will remain faithful to his promises are not many. Even in mid-August Trump softened his rhetoric, saying he was ready to cooperate with NATO in the interest of the complete destruction of the terrorist group “Islamic state.” Trump explained that he called the alliance outdated, because it has not “adequately combated extremism”. “NATO changed its position now, and its taking a new approach to counter the terrorist threat. That’s good.” stated Trump without specifying what he meant. Experts note that in the time between Trump’s opposing statements, the alliance has not taken any fundamentally new steps. NATO priorities were clarified in mid-July during the meeting in Warsaw.
What is the main threat to NATO: conclusions from the Warsaw meeting
“Considering that the terrorist threat is looming over us every day, it would be foolish to go back to the wars of the past” replied the Italian Minister of Defense Roberta Pinoti, to a journalist’s question on whether the meeting will avoid the unnecessarily hostile position towards Russia. The minister’s forecast did not come true.
“Russia’s aggressive actions, particularly the provocative military activities on the periphery of NATO, and Russia’s readiness to achieve its political objectives by threatening means and the use of force, are a source of regional instability … The situation in the Middle East and North Africa, which is considerably aggravated across the region, also seriously affect our security. Terrorism, particularly by the “Islamic state” has reached an unprecedented level of intensity, and it permeates throughout the territory of NATO countries and poses an immediate threat to our countries and the international community. Instability in the Middle East and North Africa also aggravates the crisis with refugees and migrants.” states the final declaration of the NATO summit in Warsaw.
It seems that according to members of the alliance, the Russian threat is more important than the terrorist threat, as far as it appears from official documents. And this is largely explainable – the logic of action on the “Eastern Front” has been worked out for decades. Fighting terrorism is a more abstract concept.
“This is a very difficult task that can not be solved by military means alone. What is happening in Europe is an internal problem, a problem of the dysfunction of European societies. There may be many recipes (police, social, economic), but none of them are connected with NATO. So yes, in statements terrorism is a top priority, but how to approach it with such a tool as NATO is absolutely unclear. And those in the Alliance do not know that.” said Fyodor Lukyanov.
Currently, real contributions to the fight against terrorism can only be operations outside Europe, in particular striking the positions of the terrorists on the territory of Syria and Iraq. Even though the formation of an international coalition against ISIL was agreed upon at the meeting of the Alliance in Wales in 2014, only individual NATO members are taking part in it. The alliance as a structure is not a member of this coalition. This situation will not change. The only thing NATO is ready to help the coalition with, is to provide direct support for AWACS aircraft. Moreover, such a decision must be approved by the members of the alliance at the national level. And that decision is hardly enough to change Trump’s attitude to NATO’s role in combating terrorism, which is quite expensive fro the US.
Is NATO’s existence needed?
The US spend over 1 trillion dollars just in Afganistan, (according to the Financial Times 2014) and it will spend more there. That is why Trump expressed his intention to request the direct participation of the European NATO allies, in hostilities against ISIL. In almost two years, from the beginning of the operation against the “Islamic state” on the territory of Iraq and Syria (708 days) the US and its allies have spend a total of 8.4 billion dollars (11,9 million per day).
For comparison: between September 30, 2015 to March 15, 2016 the war in Syria cost Moscow an average of 2.8 million dollars a day (at an exchange rate of 70 rubles to the dollar). Moreover, Russia might not had to transfer planes to Syria if the actions of the western coalition were effective. But when Moscow decided to launch the operation in Syria, there was a real danger of terrorists advancing to Damascus. Only in the spring of 2016, after the liberation of Palmyra, did the situation began to change dramatically. According to the Pentagon, from May 2016 to now, ISIL fighters have lost about 45% of the territory they control in Iraq and 20% of their territory in Syria.
The campaign against ISIL is one of the most intractable conflicts in the last 100 years. Several coalitions operate simultaneously within it. One of them is formed by the allies of the United States, and Turkey, a NATO member, plays its own game in the region. Another coalition is formed by Russia, which coordinates its actions with the Syrian authorities, and Iran and Iraq. And this is not the full list of actors and alliances that sometimes arise, then transform, acting according to their own interests. There is absolutely no united front against terrorism.
“At the beginning of the century, the Minister of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put forward an idea: the era of hard alliances is passing, replaced by “coalitions of the willing”, of those who are interested to solve one or another matter. Back then they criticized that that undermines the unity of NATO. But exactly this is happening now, and Libya, Iraq and Syria are examples of that” reminds Lukyanov in connection with the deviations that the recent military operations sparked in the West.
And here the question arises: is NATO and other alliances so needed, if coalitions of interest will arise more and more often?