NATO may have found a new reason to continue and strengthen its existence
Perhaps the main consequence of the Ukraine crisis is the re-emerging of NATO and the Western Security Alliance system that many feel has struggled to find a use since the end of the Cold War. The recent annexing of Crimea by the Russians has begun a new discussion about the purpose of NATO in European affairs.
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was first created after World War II between Western Europe, the US and Canada to counterbalance the growing threat of the Soviet Union and its own security bloc the Warsaw Pact. NATO’s primary mission in the Cold War was the strategic protection of Europe from any Soviet aggression.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Block between 1989-1991, NATO has often reshaped its image and stated function in the world. Between 1999-2009, 12 new countries (mainly in Eastern Europe) have been added to the organization. NATO’s continued existence is still seen by some as an unnecessary relic of the Cold War. Yet, NATO has managed to survive as an organization and has had mixed results in its usefulness.
The main question surrounding NATO is what exactly is its long-term purpose in the world? During the Cold War, NATO had a specific and understandable purpose. In fact, NATO was seen as a device specifically for Cold War circumstances, and many believed that NATO would be disbanded with the Cold War’s conclusion. This did not happen. Instead, the power and mission of the organization has continually changed and its authority has broadened as a result.
NATO used to be merely a European defense unit, but now it has expanded rapidly. NATO has shifted emphasis to a global strategy, whose membership has continued to expand. NATO’s continued existence has of course risen the ire of other nations, namely Russia and China.
Russia in particular has long loathed NATO’s growth since 1991, especially in Eastern and Central Europe. Russia tacitly accepted the loss of the former Warsaw Pact in the 1990s and early 2000s, when it was too weak to act effectively against NATO. Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic are all members of NATO and were once part of Moscow’s sphere.
Countries in the former USSR have also joined NATO. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are now NATO members. The Bush II Administration was the one who initiated the idea of bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. That was in the aftermath of the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Both movements saw pro-Western governments brought to power, whose presidents actively sought NATO inclusion. Russia was not happy about that either.
Many thought that Russia’s brief war with Georgia in 2008 would be the catalyst to revamp the Cold War. It didn’t happen, mainly because it wasn’t clear who the real aggressor in that conflict was. Georgia technically attacked first, though did not expect Russia to come down as hard as it did. It wasn’t easy to fully isolate and blame Russia, because Russia technically did not start the conflict. The conflict seriously crippled Georgia’s military and damaged the reputation of its former pro-Western president. Perhaps Ukraine could repeat these results, albeit under different circumstances.
The events we see now in Ukraine send the best signal as to what will happen next in Europe. Ukraine is even more vulnerable at this point. Though Ukraine is trying, it has not been entirely successful in cementing complete order over the country. It has managed to stabilize its position, but it is not fully certain if the situation will remain stable.
Russia can further act to destabilize the new Kiev regime, which could lead to a multitude of events. Or, perhaps worse, the right-wing ultra-nationalist forces within Ukraine’s new apparatchik could begin to turn against Kiev’s new authorities. A recent killing of a nationalist militant leader by Ukrainian police, who took part in the Maidan protests could signal a potential conflict emerging within the revolutionary movement itself. Russia, of course, no doubt would take advantage of this where it could. NATO’s importance in this is not small, and has in fact influenced this entire fiasco.
Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine have inadvertently given NATO a rejuvenated sense of purpose. Russia, who has felt threatened with NATO expansion since the end of the Cold War, took a major step in shifting the geopolitical landscape by going into Crimea. One result it has created is the fact that its adversaries in NATO now have a good reason to even further act in adversarial means with Russia. NATO now has a very specific reason to have the members it does, and it could begin building up their military strengths in Europe after years of draw-down.
I don’t think Ukraine or Georgia can become part of NATO now. NATO doctrine prevents countries from joining that have standing territorial conflicts. Unless Ukraine accepts Crimea as part of Russia, then it can’t technically join NATO. But, this won’t stop NATO from increasing its power in Europe. By Russia reacting the way it did, NATO has a reason to reform its position even stronger, by claiming a need to protect Europe from “Russian Aggression.”
Many NATO countries have slashed their military budgets, especially in comparison to what was spent in the Cold War. Many planners in Brussels now think that this strategy should be rethought. Russia has steadily increased its arms budgets over the past few years, and has undergone somewhat successful programs to streamline and modernize its former Soviet rusting bulk of a military.
Russia, in overall terms, is not as powerful as NATO or the United States. However, in its immediate sphere, Russia is a military behemoth that no other regional country can resist alone. The United States’ presence in Europe is much smaller today than during the Cold War, and its bases are mostly used as logistics for operations in the Middle East. This could now change, however.
We have to see the events through a geopolitical lens. NATO has had a mixed record. Yes it has helped to stop massacres, but not without a huge self-interest. Of course the US and Europe had interests in the Balkans and Libya. Strange enough, NATO was nowhere to be seen in Rwanda and is still nowhere to be seen in the Congo.
NATO intervenes where it feels it will benefit most. Lives may be saved in the process, but there are always ulterior motives. Wars cost money, so the cost of waging war has to be offset by something. That doesn’t mean NATO is bad necessarily, it just means it isn’t entirely clean either. Russia is no better, of course.
Russia clearly has a propaganda aim, and I think that Putin and the Kremlin trumped up the ethnic card to intervene in Crimea. While I am sure the ethnic Russians in Crimea are staunchly pro-Moscow, I doubt the situation would have gone down as smoothly as it did without a concerted Russian involvement. Many believe that it was a Russian contingency plan that was initiated when a hostile government took power in Kiev. Russia’s interests in Ukraine has been detailed in a previous post of mine on the subject.
This isn’t about democracy for NATO or Russia. This is a power play. There are deep rooted interests that go back many years. I don’t think Russia will back down from this easily, and I also think NATO will begin to grow much tougher with Moscow. I think there’s a major rift between the West and Russia that may take years to rebuild, if at all. I am not sure if a new Cold War will arise. If one does, then NATO has a million more reasons to grow its military power in Europe. NATO gains further uses for military buildups, which gives it all the more reason to continue existence.
While Russia and NATO countries would undoubtedly get hurt with a renewed Cold War or adversarial relationship, there is one group of people who stand to gain tremendously from such a scenario: The defense industry. Think about it. There is a simple answer here. Who stands to gain the most from NATO expansion and a renewed arms race? Eisenhower said it. The Military Industrial Complex is a beast that is very hard to tame. NATO’s purpose is driven by several issues. Perhaps the most important is the one that few in US media desire to talk about.