NATO challenge

Russia’s new military doctrine starts with a list of “military dangers” that includes Nato’s attempt to bring its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders and to add new members. The 2000 doctrine referred vaguely to “the expansion of military blocs and unions to the detriment of Russia’s security”, and Nato expansion was seen as an unequivocal threat, whereas in the 2010 doctrine it is no longer described as a “threat” but a “danger” that “under certain conditions” could lead to the “appearance of a military threat”. None the less, the reaction from the West was clear: Russia clings to its Natophobia and has no interest in “resetting” relations. It would have seemed that the alliance had done everything possible to convince Moscow of its benevolent intentions. So what’s the problem?

Moscow is concerned that Nato will transform itself into a global force operating outside its traditional theatre, assuming the right to act at its own discretion. Those fears are linked to ambitions the alliance held at the end of the 20th and start of the 21st centuries. But that period has ended. It became clear that Nato would be unable to become a “global gendarme”.

Optimists such as Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen speak of Nato playing the role of an international security “think tank”. According to that model, the alliance would coordinate its activities with others, including the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Sceptics don’t believe that Nato will ever be able to form an alliance with the CSTO, SCO or other rival alliances. They think that Nato will most likely return to its roots – as a regional organisation with the primary goal of guaranteeing the security of its member states in the European-Atlantic region. Bolder analysts claim that the war in Afghanistan – the first fully-fledged Nato military campaign outside the alliance’s zone of operations – will also be its last. Now, the argument goes, the alliance will focus on its responsibility to uphold Article 5 of its charter, which obliges all Nato members to defend against an outside attack on another member. This is the most important feature of Nato membership for Central European and Baltic member states. After all, they joined the alliance primarily all to protect themselves from Russia.

Expanding Nato’s zone of operations beyond Europe would take the focus off Russia. But if Nato does return to its “roots” as a strictly European-Atlantic alliance, it would effectively mean that it will return to its previous foundation – one largely based on defending against “the Russian threat”. It would be interesting to ask how President Dmitry Medvedev’s earlier proposal for a pan-European security pact would be received in such a situation. On one hand, a return by Nato to its regional status would mean that the alliance positions itself as the main European security organisation, excluding the need for any other. On the other, countries such as Ukraine that are left on the sidelines would require some other security guarantee, and that leads back to Medvedev’s proposal.

Neither does Nato fully see Russia as it really is. Many recent Western publications suggest that the US and other leading countries do not appreciating how important it is for Russia to have a global status following the collapse of the Soviet Union. That blunder should be corrected by demonstrating the readiness of the West to offer Russia more or less equal partnership. This may have been one of the reasons why the Nato dignitaries visited Moscow and the renewed discussion of the desirability of inviting Russia into Nato.

Had those ideas been tried seven or eight years ago, we might have had an interesting dialogue. The Kremlin has been obsessed with status, and Vladimir Putin spent much of his presidency knocking on various doors. But now that proposal is hanging in limbo because the international framework has changed. The West is having trouble convincing the world that it is still the predominant global leader. And now the invitation to cooperate looks more a desire to foist some of the burden on Russia that the US and Nato cannot bear alone.

Nato will present a new strategic concept at its November summit. The document will probably be a compromise between the “globalists” and the “regionalists”, the benign, defensive “union of democracies”. Whatever decision is reached, it will be only temporary. It is worth noting that the changes in the world that had such a large influence on Nato began almost immediately after the alliance adopted its last strategic concept in 1999. For that matter, the same can be said of Russia’s military doctrine.

Fyodor Lukyanov is editor of Russia in Global Affairs.

First published in The Moscow Times

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