Perhaps the most surprising event that occurred during the NATO Summit in Wales at the end of last week was the truce in the East of Ukraine between the government forces and the pro-Russian rebels/separatists. Was that a result of some sophisticated NATO communication operation the days prior to the Summit, one that succeeded in deterring Russia from continuing the destabilisation of Ukraine and made it accept the armistice? Or did Ukraine, represented at the Summit by its legitimate president, understand that, not being a NATO member state, if it wanted to avoid an overwhelming Russian invasion, had to reach an armistice as soon as possible? Or did Germany perhaps manage to convince both sides that a truce was best sooner rather than later, finalising a mediating action with the two capital cities practically at war? Did Russia understand that it was about time it stopped irritating the West with its aggressive conduct and answered calls for a de-escalation of the intervention?
ched one of those major diplomatic agreements the history of the last 200 years of Westphalian system has accustomed us to?
Or a deal among Russia, Germany and the USA? Or…?
It is somehow obvious that this coincidence must have had a reason. Of course, one knows that the deployment/ commitment by Russia of military forces in Eastern Ukraine triggered a decisive turn in the odds of the Ukrainian military operation against Russian separatists. On the opposite, it became clear that Russia was not going to be impressed by NATO’s announced consolidation of its military presence in Eastern Europe, actually threatening with own sanctions and military action as retorsion.
If we were to look at the measures concerning Eastern Europe that had been unofficially mentioned by NATO before the Summit compared to those that were actually adopted, we cannot help noticing some differences. The initial 14,000 Immediate Reaction Task Forces will have 4,000 extra troops, the army bases in states on the Eastern flank – Baltic countries, Poland and Romania – will be just non-permanent military facilities, the command headquarters deployed to the East are actually sections of command distributed to the NATO states there etc. However, what has to be emphasised is that numerous exercises will be conducted with the new NATO member states in Eastern Europe, which secures a robust, even if not permanent, military presence of THE Alliance in this part of the continent. One thing that needs to be noted in this context is that NATO continues to be attached to its 1997 agreement with Russia, which means that the two parties do not see one another as enemies and, more importantly, will not act to contradict that commonly established and unchanged situation. Such reality explains the differences among the various proposals that had been made prior to the Summit, in respect of the consolidation of the allied presence in the East of Europe and those that were practically assumed. Answering a question about the document, after the Summit, on September 5, 2014, NATO secretary general said: ‘In today’s meeting and during our discussions, we have reaffirmed our commitment to what we call a ‘rules-based security architecture’ in Europe. We strongly believe in that rules-based system. And there is a broad agreement on that. And we urge Russia to live up to her commitments within that rules-based security system in Europe. And we haven’t taken any decision to walk away from the NATO-Russia Founding Act. We stick to the principles of that founding act, while it’s clear that Russia has gravely violated the fundamental principles of that Joint NATO-Russia document.’
The fundamental question regarding the overall evaluation of the Summit is whether what happened in Wales is a positive or negative thing. Naturally, we cannot agree with the assessment made recently by John Bolton in ‘The Weekly Standard “ that “Under Obama, however, especially because of his flaccid response to Russia’s slow-motion invasion of Ukraine, NATO has begun to disappear like a sugar cube dissolving in hot tea.“ We are more inclined to embrace the position expressed by Julian Lindley French, one of the greatest strategists of our time, on his blog: ‘I have been carefully reading the Summit Declaration and associated press releases /…/. My conclusion is this; whilst historians will not look back on the Summit as a pivotal moment in NATO’s now long and bumpy journey they will see it as an important moment and possibly even the start of a truly twenty-first century Alliance.” Moreover, we believe that the measures taken at the Summit for the consolidation of the security of Eastern European member states meet their expectations. Even if the size of the Immediate Reaction Task Force may not be the anticipated size, it still can provide deterrence coefficients and, if need be, by deployment, coagulate resistance to a possible aggression in the early phases of the process. As Lindley French writes, ‘NATO today is a coalition generator and commander for offensive security operations by assorted members and partners alike and an absolute defence guarantee for its members. Nothing more, nothing less. To an extent, Wales succeeded in reinforcing both missions. Indeed, the Readiness Action Plan, in many ways the centrepiece of the Summit /represents/ … a new agile strategy that in effect merges collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security into a coherent security and defence concept. The addition of cyber-defence to collective defence was certainly also a step down the road to the overhaul and modernisation of Alliance collective defence that has long been needed.’
The positive character of the Summit also resides in the fact that, by the measures adopted, it did not make Russia hostile, did not push the old continent into a new cold war, lest in a hot and devastating one. The fact that the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 which generated a major capital of trust between the two Cold War enemies remains in force is an indicator of stability in Europe. One that equally refers to the security of the states in the East of the continent and to the NATO partners in the former Soviet space, as the Alliance decision-makers are convinced that they need support for reforms and will act accordingly.
But the Summit also produced the positive output of a solution – hopefully sustainable – to the crisis in Ukraine. Stephen Walt was writing just days prior to the Wales event: “/../ The best possible outcome here is an agreement that reaffirms Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty, ends the fighting, removes any Russian troops on Ukraine’s territory, and guarantees Ukraine’s status as a neutral buffer state. The status of Crimea is trickier, and I fear it won’t be possible to get Russia to disgorge it./…/.Is this a perfect result? Hardly. But it is a lot better than prolonging the crisis, which will damage the still-fragile EU economy, poison East-West relations even further, and do further harm to Ukraine itself.’ The Wales NATO Summit therefore generated positive results: it kept peace in Europe by providing a solution for the Ukrainian crisis, kept the ‘door’ to Moscow open, refusing to engage in a new cold war and created the favourable conditions for focusing Western energies on those hot points of the planet where they are needed. Which is no little thing.