Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
François Heisbourg, Special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris
Moving military assets to NATO’s East on a permanent or rotational basis is good for deterrence. Russia surprised the world, and possibly itself, by annexing Crimea, a Belgium-sized portion of a state whose territorial integrity Moscow had pledged to respect.
To avoid any future misunderstanding, for example in Russian-speaking parts of the alliance, NATO must make clear that its Article 5 mutual-defense clause applies with no ifs, ands, or buts. For deterrence, sheer troop and equipment numbers are not of the essence, whereas provenance is. A quote attributed to Churchill captures that spirit: he is supposed to have said that he needed one American soldier, “preferably dead,” to ensure the defense of Europe.
Going East is also useful to demonstrate to Russia that breaking international rules has a cost—namely, that NATO will drop its self-denying ordinance on forward basing, the practice of establishing a military presence as a means of projecting force.
However, moving East will only be sustainable politically if it is indeed a NATO policy, shared by the alliance’s 28 members in deed and words. Only the United States, Canada, France, the UK, Denmark, and Belgium have moved assets into the Baltics, Poland, Romania, and the Black Sea. NATO’s European members need to do much better.
Markus Kaim, Head of the research division for international security at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs
Regardless of the technical details (What constitutes a “base”? How permanently is military personnel to be deployed?), it is obvious that NATO needs to send a strong threefold signal in response to the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine.
First, NATO must reassure its Central and Eastern European member states that they can rely on the collective defense clause of the NATO treaty. The key question is not whether a Russian threat really materializes but whether it is a concern for the alliance’s Eastern members. This is established NATO policy. For instance, Syria lacks the political will or the military capabilities to attack NATO member Turkey. However, concerns about the intentions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad led to the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey in 2013.
Second, the alliance must encourage restraint among the governments in question as military deployments translate into political leverage. Creating permanent bases in its East allows NATO to influence the security policies of the countries concerned and avoid any unwanted confrontation.
Third, NATO must deter any Russian policy that might endanger the political sovereignty or territorial integrity of those countries through open threats or covert destabilization.
These three policy dimensions can then lead to various concrete measures to be taken by NATO member states: the rotating deployment of NATO forces, the forward deployment of material, or an increase in joint exercises.
Marian Majer, Senior fellow at the Central European Policy Institute in Bratislava
If the defense measures that NATO is considering today are to have a significant effect, they should include new bases in the alliance’s East. The consequences of establishing such bases would be twofold. First and foremost, they would boost NATO’s overall deterrence and military capacities to react to future Russian actions. Second, they would strengthen the alliance’s visibility on its Eastern edge. That is important and symbolic in light of recent claims of NATO’s ineffectiveness, disunity, and vagueness.
But there are two more implications of setting up new bases that should be taken into account. First, it will be expensive. Second, it will take several years, not months, for the full military effect to be felt. As such, NATO should not limit discussion of new bases to the territories of Poland and the Baltic states, even though these are the countries most concerned by possible threats from Russia.
Moving beyond the need to reassure these members, NATO should look at the full picture and discuss how to upgrade its defenses along its Eastern borders. In practical terms, this means involving other (less enthusiastic) allies: Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Only then would the debate produce an appropriate answer to Russian actions in Ukraine over recent months.
James Rogers, Senior editor of European Geostrategy and lecturer in European security at the Baltic Defense College
NATO should have military forces or military facilities wherever they are required to ensure that the alliance is able to meet its strategic and defensive obligations. If the threats to NATO come from the South, then the alliance should reinforce its Southern perimeter; if the challenge is from the East, then NATO must strengthen its Eastern flank. And if dangers emerge overseas, then the alliance needs to generate a forward presence to ensure they are kept at bay.
To reflect unity, however, all members should be willing to contribute to the allied cause. Of course, the largest and most powerful members, like the United States and the UK, will always carry a disproportionate share of the burden. But others should contribute too. It would be inappropriate if certain members, distant from the alliance’s borders, failed to support their more exposed allies or left the strongest members to do the heavy lifting alone.
Equally, non-NATO countries have no veto rights over where or how the alliance positions its forces or facilities. These assets must always reflect the strategic needs of NATO members today and tomorrow, and never the desires of outsiders.
The author writes here strictly in a personal capacity.
Stephen Szabo, Executive director of the Transatlantic Academy
Through his actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has undermined the agreements on European security that were shaped at the end of the Cold War. His violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity as agreed to in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances has opened the door for NATO to revise its tacit understanding with Russia not to deploy forces into the former Warsaw Pact countries.
Given the uncertainty about the level of NATO’s commitment to European security in areas close to Russia, it is imperative that NATO now move some of its forces permanently from Germany into Poland and the Baltic states. The announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama on June 3 in Warsaw that the United States will increase its deployments in Europe’s East is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough to send an unmistakable message of both reassurance and deterrence. It still smacks of the too-measured lowest-common-denominator approach the U.S. administration is taking to Russia’s new policies.
It is also essential that Germany and other key NATO allies take part in this new deployment to leave no doubt in Putin’s mind that the West is united on this key challenge. Over the medium term, geoeconomic approaches make sense, but in the immediate period, a political-military response is essential.
Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center
Permanent NATO bases in Eastern Europe would have multiple effects. For the Poles, Romanians, and Balts, who are jittery about the actual meaning of the alliance’s Article 5, such bases would be an additional reassurance vis-à-vis Russia, especially with U.S. boots on the ground.
For the other European NATO allies, the move would be pure symbolism, a nod to Eastern members’ historical paranoia. For the United States, it would be a strategic diversion from more important regions, such as East Asia, but a useful one in terms of U.S. domestic politics.
NATO’s military move toward the East would vindicate those in Russia who have always regarded the alliance as a threatening long arm of the United States. Russia would likely respond with its own military deployments in the European part of the country and would seek to create a new comparable threat to the United States proper.
The outcome would be a Cold War standoff lite. This is ironic because the essence of the threat has changed. Today’s Ukraine is not Czechoslovakia in 1968 or 1938, but more like Yugoslavia. Moldova, by moving toward the EU and NATO, will simply leave behind its breakaway regions of Transnistria and maybe Gagauzia. As for the Baltic states, they will not be invaded from without, but might erode from within.