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NATO A paper shield

By James Ogden
Monday, May 11
The numerous Russian Air Force incursions into NATO airspace and the suspected presence of Russian submarines in Scandinavian waters over the last year arguably suggest that the alliance has outlived its effectiveness; although all of the aircraft and warships were quickly intercepted by NATO forces, the Russian Federation's opinion of these responses is perhaps best reflected in its clear unwillingness to stop probing its rivals' borders. Most alarming of all was the abduction of Eston Kohver, an Estonian security service operative, who was taken by Russian border agents from sovereign Estonian territory.

During the Cold War, when West Germany was the eastern-most NATO member state and the ever-present threat to the West from the Soviet Union was to the forefront of foreign and defence policy, doubtless any military action against any NATO nation would have prompted a swift and measured response; one only has to remember the tension over the various instances of military confrontation between NATO and the USSR, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to Checkpoint Charlie. However, it is highly unlikely that any such aggression directed towards the new additions to the NATO family (such as Poland or the Baltic states) today would elicit any type of retaliation whatsoever.

The inclusion of former Soviet states into the alliance looks increasingly to be a part of a policy to deny territories to Russia that were once under Moscow's control, rather than a sincere desire to include Eastern European countries in either NATO or the EU. In addition, promises made to Georgia regarding membership in the alliance seem to be increasingly hollow; despite the Georgian soldiers distinguishing themselves in the NATO-led ISAF [International Security Assistance Forces] mission in Afghanistan and suffering roughly two hundred casualties (killed and wounded), NATO membership is still frustratingly far away. Indeed, NATO's MAP [Membership Action Plan] still has yet to be implemented despite years of assurance and rhetoric.

The rise of international terrorism and the focus of Western defence on counter-insurgency has doubtless contributed to the half-hearted Western approach to nations such as Ukraine and Georgia; the perception of the enemy residing in Moscow seems to be viewed as being old-fashioned and decidedly outdated. Even Russian aggression against Georgia and Ukraine has failed to stir any meaningful response from the West, due to other issues deemed to be more pressing, such as the current exodus of European and American nationals fighting for the Islamic State and the threat of home-grown terrorism. The Russian excuses with regards to its invasion of Georgia in 2008 (in which the Georgian side was said to have begun the conflict) and its semi-admitted intervention in Ukraine (supporting ethnic Russians' right to self-determination) have been swallowed by the West to justify its inactivity in defending the nations it openly refers to as 'Eastern partners'.

Though Poland and the Baltic States are NATO members, the idea that the United States, France, Britain and Germany would declare war on Moscow in the event of a Russian attack is simply not credible. NATO has become something of a paper shield; after two unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have resulted in 6781 combat deaths with another 55, 996 seriously wounded for the United States alone, the idea that the public of any NATO state would allow their government to go to war against the Russian Federation (for the sake of countries that have historically been under Russian control anyway) cannot seriously be entertained.

At the present time, further military action against Georgia appears to be unlikely, though a significant Russian military presence remains in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as in the territory of its ally, Armenia. Yet to ignore the Russian activity in Ukraine and the violent history of the Black Sea region would be decidedly unwise.

It is wholly understandable that Ukraine and Georgia desire NATO membership as protection against an enemy that is viewed as being totally unstoppable, a belief stemming from Imperial Russia's territorial dominance and continued in later years by the juggernaut of the Red Army and its victory over Nazi Germany. Today, President Putin makes no secret of his pride of Russia's nuclear arsenal, and the planned Sukhoi PAK FA fifth-generation fighter jet does indeed seem formidable, but Russia's military is not without its own issues. Many of its infantry forces remain poorly-equipped conscripts with inferior training, and even its professional ranks lack the combat experience of their Georgian equivalents, many of whom are veterans of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also worth noting that despite the clear abundance of military aid (and personnel) sent to assist the separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine, after a year of fighting a Ukrainian defeat is far from certain.

Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia all face the same threat, and each suffers from separatist issues in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transinistria and Donbas. The military assistance able to be rendered within a partnership sphere would be of great benefit to each nation; for example, Georgian infantry expertise and experience would compliment Ukraine's greater airmobile capabilities due to its larger fleet of transport aircraft. In addition, cross-training, inter-regional competitions (such as those between the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada at their respective officer training academies) and the formation of a multinational rapid response force would strengthen ties and collective security.

Had such an alliance been formed before the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, the presence of Moldovan and Georgian troops in Ukraine could have prevented Kiev's early reverses. In addition, the engagement of Moldovan and Georgian troops in combat would not constitute any declaration of war against the Russian Federation, since Moscow remains officially uninvolved and at peace with Kiev.

Though the military marriage of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia could never hope to match the combined might of every NATO nation, in many ways it would present a more potent threat. It is not difficult to imagine the diplomatic bluster and bleating aimed at Moscow over military incursions into the Baltic states; the world has witnessed the West's 'strong condemnations' many times before, declarations which have done little and less to save any lives. Combining the strength of all three Black Sea nations, however, would present a rather more potent threat to any would-be aggressor.