FEELING LEFT OUT: It has taken five years for NATO to start serious planning for defense of its three Baltic members.
RIGA - Thanks to the efforts of Poland, NATO has agreed in principle to develop formal contingency plans to defend member states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, writes The Economist. After five years of “dithering, the alliance has made the decision to draw up defense plans for the Baltic states.” The shift comes after hard-fought negotiations in which, at the Americans’ insistence, Germany and other countries dropped their opposition, with the main push coming from Poland.
“This is a big change. Since the three Baltic states joined NATO in 2004, defense planners have tried to sidestep the question of what their membership means in practice. If Russia is a friendly NATO partner, and not an adversary, then defense plans for the new member states from the ex-communist part of Europe should not be necessary. Indeed, until late 2008 NATO’s threat assessment - the basis for its military planning - explicitly discounted any threat from Russia. That seemed to send a dangerous signal that north-eastern Europe was a security soft spot, open to mischief-making and meddling from outside,” says the article.
The main push for a formal plan came from Poland. It was the first to gain contingency plans - initially only against a putative, and implausible, attack from Belarus, a country barely a quarter of its size. When the war in Georgia highlighted NATO’s wobbliness on Russia, Poland accelerated its push for a bilateral security relationship with America, including the stationing of Patriot anti-missile rockets on Polish soil in return for hosting a missile-defense base.
Meanwhile military officials in NATO began low-key but wide-ranging efforts, called “prudent planning.” Under the authority of the American supreme allied commander in Europe, these did not require the formal consent of NATO’s governing body, the North Atlantic Council, where they risked being blocked by countries such as Germany.
Speaking in Prague in April 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama publicly demanded that NATO develop plans for all of its members, which put the Baltic case squarely on the alliance’s agenda. But in the months that followed, inattention and disorganization in his administration brought no visible follow-up. Instead, snubs and missteps, particularly on the missile defense plans, deepened gloom about how seriously America took the safety concerns of its allies in Europe’s ex-communist east.
A muted NATO response to extensive Russian military exercises on the Baltic and Polish borders last autumn sharpened the worries further.
NATO’s defense plans for the Baltic states should not be seen as preparations for war with Russia; it does not mean that the alliance sees its biggest neighbor as a threat, claims U.S. political scientist Bruce Jackson, reports news agency LETA. He says that, under the fifth article of the Washington Treaty, providing for collective defense principles, it is natural that the alliance is preparing contingency plans. The parliaments ratified the agreements under which the Baltic countries are admitted as “full rights members.”
Jackson notes that “It should have been done even before the invitation. It is inconceivable that 25 countries are being protected, and three countries are not. I am convinced that the society was shocked when it turned out that NATO did not perform its duties and broke its word to the parliaments.”
The Russian-Georgian war led to continued planning. “As far as I understand, [the plans] should actually be completed.
However, it does not mean that the defense plans for the Baltic countries are developed for a war with Russia. NATO’s decision to develop defense plans for the Baltic countries does not mean that the alliance sees Russia as a threat. This is an operative plan, covering all possible threats, for example, [from] Chinese Internet hackers… potential threats from criminal structures.”
Almost a year has passed since Obama’s speech. The Baltic States will get their plans, probably approved by NATO’s military side rather than its political wing. They will be presented as an annex to existing plans regarding Poland, but with an added regional dimension. That leaves room for Sweden and Finland (not members of the alliance but increasingly close to it) to take a role in the planning too, adds Jackson.
In light of information on the consensus reached in NATO to develop defense plans for the Baltic countries, Lithuanian Minister of Defense Rasa Jukneviciene notes that the status and contents of the planning documents are confidential, but Lithuania has no reason to doubt the reliability of NATO security guarantees. According to Presidential Spokesman Linas Balsys, Dalia Grybauskaite is convinced that the Baltic countries needed modern defense plans that would meet their needs.
Jackson says these countries should not concentrate only on NATO. “Central and Eastern European countries should trust other bodies as well. The West is not only NATO. Perhaps, Harvard University is even of a greater importance to the future of Lithuania than NATO. For example, NATO is completely ineffective in Ukraine, as it does nothing there, and it puzzles us. We have to use all the institutions.”
In keeping its guard up, however, NATO is likely to rebuff a Russian proposal for a bilateral security treaty, as it sees this as a ploy to regain lost influence over Eastern Europe, reports Bloomberg. Russia’s proposed treaty, limited to NATO’s 28 members, would require them to “perform defense planning in a way that it does not threaten the security of other parties,” according to a three-page draft of the treaty. In effect, the initiative marks a Russian bid to assert its primacy over countries that were once part of the Soviet Union and to halt expansion of NATO.
The proposal, made last month, would have effectively given Russia a veto over allied military planning, especially in Eastern Europe, said officials. It’s a way of trying to put into treaty an acceptance of a Russian sphere of influence,” said Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO. “It essentially gives Russia a veto over countries that are not yet members of NATO.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov handed the proposed “Agreement on Basic Principles Governing Relations Among NATO - Russia Council Member States in Security Sphere” in Russian and English versions to allied officials without publicity at a NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels Dec. 4.
While NATO aims to boost cooperation with Russia, there is little appetite for a new treaty, say officials. Asked if NATO-Russia ties need a new legal basis, the alliance’s supreme military commander, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, said his focus is on practical steps such as expanding the supply lines through Russia for the 100,000-plus Western troops in Afghanistan.
“I can see a variety of zones of cooperation -- military to military -- and of course we’re waiting for political signals and guidance from the secretary general before we pursue that, but overall I think we’re on an upward trend in our relations with Russia,” he said.
The Lavrov paper, coming as Obama was seeking to “reset” relations with the Kremlin, is distinct from a wider East-West security treaty also floated last year by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Western governments have been cool to the Medvedev initiative, a product of the Kremlin’s desire to overhaul European security arrangements after NATO’s eastward enlargement put Western troops on Russia’s borders.
NATO points to the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an East-West forum created in 1975, as the best arena for discussing Russia’s security concerns.
“Formal approval [of the contingency plan] is still pending and the countries concerned have been urged to keep it under wraps. But sources close to the talks say the deal is done: the Baltic states will get their plans… ,” says Jackson.