Does NATO Wales Summit Guarantee International Security

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Baku, 16 September 2014 –

On 4-5 September 2014 Wales hosted the NATO Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the member states and the nations that cooperate with the Alliance. The previous summit was held in Chicago on 20-21 May 2012 and was mainly dedicated to discussion of the following issues:

  • NATO’s position in Afghanistan;
  • Economic situation in the wake of 2008 world economic crisis;
  • Planning of the short, mid and long-term common action strategy;
  • Implementation of the ''Smart Defense'' program;
  • Retaining and Enhancement of NATO’s military power;
  • Relations with Russia.

NATO’s Wales Summit was dedicated to similar problems. This Summit however, also addressed such issues as combating terrorism in the Middle East, increasing defense expenditures, ways of resolution of Ukraine crisis, its consequences and relations with Russia.

Let us scrutinize NATO’s role in ensuring international security prior to the dissolution of the USSR. At the time, NATO was confronted by the Warsaw Pact – an alliance of equivalent power led by the Soviet Union. The world was bipolar, each with an area already under its influence and other domains both aimed to cover. No significant confrontation occurred between these poles, with the exception of the Caribbean crisis. Although the parties aspired to expand their hegemony, nonetheless the struggle of the time was waged beyond the geographies of the U.S. and USSR. This could be regarded as a "struggle for external strategic regions''. The parties both threatened and regulated the military, political and economic power, and the international system of arms race. Such a regulation of course was debatable. Regardless of contradictions between the two sides, neither Warsaw Pact directly threatened Washington nor did NATO menaced Moscow.

When the fate of NATO was debated in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the U.S. wanted this organization to continue its performance. However, the dissolution of Soviet Union also eliminated a threat to be fighting against. Under such circumstances, the U.S. had brought the terrorism issue to the forefront and identified new targets for NATO. And since the mid-2000 confronting the Russian Federation was added to the list of NATO objectives.

If we analyze some 15-20 years since the collapse of the USSR, the following picture emerges: It was only natural that along with the dissolution of the Soviet Union the Warsaw Pact had lost its relevance and was obliterated. Almost all the nations - members of the Warsaw Pact - were eventually unified with the European Union and became part of NATO. Collapse of the USSR led to Russia geographically shrinking down to its state borders. Post-Soviet republics declared their independence. At the time, Russian political thinking that was coping with the fact of the demise of a mighty empire was more preoccupied with ensuring security of its borders.

Chechnya problem aside, the Western world was also of no interest for Russia. Nonetheless, as of the late 1990s, Russia has started to rise again. Able to use its energy resources wisely, Russia managed to pay of its external debt to the Western world and secured political and military growth, along with economic prosperity. Freed from financial dependence, Russia tried to pursue its national interests more independently. Resolution of the problem in Chechnya allowed Russia to neutralize domestic and foreign threats.

In the meantime, West-Russia standoff was happening against the backdrop of NATO’s enlargement to the East. However, unlike the Cold War years, Russia started to sense this threat more closely to its borders. Even during the Warsaw Pact era USSR (Russia) had not dared to openly challenge NATO. In recent years however, Russia is resorting to any means of singlehandedly thwarting the pressure emanating from the West. Despite that the West had substantially undermined Russia’s positions in the Eastern Europe, Russia was solidifying its presence in the post-Soviet geography and enjoyed broader maneuvering capability in a wider space, and was already capitalizing on this. Being unable to ''handle'' the loss of the Baltic countries, Russia was not to remain idle to strengthening of the West’s positions in other post-Soviet countries. Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008 was retaliation against the West.

The Wales Summit came at a time of great turmoil. The Western plan to land Ukraine in its sphere of influence ailed and grave internal crisis ensued. Resigning President Yanukovich found shelter in Russia. As internal crisis endured, the Russians of the Crimea forwarded demands to join Russia and eventually succeeded. Having annexed Crimea, Russia drove the West into a stalemate and went on to endorse the independence claims of the Russians inhabiting the Eastern Ukraine. Ultimately, the East of the country has turned into war-zone with the use of advanced weaponry.

It was for the first time since the end of the Soviet Union that in the example of Ukraine the West has started to openly threaten Russia’s security paradigm. Certain circles in the West warned that development of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s ties with the European Union and NATO and their possible membership in the very organizations would irritate Russia. The West had ultimately miscalculated Russia’s response. Driven by a military strategy of ''expanding the borders if they are compromised'', Russia incorporated the West to the concept of threat the country faced.

The following was the conclusion of the Wales Summit:

  • NATO would not retreat in the face of Russia;
  • NATO renewed its assurance of providing security of its Eastern European member states;
  • Confusion over Ukraine would persist;
  • Threat of terrorism in the Middle East and the combat against it would endure;
  • Ensuring control over the energy resources and supply routes is still vital;
  • Defense expenditures would increase.

Relations between the organization and Russia are likely to continue to aggravate in the wake of NATO’s Wales Summit. Russia regards NATO’s eastward enlargement as a direct threat. The geography of this threat is not confined to Ukraine. Russia’s claims that the statehood of Kazakhstan was associated with the personality of Nursultan Nazarbayev came out of the mouth of the head of state. While member of the Russian Duma and leader of the Liberal Democrat Party of Russia Vladimir Jirinovski went as far as calling for occupation of Kazakhstan.

Making of such statements by Russia, without even putting relations with Ukraine in order, is indicative of psychological aspects. Russia may put itself in a predicament at this stage when security concerns emanating from inflaming of such frozen conflicts as Nagorno Karabakh, Transdnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia and bullying of Kazakhstan are arising. Unfolding of such a scenario and response of the West to these developments may to a certain extent restrict Russia’s playing field.

Hatem Jabbarli

Doctor of Political Science

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