Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula has placed the spotlight on NATO. Experts say Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine was a wake-up call for the 28-member western alliance.
Charles Kupchan, NATO expert at Georgetown University, said since the end of the Cold War, the western alliance has been trying to redefine its mission.
“A few months ago, people were talking about an existential crisis for the alliance in the absence of the mission in Afghanistan - the bulk of NATO troops are scheduled to be out by the end of 2014,” he said. “And the question was, okay, what next? And now, I think there is a revival of NATO’s traditional mission of collective defense.”
NATO's collective defense
That policy stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all of them.
During a recent NATO meeting, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to collective defense, saying: “We will deter and defend against any threat.”
“We have already reinforced NATO’s presence on the eastern borders of the Alliance. We are flying AWACS surveillance patrols over Poland and Romania,” said Rasmussen. “We have more than doubled the number of fighter aircraft allocated to the NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States.”
Poland and Romania are NATO members that border Ukraine on the west. Russia has amassed thousands of troops on its border on the other side of Ukraine, prompting some western experts to say an incursion into Eastern Ukraine is likely.
Charles Kupchan said NATO would react even more forcefully to protect its members.
NATO to increase defenses
“You would see a considerable expansion in the moves that NATO has already taken to beef up defenses on its eastern frontier, perhaps even including reneging on the gentleman’s agreement that was struck when central European members entered NATO, which was to say to the Russians we will not forward deploy substantial numbers of NATO troops in central Europe,” he said.
Kupchan says NATO’s reaction will be short of war.
“The prospect of a clash between NATO forces and Russia over Ukraine is effectively out of the question,” he said. “And that’s because there has been an assessment on this side of the Atlantic as well as in Europe, that what has happened and what potentially could happen in Eastern Ukraine, is not the stuff of war - that is to say war between western democracies and Russia.”
Russia's military capabilities are thin
Sean Kay, NATO expert at Ohio Wesleyan University, agreed. But he said Russian forces will have a difficult time if they enter Eastern Ukraine.
“There is not a lot we can do to stop them. But their military capabilities are actually pretty thin. They can do a thing like the Georgia war (2008) - that was a pretty small conflict with highly-trained integrated forces,” said Kay. “But to sustain a large deployment of forces over a very long period of time in a hostile territory - that’s going to be difficult for the Russians to do.”
NATO suspends cooperation with Russia
Charles Kupchan said: “For Putin to enter Eastern Ukraine, he opens a Pandora’s box. He risks a civil war on his border. He risks miring Russian troops in something that could look like another Afghanistan.”
As a result of Russia’s military intervention in Crimea, NATO has suspended all civilian and military cooperation with Moscow. NATO officials say they will review their relationship with Moscow in view of Russia’s actions.
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