French military analyst tries to paint a rosy picture of NATO's defensive nature, but is less than convincing
This article originally appeared at Valdai Discussion Club
One of the main issues of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Session in Budapest was the alliance’s coexistence with Russia. French military analyst Philippe Migault, Senior Research Fellow at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), gave an interview to editor-in-chief of www.valdaiclub.com Alexander Artamonov.
Many Russians consider NATO as an imminent danger on the borders of their country. In the near future even a real conflict might break out between Russia and NATO. What do you think about it?
I do not think so and the reason is simple: NATO is a defensive alliance established as it was in 1949. NATO will go to war, if a member of the alliance is attacked by an external power. I don’t sit in the Kremlin, but to my knowledge, Russia does not intend to attack any of NATO countries. And I’m sure that nobody in Paris, Berlin, or Rome has intention to make war with Russia. Otherwise NATO is not a monolithic alliance: different member states are free to oppose certain policies that they disapprove.
What can you say about future relations between Russia and NATO? Will they continue staring at each other like china dogs?
Anyway the dialogue should be resumed. We're not going to have a frozen situation where discussions are suspended indefinitely. Moreover, John Kerry has already arrived in Sochi where he met President Putin and Sergei Lavrov. We have seen that the United States took the line of an appeasement, as confirmed by some statements about Ukrainian crisis and policy of sanctions. If Americans show an example of dialogue with Russia, NATO will hardly stay on the sidelines with its own policy. NATO follows the United States.
NATO is massively rearming near the Russian borders. The US increases its military contingent in the Baltic states. Russia is watching this with some perplexity…
We must at first point out that the NATO military build up in Eastern Europe is rather limited, for a very simple reason. For example, at least 350 American soldiers take part in the maneuvers in Romania. Roughly two companies. This is far from the logic of the US forces build up. Certain statements made by several NATO member states about strengthening of their military budget should be considered as purely cosmetic. Political statements are often very firm from the diplomatic point of view, but are not followed by concrete actions from the military point of view. Their effects are sometimes anecdotal and do not constitute real threat to Russia.
NATO has a leader - the United States. They determine the political line of the moment. Other states are trying, of course, to influence the alliance policy, more firmly on the Ukrainian issue. But these members - the Baltic states, Poland, are not NATO's most influential members. So, their options will fail if the United States decide not to align with their policy.
At the Conference on European Security in Munich Mr. Stoltenberg said that NATO was considering the revival of a cooperation with Russia ... Is it a wishful thinking, or the working out of a new position at the top of the alliance?
I think if Mr. Stoltenberg makes such statements, he seems to be authorized to do so. He simply must face the facts: the Ukrainian dossier is blocked. Ukraine is also falling apart economically and there is no military way out. This crisis cannot be resolved by military force neither by one side or the other. So, you have to go through the negotiations with diplomats or military brass at one table. To resume contacts with Russia is in NATO's interest!
Can we predict the revival of the so-called European forces, for instance, the Franco-German Brigade?
I do not believe in it at all for a very simple reason: the Franco-German brigade is a symbolic idea, which was never tested in combat conditions, except Afghanistan, where mission was limited in time. The Franco-German defense cooperation is still stalled. There was always opposition to the European army because such an army is considered a duplication of NATO! There is a number of states which consider NATO as Alpha and Omega of the European Defense and the creation of the European forces would only weaken NATO.