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Ukraine and Syria Made NATO More Useless Than Ever

Russia shouldn’t help the alliance to restore its influence


This post first appeared on Russia Insider


The author is a professor of the Higher School of Economics


The relationship between Moscow and NATO, that was deteriorating since long before the ‘Crimean pivot’, continues to be the crucial element in a broader relationship between the West and Russia. Media statements by leaders makes them even worse. Recently, the newly appointed Commander, Curtis Scaparrotti, declared the alliance is ready to fight Russia. However, his predecessor, Philip Breedlove, was also verbally aggressive, and the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg, shows no restraint when it comes to propaganda.   

Recent statements by NATO leaders sound not only hysterical but also rather helpless. We aren’t claiming  that the alliance has nothing to oppose Russia with. NATO is the largest military and political organization of modern times, and it would be useless and even harmful to deny it.

But the fact is that NATO is now at the margins of global policy. 

Over the last couple of years, there have been many situations when the alliance could have played a key part, either positive or destabilizing – but didn’t. The civil war in the Ukraine, the aggravation of the situation in Iraq, Syria, the spread of ISIS in Libya, only a few hundred kilometers from Europe, renewed civil war in Afghanistan. 

Finally, there was a win-win situation for NATO: instability in the Mediterranean Area, cross-border criminality, illegal migration and refugees. It could have countered those low-level threats it talked so much about in 1990’s. However, it failed again, and as a result, the omnipresent Frau Merkel planted in European heads the idea of a European army that, were it to be implemented, would make NATO meaningless. 

Why did this happen? 

On the one hand, US influence in NATO is shamelessly huge even with respect to Europe. On the other hand, alliance activity is so bureaucratized and politicized that it can only solve small problems, and only if the US is directly involved. Apart from that, NATO is becoming a political and information entity trying hard to keep its place in the system of European security. 

That’s why Baltic and Ukrainian politicians are warmly welcomed in NATO: they talk incessantly about the alliance, since it is a major proof of their existence. It seems that without these recurrent hysterics, NATO would actually drop off the global agenda. They keep it going, at least in terms of propaganda. 

There is nothing good about that. NATO is the largest political/bureaucratic/media system that has ever existed. And it is a large community of people whose high salaries ensure that they personally value it. It’s naïve to think that they would agree to abandon the European military and political process without making a last stand. 

Although the alliance is now only marginal, its members have become accustomed to ‘downshifting’ from the ‘Major League’ of world policy, and their style and political orientation are changing accordingly. 

So when we talk about ‘a dialogue with NATO’, we should keep in mind that the only way to have a meaningful dialogue with the current alliance is to be aware that it is no longer headed by the biggest names in Atlantic policy to whom secret and obvious political threads led. 

Russia should reject the idea it has had since the 1990’s, that it was better to have security in Europe with NATO than without it. Maybe that was actually the case for a while. But we’ve been living in a new world for a long time, a world of ‘quantum instability’ and hybrid wars, in which the alliance failed to prove itself and is unlikely to do so. 

The reality is that the situation in Europe will be defined by two contradictory factors: on the one hand, returning to security issues as the main basis for relations between the majority of European states and Russia. Sad, but true. On the other hand, the fragmentation of the current security space and the creation of a new space in a ‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’. 

This idea is still likely to be studied, but the most interesting thing is that a relatively high security level and political stability appears in the areas controlled by Russia, including by force. For example, in the Crimea, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

Russia did its best to maintain the ‘indivisibility of security’ in Europe. It’s not Russia’s fault that this security (partly thanks to NATO ) turned out to be divisible, not only politically but geographically. Russia cannot and should not take on the burden of restoring this ‘indivisibility’, promoting NATO’s returning to the ‘Major League’. This is what the alliance wants, at the cost of engaging a direct military confrontation with Russia, even if it means transforming some of its territories into ‘near-frontline zones’ (which is profitable for the bankrupted elites of a number of states). 

We should be ready to accept a new regime of security in Europe and take an active part in creating new institutions, which will not be long in coming. We should get ready to  recognize that NATO can suddenly cease to be the only partner for discussing these issues. 



Source: Izvestia
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