Many mistakes have been made by NATO which have paved the way for the Russian aggression on Ukraine. One of them dates back to the Bucharest Summit of April 2-4, 2008, when the Heads of State and Government of the Atlantic Alliance proved to be wary of the possibility to extend the Membership Action Plan (MP) to both Ukraine and Georgia, so as to start their accession process into NATO. It was certainly a wrong decision, since the ambiguity shown in that particular moment represented in the eyes of Moscow a green light to move forward with the realization of its objectives: first, with the attack on Georgia, unleashed only a few months later, in August 2008, and then with the illegal annexation of Crimea and opening of the Ukrainian front in Donbass in April 2014, until the full-scale invasion launched on February 24th.
This ambiguity is still there nowadays, despite the policies pursued by Russia, and it would be desirable that the new Strategic Concept, which is about to be approved at the upcoming Madrid summit, would remove it.
From the current scenario, strong doubts also arise about the Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which establishes the principle of mutual assistance in the event of an armed attack against one of the member states. What would it happen if Russia were to attack a country bordering Ukraine or the Baltic republics? For example, with unconventional methods, such as a cyber or a hybrid attack: would Article 5 be actually put into effect? Would those member States with greater military capabilities be willing to intervene? The new Strategic Concept should also provide reassurance on this point.
From the Ukrainian perspective, there is great anticipation for this document, but the previews on its content cast a shadow of uncertainty: the priorities that will be set out will be sufficient to effectively address the wide range of threats and challenges affecting the security of the countries of the Euro-Atlantic region? The debate on the need for the European Union to strengthen integration in the defense sector, by equipping itself with a common army with greater capabilities, is dictated by the growing skepticism towards the guarantee of protection of the European territory, and of the very Western values as well, in a transatlantic framework.
After the Cold War, NATO went into a “sleep mode” with respect to deterring Russia. Yet, Vladimir Putin had expressed in numerous speeches his intentions to re-establish Russia as an empire, and similar intentions were reiterated in the ultimatum sent to the United States and NATO by Moscow’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 17, 2021. However, little was done by the Alliance to dissuade the Kremlin from taking the decision to invade Ukraine, which responds exclusively to the neo-imperialist ambitions of Putin and his administration.
The alleged threat posed by NATO enlargement was nothing more than an excuse to justify Russian military intervention in Georgia and today in Ukraine. However, the expansionist aims of the Kremlin go beyond the Caucasus or Ukraine. Putin has declared that he wants to resume the work of Tsar Peter the Great and this amounts to a threat to Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and even Sweden. Indeed, there is nothing accidental in Putin’s reference to the 21-year war in which Peter the Great succeeded in defeating Sweden.
Therefore, in the new Strategic Concept, reaffirming “collective security” as NATO’s primary task to undertake a new “containment” of Russia, may not be enough. The new Strategic Concept should also provide the necessary reassurance regarding “crisis management”. Already in the Western Balkans, Kosovo in particular, the Alliance was forced to intervene directly with a military operation, even without the approval of the UN Security Council. Today the perpetrator is a permanent UN Security Council member: does it mean that NATO should stand aside?
The new Strategic Concept cannot neglect these aspects, if it really wants to be a useful tool to guide NATO’s course of action in the near future.
Hon. Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze is Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Integration of Ukraine to the EU and former Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.