Western Unity on Russia Remains Questionable at Best
Peter KORZUN | 13.07.2016 | WORLD

Western Unity on Russia Remains Questionable at Best

The word «unity» appears early and often in all NATO documents. It is omnipresent in the Warsaw summit’s final communiqué.

Unity has become a buzzword but with all the chest-thumping, the Alliance is not unanimous on many issues, including Russia.  

Germany, France and Italy are showing signs of wavering from the hard-line «unity» stance on Russia. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy has recently taken part in the St. Petersburg Forum. President François Hollande of France has talked about the need to engage Russia. The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has criticized a major military exercise in Poland last month for provoking the Russians. He slammed the Alliance for «saber-rattling and warmongering». «Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken», Steinmeier said in defiance of multiple war games in the region.

A recent YouGov poll found that 64 percent of Germans agreed with his statement, with only 16 percent rejecting it. 

German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said, NATO must revise its policy. «We must ask if the world would be a better place when both sides conduct military exercises on the borders and arm themselves», he told Passauer Neue Presse on July 8, adding that it is time for Europe to start a new «disarmament initiative».

Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told Corriere della Sera on the eve of the Warsaw summit that Italy was wary of NATO’s hardline policy towards Russia. «We agree with what Steinmeier has said», she added. According to the Italian defense chief, the Alliance should «build bridges» in Eastern Europe and cooperate with Moscow to tackle global terrorism.

According to a Pew Research Center’s June study, only 34 percent of Europeans believe Moscow endangers the continent, tapping instead Islamic State and economic instability as primary challenges.

The NATO top-level meeting failed to take a decision on the formation of the Romania-proposed Black Sea Allied Fleet to counter Russia. Romania wanted the joint initiative, including Romania, Ukraine, Turkey and Bulgaria, to be part of the agenda at the Warsaw summit. But Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov rejected the Romanian call. According to him, the move would «turn the Black Sea into a territory of war». «To send warships as a fleet against the Russian ships exceeds the limit of what I can allow», Borisov said.

Despite all the declarations of unity, the Warsaw summit failed to emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s nuclear doctrine – something that would make inevitable a Russian response. If it did, it would also have negative domestic political consequences in the countries that host tactical nuclear weapons, and trigger frictions in NATO. The public in the host countries, especially in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, already has been asking for more than a decade to remove these weapons from their territories. The Belgian parliament approved resolutions in this regard, most recently in 2015. In the Netherlands, the majority parties agreed to a parliamentary motion in 2013 asking the government not to make the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter nuclear capable. The 2009 German government declaration included a paragraph asking for the removal of the US tactical nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons policy could not be changed except in the framework of the next Strategic Concept. So the issue of a new Strategic Concept was not included into the Warsaw event’s agenda to avoid disunity.

Meeting US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the summit, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged NATO to engage in constructive talks with Russia.

Actually, Greece is another example to show how fragile is NATO’s unity when it comes to the relationship with Russia. According to Con Coughlin, the Telegraph's defence editor and chief foreign affairs columnist, senior NATO officials have raised concerns that attempts by Greece to forge a defense pact with Moscow could seriously undermine efforts to present a united front against further acts of Russian aggression.

The concerns relate to the recent announcement by Panos Kammenos, the Greek defence minister, who unveiled a new partnership with Russia to manufacture Kalashnikov rifles.

The Greek-Russian project envisages the co-production, a major boost for Greece’s defense industry, in a factory in Aigio in northern Peloponnese. The Minister noted that «with approval and certification by the NATO, Greece would be able to sell the rifles to any member of the North Atlantic Alliance».

Mr Kammenos attended the 4th Moscow International Security Conference held in April, when he claimed the EU’s sanctions had «been a disaster both for Russia and the EU». The Greeks had been opposed to the European sanctions on Russia, even before the arms deal came up, complaining that the sanctions have done a lot of damage to their economy. That sentiment has been common in Eastern and Central Europe, and is likely to weigh heavily on proposals by Western Europe to extend the scheme indefinitely.

Nicholas Burns, a former United States ambassador to NATO, said after completing a trip to Europe, «I was struck by the divisions within Europe’s leadership about how to respond to these challenges».

The assertion from Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican Party nominee for the US presidency, that «here’s the problem with NATO: It’s obsolete» evokes serious concern about the bloc’s future.

The much-vaunted Western unity on Russia appears questionable at best. It’s far from being rock-solid. The discords are evident inside NATO. The «unity» demonstrated at the Warsaw summit is just a façade to hide multiple divisions. It’s also a controversial issue inside the EU where the support for the sanctions policy is withering away.

On closer examination, the affirmation that the West is united in its anti-Russia policy holds no water. It’s more of a myth than reality.

Tags: NATO 

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