A freight car loaded with self-propelled howitzers is seen at a railway station in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Rostov region, near the border with Ukraine, August 24, 2014.
The 28 NATO members are preparing for their summit meeting in Wales in early September. The main topic of discussion: the notion of collective defense in light of Russia’s recent actions against Ukraine.
Simply put, NATO’s collective defense posture means that an attack on one of its 28 members is an attack on all of them.
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance “must remain ready, willing and able to defend its almost one billion citizens.”
Rasmussen went on to say NATO leaders must take steps to make the alliance “fitter, faster, and more flexible to address future challenges from wherever they come.”
NATO's collective defense
NATO’s collective defense doctrine is in the spotlight, given Russia’s recent actions against Ukraine: its annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its backing of Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behavior will backfire.
“President Putin’s strategy is going to be a strategic failure. In effect it is strengthening NATO, it is instilling more resolve in the alliance and will create even more cohesion than was the case before the events in Ukraine,” he said.
Russia’s behavior has also instilled apprehension and even fear in some countries – such as those in the Baltic States – that Moscow might try to invade a NATO country.
Sean Kay, a NATO expert at Ohio Wesleyan University, assessed the balance of forces.
“In terms of defending the NATO allies against Russia – the NATO allies have an overwhelming military advantage in terms of their combined capabilities,” he said. “The structure of power singularly is in the hands of the West. So it’s a question of how they want to best leverage the future relationship with Russia given its recent behavior.”
Stavridis agreed, saying: “I don’t stay up at night worrying about Russia’s ability to invade a NATO nation."
NATO asked to stand firm
But to allay the fears of those countries who feel threatened by Russia’s behavior, Stavridis said NATO summit leaders must take firm action.
“There should be an enhanced number of aircraft patrolling the borders of the alliance,” he said.
“We should have larger and more robust maritime deployments both north in the Baltic and south in the Black Sea. We should, in my view, support the Ukrainian armed forces with equipment, training, cyber support advice and help them prepare in case Russia takes the next step which would be an overt invasion of Ukraine," Stavridis added.
Looking ahead, Stavridis sees increased tension between NATO and Russia – but not a return to a Cold War era.
“During the Cold War, six million people faced off against each other across the Fulda Gap,” he said. “Huge navies patrolled the world and we were on a hair-trigger alert. We had nuclear weapons cocked, aimed, loaded and ready to fire, he said. “There were proxy wars around the world – it was the dominant political and military activity of 20 to 30 years. No, we are not headed back to that.”