NATO Spark Notes for President Trump

by Stephen Saideman

Dear President Trump,

I see that you are still confused about how NATO works.  While there is, indeed, some money that goes to keep the lights on at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Mons, and elsewhere, and there are a few key NATO military units (early warning planes, some drones, a few other bits and pieces), the burden-sharing problem is not about that.

In your meeting with Chancellor Merkel, you said:

I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO, as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense. Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe.

No, that is not how it works.  The burden-sharing problem that has been the subject of many NATO meetings, including the Wales Summit, is about each country paying enough (the 2% of GDP aspiration) for their own defense.  It is not about Germany or France or Estonia giving money to Brussels or to the US, but about Germany spending enough on new tanks, planes, ships and enough on a large enough armed forces and enough on fuel and all the rest.  The idea is not that the US is getting ripped off, that somehow countries owe the US money, but that the alliance would be better off if all the allies spent more on their armed forces.  The past shortfalls do not mean that countries are in debt to the US or to NATO–it just means that their militaries are not in as good shape as we would like.  It means that they don’t have as many tanks or planes or whatever or that their personnel are not as well trained.  The underspending over the years is problematic, but these countries do not owe any debts from the past to catch up in their accounts at NATO HQ.  Again, this is not how it works.

So, next time you complain about burden-sharing, don’t suggest that the US is owed money.  Because it is simply wrong.

Thanks,
Sincerely,
Steve
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Provoking or Tempting the Bear

by Steve Saideman

I wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail where I advocate Canada take a significant role in NATO’s new “persistent presence” mission on the Eastern Front (the Baltics plus Poland).  I didn’t spend much time arguing for the NATO mission itself, as it is a done deal to be announced at the Warsaw Summit in July.  Instead, I argued for Canada’s participation, which is really the decision up for grabs this week.

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The Most Important Corpses

By Steve Saideman

I was on twitter talking with some folks about what Canada might promise at the Warsaw Summit, with the focus on who is going to provide the troops for the four battalions that will be based in the Baltics and Poland.  The conversation went into a bunch of directions, so I had an epiphany while shopping–it is not about proximity or folks who have ties to the Baltics–it is about whose corpses would have the greatest international political relevance.

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Why invite Montenegro into NATO? It’s all about Russia

By Steve Saideman

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced this week that it is inviting Montenegro to join the alliance.  The essential meaning of this is that once it is a member, Montenegro will be committed to participate in the defense of NATO members if anyone is attacked AND the alliance will be committed to defend Montenegro if it is attacked (Article V of the NATO treaty).  To be clear, this commitment is not as ironclad as people believe, but still has much political weight.

To borrow from Bill Simmons, when considering membership in NATO, the question to ask is: How much does potential member X bring to the table versus take off of the table?  What kinds of contributions to NATO capabilities/geographic position/whatever does a country bring?  What kinds of problems, such as domestic conflicts, extending NATO credibility too far, risk of international adventures, does the potential member bring?

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NATO 101 Again

By Steve Saideman

Lots of folks are asking about NATO Article V in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.  So, let’s run through the basics, FAQ-style.

What is Article V?  The heart of the NATO treaty–that an attack upon one is equal to an attack upon all.
Is it automatic?  No.  NATO representatives have to meet and reach consensus.
What is consensus?  Does every member have a veto?  Yes/no.  While an individual country could block it, the more likely outcome is for less enthusiastic members to choose not to “break silence”, which is the NATO term for sticking one’s hand up and asking for modifications or refusing to go along.

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Crimea Is Not Kosovo, Kosovo Is Not Crimea

The standard line for Putin apologists and Russophiles is that Crimea is just Kosovo but a bit to the east.  This is lousy comparative politics, so let’s list how they are different:

  • The US and its friends took a decade to intervene in Kosovo (one can start the clock anytime, but I choose to start the revocation of Kosovo’s autonomy within Serbia) after years of both massacres and negotiations.  Crimea happened immediately after Russia’s stooge fled Kiev.  Russia moved before any effort could be made to bargain, to send a peace keeping mission or preventative mission.  this really is the key
  • US and its friends did not conquer Kosovo and annex it.  Russia did hold a sham referendum and annexed Crimea.
  • Oh yeah, we could compare how the decisions were made.  Kosovo’s parliament voted for independence years after the local populace demanded it.  Crimea’s referendum happened shortly after Russia de facto occupied Crimea, the opponents were roughed up and/or arrested, and it is pretty clear that the results were just a bit fraudulent.
  • Kosovo was after … Bosnia, where the west had dithered while genocide happened.  Oh, and Kosovo was also after Transnistria, where a Russian military unit essentially seceded from Moldova and after Russia’s support for Armenian irredentism, and other Russian efforts in the former Soviet Union.  Crimea was after … Georgia where Russia did a nice job of playing Georgia and then created not one but two de facto independent states/failed states from territory carved out of Georgia.
  • US and its friends did not use nuclear threats during the crisis or afterwards, although SACEUR Gen. Wesley Clark was determined to confront Russia’s moves to Pristina.  Russia has been making nuclear threats in many directions.
  • The aftermath of American and Russian intervention tends to create failed states.  In the former, this is mostly not intentional.  In the latter, it is entirely intentional.
  • After Kosovo, the US and its allies stopped.  There was no more armed intervention in the Balkans but the US (ok, one minor effort to stop Macedonia from imploding in 2001).  After Crimea, Russia launched a war in Ukraine, not just supporting separatists but sending its own forces, prolonging the conflict and violating ceasefires.

Of course, the US is not blameless in the world, as one could criticize the invasion of Iraq (which I have done repeatedly since it happened).  But that does not legitimate or excuse what Russia is doing now.  Russia’s behavior threatens European security in ways that Kosovo never did precisely because there was never a threat that the US/NATO would be invading anywhere else.  Russia?   It is not done with Ukraine–the conflict goes on because Russia wants it to go on.  And Russia has been making provocative moves towards the Baltics ever since.  Where is that Estonian officer that got grabbedStill in Russia.

One can argue that all interventions are illegal, although responsibility to protect may suggest otherwise.  Kosovo, whatever its flaws, was an effort to prevent further massacres after all other efforts had failed.  Crimea and now Donbass are efforts by Russia to destabilize a neighbor after Russia lost its grip.  Yes, we can compare the two, but the comparison reveals significant differences and only superficial similarities.

Stephen Saideman

Fighting Fire with Water: Counter Putin’s Ambiguity with Clarity

I was at a very interesting roundtable at the Lithuanian Embassy in Ottawa a couple of days ago.  I cannot say what others had to say due to Chatham House Rule, although a former CF general had some interesting things to say that I will need to think about.  But what I can discuss is what I said and what the conversation provoked me to think about more.

One of the themes of the conversation was that Putin uses ambiguity to his advantage.  Who owns those little green men who show up?  He only claims credit for sham referenda after the fact.  He has stretched plausible deniability to the breaking point or perhaps not, as Europeans of various stripes still consider Ukraine in ways that buy some of Putin’s spin.

So, I wondered is the best way to respond to ambiguity is with more ambiguity or with clarity?  My bet is on clarity, and that is what drove my comments/recommendations.

How best to make the situation less opaque?  How to make it easier for outsiders (and insiders) to understand and assess?

  1. Make the condition of the Russian-speakers in the Baltics better.  Putin has claimed the plight of Russians in the near abroad as a justification for Russian aggression.  While he will always be able to say that Russian speakers are oppressed, the more obviously false this is, the better.  Citizenship for Russian speakers varies among the Baltics.  My recommendation in Brussels two weeks ago and since is for the European Union to dump a heap of cash on the areas where Russian speakers live in the Baltics to improve the local economies.  It would also make sense to run an info ops campaign showing the Russians of the Baltics what life looks like in Moscow, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine (not to mention Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, etc).
  2. The governments of the Baltic Republics should make it abundantly clear that any effort to subvert or salami slice will be met aggressively.  My recommendation, which is plenty provocative, is that the rules of engagement for the Estonian, Latvia, and Lithuanian militaries should be to grant the low ranking officers on the ground with the authority to shoot at “little green men” if their communications to their headquarters are disrupted.  Yes, shoot first, and ask questions later.  Actually, that is the first step, and the second step is to let everyone (Putin/Russia, NATO) know that they have delegated this authority.  This would mean that any Russian effort here would immediately spiral.  This is good, yes, good, because Putin is an opportunist and, as far as we can tell, not suicidal.  The threat to use nuclear weapons is always incredible, but the threat to start something that might spiral out of control is not.  Any Russian attack (cyber, unconventional, whatever) will lead to discussions at the North Atlantic Council (NATO’s decision making body) that may take days, and Putin wants to get inside that decision loop, acting faster than NATO and then presenting with faits accompli.  Delegating authority to soldiers on the ground AND letting everyone know that would make those faits accompli have an automaticity to them–of escalation.
  3. The Baltics should try to entice the US to base troops on a more than just continuous basis.  Give the US discounts on property, subsidize exercises or even the movement of stuff to be based on their territory.  Anything they can do to make it easier for the Americans to base permamently is a good thing.  Continuous exercising, the NATO fudging, is not clear, and we need more clarity.  Ambiguity in this might be good for getting consensus at the NAC, but the US can do this on its own.  It might hurt NATO solidarity a smidge, but Putin acting in the Baltics would do far more damage.

I did suggest one other thing–that the more pressure NATO faces, the more the stakes become about NATO, the more NATO will respond.  NATO’s history is one of reluctance until pushed and then unity: Bosnia 1995, Kosovo 1999, Afghanistan for years (even those who left early returned in another capacity).  So, the more Putin makes NATO his target, the more NATO will show up and unite.

by Steve Saideman