Efrem Lukatsky (AP)

Nato's 'rendez-vous' with history

Fabrice Pothier

5 mins - 29 de Junio de 2022, 19:00

Nato summits are usually all presented as historic. Yet some mark a more dramatic shift than others. For Nato’s upcoming Madrid Summit to qualify as truly historic, leaders will need to go beyond feel-good headlines about unity, and start laying out the foundations for a longer strategic game.

First and most immediate, the O in Nato needs to mean something more tangible for Ukraine. President Zelenskyy, who will attend virtually the summit, would be right to urge Nato to cut the rhetoric and seriously step up. His forces are losing every day an average hundred soldiers with five times more injured. Russia's attrition is widely assessed to be the same, if not more. The difference is that Ukraine has a vaster pool of motivated Ukrainians willing to fight. But they need training to replenish exhausted front-line units and man the weapon systems supplied by the West. Training efforts by individual allies have been key but are clearly not enough for Ukraine to keep up with what is rapidly becoming a long war of attrition. Nato has all what it takes to scale up training: expertise from previous training missions, a tried and tested command structure, and the capacity to combine equipment with training. A Nato training mission for Ukraine will also make allied efforts more sustainable over time allowing everybody, including smaller allies, to contribute in different ways. 

The possibility of Orban vetoing such mission might deter the US and other allies to press ahead. Yet this would not be the first time Nato agrees a mission despite some allies dissenting. All Nato missions except Isaf have had at least one ally opting out. Failing to upgrade Nato's support, leaders will need to explain to the world how they can train in far-away lands Iraqi soldiers and yet fail to do so with Ukrainian soldiers fighting a war on behalf of Europe. Scaling up the training of Ukrainian forces could be one of the factors that could dramatically tip the balance in favor of Kyiv, or at least give it a fair chance to hold on the long haul against the grinding Russian assault. This could also be the prelude to a Nato training mission on Ukrainian soil after the war, similar to the training centre in Georgia but on a larger scale.

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Second, by deciding to shift to a more permanent defence posture on the Eastern flank, NATO should be consistent and suspend the Nato-Russia Founding Act. Its terms have long been broken by Russia. They reflect a by-gone era when cooperation with Russia was the main objective. If there were any doubt after 2014/15, the problem is not just Putin's behavior, but Putin himself. With regime change as a non option, a systematic containment is now the key imperative. This is why leaders should not answer Putin's red line against Nato presence in Sweden and Finland. Instead they should keep some strategic ambiguity.

First it is unclear if a reinforcement of the new Nordic members' territories might not be needed in the future. Who would have thought ten years ago that thousand of Nato forces and heavy equipment would be stationed in Central Europe.

Second, the defence arrangements for the new Nordic members, especially Finland, is one the biggest leverages Nato has vis-à-vis Putin. It is no secret that maintaining the status quo on the Russian-Finnish border is critical for Putin. Responding to a possible reinforcement on the Finnish territory would put a significant strain on already stretched Russian forces. It is not about making such decision now, but leaving enough ambiguity that Nato can create some leverage for when the time for serious negotiations on Ukraine with Russia will come. 

Third, we are entering a new nuclear age. Russia is engaging in nuclear sabre-ratling and signaling at every occasion. China is fast building its nuclear arsenal, and is estimated to join the exclusive thousand plus war heads clubs by the end of the decade alongside Russia and the United States. The aspiration of Western leaders to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons might be morally commendable but it is becoming increasingly at odd with the real world. However uncomfortable this might be, Nato leaders should be willing to discuss the role of nuclear weapons in their overall deterrence posture. This does not mean mirroring Russia's nuclear gesticulation or doctrine, which consider nuclear weapons as ways to prevail in a conventional conflict. But it means answering the question of how to restore some stability and predictability with the ultimate goal of preventing a nuclear conflict. Ignoring or half signaling is a sure recipe to leave to Putin or Xi Jinping control on nuclear escalation.
Instinctively Nato leaders seek to avoid escalation, stay just below a certain threshold, and hope for a diplomatic resolution. Yet the extraordinary circumstances dictate a different approach. Sanctions are important to signal Western unity and punish Putin and his regime. Yet they are unlikely to fundamentally change Putin's behavior, especially on the short term. Weapons will. While the Ukrainians are willing to fight this war, Nato cannot stop midway in enabling them to prevail on the battlefield. Time for bold, strategic decisions not just celebratory communiqués.
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