With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s perspectives on regional security have shifted and regarding this North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has gained a new purpose. In this context, Finland and Sweden have taken steps to enter under the umbrella of NATO by changing their long-standing “non-alignment status” over against the current Russian threat. Russia, as a response, has stimulated Finland and Sweden to not become a member of NATO and warned them about the taken decision will not provide stability in Europe.
In this context, the International Asia Today, presents the views of the Assoc. Prof. Michael Hunzeker, Associate Director of the Center for Security Policy Studies and George Mason University Faculty Member, to your attention.
- Will NATO challenge Putin by allowing Finland and Sweden to join the Organization? How can NATO counter Russia’s reaction in case of these memberships?
I have no doubt that Putin will feel threatened if Finland and Sweden join NATO. Nevertheless, this increasingly likely outcome was entirely foreseeable. Putin should have recognized that it was a possible – if not likely – reaction to his decision to escalate his war against Ukraine. Moreover, Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO is both justified and desirable. Justified, because their neighbor just (further) invaded a sovereign nation in order to punish it for pursuing NATO membership and to prevent it from ever doing so, thereby proving that Moscow really is a threat that needs to be deterred. (To put it rhetorically: if Russia is now bogged down in Ukraine, which it attacked to prevent it from joining NATO, why wouldn’t Finland and Sweden use the opportunity to join NATO as quickly as possible?) And desirable, not only because deterrence will be enhanced to the degree that Putin faces a resolute, capable, and interoperable coalition of nations, but because Putin and any leader that comes after him must know that aggression comes at a price and will not lead to more security.
2. What can NATO do to give and end the Ukraine Crisis?
Ultimately, it seems unlikely that this war will end until one side (or both) no longer believes it can achieve its ends by force of arms. Abandoning Ukraine is a moral, political, and strategic non-starter. So too is intervening directly in the conflict (i.e. committing NATO military forces to the fight in the air, on the ground, at sea, etc.). Therefore, the only realistic option is for NATO to continue to support Ukraine’s war effort with weapons, munitions, parts, etc. As others have written, this support will likely need to include “heavier” weapons (such as howitzers and armoured vehicles) as well as far more munitions to support the sorts of set-piece battles that seem likely to follow. However, as the war drags on, NATO should also begin finding ways to help Ukraine reconstitute and recalibrate its fighting forces. In other words, Ukraine has a rather large and thus far untapped reservoir of literal manpower, but these men need training. Anything the alliance can do to support or advise the Ukrainian Army’s efforts along these lines will be important. Similarly, as the war evolves, so too will the Russian Army and its tactics (or at least we should assume that they will). Therefore, anything NATO can do to advise the Ukrainian military on developing and/or improving its lessons learned processes will likely also pay dividends
3. Did NATO make a mistake in expanding to the East after the end of the Cold War?
I think this is an interesting scholarly question. But from a practical standpoint, it’s water under the bridge. We did expand and we cannot go back and revise those decisions 20+ years on without knockdown effects that will almost assuredly be worse. Moreover, NATO expansion neither justifies an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation nor does it offer an analytically useful parallel or analogy to guide how we think about Finland or Sweden joining NATO since I am rather sure that had Russia invaded its neighbours in the early 1990s, we would not have thought twice about subsequently bolstering and enlarging the alliance to deter further aggression.
4. What security measures can NATO take in Eastern Europe to overcome the expansion of Russian aggression?
In my view, the alliance should permanently bolster its conventional deterrence posture along the entirety of its so-called Eastern Flank. My colleague Alexander Lanoszka and I have written quite a bit about this subject over the years. We believed that our existing measures, including the enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups in the Baltic States and Poland; US rotational forces in Poland; and the enhanced Tailored Presence units along the alliance’s so-called Southeastern Flank were insufficient (even before February 2022). Before Putin’s (re) invasion of Ukraine this year, we even took seriously the possibility that he was primarily motivated by fear and that he did not necessarily harbour fundamentally revisionist ambitions. Even so, we did not think the alliance’s pre-2022 deterrence measures were sufficient. Now, in the wake of the (renewed) war in Ukraine, it seems clear that these efforts fell short – not least because it is hard to make a case that Putin’s brutal campaign in Ukraine is somehow the result of a fundamentally defensive-oriented set of ambitions.
5. How can you interpret NATO’s relations in the European continent after the crisis?
Atleast in the short run, Putin’s (renewed) aggression against Ukraine appears to have galvanized the alliance and reduced longstanding obstacles to higher levels of defense spending, military readiness, and a forward based deterrence posture within the alliance. I am optimistic that these conditions will prevail in the longer term. However, the war could still be in its earliest stages (I of course hope that I am wrong, and that Moscow will sue for peace immediately!) and intra-alliance tensions and disagreements will invariably arise if/as the conflict drags on. Russia will obviously do what it can to both provoke and exploit any such divisions (although I imagine it is unlikely to have much success in doing so). In any case, I believe that active leadership by the United States is required and that the US military will need to maintain a robus (and larger) presence in Europe for the foreseeable future.