The Bell Tolls for NATO

By Morgan Norval l August 25, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Voices NATO’s Support for Georgia August 19, 2008
NATO Photos


Article 5 of the 1949 NATO Charter calls for member countries to come to each other’s aid should an armed attack occur; an attack against one or more countries “shall be considered an attack against them all.” Yet, the European NATO members have consistently slashed their military expenditures following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War becoming increasingly reliant upon NATO members Canada, Britain and the United States, while expanding their social spending and slipping into apparent complacency. The August 8th Russian invasion of non-NATO member Georgia shocked European NATO members, particularly since President Mikheil Saakashvili had sought NATO membership for Georgia at the April 2008 Bucharest Summit. Unlike Albania and Croatia, however, Georgia was not invited to begin accession talks with NATO.

The Russian Bear that invaded Georgia is not the same one that got a bloody nose in Chechnya in the mid-1990s. In the 21st Century, the Russians, armed with increasing energy wealth are flexing their muscles, dormant since the days of the Evil Empire.

It is clear from the recent invasion of the sovereign state of Georgia that Moscow intends to be the school yard bully towards those states formerly within the orbit of the old Soviet Union. The West’s expansion of NATO’s borders eastward to rub against those of Russia doesn’t sit well with the Kremlin known for its paranoid view of non-Russians in their neighborhood. Yet, during the first stages of the post-Cold War NATO expansion, which included the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999 and seven new members in 2004: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, the Russians were too weak to do much about it except simmer with rage. The accession and continuation of Vladimir Putin in power, plus the huge cash infusion into the Russian treasury due to energy exports has provided the Russians with the means to upgrade their military from its sorry state at the first Chechnya war to its present model, graphically demonstrated to Tbilisi.

The Georgian invasion was a Russian “in your face” not only to the West but to the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine along with the Soviet bloc countries such as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, that Russia will not hesitate to use brutal force if these countries don’t start to cozy up to Moscow and heed its wishes. “You’d better fear us and pay attention to us,” was her message.”

That threat, coupled with the ability to cut off Europe’s energy supplies, or jack up their prices to astronomical levels, especially in the dead of winter, will have a chilling effect upon a weakened EU and will diminish NATO’s enlargement plans.

Not only is NATO’s eastern expansion dead in the water, but given the West’s timid response to Russian aggression in Georgia, the Kremlin will likely be more inclined to decouple its prior Soviet-era vassal states from the Alliance. They have already taken steps in that direction as their cyber attacks against Estonia demonstrate.

Suppose, for example, Russia moves into one of the three small Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, NATO members all. Would France, Germany or the rest of NATO go to war over this? By treaty they are obligated to go to their mutual defense. But do they have the military force or more importantly the will, to take that action? As part of their incursion into one of these small NATO states, the Russians would probably slow down or cut off oil and gas supplies to Europe, especially if the Russians pulled their stunt in winter, to add emphasis to their action. No doubt NATO would loudly protest but keep their military in barracks.

Given the current poisonous political climate in the United States, the American public would not be inclined to start World War III with the Russians over a tiny far away country in Europe. Russia holds a significant club over the U.S. as well. That is the agreement with Russia for NATO — read the U.S. — supplies to transit Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to Northern Afghanistan. If the Russians shut this route down those supplies would have to go through Pakistan, another existing land route for our supplies into Afghanistan. Given the growing instability in Pakistan, our supply route to our forces in Afghanistan would be threatened. Supplying them from the air? Forget about it. There is only so much the U.S. and its NATO allies can move by cargo planes; not nearly enough to supply current force levels there.

If NATO backed down, which is the most likely response to Russian pressure, its credibility would be shattered and one wonders if it, like the United Nations, has lost its usefulness.Does anyone imagine Moscow, with its veto power, would allow any perceived anti-Russian UN Security Council resolution to see the light of day? The de facto demise of the West’s two international diplomatic pillars – NATO and the UN – seems in sight.

Moscow’s Georgian action clearly demonstrates it is not like the “end of history” as Francis Fukuyama asserted, but the emergence of the old balance of power geopolitics characteristic of most of the past history of the West. New alliances will emerge as a resurgent Russia flexes its muscles.

Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.