Yaşar Yakış
Jul 19 2018

NATO keeps relations with Russia strained

NATO held another important summit meeting in Brussels last week. U.S. President Donald Trump did not miss the opportunity to make colourful remarks before and during the meeting.

In the past, it was the chairman of the NATO Military Committee who used to raise in the NATO Council the need for increasing the military spending of member countries. This time president Trump used his own style to ask the countries to increase their defence budget to four percent of their GDP. But his insistent remarks fell on deaf ears and the earlier summit decision to keep it at 2 percent was reaffirmed.

Many countries acknowledge that their commitment to 2 percent is still valid, but their actual allocation remains less. The share of defence spending in some selected countries are as follows: United States - 3.61; Greece - 2.36; Turkey - 1.67; Germany - 1.2 and Canada - 1.02.  

The irony is that, while NATO encourages its members to increase their military spending, the summit declaration criticised “Russia’s investments in the modernisation of its strategic forces”.

Trump singled out Germany in his criticism. Germany is the richest NATO ally after the United States. A phrase frequently repeated at NATO says: “NATO was created to keep Russia out, Germany down and the United States in Europe”. Despite this, the occupying powers – United States, Britain and France - withdrew from Germany in 1955 and Germany joined the alliance that was originally meant to “keep it down”. It became the biggest beneficiary of the peace and stability in Europe, mainly thanks to U.S. security umbrella. Without U.S. protection, Germany would have to pay huge amounts for its own defence.

The debates in the summit must have persuaded Trump to tone down his criticism of Germany’s purchase of Russian gas since the summit declaration used softer language.

“A stable and reliable energy supply is of critical importance and increases the alliance’s resilience against political and economic pressure,” it said. 

Public opinion in many European countries takes the peace for granted, as memories of world war fade. The establishment and the evolution of the EU dispelled to a large extent the threat of war, perhaps with the exception of the Baltic countries that still fear a Russian takeover like that of Crimea.

The summit declaration makes an exhaustive list of Russian activities in various regions of Europe. They include the Russian annexation of Crimea; its activities in Donetsk and Luhansk; deployment of modern dual-capable missiles in Kaliningrad; call for reversing its recognition of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria; and it underlines that NATO is determined to follow the evolution in these regions very closely.

Solidarity with Turkey is emphasised in the declaration, saying “tailored assurance measures for Turkey to respond to the growing security challenges from the south contribute to the security of the alliance as a whole”.

The decisions adopted during the summit include: launching a NATO readiness initiative; suspension of all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia; strengthening of the alliance’s deterrence and defence posture; the development of a tailored forward presence in the Black Sea region; the endorsement of a more strategic approach to the Middle East and strengthening of partnership with the EU.

NATO signed, during this summit an agreement with the Republic of Macedonia, to launch its accession process. As a result of Greece’s refusal to recognise Macedonia with its constitutional name, the country was referred to in the summit declaration as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Turkey added a footnote to the summit declaration saying it recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

Since NATO is an alliance dominated heavily by the United States, we may presume that the overall confrontational tone of the summit declaration reflects the U.S. administration’s views. However, Trump’s statement after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki six days later depicted a different landscape. “The meeting with Putin,” he said, “was a constructive dialogue that opens new paths to peace”.

Time will show which version of NATO-Russia relations will prevail.