NATO’s Threat to National Defense

NATO says its wants to work with Moscow, but then announces plans to strengthen perimeter defenses in Eastern Europe, forming a 30,000-strong Response Force and a 5,000-strong Spearhead Force. There are plans to deploy six command-and-control centers in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and a new training center in Georgia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the recent Munich Security Conference that the alliance was still committed to cooperation and constructive relations with Russia, adding that Russia and NATO should work together on combatting terrorism and other important issues.

But practically in the same breath, he spoke of the rapid response force that was formed in Eastern Europe with the purpose of withstanding any threat from the East. According to Stoltenberg, Russia must be compelled to respect the postwar borders in Europe. NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia, he said.

NATO, on the contrary, wants more constructive relations and coordination with Russia. He called on Russia to respect the Minsk agreements aimed at resolving the conflict in Donbass.

Listening to Stoltenberg, you might be under the impression that it’s Russian forces, not the Ukrainian army, that are shelling peaceful cities and villages, schools and hospitals, gas distribution plants and power facilities in Donbass from multiple rocket launchers and self-propelled howitzers, killing thousands of elderly people, women and children. The secretary general is turning a blind eye to the atrocities perpetrated by Kiev troops and on the lethal weapons being supplied to Ukraine by certain NATO countries. He is either oblivious or doesn’t want to know that private Western military companies and mercenaries are fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

We’ve grown accustomed to hearing and reading absurd claims and boilerplate about Russian aggression from senior NATO officials – a chorus that has grown to include nationalist voices from Kiev. But how can Brussels cooperate with Moscow in the fight against terrorism, if it regards Russia as an aggressor?

NATO says its wants to work with Moscow, but then announces plans to strengthen perimeter defenses in Eastern Europe, forming a 30,000-strong Response Force and a 5,000-strong Spearhead Force. There are plans to deploy six command-and-control centers in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and a new training center in Georgia, as well as to increase the number of regular exercises in the Baltic countries. NATO is promising to send in fighter planes and AWACS aircraft to maintain airborne alert in the Baltic skies and strip alert at Ämari and Zokniai air bases in Estonia and Lithuania, respectively.

All these measures, Mr. Stoltenberg would have us believe, are purely defensive and security-oriented. But you don’t have to know much about the military to know that rapid response forces can be used for both defense and offense depending on the nature of the challenge. The F-16 and Eurofighter Typhoon planes on combat patrol duty in areas contiguous to Russian borders are capable of delivering US nuclear weapons, 200 of which are stockpiled in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

NATO regards the European stockpile of US B61 free-fall bombs as its own. The alliance even has a Nuclear Planning Group that includes 27 member-states with the exception of France. In 1966, President Charles de Gaulle withdrew from NATO’s military organization. France rejoined in 2009 under President Nicolas Sarkozy, but did not receive a seat on the NPG.

Thus, only two NPG members, the US and UK, are nuclear powers, while the rest have no nuclear weapons of their own. And yet they are involved in nuclear planning. Moreover, London’s nuclear weapons are half-American: only the nuclear warheads, not the US-made Trident II (D5) missiles carried by its Vanguard-class SSBN, belong to Britain. Either way, the system is a gross violation of international non-proliferation treaties for nuclear and rocket technologies.

In addition, pilots from NATO countries operating F-16 and Eurofighter Typhoon planes are regularly provided training on US B61 free-fall nuclear bombs. Why aren’t we hearing protests from the UN, the IAEA, NATO, or Mr. Stoltenberg himself?

Instead, the NPG will be presented with a report analyzing the threats posed by Russia and will for the first time discuss the possible implications for NATO’s nuclear strategy, according to reporting by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung ahead of the latest meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. The meeting was convened to address concerns by East and North European states over the increased flight activity of Russian nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-22M and Tu-95N strategic bombers near their borders. In early December 2014 alone, NATO repeatedly intercepted and escorted Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea over a three-day period. In September and October, bombers were sighted off Europe’s Atlantic coast. Flights in this airspace have continued in 2015. In all cases, the Russian planes did not switch on their friend-or-foe systems or coordinate their routes with the civilian ground services.

In all, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung, NATO aircraft were ordered into the air to identify Russian Air Force planes over 150 times during their 2014 Baltic patrol duty, a fourfold increase from 2013.

The West is agitated, despite repeated assurances given to Mr. Stoltenberg and other NATO politicians, including at the official level, that the Russian bombers carried no weapons, nuclear or otherwise, and were flying in neutral airspace, away from civil air corridors. They refuse to acknowledge that military aircraft, including NATO warplanes, never switch on their transponders or coordinate their flights with civilian air traffic controllers so as not to disclose the nature of these training missions, thus compromising them.

Mr. Stoltenberg and his subordinates would do well to recall the repeated statements by the Russian Ministry of Defense regarding the doubling of NATO flights near Russian borders in 2014. For example, the number of reconnaissance flights over the Barents and Baltic seas grew from 258 in 2013 to 480 in 2014. Boeing RC-135 strategic reconnaissance planes made over 140 sorties in 2014 as compared with 22 in 2013. Reconnaissance missions are also flown by Gulfstream IV and Saab 340 aircraft of the Swedish Air Force 7, Lockheed P-3C UPD Orion planes of the Portuguese Air Force 601 (from the Zokniai air base in Lithuania), Bombardier CL-604 Challenger planes of the Danish Air Force 721, and Orion planes from German air bases. All of these aircraft carry the latest data collection and handling equipment and can reconnoiter targets 500 kilometers inside Russian territory.

Such behavior will not go unanswered. Transparency must be reciprocal and observed by all parties, not the Russian armed forces alone. There must be trust and cooperation between countries and military structures. It was NATO that refused to cooperate with Moscow because it would not soften its position on Crimea, Ukraine or other core national interests. Mr. Stoltenberg is trying to shift the blame.

Brussels should stop arrogantly lecturing Moscow and instead talk to Moscow as an equal partner, listen to its concerns, and respect its core interests. Forceful statements by secretaries general or command posts and armed forces positioned along NATO’s eastern periphery won’t further the cause of constructive cooperation in the fight against terrorism or other common threats. Threatening Russia, whether with in-depth defenses or converting the East European states into a militarized zone, will do no good. Russia doesn’t fear anyone or anything, and won’t succumb to pressure, as we’ve proved time and again in our history.

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