Ukraine Crisis Sends NATO Back to the Cold War - WhoWhatWhy

Ukraine Crisis Sends NATO Back to the Cold War

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NATO’s expanding again.

NATO’s expanding again.

NATO, a military alliance forged in the Cold War, is showing signs of reverting to type—with Russia assuming its familiar role as the “heavy.”

This is a development that should trouble us all, not least because the arguments advanced to justify NATO’s newly aggressive stance are so hard to resist.

Nobody can deny that NATO is preparing to flex its military muscles, with Europe engulfed in the biggest period of instability in decades. Yet, as some 67 heads of state meet at its latest summit in Wales this week, few are talking about the alliance’s legacy of expansionism—which many feel has contributed to the current tensions with Russia. Instead all the talk is of the 28-nation alliance seeking a new purpose as the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan steadily continues.

In responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, NATO looks to have found it.


“We will send an unmistakable message,” NATO’s secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an op-ed co-authored with General Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe. “We must make the right choices for NATO: to ensure that the alliance remains ready, willing and able to defend our almost one billion citizens.”

In response to Russia’s land grab in Crimea—the first territorial aggrandizement in Europe since the Second World War—the alliance founded in 1949 to combat the Soviet Union is once again preparing to stand up to Moscow. The bellicose talk comes even as Putin is talking of a ceasefire with Ukraine.

The United States has joined the aggressive chorus, too. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby this week said Russia’s actions have “galvanized the alliance and … and brought into sharp relief the need for all NATO partners and allies to continue sufficient and adequate defense spending.”

Expensive Posturing

A strong move by NATO in response to increased tensions will not come cheap. Right now, only four of NATO’s members spend more than 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Indeed, the alliance’s governments have cut total defense spending by a fifth over the last five years. Yet Russia’s has jumped up by 50% over the same period.

In the UK, officials are overseeing the diplomacy that they hope will precede a sweeping agreement to advance troops much closer to Russia’s border. The expectation is that, rather than permanently basing NATO troops in former Warsaw Pact countries like the Baltic states and Poland, a rapid reinforcement capability will be established that will, in essence, send Eastern Europe back to a Cold War footing.

Agreement has already been reached on the movement of a NATO headquarters to a “forward” position – probably at the alliance’s existing base in Szczecin, Poland. Vital equipment and supplies will be placed in waiting near the Russian border, a senior British Foreign Office official said on condition of anonymity, at a recent briefing in London attended by WhoWhatWhy. When a crisis develops, troops will be rushed into any border area NATO feels is threatened by Russia, grabbing their weapons along the way. A new set of military exercises will be set up to prepare troops for combat scenarios, the official said.

A NATO air patrol of F-16s and an AWACS

A NATO air patrol of F-16s and an AWACS

Besides all this, a number of countries will soon be offered what are euphemistically called “defense capacity building missions.” These programs are played down by NATO-allied officials, who characterize them as a way for countries to benefit from the alliance’s “expertise.” Georgia, which Russia invaded in 2008, is on the shortlist—an inclusion likely to anger Moscow.


For years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, defense experts say, NATO bent over backwards to keep Russia happy. “It created a number of serious dialogues. But Russia expressed deep discomfort about a further deepening of ties,” says Kathleen McInnis, a former Department of Defense strategist who now works for the Chatham House think-tank in London. “It’s actually been Russia that’s given NATO the cold shoulder.”

One manifestation of NATO’s attempts to appease Russia was its hesitancy to garrison troops in Eastern Europe for 20 years, according to Jonathan Eyal, international studies director at the London-based Royal United Services Institute think-tank. NATO exhibited a “marked reluctance to get troops into Eastern Europe because it would be seen as a hostile move,” he said.

Yet at the same time that the West enjoyed the “peace dividend” of reduced defense spending, NATO continued to push its borders east in what amounted to a diplomatic offensive. In 1999, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined the alliance in 1999, followed five years later by the Baltic States, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

A “Finger in the Eye”

This took place despite warnings from some quarters, including British Colonel Bob Stewart, who was the chief of policy at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe two decades ago. Back then, he argued that pushing NATO further east “would be like sticking a finger in the eye of the Russians – that if we expand we’ve got to be very careful we don’t irritate the hell out of the Russians. I warned about that and I was overruled.”

Now that the Russian bear is clearly aroused, Stewart has become an avid proponent of confrontation. “Yes, the Russians will protest like hell,” he says, about NATO expanding its fighting capabilities in Eastern Europe. “But let’s face it, we don’t like what the Russians have done. So tough shit.”

Gisela Stuart, a Labour colleague on the committee, makes the same point in less provocative language. She remembers travelling around the Baltic during the build-up to the 2004 NATO expansion—a time when the Baltic countries were also hoping to join the European Union. “To them, NATO membership was more important than EU membership,” she recalls. “For countries that got the Cold War in the neck, the physical security was much more important than anything else.”

Politicians, military figures and defense experts may disagree on whether NATO should have been more circumspect in pushing into what has been Russia’s traditional sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. But for a surprising number of defense analysts in Britain, the time has come to vigorously counter what they see as Putin’s belligerence.

The 2002 NATO summit

The 2002 NATO summit

“If there is one person responsible for this it is Mr. Putin, who has created a scenario whereby it is seen as a sign of weakness for NATO to avoid a deployment,” Jonathan Eyal says. “If the summit concludes with no demonstrable moves to provide more equipment for NATO troops, this will be interpreted by the Russians as a sign of weakness, that the allies are divided.”


It’s no coincidence that President Obama stopped over in Estonia before to the summit. In a speech, he said the Baltic states will be defended to the hilt from Russian aggression. U.S. aircraft are already patrolling their skies and more ships are being sent to the Black and Baltic seas. “Our alliance should extend these defensive measures for as long as necessary, because the defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London,” Obama said.

Yet it was precisely NATO’s aggressive expansion into areas like the Baltic States—after Russia dismantled the Warsaw Pact at the end of the Cold War—that created the conditions for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, according to David Gibbs, a professor of history and government at the University of Arizona who has written extensively about NATO. So history may be repeating itself.

The recent discussions about admitting Ukraine and Georgia as members have only exacerbated Russia’s frustrations. “Russia views its interventions in the Ukraine as defensive actions, against NATO threats to its border security. NATO expansion must be viewed as a short-sighted action, one that was bound to provoke the Russians, and it laid the groundwork for the Ukraine’s civil war.”

Putin’s Game

In Britain—which spends more than 2 percent of its GDP on defense—influential voices are calling for new ways to respond to Russia. Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, former chief of Britain’s Royal Air Force, wants an acknowledgement that the old policies have failed. “We’ve taken the risk that nothing will happen, but there’s been a wake-up call,” he says. “Politicians have chosen other priorities—they have to be elected, after all. But these are a series of crises. And at the moment, NATO doesn’t look serious.”

Britain is optimistic that it will secure allies’ commitment to at least halt the fall in defense spending, the Foreign Office official told WhoWhatWhy. “That will mark the start of a sea-change in attitudes.”

In the meantime, the nature of warfare itself seems to be changing: Russia is firing artillery into Ukraine, a move that in previous years would be unequivocally viewed as an act of war. Moscow has largely denied allegations that its soldiers are being deployed against the Ukrainians but in unmarked uniforms or using humanitarian aid as a cover. It did, however, admit the capture of 10 Russian paratroopers in Ukraine, while saying they’d crossed the border accidentally.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

“Putin, as an ex-KGB colonel, knows what he’s doing. He’s playing this game,” Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, a Royal Air Force strategist, says. “That’s why he hasn’t driven three divisions across the border.” According to Lambert, the Russian president’s tactics need to be understood by Western leaders, and a new way of dealing with that type of warfare has to be developed.

There’s little chance that NATO will undertake such a radical re-invention any time soon. Its focus, as leaders gather at Celtic Manor in Wales, is on securing agreement to send its troops back to a Cold War footing. That will be combined with pressure on more reticent allies to increase defense spending.

Some analysts argue that the Cold War is the wrong lens through which to view what’s happening in Eastern Europe. McInnis of Chatham House thinks the better analogy is to the uneasy balance between European powers that existed during the run-up to the First World War.

And she warns: “[I]t’s a somewhat unstable system.” Her view is that the last 25 years of security and stability in Europe are a historical aberration: “We, the U.S. and Europe, are not very interested in war because we’ve become unaccustomed to it. But just because we’re not interested in war doesn’t mean war isn’t interested in us.”

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12 responses to “Ukraine Crisis Sends NATO Back to the Cold War”

  1. it disposal says:


    […]although web sites we backlink to beneath are considerably not connected to ours, we really feel they may be truly really worth a go by means of, so possess a look[…]

  2. It is an old saying, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

    For those who have never read it, the entire farewell speech of
    GENERAL/PRESIDENT DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER – The Last Real Commander-In-Chief, is posted here:

    This push for more money for weapons of war will automatically bring cuts to health care, education and Social Services. Is that what the people want in what remains of the pseudo-Democracies?

  3. Avatar whatwaysup says:

    The whole damn thing should be retracted.

  4. Avatar Guest says:

    My initial comment is now three days old. If neither the author nor the editor can substantiate the author’s assertion that “Russia is firing artillery into Ukraine,” then shouldn’t it be retracted?

  5. Avatar whatwaysup says:

    The division in narratives is very clear.

    Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe state:
    “This update is for media and the general public”
    “observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) registered no troops, ammunition or weapons crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border over the past two weeks. OSCE report. Up to 3rd.Sept.

    Within-which time frame MSM reported :

    Ukrainian president: Russian troops have crossed border … › News › World news › Ukraine

    BBC News – Ukraine crisis: ‘Column from Russia’ crosses …

    Ukraine fights ‘tank column from Russia’ at border – Telegraph › News › World News › Europe › Ukraine

    • Sadly, most people will not follow the link in your comment and read the OSCE report which contradicts the false propaganda of the MSM obediently following the government line inciting for war!

  6. Avatar fuddled says:

    I have this terrible notion to follow the money. NATO sees the winding down of Afghanistan and needs to keep its budgets growing. This triggers the CIA fronts in the Ukraine to ditch their democracy promotion fronts and go for an overthrow thereby creating tension and a need for a NATO position. Their generals write op-ed pieces citing not just their relevance but need for more money. The result of this is a western momentum against Putin and he has to deal with forces even more right wing than himself and want him out. The first step to solving this self-inflicted crisis is the elimination of NATO.

  7. Avatar Bob says:

    Alex Stevenson: “In response to Russia’s land grab in Crimea—the first territorial aggrandizement in Europe since the Second World War”

    Europe hasn’t been peaceful since the Second World War – There was an invasion of Cyprus in ’74:

    ‘..the better analogy is the run-up to the First World War.’
    How about the 1961 Indian annexation/Invasion/Liberation of Goa?
    How about the 1950 Chinese invasion/ occupation/liberation of Tibet?

  8. Avatar Scotsman says:

    “McInnis of Chatham House thinks the better analogy is to the uneasy balance between European powers that existed during the run-up to the First World War.”

    Chatham House rules failed and an Italian newspaper, printed details of PM David Cameron using a Hitler Munich ’38 analogy. The Hitler analogy has probably been used a dozen times since 1956 and is getting old:

    “We are not very interested in war because we’ve become unaccustomed to it. ”

    Unaccustomed to war? How can people that use the phrase “bomb some folks” be unaccustomed to war?

  9. Avatar whatwaysup says:

    The ‘assumption’ accorded to Russia, will include in its making;

    the familiar role it finds Victoria NULAND/J.McCAIN/CIA BRENNAN’s key presence in Kiev ensuring fascist PravySector into power; and Nuland’s boast of USAID 5 billion $ spent ‘interfering in the sovereign politics of the Ukraine’.

    The ‘Russian Bear’ will also assume, I presume., in its role taking; Ukrainian forces ethnically cleansing the east., pushing thousands off their land as refugee….the indiscriminate shelling/phosphorus murder of the people of East Ukraine; the clearly presented date-stamped data showing ‘Ukraine’ bringing down MH17 in the most disgusting act of false flag terror since the one immediately before it;

    Designed to R2P/NATO.

    Pravy Sector Sniper-provocateur (Operation GLADIO according to Engdahl) killing innocent members in the Maidan and the Odessa murders will also most definitely probably have ‘something to do’ with the Russian STANCE in response to the evidence of covert attack at these hightened levels.

    How our Fathers are to rest knowing representatives of the allied forces and representatives of Nazi SS brigades in the West of Ukraine, are about to be foist on us as ‘brothers-in-arms’ may never be known, but I bet they would be suggesting the ‘tough shit’ Mr Stewart proposes, might very well end up closer to he who sais it., less history’s lessons are lost.

    Chatham house saying “we’re not very interested in war’ is fck-you game theory of the highest order.

  10. Avatar Guest says:

    This is “news, content and perspective you might not find
    elsewhere”? Hardly.

    A collection of provocative, unsubstantiated assertions by
    those advocating for more NATO aggression – economic, political, and military – interspersed with a few rebuttals dismissed as Russian, and therefore unworthy of belief. The groomed history obscures more relevant facts. For instance, the well-documented (elsewhere) instigation of civil war in Ukraine that overthrew an elected government, and the unsurprising desire of ethnic Russians to disassociate from a coup regime as expressed through another election, are dumbed down to “Russia’s land grab in Crimea.”

    And who edited this before it was posted? When I clicked on the author’s link to “Russia is firing artillery into Ukraine,” I was sent to The Telegraph’s “Ukraine-Russia crisis: August 28 as it happened,” a string of twitter-quality “latest developments,” including several since withdrawn or discredited accounts of Russian tanks rolling across the border, etc. But I see not one word suggesting that “Russia is firing artillery into Ukraine.” Perhaps I didn’t have the patience to
    find what Mr. Stevenson was referencing. Or perhaps he baked some of the cookies that Ms. Nuland was passing out in Kiev.

    If I’m missing something insightful in Mr. Stevenson’s journalism, then please point it out. This seems anything but a “Fresh Take.”

  11. Avatar Walter says:

    By repeating numerous unsupported (and probably false) claims alleging “Russian aggression” in one form or another as well as painting NATO as benign the author has created a sterling example of grey propaganda. White propaganda would have been much better, more effective. Withal, the only real question, which is unaddressed, is how the asymmetric Salvic response to a long-term and aggressive provoking policy of NATO steered by its controlling economy will present and operate. Both Russian and NATO military doctrine now call for “preemptive” first use of nuclear explosives. Whatever terrible crimes the Soviet State committed both it and, overarchingly, Russian pre-Soviet and post-Soviet governments have been motivated by humanity and morality, which they have sought to further. When Alexander forced the Kaiser’s army to reinforce in the East (in 1914), which he did based on his reading of moral imperatives, the resulting logistical foul-up ruined the German campaign – a campaign, a war, seen as an absolute necessity by English ruling class. The result was stalemated trench war and millions dead. In this present-day example a similar outcome seems quite probable. Propaganda notwithstanding we can expect to be be confronted by facts – probably unpleasant facts.