As NATO cranks up the rhetoric against Russia and deploys troops on Russia’s border, ever more insistent calls for dialogue get made
The French, Italian, Bulgarian and Greek leaderships have all distanced themselves from the rhetoric coming out of the NATO summit in Warsaw, with all of them saying that they consider Russia a partner rather than an enemy. Germany appears split with Merkel predictably taking a hardline but her SPD and CSU coalition partners making it quite clear they disagree with her.
The clearest view of SPD thinking is set out in a lengthy article that recently appeared in Der Spiegel. As has to be the case in Europe today the author of the article, Wolfgang Ischinger, has felt obliged to fill the article with lengthy denunciations of Russian policy and absurdly exaggerated claims of Russian weakness. Whilst these ritual comments doubtless cause great offense in Russia, they should be seen for what they are: an affirmation of loyalty by the writer to the Western Alliance without which he would have no hope of being heard. Russian writers who lived through the Soviet period will be familiar with this device.
The key point about the Der Spiegel article is that it attacks both NATO enlargement and strategic missile defense. The key paragraphs – written in highly elliptical language which all but confirms that the article forms part of a high level discussion within the German government, are these:
“One of two key pillars of NATO’s policy from the 1990s, developing the relationship with Russia, has not been successful. The two pillars — NATO enlargement on the one hand, and a new quality of NATO-Russia relations on the other — were supposed to be equally important. That was the understanding reached in Madrid in 1997. Unfortunately, we failed to develop the second pillar as planned, while further enlargement rounds were prepared and successfully implemented. When US President George W. Bush tried to advance Ukraine’s and Georgia’s NATO membership prospects in 2008 against stiff Russian opposition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy finally pulled the emergency brake. But by that time, the relationship with Russia was already seriously damaged, as President Putin pointed out in Munich in 2007.
In 2008, Georgia and Ukraine were promised NATO membership — without any date attached. Do we stand by this promise? Or has this become an empty pledge? If so, does this mean that we carry some responsibility for the fact that both countries have de facto lost parts of their territory since? Should we encourage both countries today to continue on the NATO track, or should we instead encourage them to follow the Finnish or Austrian models, in order to ease the situation politically and militarily, and in order to normalise their economic relationship with Russia? But would that not mean that we abandon our own principles, in particular that of the free choice of alliances? Would that not lead to a massive loss of our credibility? Or, if we invite them to stay on the NATO track, are we prepared and determined to assure the economic survival of both countries by offering sustained and comprehensive political and financial support? Are we prepared to say we will do whatever it takes in order to create a greater sense of stability and confidence in Kiev and Tbilisi? We have to confront these and other questions, even if they may require painful responses. Strategic clarity is required if we want to bring the current crisis of European security to an end.
We might also ask ourselves whether now was really the right time to take the next steps on ballistic missile defence, which has long been the subject of such heavy criticism from Russia? Would it not have been better to take a breather? Why the rush?”
Ischinger is being frankly disingenuous in his list of open questions in his key middle paragraph. He knows perfectly well the answer to all these questions. He also knows that the German elite also knows the answers. The German and European publics are not willing to make the sort of political, economic and military sacrifices required to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Therefore, following his logic, it is a mistake to put in jeopardy peace in Europe and the future of the NATO alliance by admitting them. In place of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine the Finnish and Austrian models her refers to are obviously the ones he favours for these countries, which is why he mentions them……………..