Adrift From Its Core Mission, NATO Attempts To Readjust And Refocus

The crisis in Ukraine demonstrates how far NATO has drifted from its initial mission because it has fallen prey to some key strategic misconceptions, writes Michael E. Brown in Foreign Affairs.

The first, he writes, is the assumption that Russia was no longer a threat meriting attention from NATO and therefore could expand its membership and embark on “a new array of global missions.”

Related to those errors, NATO believed Russia would not be provoked by the expansion and that those global missions, including Afghanistan and Iraq, would be successful.

“U.S. and European leaders are now grappling with the immediate challenge posed by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, but they must also undertake a fundamental strategic reassessment,” writes Brown.

NATO appears to have realized the threat posed by Russia if remarks by Alexander Vershbow, the deputy secretary-general of NATO, are any indication.

“Clearly the Russians have declared NATO as an adversary, so we have to begin to view Russia no longer as a partner but as more of an adversary than a partner,” said Vershbow in late April.

Two key changes that must be made to forge a consensus is that US and Europe must act to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia’s energy exports and also re-double their efforts to complete the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP).

While Brown believes Ukraine shows the organization’s weaknesses, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the crisis has made it more urgent that Allies work together to develop modern military capabilities and reverse the decline in defence spending.

“The crisis shows us more clearly than ever that defence matters. That collective defence matters. And that cooperation between the two shores of the Atlantic is the best and most natural way to keep ourselves secure,” he said in a speech following meetings with with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

NATO recently signed an agreement with Japan enhancing ties between the alliance and the Asian nation.

So, how should NATO respond to calls from Eastern Europe for help in combating the growing aggression of its Russian neighbor?

“The main purpose of the alliance may now shift back to what it was during the Cold War: collective defense,” says Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who’s now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Businessweek.

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