NATO came into being as a direct reaction to, inter alia, the Soviet Union sponsored overthrow of the democratic government of the Czechs and Slovaks in 1948. At the time, it became clear that Joseph Stalin had a vision of a hostile international environment leading to communism’s triumph. The democratic world was left with no viable alternative but to contain and deter.'
It worked. Generations of Europeans have been spared the calamity of major war ever since.
What’s more, after the fall of communism, Francis Fukuyama’s hope that history had come to an end descended on the old continent. It seemed that Russia was becoming a part of the European security solution rather than a problem. Now we know that this proved to be a false hope; in Poland, Slovakia and elsewhere.
The two White Books on national security published in Warsaw and Bratislava in 2013 dismissed a military confrontation in Europe as a very low probability. I too did so in an interview with the Sme daily later that year, even as the Russian-Ukrainian dispute was gathering pace. But now, not even a year has passed and military conflict is raging next door.
What’s happening now will probably shape the future (and history) of Europe and the world for a long time to come. History can also serve as a teacher by reminding that appeasement has led to disaster in the past and that containment paid off.
In 1939-45, Europe plunged into a catastrophic war because of the naiveté and indecisiveness of its leaders. That same Europe avoided “hot” wars thereafter because the West stood firm against Soviet threats. Successive governments of the Federal Republic of Germany were particularly determined, forceful and effective in securing NATO’s assurances, reinforcements and allied permanent bases on German soil.
Today, it’s embarrassing to read scholastic pundits who see Russia as a martial arts master vulnerable and at risk and therefore too dangerous to be faced with resolve. They’re wrong, and it’s time for a renaissance of a sound, realistic and credible security and defence policy for the trans-Atlantic community.
And let us remember that the (politically binding) NATO-Russia Founding Act from 1997 does not prohibit stationing allied forces on the territory of NATO members who joined in 1999 and thereafter. It merely says that the alliance does not envisage stationing of substantial combat forces.
At its summit in Newport, Wales, September 4-5, NATO has to adopt its strategy to address these new (but very familiar) challenges. NATO and all allies should show their true commitment and determination to defend all its members. They should agree on a package of security guarantees comprised of new defence plans, new force structures and new levels of readiness. Poland is ready to cover its share of the costs for new bases and equipment storage sites in the framework of the host nation support. Forces should be prepositioned and allied commands pre-designated. A NATO Response Force should have an element of Immediate Alliance Assurance Force. During crises, time is scarce.
In other words, given security uncertainty and the outright assertiveness by Russia, the alliance should do what it does best to secure peace – deter.
Members which are threatened “to be wiped out from the surface of the Earth” (to use the formula of a Russian parliamentarian), have to be visibly assured. “Bloodlands”, between Germany and Russia, so suggestively described by historian Timothy Snyder, must never occur again.
The truth is that if we don’t defend Tallinn, Vilnius, Gdansk or Košice, we end up defending Dresden, Amsterdam, London and Cardiff too. History has taught us this all too well.
Polish Ambassador Tomasz Chłoń served in the Polish Permanent Representation to NATO from 1998-2003 and as; negotiator of the NATO-Russia Council basic documents.
25. Aug 2014 at 0:00 | Tomasz Chłoń