The NATO alliance has experienced internal strife several times before: in the 2003 with the Iraq invasion, and in the 2011 with the Libya war. Both times, attempts to get NATO to formally take command failed. At the same time, polls show that significant sections of the population are against using military force to help another NATO country. What happens if the NATO alliance loses its legitimacy?
Speed and more effective military decision-making were among the reform proposals when the defense ministers met in Brussels on 10.â € “11. February to discuss the alliance. One possibility that is being considered is to give NATO's Secretary General a permanent mandate to activate the member states' military forces in an emergency, according to Matthias Dembinski, senior researcher at the Frankfurt Institute for Peace Research (PRIF).
«Procedures may be envisaged where the Secretary-General will be able to issue orders. In a war, the Commander-in-Chief of Europe, SACEUR, will have command of all NATO forces, but one can also imagine that the Secretary-General will have a permanent mandate to activate the forces. But it will be up to each country's government to decide when to release its first shot, ”he says.
One of the most relevant scenarios being discussed is a crisis in the Baltic initiated by the Russian minority in the countries, or actions taken by Russian agents.
"In such a situation, one can count on a quick decision to send reinforcements. It will signal determination. If the Secretary-General can make such a decision, it will accelerate NATO's response and prevent potential lengthy discussions in the North Atlantic Council. "
But would that not also mean that the democratic process was short-circuited?
"Right, and that's why this is a very sensitive issue. I have not followed this closely, but I do not think any decision has been made yet. Most countries will retain control, and they will be very reluctant to delegate power to NATO Secretary General. "
If more decision-making power was placed in the hands of the military, would it not increase the risk of unforeseen use of force?
"In NATO's history, there has always been a balance between averting the risk of inadvertent use of force, and at the same time an ability to react quickly to the unforeseen. My view is that we do not need such a very effective trigger. We need to make our defense structure more able to withstand the unintentional use of force, "said the peace researcher.
Declining legitimacy can torpedo the alliance. If a NATO country is attacked and aid is not forthcoming, it will in all probability mean the end of the alliance. European countries will seek other security guarantees.
It was the Pew Research Center that in the summer of 2015 found that a majority of respondents in Germany, France and Italy were opposed to using military force to help another NATO country. Does the alliance have a legitimacy problem?
"I do not want to say that," Dembinski replies. "I see that the level of support is high throughout the alliance, except in Greece, but the Greeks have always been more critical. What may be at stake here is how much credibility deterrence policies have. "I'm not sure if people will say yes to using their country's military if they also know it could trigger a nuclear war."
Pew's investigation was based on the war in Ukraine. The question they asked specifically outlined a scenario in which Russia attacked one of its NATO neighbors. In plain text, that means Poland or one of the Baltic countries.
Another scenario that is closer in time is an incident in Syria. In November, Turkey shot down a Russian bomber that crossed its territory, and in January, a new Russian border violation is said to have taken place – something Russia denies.
In recent years, we have seen an escalation of military exercises by both NATO and Russia. NATO had the largest exercise in ten years, the Trident Juncture, with more than 36 troops from more than 000 countries. Before that, they did a series of exercises under the common name Atlantic Resolve. At the same time, we have seen polls within Russia that clearly show that they feel threatened by NATO, and end up with Putin as leader. 30 percent of Russians believe it was a pity that the Soviet Union disintegrated, and 69 percent believe that parts of other countries actually belong to Russia.
A majority of those polled in Germany, France and Italy were opposed to using military force to help another NATO country. Does the alliance have a legitimacy problem?
Rearmament. On February 2, the Obama administration announced a quadrupling of U.S. military personnel and materiel along Russia's western border. It will include both new materiel and personnel, new weapon systems and training programs for Eastern European countries as well as Turkey.
At the same time, both the United States and Russia are upgrading their nuclear arsenals. The United States has plans for a new nuclear submarine, a new bomber capable of carrying nuclear weapons, a new air-fired smart atomic bomb, the upgrading of silo-based Minutemen – a plan that will cost a total of $ 348 billion.
Russia, for its part, is planning 16 test launches of nuclear missiles this year. A new missile – RS-28 "Sarmat" – will be tested. This is the heir to the R-36M, the missile which in NATO jargon is called "Satan". The country also plans to introduce a modernized "nuclear train", which will be operational from 2018. The Soviet Union had over 50 such missiles rolling around in reliable train cars in the late 1980s – difficult to detect from the air.
Russia's missile warning systems are in poor condition, and there is a danger of false alarms and misunderstandings, such as the launch of a research rocket from Andøya in January 1995.
Tactical nuclear weapons. The decision to strengthen NATO's eastern flank will lead Russia to rely on stockpiles of small, tactical nuclear weapons. Russia's official military doctrine is that one reserves the right to use such weapons if the existence of the Russian state is threatened by overwhelming conventional forces. NATO is now building overwhelmingly conventional forces along Russia's borders, and according to Stephen F. Cohen at New York University, Obama's decision puts us in a much more dangerous position today in terms of the threat of nuclear war than we have been since the Cuba crisis in 1962.
How will a war between NATO and Russia unfold?
"There is a lot of debate about that now in strategic professional journals. We are in reverse positions. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was superior to conventional forces. That is why NATO relied so heavily on nuclear weapons. In the current situation, the picture is turned upside down. NATO is superior to conventional forces, and therefore Russia relies more on nuclear weapons. If you look at the Baltic theater, Russia is also superior conventionally. "
One of the "war games" is that Russia will try to secure a quick victory in, for example, the Baltics, and then try to deter Western intervention with nuclear weapons in case NATO attacks. The continuation of the scenario is that NATO can see an opportunity to deter with a nuclear counterattack, and then we are back in the old debate about the credibility of mutual deterrence, given that we know that such attacks can trigger the doom of the world. But such scenarios are largely speculative.
The doomsday clock under the auspices of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was recently reconsidered, but they kept the clock at three minutes before midnight. Do you agree with this?
"I agree. I would argue that the confrontation we have with Russia is still fundamentally political. It has some military overtones, but I can not imagine Russia being willing to openly use military force against a NATO country. If you look at the latest developments in Ukraine, then they have given up the fantasies of occupying the strip along the Donets to Crimea. They gave up because it is too expensive. My reading is that they want to seek compromise, that they have suffered enough, and that they recognize that Russia is a weak country that is dependent on oil exports. They act from a position of weakness instead of strength. We should therefore not react too hysterically to the nuclear threat. "