In one of the last interviews he gave to the press, the late Ronald Asmus reiterated the importance of strategically reassuring NATO’s vulnerable allies against threats coming from inside and outside Europe. The security guarantee provided by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty needs to be strengthened in order to maintain the cohesiveness and the credibility of the Alliance in a new security environment. Ronald Asmus argued that the strategic reassurance of NATO’s Central and Eastern European allies should have been a precondition of reset policy with Russia.
Statecraft is stagecraft. How should NATO be stagecraft or how should we stagecraft NATO for the 21st century profile and posture in order to perform its classic functions (both deterrence and reassurance) with maximum proficiency and effectiveness? Which are the core ingredients of Article 5’s credibility in the 21st century (both in terms of deterrence and reassurance value)? How should a credible military/defense reassurance policy look like?
To make it simple, the Alliance needs to be able to maintain peace and stability on the continent and protect members from new threats from beyond the continent. That requires us to be able to deter those threats at home and abroad and to provide the kind of reassurance to more exposed allies, that there are plans and strategies in place that actually will accomplish that goal.
Why the need for strategically reassuring the most exposed allies?
The need for reassurance stems from two basic factors: one is the fact that Russian behavior has become more assertive and the other is that certain Central and Eastern European countries have doubts about the West actually coming to their defense in a crisis. The latter is our own fault because we pledged to take certain steps to reassure them that we never followed through on. So we have a crisis of confidence. A defense plan in SHAPE is important but it does not in itself solve the problem. It is after all a piece of paper. It needs to be backed up. Poland is more worried about the lack of solidarity and whether those pledges and forces would actually materialize in a crisis.
You said that the need for reassurance is in part generated by the fact that certain Eastern European countries have doubts about the West’s commitment to their defense. How can we fix the solidarity problem, restoring the faith in NATO? How can we fix the West? After all, the devil is in details.
This is not a new problem and the answer is not rocket science. NATO has wrestled with it since its creation. Nearly every multilateral alliance in history has had to deal with some version of it. Political commitments need to be backed up by defense arrangements and planning that creates solidarity and dependability. You need to train and work together to help create the cement and glue that makes allies allies. We know how to do this if given the political mandate to do so.
How could we exploit creatively the provisions of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in order to get right the defense dimension of the reassurance of the Eastern flank countries?
When we negotiated the NRFA, we made clear that we had the right to do exactly the kind of defense planning and preparations we thought we needed to have credible Article 5 commitments. The problem is not the provisions of the Founding Act. The problem is that we have not used the flexibility we have to implement those provisions.
Why should the reassurance be a precondition of the Alliance resetting policy with Russia?
Because we will never be able to sustain a reset policy over time if a good number of allies who are in the Alliance feels insecure. The reassurance is important, but is not really about contingency planning, Russia or hardware. The core aspect is this: the more you believe in the West and western solidarity, the less you need for hardware. If you don’t believe in the West, you do need clear signals that its forces are coming to your defense. At the end of the day, the key ingredients of Article 5 are political will and solidarity.
To what extent Russia is an anti-status-quo power with a revisionist agenda? What is the target of its anti-status-quo behavior?
Russia has concluded that all the norms and agreements negotiated in the 1990s ended up legitimated an expansion by the West into what it considers its own space of influence. And they therefore want to rewrite those rules of the game or at least reinterpret them and dilute their legitimacy. Russia’s goal is a buffer zone at their doors.Russia is a revisionist but also a declining power. That combination might make it temper its foreign policy ambitions or make it more reckless and challenging to deal with. We don’t know how Russia will act or what it is capable of in its decline. I am not worried that Russia poses a territorial threat or that it would launch an attack on Europe. That is absurd. I do still worry about unresolved limited conflicts emerging or being induced and then escalating. NATO is perfectly capable of taking care of the former. Today it is not well prepared to handle the latter.