TIPP Insights: Russia-Ukraine conflict: A lesson in NATO’s importance

(Photo by YVES BOUCAU/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images)

By tippinsights Editorial Board, TIPP Insights

Since Russia began its attack on Ukraine over a week ago, the world feels once again polarised in a pro-Russia/anti-Russia sentiment, reminiscent of the Cold War era. While tensions escalated as Moscow perceived the possible expansion of NATO as a “security threat,” and this war is often touted as the fallout of skewed energy dependence, the less discussed aspects, such as defending democracy and human rights, are now gradually coming to the fore. The strengthened sense of solidarity in the EU and NATO is seen as an effort to protect countries that stand for such values and civil liberties.

The third significant actor in the Russia-Ukraine conflict is NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, best described as a “defensive alliance.” While member states find solace in the collective might of the group, speculation is rife that Russia would deliberately assault, or that the current war could “spillover” into one of the NATO member territories, triggering the fifth article of the treaty. Article 5 of the alliance stipulates “collective defense,” i.e., an attack on one member state is seen as an attack on the entire group. This effectively means that if any of the thirty member states is attacked, the other twenty-nine are obligated by treaty to assist and even go to war on its behalf.

The EU, especially NATO members, and the U.S. have repeatedly and consistently maintained that they would not escalate the conflict or aid in expanding the war unless directly forced to do so. President Biden has successfully created a consensus among the various states and brought severe and unprecedented sanctions to bear on Russia. With few allies and the world against him, President Putin will soon realize that his aggression has backfired.

Developments of the past few days show that the Russian invasion has prompted non-aligned European countries such as Finland to consider joining NATO earnestly. The country shares an 800-mile land border with Russia. Sweden, its neighbor, is also in favor of joining the alliance. Georgia has sought a resolution to its membership process regardless of the Russian occupation of parts of its territory.

The Russian invasion also galvanizes NATO to strengthen communication among its members and troops stationed in Eastern Europe. Many feel the war will act as a wake-up call to the alliance. Once a country applies for membership, the organization is unlikely to keep countries waiting, as it did in the case of Ukraine.

While some critics feel that NATO has spread itself too thin and some foreign policy experts have questioned the alliance’s unilateral desire to expand without considering geopolitical sentiments, its role as a counterbalance to autocratic and aggressive rulers has become unambiguous.

In the coming years, NATO is likely to strengthen its “deterrence by denial” by augmenting the NATO Response Force and scaling up its mission and capabilities. The U.S. could well station its highly trained troops alongside the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) stationed next door to Russia, in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. By providing advanced equipment and sharing expertise, the US army could exponentially raise the effectiveness and capabilities of the units. As former President Trump pointed out, such initiatives would require member states to contribute their fair share to NATO activities. President Putin’s aggression has fortuitously revealed the wisdom in sharing the cost and being combat-ready.

As frustrating as the Ukrainian invasion has been for the autocrat, President Putin’s worst nightmares seem to be coming true. Most of Europe, except for his cronies, has united and is pledging support and aid to Ukraine, fearing that one day such a fate could befall them too. Former cordial trade partners are now eschewing energy concerns and are willing to take the hit.

In trying to restore past glory, the Russian President seems to have inadvertently set off a new world order, one where NATO’s relevance is cemented, and Moscow remains largely isolated.

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