Thursday, September 04, 2014

The West must WAKE UP and stare down Tsar Putin

From: The Times September 04, 2014, by Roger Boyes, diplomatic editor:

Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and US President Barack Obama inspect a military honour guard prior to meetings in Tallinn, Estonia, yesterday. Source: AFP

STORM clouds are gathering over Newport and not just those usually associated with the Welsh weather. The NATO summit there tonight will see leaders struggling to find a clear Western response to multiple hot spots, from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of subterfuge to the decapitating jihadists of Iraq. 

But unless they address the vacuum of power in the West, they may as well have stayed at home.

US President Barack Obama knows the summit is, in effect, an indictment of his own lack of leadership. Yet the crisis is more about how US allies have become consumers of security rather than producers....

We in the West view our commitment to defence as less important to society’s progress than welfare spending and property prices. That has to change. 

The best that can emerge from this over-freighted summit will be agreement on a new 4000-strong rapid response force ready to fly to the assistance of nervous NATO members. That won’t deter Putin, who weeks ago put the elite Pskov airborne division into Ukraine. The summit has to demonstrate NATO’s readiness to die for Tallinn or Bialystok.

We can start by making plain that we believe in the eastern enlargement of the alliance. Uncertainty about this has encouraged Putin. The question of whether signing up post-communist states was an act of strategic ­genius or a historic mistake lingers insidiously on. Moving eastwards, say Putin apologists, was a NATO provocation and makes us partially responsible for the Ukrainian emergency.

The Newport summiteers have to bury this nonsense.

If we made a mistake it was to assume that Putin, on coming to power in 2000, genuinely wanted Russia to become part of the international system. We declared Russia to be a strategic partner and expected the former KGB officer to become a new Peter the Great, opening up his country. That didn’t happen: rather than exchange letters with Voltaire, Tsar Vladimir proceeded to cheat on arms-control treaties, smash Chechnya and poison dissidents in London.

We should have realised our supposed strategic partner was a subversive rival by 2008 at the latest, when he invaded Georgia. Since then the Russian defence budget has gone up by 50 per cent while NATO defence spending has dropped by 20 per cent. Some 75 per cent of NATO spending comes from America. That sends a clear message to Putin: Europeans are not up for a fight. The last big Russian military exercise involved 150,000 men. The last big NATO outing, in the Baltics, involved 6500; a teddy bears’ picnic in khaki.

Russia, by invading Ukraine and snatching Crimea, has vio­lated just about every inter­national treaty designed to keep the peace in Europe. That allows us to breach one understanding that we struck with Moscow in 1997 — to steer clear of permanently stationing troops on NATO’s eastern border. The alliance has to construct a forward defence, positioning 10,000 men in Poland. If the NATO summit is to have a lasting effect, it must demonstrate that Russia cannot intimidate those who would like to become our economic partners. Ukraine, though not a NATO member, needs our help in securing its borders.

Alarmists will warn against upsetting the Russian bear. However, since Russia asserts that its tanks are not inside Ukraine, it can hardly object if Kiev’s troops use our weapons to fire at them. At present we are arming only one side of the conflict — Russia — with British arms components and French warships. NATO must end this absurdity.

Putin’s behaviour will only change with the help of tougher economic sanctions and the EU. Since Russia has turned gas exports into a political weapon, cutting it out of energy revenues from EU member states would be the most effective sanction of all and demonstrate that Gazprom has become the civilian wing of Putin’s expansionist army.

America rightly resents that Europe is not paying its way in NATO; only Britain, Greece and Estonia are currently meeting the defence spending target of 2 per cent of GDP. A more self-assured US President would lay it on the line: only those who come close to the target should expect the protection of Article Five, the NATO commitment to collectively support any member that comes under attack.

Military spending is not about robbing the poor to pay for costly guns that never get used. It is an existential issue.It is about showing autocrats and insurgents that we are ready and willing to fight for what we believe in.

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