NATO does not constitute a threat to anyone
Interview with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Secretary General of NATO. Interview: Maciej Makulski.
MACIEJ MAKULSKI: How do you assess the decisions made at the Warsaw NATO Summit in July, especially the decision to host NATO troops in the Baltic states and Poland?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I value this decision. It was needed and it is a clear implementation of the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) which we adopted during my last NATO Summit in Wales in 2014. So I think it is absolutely a step in the right direction, to increase NATO’s presence in the East.
As someone who was head of NATO during the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, looking back today, what were your greatest fears then? What kept you up at night?
I usually sleep very well! I cannot say that even Russia’s aggression against Ukraine kept me up at night because I knew that we are well protected by NATO. But of course, we should be concerned about a potential Russian aggression against NATO. I do not think that an open attack is the most imminent threat. Russia knows we have Article V and an open attack against any NATO member would evoke NATO’s reaction and be perceived as an attack on the Alliance as a whole. In this regard, the defence capabilities were only strengthened by the initiatives taken at the Warsaw Summit.
Another big concern is the risk of a hybrid attack. Russia is trying to disturb the peace by using Russian speaking minorities in other countries through disinformation campaigns or by deploying “little green men” as we saw in Crimea. Therefore, we should focus our efforts on how to address this hybrid threat.
How do you respond to the critics that state NATO is the one to blame for the unstable security situation in the east?
I would completely deny these accusations. NATO does not constitute a threat to anyone. It is a fact. In addition, we are geared to the basic principle that each nation has an inherent right to choose its own affiliations. Ukraine has the same right to decide to join NATO and the European Union if they wish and if the specific criteria are fulfilled, like it was in case of Poland, Hungary or all the Baltic states. We cannot accept even an attempt to introduce new dividing lines in Europe.
And Russia should not consider NATO as a threat. Our intention is not to be a threat for Russia. On the contrary, we have done a lot to reach out to Russia in the 1990s. In 1997, we adopted so called NATO-Russia Founding Act. In 2002 we stablished the NATO-Russia Council. In other words, we have done a lot to include Russia in our Euro-Atlantic security architecture. And that is why this criticism is unjustified.
Do you think that Western Europe truly understands the threat of escalation? What can be done to increase support for deterrence?
I agree that the best way to avoid an open conflict is strong and credible deterrence. We have already taken the first step by increasing NATO’s presence in the East. If Russia continues its provocations, then I would not exclude a permanent base in the East. We are very close to that point now because the continual rotation of troops is almost an equivalent to a permanent presence. But we do not have bases. However, in order to ensure that we can react very swiftly to any Russian aggression against a NATO ally, we should consider such permanent basing. It is worth noting that in Western Europe there are NATO bases, but not in the Eastern part of NATO. We need to come to terms with the fact that there is a threat which comes from the East, from Russia. So why not have bases where you exactly see the threat? But these steps would have to be taken if Russia decides to continue provocations.
There are opinions that NATO’s presence in the Baltic Sea is not sufficient and Russia has considerable advantage in case of regional conflict. Does it suggest that Baltic states are still not safe?
The Baltic states are well protected. Article V is clear in this regard – If Russia attacks any Baltic state, NATO will come to its aid. As I mentioned earlier, there is a question of speed. How swift could NATO assist in case of aggression? That is why I believe we need permanent NATO bases in the East.
In May 2016 it was announced that you would be advising President Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine. Are you still currently doing so?
Yes, since June 1st 2016 I have worked as a foreign policy advisor to President Poroshenko. I am pleased to see all the initiatives taken by Ukraine to reform the society including several steps to fight corruption.
And what is your assessment of the reforms and modernisation of Ukraine’s defence capabilities?
The reforms are absolutely going in the right direction, but of course more could be done. During the last two or three years we could observe a significant modernisation of the Ukrainian army. Today the defence capabilities are much better than it was a couple of years ago. Having said that, I think we should still consider how we could further improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian army, by providing defensive weapons. The Ukrainian army needs to be even better than it is today and should increase its own defence capabilities, in case of further Russian aggression.
Is the West in your opinion doing enough to support Ukraine?
Do we do enough? Well, I think more could be done. In my opinion the sanctions against Russia should be strengthened. Ideally, the sanctions should be open-ended. In other words, sanctions should only be whittled if Russia changes its behaviour towards Ukraine. It would better not to discuss sanctions every six months. At least the extension of sanctions for 12 months, instead of six would be a better option.
What about the political means of support. How do you assess the fact that the Netherlands may reject the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine?
In my opinion Dutch hesitance to ratify the Association Agreement is already a fact. The Netherlands will not ratify it after the referendum, which was held this year. However, it reflects much deeper problem within the EU. For instance, you could see how the Wallonia parliament opposed the CETA, the free-trade agreement between the EU and Canada. Luckily the problems connected with CETA were solved and we will finally signed the agreement. However, the same problem will be observed during the TTIP negotiations between the EU and the United States. If you take all this into consideration, then it reflects a fundamental problem within the EU. It could threaten the future of the European Union, and it will be welcomed by Vladimir Putin who wants these divisions within the EU. I do not think that Dutch reluctance to ratify the Association Agreement has anything to do with Ukraine. It is an opposition to the EU. It is a protest, but I do not understand against whom this process is. At the end of the day, it has paralysed the European Union. If Europe is unable to conduct its trade policies, what is left of the EU?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen is a former Danish prime minister and was the Secretary General of NATO from 2009-2014.
Maciej Makulski is a contributing editor with New Eastern Europe.