Thanks to the Russian president, the alliance is no longer in search of a causeby Bronwen Maddox / February 24, 2015 / Leave a comment
The most powerful impression I took from chairing the opening session of Chatham House’s Security and Defence Conference this week is that Russia’s President has injected a new sense of purpose into Nato. You might bleakly call Vladimir Putin “Nato’s salvation;” he has rescued the alliance from its drift and loss of confidence—and even possibly from its lack of money.
An incursion across the sovereign boundary of Ukraine; a potential subversive recruitment of Russian-speaking people in the European Union’s eastern most members; all this dressed up in sour accusations, distortions of perceived motive and justifications for action redolent of the Cold War. Just as Nato members including the US had come to believe, drawing on the spectacle of Iraq and Afghanistan, that they might often have discretion about whether to enter a conflict, and that many conflicts were more trouble than they were worth, here comes one that may not be a conflict of choice at all. The Cold War may be back, and even its nuclear menace too.
Lots of threats, not much money—that was the familiar portrait of the predicament of the West that emerged in the discussions. Democracies spend less on defence in general than autocratic regimes or ones rich in oil (often the same thing), where the resources often flow straight out of the ground into new arms supplies, along a path studded with demands for kickbacks, bypassing the national budget entirely. The financial crisis in the west, and the setbacks in Afghanistan (where Nato led the International Security Assistance Force) and in Iraq, where the US led the invasion, have knocked big holes in defence spending.
Nato in any case has been looking strained, more than 65 years after its creation (in April 1949). In 2012, the US paid 72 per cent of its total budget, and 6 of its 28 members paid 90 per cent. The US has long griped at the easy ride it feels EU members are getting on this score—all the guaranteed protection and none of the cost. Meanwhile, it wants to “rebalance” its spending towards Asia and the threat of China’s rise, where…