Defense, diplomacy most important issues for new NATO Secretary General — Experts

December 3, 2014 5:55 pm

NATO does not seek a confrontation with Russia or a new Cold war, but will not jeopardize the European principles of security, said Jens Stoltenberg, the new Secretary General of NATO, former Prime Minister of Norway, during his speech at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels on October 28,2014.

According to him, Russia is the largest neighbor of the North Atlantic organization and is impossible to ignore, but NATO “cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which our alliance and the security of Europe and North America rest.”

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However, as Jens Stoltenberg noted, the alliance must also be ready to defend its interests from the threats coming from the South and the Middle East. He particularly mentioned the “Islamic State” terrorist group as one of the most prominent dangers.

The Secretary General also stressed the importance of improving solidarity, safety, security and power of the alliance, which, from his point of view, are “important for our relationship with Russia” because “only a strong NATO can build a truly constructive and cooperative relationship.”

This was the first speech made by the new Secretary General and the former leader of the strong Labor Party of Norway Jens Stoltenberg since his assumption of office on October 1, 2014.

Certain analysts remained skeptical about his statements on readiness to build a partnership with Russia, since increasing NATO’s potential will not prepare the grounds for a healthy dialogue and may be seen by Russia as a national threat. At the same time, they agreed that the new Secretary General is very experienced and may be able to affect the current trend towards Moscow.

Henning Riecke, Head of Transatlantic Relations program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, noted that Norway managed to establish a certain kind of partnership with Russia, and because of that Jens Stoltenberg may be able to build bridges where other NATO diplomats were unable to achieve anything.

According to him, the new Secretary General will have to keep the alliance together, while it readjusts itself for an adequate response to the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq.

“What he needs to do is to supervise NATO’s cohesion in the period of redirection,” the analyst explained, while stressing that does not imply any kind of aggression against Russia.

Discussing the possible future changes for the alliance, Henning Riecke suggested the member states would noticeably increase their defense expenses, and stressed the need for further modernization.

“[However,] the Secretary General cannot change the course of the alliance: this is done by the member-states. So I would not over-estimate what Stoltenberg can do,” the analyst noted.

At the same time, he said that the search for compromise on several Russia-related issues, such as the anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) launch systems dispute, has practically stopped because of the current conflicts, despite the numerous attempts to rejuvenate the talks.

“These problems cannot be solved, especially not now, since the trust and the cooperative attitude between NATO and Russia has been destroyed by what has been done in Ukraine. Currently, it will be very difficult to restart that kind of cooperation,” pointed out the Head of Transatlantic Relations program at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

According to Dmitry Danilov, Head of European Security department at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, NATO’s negative attitude was clearly seen in the strident rhetoric used by the former Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during his last few months in the office.

He also stressed the fact that NATO member-states approached the task of choosing a new candidate with particular diligence, paying special attention to a candidate’s political prowess and country of origin.

“Many people in Russia were closely watching the issue as well, since the Russia—NATO relations pretty much reached rock bottom because of the Ukrainian crisis,” the researcher said.

From his point of view, Jens Stoltenberg has already shown himself as a decisive, level-headed and moderate politician who successfully led the Labor Party of Norway through tough times.

However, according to the expert, the performance capabilities of the new NATO head in many areas, including Russia, are limited, because he has to stay within the bounds of the political doctrine set during the Wales summit on September 4-5, 2014.

“Stoltenberg assumed his office at the moment when the major alliance reconstruction decisions have already been made. Therefore, he will be implementing the decisions he is not related with. In this respect, Stoltenberg may enjoy very little autonomy. However, exactly how versatile he will be during the process of implementing the decisions is an entirely different matter,” the analyst explained.

Moreover, he stressed that there is currently very little doubt about the plans of the North Atlantic union to continue its expansion towards the East.

“Nobody even says anymore that NATO expansion is not against Russia: on the contrary, now the point is that this expansion will be the natural part of the alliance policy which has changed and is now tailored to counter ‘the Russian challenge’ and ‘the Russian threat’ as the NATO states see it,” he said.

At the same time, he noted that the aforementioned issue is just a portion of a much bigger political game played in the post-Soviet territory.

According to Dmitry Danilov, the new Secretary General will have practically no influence on the ABM dispute.

“These issue are solved at an entirely different level – at the level of Russia—US talks. There is no dialogue now, and so arguing that Stoltenberg can play around it is moot. Not only one cannot see any perspectives for Russia and the US resuming the talks now: there is no future for them in sight, either,” Dmitry Danilov stated.

In his turn, Dániel Bartha, executive director of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy in Hungary, suggested that the alliance now has no intention to take into account Moscow’s interests on the current issues due to the recent conflicts in Ukraine.

“One thing is sure. NATO members won’t consider Russian concerns any more. They will try to reduce the chance of further escalation, but there is no intention to emphasize any good will towards Moscow,” he stressed.

According to the analyst, the current political climate may have made the position of the Secretary General weaker.

“NATO policies are dramatically changing because of the Ukrainian crises. This is already a different NATO, resifting to territorial defense capabilities. It will be hard to analyze how deep [Stoltenberg’s] personal role will be in these policy changes,” he explained.

However, Dániel Bartha called the former Prime Minister of Norway “a safe choice” for the alliance, due to his experience, skill in negotiations, pro-Atlantic attitude, and the long-present desire to establish good relationship with Moscow.

“Very important point that he is a great supporter of defense budget increase, and he was the biggest supporter of the issue within Norway,” the analyst pointed out, adding that Jens Stoltenberg should continue following the same principles even now.

Comparing the new Secretary General with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the expert noted that the former head of the alliance was successful in several crises, but he could not affect the policies of the member-states.

“Obviously there is no guarantee that Stoltenberg will be stronger, but the international environment helps him to get his voice heard in the [NATO] capitals,” Dániel Bartha said.

Meanwhile, Ivan Arreguin-Toft, Professor of International Relations at the Boston University, listed several points that, from his point of view, made the former Prime Minister of Norway the best candidate for the alliance.

According to him, Jens Stoltenberg has great experience in working with Russia under uneasy circumstances, such as during the process of resolving the Barents Sea border dispute in 2010; and the notable fact that he managed to keep the Norwegian economy prosperous during the crisis.

“It is for all these reasons that Angela Merkel promoted his appointment, and many other NATO countries support it,” Ivan Arreguin-Toft explained.

Discussing the future of the North Atlantic alliance under the new Secretary General, the expert suggested that “the counterproductive policies of the past two decades” will continue, and also mentioned that Jens Stoltenberg highly depends on internal political climate in US legislative bodies.

However, he suggested that the ABM dispute in Europe might be resolved in a diplomatic fashion. From his point of view, if the political climate favors it, Jens Stoltenberg may begin dismantling existing installations after securing Washington’s support, while at the same time offering compensations to the affected states and establishing dialogue with Russia.

Speaking of NATO’s possible intentions to continue expanding to the East, the foreign policy expert suggested that two events have been the cause of this process until recently: first, the rise of a conservative US government that tried to “rescue” other countries; and second, Moscow’s political course that alarmed the neighboring nations.

“Bluntly, NATO did not aim to expand, rather it was pulled eastward by the desperately insecure states on the RF’s periphery,” he explained.

Ivan Arreguin-Toft suggested that the further NATO expansion will depend not on the policies promoted by Jens Stoltenberg, but rather on the decisions made by the countries that want to join the alliance.

However, Ronald Granieri, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of America and the West at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, ruled out the possibility of any new country, including Ukraine, to join the North Atlantic alliance in the nearest future.

“I think it is unlikely that NATO’s going to add new members. I don’t think anybody in the NATO leadership wants to risk making any of the current crises worse by seeking to add new members,” he said, stressing the fact that other tasks have been brought to the forefront.

The expert reminded that the new strategy of the alliance places emphasis on improving internal and external security of the organization and its member-states, increasing defense, resolving the current issues, and preserving what was gained before.

“It’s about maintaining cohesion and resolve. I do not see any radical departures in policy coming up,” Ronald Granieri noted.

In his opinion, this is why Jens Stoltenberg first of all will have to work as a diplomat a peacekeeper, preserve the unity of the alliance that will be dealing with numerous critical tasks and threats, and forge relationships with other countries and international bodies.

Ronald Granieri also expressed his hope that Russia and NATO will eventually resume their constructive relationship.

“The world is better off without escalating these crises. If both sides articulate clearly what they can see their interests to be, but also how they are willing to deal with the clashing interests of their neighbors, I believe that an agreement can be reached,” the expert summed up.

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