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NATO in Modern World Politics

  • Last updated: 19 Nov. 2019 10:00

Russian Studies Series 6/19

BOOK REVIEW

by Ray Finch 1

NATO in Modern World Politics

Review of Alexander A. Bartosh НАТО в современной мировой политике (NATO v Sovremennoiy Mirovoiy Politike), Moscow, Goryachaya Liniya-Telekom, 2019.

Background

Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, relations between Russia and the West have again grown frigid. The Suwalki has replaced the Fulda Gap, strategic bombing flights have resumed, arms control agreements have been shelved, and NATO and Russia are again rehearsing plans for major military operations. Indeed, some have suggested that this “new Cold War” is potentially more dangerous than its predecessor. Cyber technologies have blurred the understanding of what constitutes a hostile act. Aggressors, both physical and virtual, may not be wearing their country’s uniform. Moreover, where in the past, the two sides understood that direct military conflict could lead to Armageddon, today’s leaders appear more cavalier when talking about the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Examining the historical record as to how we reached this point, there is plenty of blame for all sides. The US, intoxicated by its alleged victory in the Cold War, assumed a global security mandate, presuming it could act independently regardless of the concerns of international organizations like the UN or other major powers. Former countries of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR, which had earlier suffered under Soviet (or Tsarist) domination and encouraged by promises of US/NATO security guarantees, welcomed the chance to join an enlarged NATO. NATO itself, distracted by the demands of out-of-area operations, appeared at times to be driven more by bureaucratic inertia than a genuine concern for creating a European security system which included Russia. For its part, the Kremlin leadership, never acknowledging a Cold War defeat, is determined to restore the country’s great power status, particularly in the military realm. Russian leaders have continued to exploit the country’s sense of grievance and historical insecurity for political purposes – even if this entails annexing territory of close neighbours.

About the author

Over the past decade or more, some Russian authors have worked overtime to exacerbate what they perceive as their country’s post-Cold War resentments. Many of these writers and commentators share a Soviet military pedigree, where they formed a dark view of the US and Western institutions like NATO. They maintain this, firmly asserting that the US/NATO took advantage of Russian weakness after the collapse of the USSR, and remain determined to prevent Russia from becoming a peer competitor. These writers bemoan US claims to a global security primacy, advocating instead a multi-polar model in which Russia is one of the poles. These “experts” are quick to point out the mistakes, aggression, and hypocrisies of their Western foes, but can easily justify or ignore similar Kremlin actions and policies. A good example of this one-sided and biased analysis is the recent study published by Alexander Bartosh, НАТО в современной мировой политике (NATO in modern world politics).

Alexander Alexandrovich Bartosh certainly knows his topic. For several years in the 1990s he served at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to NATO, though he rarely mentions his service in Brussels, perhaps concerned that in today’s Russia, such an assignment could be interpreted as somehow disloyal – despite his service awards and recognition from the Security Council and the High Command of the Russian Armed Forces. Bartosh is one of the most prominent and prolific Russian military commentators, regularly publishing, for instance, in specialist newspapers such as Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozreniye and Voenno-Promyshlenny Kurier. He is an Associate Member of the Academy of Military Sciences, and an expert of the Centre on Military-Diplomatic Analysis.

He has also taught at several military academies, and these perhaps offer the target audience for his book, which appears to be set out as a text book on NATO and its development, with the primary focus being on the post-Cold War era.

Book structure and content

The book consists of eleven broadly chronological chapters, tracing NATO’s evolution from the period of partnership and cooperation in the early-to-mid 1990s (Chapter 3), through the “period of globalization” in the second half of the 1990s (Chapter 4) to the 2010 Strategic Concept and the “new impulse for the Alliance’s globalization” (Chapter 6) and into the second half of the 2010s, from the Chicago to Brussels summits as “determining factors of the Alliance’s transformation” (Chapter 8).

Within this overall structure, Bartosh addresses structural factors, such as NATO’s tasks and functions and internal factors of transformation, and includes an extensive review of US national security doctrine, particularly its portrayal of Russia. He also provides a synopsis of all the major NATO summits – chapter five looks in turn at Prague, Istanbul, Riga, Bucharest, and Strasbourg-Kehl, chapter eight reflects on Chicago, Cardiff, Warsaw, Brussels-2017, and Brussels-2018. Errors do creep in, however: he calls the 2014 Cardiff summit in Wales “the summit in Scotland”.

Chapters 9 and 10 assert a new stage of transformation in NATO, effectively its “hybridization” and the foundation of the potential for the Alliance’s global projection of power, and the information-communication factor in NATO strategy. Chapter 11 reflects on the perspectives for NATO-Russia relations, but at just four pages is noticeably much shorter than all the other chapters.

Objections to NATO as overarching theme

But instead of writing a comprehensive study on how NATO has transformed over the past 70 years, Bartosh has merely assembled his various anti-NATO/US screeds into a compilation with ill-defined chapter headings. His objections to the continued existence of NATO, and by extension, US global military power, are the glue which holds this work together. Indeed, despite weighing in at over 350 pages, Bartosh’s main argument can be chiseled down to just a few paragraphs. The West won the Cold War by dragging the USSR into an expensive arms race, then weakened the overall Soviet economy by manipulating the price of oil. The West further eroded the USSR’s economic base by exploiting the resources of third-world countries which the Soviet Union had so generously funded. Using its massive information arsenal, the West was not only able to sow dissent among the population of the Warsaw Pact, but also figured out how to corrupt the Eastern European elite as well as the Kremlin leadership.

Aftermath of the Cold War

Bartosh also suggests that US and NATO military power played only accompanying roles in the collapse of the Soviet system. Once it became clear, however, that the Kremlin was serious about reducing its military presence in Eastern Europe, Washington and Brussels quickly moved “to control the process of security and defense in these newly liberated countries” (p. 129). US/NATO leaders argued that even though the USSR had retreated, other threats remained, and that these countries should work with the alliance to strengthen European defence. According to Bartosh, the US and NATO exploited their dominant position in the 1990s to strengthen its control over the politics, information space, and natural resources, imposing its morals and values on these former Warsaw Pact countries (pp. 131-32).

In essence, these are the roots of his “hybrid war” thesis, the direct Russian echo of the current debates in the Euro-Atlantic community about Russian activity. Bartosh backdates current concerns to the late 1980s: much of his anti-US/NATO critique is written from today’s antagonistic perspective. Many pages are filled with this revisionist viewpoint, alleging that since the collapse of the USSR, the US and NATO were determined to weaken Russia into submission, or if that failed, transform it into an enemy.

Having declared victory in the Cold War, according to Bartosh, the US began to transform NATO into an instrument to protect and expand American interests on a global scale. Bartosh insists that despite the geopolitical changes stemming from the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO’s core mission (as a front organization for American hegemony) remained directed against Russia. In the early 1990s, he argues, the US also moved to ensure that the EU would not present a threat to its hegemonic plans. Thus,

In the period after 1991, recognizing the economic potential of the EU, the administration in Washington began to take a more flexible position with regard to recognizing “European identity” in the spheres of foreign policy and security. As a result of a complex reform to adapt NATO, including a major reorganization in the system of military control, steps were taken to preserve and strengthen the leading role of the US in the alliance and which would place the EU in complete dependency on NATO’s military infrastructure. (p.133)

To cement their security and economic ties within former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries, NATO and the US came up with the Partnership for Peace Program, which, according to Bartosh, provided these former Warsaw Pact countries with security guarantees if their territorial integrity, political independence, or security were threatened (p. 136). Yet these guarantees, in Bartosh’s analysis, did not stem from any sense of Western altruism, but were rather merely a façade for the US to expand its influence, first in all of Europe, then across the entire globe. Bartosh suggests that NATO’s growing bureaucracy was willing to go along with this mission expansion since it provided them with “prestigious and well-paying jobs” (p.139).

Expanding partnerships in the Post-Soviet space

Bartosh insists that NATO/US pretended to form a partnership with a weakened Russia in the 1990s, not to enlist the Kremlin’s help in constructing a new European security model, but rather to weaken the deeply held anti-NATO sentiments within Russia. Bartosh also claims that NATO’s creation of a formal partnership with Russia (NATO-Russian Council) gave the impression to former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries that the Kremlin was on-board with regard to expanding the alliance (p.140). Unwilling to address the Kremlin’s change in domestic and foreign policies over the past decade, Bartosh frequently repeats the assertion that despite the collapse of the USSR and Warsaw Pact, NATO has always harboured aggressive designs against Russia.

There are gaps in the analysis: there is no mention, for instance, of any potential internal failings of the USSR that might have played a role in its collapse, nor of the reasons why former Warsaw Pact states might actively want to join NATO or be reluctant to draw closer to Russia. And since Bartosh views NATO as a mere tool of the aggressive American foreign policy, he feels free to attribute any US foreign policy initiative as somehow also belonging to NATO.

Parroting Kremlin propaganda

But more importantly, beyond the specific errors such as the Wales/Scotland one noted above, there are noteworthy mistakes and falsehoods. In chapter two, for instance, Bartosh writes of the US view of Russia in the post-Cold War era. Again, it is worth quoting at length:

The anti-Russian vector has been characteristic of all US national security policies since the end of the Cold War. However, the clearest statement of US policy toward Russia was formulated in October 1997 in one of President Bill Clinton’s statements: “having placed Yeltsin as president for a second term, we have thus created a training ground from which we will never depart […] Over the next couple of decades, we need to solve the following problem: how to chop up Russia into little states by means of regional wars, similar to the methods we used in Yugoslavia; once and for all, destroy Russia’s military-industrial complex and its military; establishing a regime which allows us to tear off those territories of Russia which we need. Yes, we will allow Russia to be a great power, but only one country will be an empire-the US” (p. 66).

In fairness, it should be noted that Bartosh borrowed the alleged Clinton quote from another anti-US diatribe,2 but since many of Clinton’s presidential papers are now available in digital format, Bartosh might have taken the time to corroborate this alleged quote. Evidently he did not, since President Clinton never said such a thing. Bartosh (and his ilk), however, are not too concerned with capturing the historical truth, but with parroting Kremlin propaganda. Indeed, the most senior Kremlin officials have been willing to attribute similar canards to former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who allegedly asserted that since Siberia is too large for the Russians to manage effectively, it should be chopped up and given to Western countries.3

The book is filled with similar fabrications, historical revisions and one-sided analysis. This begs the question as to just how prevalent the views of Bartosh are within Russia, particularly among those who are crafting foreign and military policies. Unfortunately, where ten-to-fifteen years ago such views were confined to the conservative fringe, today views shared by Bartosh are broadcast 24/7 on the Kremlin-sponsored airwaves.  

The call to strengthen all of Russia’s military capabilities

Having portrayed NATO and the US as mortal threats to Russia, Bartosh recommends that his country answers this challenge by strengthening the country’s defense potential in every possible sphere. For instance, Russia needs to focus on deploying the most modern weapon systems, strengthen its military ties within the CSTO and SCO, and continuing to block any further expansion of the NATO alliance. Bartosh is convinced that until Russia re-establishes overwhelming military prowess, there is no hope for productive negotiations with the US and NATO. Thus, he argues that NATO and most of all, the US, have been in a state of direct competition with Russia in post-Soviet regions, and sought to expand into all regions (p. 8). He continues

Many […] NATO activities, the expansion of its missions and functions of the alliance, have a most direct influence upon Russia’s national interests. Despite its outward, peace-loving rhetoric, NATO prefers, as they say, “to keep their powder dry”, and they have not removed the old function from the time of the Cold War, to be prepared for a major military confrontation against a large enemy in Europe. […] In this context, it is important to continue to oppose attempts to transform the European security system into a purely NATO-centric model. NATO, defending the interests of a certain group of countries, does not align with Russian national security and does not even take it into consideration (p. 23).

Though it will hardly be an easy or enjoyable read, the book is an important one for Western audiences. The prolific Bartosh is representative of an important slice of the Russian commentariat. The arguments in opposition to NATO will be familiar to many, but the threads of the argument are now thickly woven as illustrated by this book. Moreover, familiarity with how Bartosh frames the “hybridization” of NATO as the basis of the shift to a global focus for the alliance – whether this is a matter for consensus or not – will help to provide the context for interpreting Russian activity.


Notes


1(back) Ray Finch is a Eurasian Military Analyst for the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Finch spent 20 years in the US Army and has spent the past 20 working in business, academia, and as a contractor for the US government. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NATO Defense College or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

2(back) Lieutenant-General Valentin I. Pereverzev, “Перезагрузка” или “перенагрузка”? [Reboot or overload?] Русская разведка, 2019, p. 59. https://www.moscowbooks.ru/book/490407/#

3(back) Paul Gregory, “The Madeleine Albright Declaration: Origins of a Kremlin Lie”, Forbes, 16 July 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2015/07/16/the-madeleine-albright-declaration-origins-of-a-kremlin-lie/#3704098f7056

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