Will NATO significantly increase its presence in CEE region?

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said that: Strengthening NATO’s eastern flank is fundamental. Do you expect that we will see NATO significantly beefing up the Eastern flank? Read few comments.

Stephen BlankSenior Fellow for Russia, American Foreign Policy Council

I hope we will the time is long over due for credible military moves to deter a wider war and force  Putin and his gang of  so called rebels  out of Ukraine.  Continued half-steps by the EU will only fortify Putin in his determination to destroy Ukraine as a state, a quest that means a general European war.  If the EU continues to temporize  sanctions alone — which need to be big enough to deter Russia and force a withdrawal of its forces and an end to hostilities — will not suffice.  Then deterrence by  sending in convincing  number of troops into Eastern  Europe,  including Ukraine,  a force large enough to deter Russia beyond all doubts will become increasingly necessary.

Thomas NicholsProfessor of National Security Affairs, U. S. Naval War College

I do not see a major investment in NATO from the US or its other European partners in the current political climate. I think, however, that such an increase in NATO’s strength on its east will take place more slowly, over time. It would have been more difficult to convince the Americans to do this, but President Putin has been the best salesman that NATO has had since the 1980s.

Michael Szporer, Professor of Communications, Arts, and Humanities, University of Maryland University College

Frankly, I believe that NATO’s eastern flank depends very much on Poland, as the largest borderland country, and as one of the few in EU that has been modernizing its military. Poland has to speed up the tempo of modernizing its military, and Europe and NATO should help. As the largest borderland country, it should do even more, and think of plan B in the event of spillover from the Ukraine crisis. Unfortunately Europe is conflicted, mostly but not only because of energy supply. What if current efforts to help Ukraine fail and if the crisis widens, not just because of the continuing Russian threat but also because of existing corruption and ineffective governance, as has happened in the past? Ukraine may need more than the Transatlantic Alliance is able or willing to offer.

Hence, president Komorowski’s assessment is correct but too narrow in scope. The immediate potential problem from a widening conflict in Ukraine is massive immigration.  Poland might be able to absorb a million or two of Ukrainians but Ukraine is a large country. Fracturing would bring western Ukraine even closer to Europe, but that could turn out to be a serious economic problem for Europe as a whole and not just for Ukraine’s EU neighbors. The burden would mainly fall on Poland, which in view of past history, would be expected to deal with the problem first, however unwilling it may be to undertake such an overwhelming and perhaps impossible task.  Note that Vladimir Putin and his loudmouths like Zherinovsky are well aware of that possibility as Russia puts the screws on Ukraine. Western Ukraine is a poor, economically underdeveloped region with many deep problems that will take decades, perhaps generations, to resolve. It needs help and our support but we live in a world of limited resources. Importantly, we should ask why Putin’s Russia was willing to swallow the “orange revolution” and has now been playing a very different game, using asymetrical tactics in this new Ukrainian crisis? I strongly suspect it isn’t just about freedom in Ukraine, or of Russia losing its political and economic control on its neighbor. It has to do with the fear of serious changes in Russia itself. Russia is a very diverse country with many potential fissures and hidden differences that could surface over time. Just imagine yourself being a Volga Tartar or some other ethnic group inside Russia looking at what happened in Crimea—a forced referendum by boot and brute, which the Crimean Tartars largely boycotted.

My advice would be not to simply strengthen EU’s and NATO’s eastern border, but also to consider plan B that would prop up Ukraine. If I were to advise Warsaw, or for that matter Slovakia or Hungary, I would seriously explore other possibilities. I think Turkey is an important country, a NATO partner, overlooked by Europe but historically respected in Poland. Why not have both Poland and Turkey helping Ukraine’s military to modernize itself? Why not think in terms of regional coalitions to block immediate threats to all? Such coalitions can be more flexible in dealing with unconventional conflicts than calling up big NATO, and would actually strengthen the transatlantic alliance in the long run. Why can’t EU contract energy supplies jointly as EU with Russia or with other suppliers to benefit all EU members and thus strengthen EU security? Why not look for alternative energy pathways? The biggest immediate problem is ending Putin’s ability to use unconventional tactics, using agents and unmarked militaries, to destabilize the “near abroad” and give Ukraine a chance to develop.

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