Is Russia turning Ukraine into a Fragile State?


Following the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing hostilities in eastern Ukraine, the Poroshenko government has struggled to revive the country’s economy. In 2015, the country’s economy was reduced by 12 percent and inflation reached 48.7 percent. IMF loans and EU financial packages have saved Ukraine from financial collapse. More importantly, Ukraine has faced a humanitarian crisis that has attracted little attention in the West. Almost 10,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled to avoid the fighting.

According to the Fragile States Index, published annually by Foreign Policy, the country fulfils most of the criteria of a fragile state: refugees and internally displaced persons, ethnic unrest, poverty and economic decline, lack of state legitimacy, massive human rights violations, warlordism, fragmentation of ruling elites, and external intervention from Russia. Although post-Soviet Ukraine has suffered from many structural problems (e.g. corruption, high unemployment), the Russian intervention has significantly undermined Ukrainian sovereignty and has turned the country into a fragile state.

In fact, the Russian leadership has followed a ‘policy of fragilization’ vis-à-vis Ukraine by using the large Russian minority in the eastern provinces. The Kremlin has mobilised ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in order to delegitimize the Ukrainian state in the short run and possibly divide it in the long run. Putin and his local allies have capitalized on eastern Ukraine’s grievances relating to the highly centralized nature of the state, chronic corruption, and hostile attitudes toward the Russian language. Therefore, Moscow has called for the federalization of Ukraine as a means to control the country’s foreign policy orientation. More specifically, the Kremlin has supported a federal system where each region would elect its own leaders and enjoy widespread economic and cultural autonomy, including the right to develop relations with Russia.

The Russian strategy has been well-calculated because ethnic mobilization almost inevitably leads to confrontation with state authorities. If there is a military response to the rise of a secessionist movement, a cycle of violence is unleashed that can be described as follows:

Ethnic mobilization >> state military response >>  violence against civilians >> glorification of victims and demonization of perpetrators >> more violence

Such cycles of ethnic violence have provided the pretext for Russian interventions in other former Soviet republics (e.g. Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia). Eastern Ukraine clearly fits this model: it is an ethnically diverse region with a large Russian community that has been mobilized against state authorities; the Ukrainian government has escalated the crisis by targeting civilians; locals have rallied around the separatist leadership which has blamed Kiev for the violence; finally, ethnic Russians have taken arms to defend themselves. Therefore, Russia has a “moral obligation” to help them and enforce peace.

The use of citizen militias, volunteers from abroad, criminal gangs and possibly Russian special forces has allowed Moscow to deny any direct involvement in the conflict. Thus, the Russian leadership could still hope to play the role of the mediator between belligerents and avoid the alienation of international allies like China. In any case, the privatization of war is a new element in the Russian military thinking. The Kremlin has traditionally maintained tight control over its military; the use of proxies goes against the Russian military culture but it allows Moscow to achieve plausible deniability.

The Russian intervention has provoked a nationalist backlash contributing to the rise of the Ukrainian far right. It is only after the Russian annexation of Crimea that far right parties, like Svoboda and Right Sector, gained enough support to form their own militias. The Ukrainian authorities have attempted, rather successfully, to control militias and integrate them into the national army. Despite its limited electoral appeal, the far right has become a de facto ally of the Kremlin since both have targeted the Poroshenko government. Consequently, the Ukrainian government was forced to reintroduce mandatory conscription which is highly unpopular among the general public.

The current hostilities in the eastern provinces have only deepened ethnic Russians’ enmity toward Kiev, making it all but inconceivable that the region will ever become a normal subject of the Ukrainian state. Furthermore, the fragilisation of Ukraine could encourage the Kremlin to follow a similar strategy in the Baltic States. The time has come for a new policy of containment toward Russia.

Image: Map of the ‘2014 Russo-Ukrainian War’, ‘2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine’ or ‘2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine’. (Includes ‘2014 Crimean Crisis’ and ‘War in Donbass’). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.



Over 18 months into Russia’s not-so-very-proxy, proxy war in Ukraine, there remains a thriving and fascinating debate over the tools of conflict that Russia uses, how one describes those tools and where Russia’s next ‘target’ may be.

I was asked to respond to Rod Thornton’s recent blog on Russia.  In his excellent piece, Rod argued that Russia’s wars have focused attention on the concept of ‘hybrid’ war’, defining it as forms of attack generally used by one state actor against another.  He argued that hybrid war achieves its effect by the totality of the tools used, rather than any specific one.  He also said that hybrid war’s objective is to collapse a state from within, and that the Russian state’s autocratic structures enable control over a myriad of levers.  He finished by arguing that the Baltic will be Russia’s next target.

Whilst there is much in Rod’s post that I agree with, there are parts on which I’d take a different view and, hoping that debate spurs interest and discussion, let me offer some additional thoughts in this regard.

First, a word of caution about the term ‘hybrid war’, defined concisely as a mix of violent and non-violent tools used in conflict.  I’d suggest that hybrid war has generally been used to describe non-conventional warfare practiced, not by state actors, but by non-state actors such as ISIS and Hezbollah against conventional forces, often Western.  Russia is the exception to this.  It is a state actor using ‘hybrid’ warfare proactively, not reactively, as a deliberate, primary tool of warfare.  It has done this with great skill and confidence – morality, success and permissions issues aside.

Rod highlights the need for successful integration of effects across the range of tools that the Russian regime either controls or influences.  In this he is absolutely correct, and one of the most remarkable features of Russia’s new warfare is the level of coordination.  Indeed, the term ‘hybrid war’ doesn’t really do it justice.  The levers of influence and violence aligned by the Russian state are far broader than Western concepts of ‘hybrid war’.  Russian tools range from proxy groups, to Russian language pressure groups and cultural organisations, the alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church, the probable use of blackmail (kompromat), the anti-Western agenda of Russian Today, food sanctions and gas supplies, the cultivation and control of politicians, the use of conventional military force in unconventional formats, through to espionage and criminality and assassination.  Successful or not, Russia has shown a high level of competence to align so many tools, as Sweden’s Defence Research institution, FOI, argues here.

Rod says its purpose is to collapse a state from within.  There is certainly some truth to that.  That form of subversive information warfare practiced by Moscow was known as Active Measures, broadly defined as disinformation and subversion techniques aimed at undermining Western institutions.  Active Measures, perfected during the Cold War, is undoubtedly a forerunner and inspiration for Russia’s new warfare.  But here again Russia’s new war is broader.  Moscow’s key aims appear to be two-fold; to gain or regain significant leverage in former Soviet republics using a wide variety of violent and non-violent levers that fall short of state-on-state offensive warfare.  Secondly, to use information and other forms of subversive warfare against Western targets to divide opinion and stymie action.  Western militaries (and their political masters) have found it very difficult to respond to these measures, as we have seen.

Finally, and this is worth discussing at some length, Rod argues that the Baltic is the ‘next target.’

I think that many people in the Baltic would say that it has already been a target for 20 years.  I believe that the answer to Rod’s point is both simpler and more complex.  There is not one next target, but multiple potential targets, which may be engaged concurrently or consecutively.  In Syria, Russia is bolstering the Assad regime and targeting Western proxies.  In Moldova, Russia will at some point annex the strategically important slither of land called Transdniestria.  Georgia is the ongoing target of political and cultural warfare.  In the Balkans, Moscow has been attempting to handout Russian passports, presumably in an effort to create leverage and potentially a new area of conflict.  The Kremlin has also been accused of engaging in cyber attacks against Western economic and media targets.

The composition of Russia’s hybrid war tools change with the political terrain.  Perhaps the best example of that is in the Baltic Sea area, the most complex, interesting and possibly dangerous area of confrontation, with the possible exception now of Syria.  Here the different variants of Russian hybrid war overlap as Russia applies different tools, and different rules, to its relations with different states.

First, there are the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which lie within Russia’s perceived sphere of interest, yet are civilisationally and culturally outside it.  These republics are on the frontline between, as Samuel Huntingdon would have argued, the central European and the Orthodox worlds.  Here, Russia is using cultural and linguistic tools and supporting and establishing campaigns for Russian language rights, painting Russian minorities in the Baltic republics as ‘the oppressed’.  The purpose here is to prevent the successful integration of Russians, to present the Baltic republics as failing states, and to ensure a pretext for intervention, should one be needed.  The Russian language media pushes a pro-Kremlin message.  Moscow backs pro-Russian politicians.  In Latvia it uses railway transit fees as economic tools of leverage.  There is the threat of more aggressive de-stabilising action, but this is not expected in the near future.

Then there are old NATO members such as Norway and Denmark, and a non-NATO state, Sweden.  To NATO, Russia asserts its hostility with an aggressive air posture, abutting NATO both over the three republics, and Norway.  Within the past two years, there have been a series of near misses in Norway and the Baltic Republics.  Bear bombers venture out to the North Sea to fly around Great Britain.  In Sweden, submarine scares are used to show up the collapse in Swedish defence spending.  Here, a conventional posture is used to send a clear, hostile message.

In diplomacy we have seen a reversion to a more blunt and aggressive stance by Russia, a good example of which were the threats to Denmark made in early 2015 by Russian Ambassador Mikhail Vanin if the country’s government supported the US missile defence programme (more details here).  Elsewhere in the Baltic and North Seas, Sweden and Britain, amongst others, are targets of Russia’s relentless media campaign.

So there are a myriad of tools used by Russia in these examples.  Perhaps the aim is sometimes to overwhelm with the variety of measures, but perhaps sometimes it is to experiment to find the one tool, or menu of tools, that will deliver the effect that Russia wants.  Whilst the tools are varied, the characteristics of flexibility, seamlessness and inventiveness are constant.  It is a dangerous mix, and Westerners have yet to find an answer to it.

Image: Secretary Kerry Meets With Russian President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Courtesy of: US Department of State.

‘The Russians are coming!’ Well, not just yet…


There has been much sabre-rattling by Moscow recently. Russian military activity has increased markedly since the Maidan events in Ukraine in early 2014. Russian troops initially massed on Ukraine’s borders in what was ostensibly a scheduled military exercise, but which was also clearly a means of applying psychological pressure on Kiev. Then the situation worsened as Russia annexed Crimea without a shot being fired. This was a very skillful operation involving the Kremlin’s now well-refined information-warfare techniques integrated with the activities of a limited number of special forces. This was followed in eastern Ukraine by the appearance of the ‘little green men’ (who may or may not have been Russian troops) operating in support of the rebels seeking autonomy from Kiev. It may be taken as read, though, that there are, indeed, Russian troops operating today over the border in Ukraine. Equipment has been seen there that is only possessed by the Russian army and which can only be operated by Russian service personnel.

Beyond Ukraine, other instances of what might be called aggressive behaviour have been evident. Russian aircraft and naval vessels are – on a global scale – fraying nerves with their incursions or near incursions into someone else’s territory. Evident also in the last month or so has been a spate of major, and provocative, military exercises unrelated to the Ukraine situation – in, for instance, the Arctic and the Southern Military District (near Georgia). Additional excitement has been caused by an exercise in March involving the deployment of nuclear-capable Iskander-M short-range missiles into Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave. Such a deployment brings several NATO countries within range of these missiles.

The Russian military seems to be very busy. But what are we really to make of all this? How worried should we be?

Well, the first thing to do is to take a step back and look at the nature of the recent Russian military modernisation process. On the back of oil money, the Kremlin has, over the last few years, been moving its military into the 21st century. This process has concentrated, in terms of the army (i.e., the Ground Forces and the Airborne Forces), on recruiting more professional soldiers, creating greater mobility and improving niche capabilities. In essence, the thinking was very much asymmetric – how to leverage a small number of assets so that they could create major strategic effect. Hence, a significant investment has been made in terms of special forces. Today, these forces are designed to work in tandem with Moscow’s newly enhanced information-warfare capabilities. The idea now, based on hybrid war principles, is that a target country (e.g., Ukraine, Georgia, or the Baltic States) can be forced either into surrendering territory or into outright submission using nothing much more than information-warfare attacks and the activities of a few highly-trained special forces. This combination was seen to work very well in the Crimea and may yet be seen to work very well in the Baltics.

However, while there has been significant investment in certain areas, the Russian defence establishment – regardless of any extra funding – cannot make up for the fact that there has been hardly any R & D investment since the end of the Cold War. The likes of Russia’s main battle tanks, fighters and bombers are more-or-less exactly the same models as those present in 1989. In many ways, Moscow thus feels weak: its conventional forces are no match for those of the United States and NATO. Moreover, the Russian army is also actually short of numbers. Several years ago, Vladimir Putin, in a search for domestic popularity, brought the basic term of conscript service down from two years to one. But if conscripts serve for only one year instead of the previous two then, using basic maths, the Russian army is roughly half the size it was under the two-year term. Then throw in the fact that Russia has a falling population and that there exists any number of deferral possibilities and the number of conscripts will be falling year on year. And, of course, conscripts who serve for just one year (including training time) are not really going to prove effective in any modern, high-tech military.

The shortage of troops has become evident as Moscow tries to maintain its current pressure on Ukraine. As units in its ‘vicinity’ need to be rotated off operational duties, new ones have to take their place. But they are simply not there. Units are now even being transferred from the likes of Tajikistan to plug the gaps – leaving that region more vulnerable to Islamist incursions from Afghanistan (one of Moscow’s major fears).

The issue now for Russia is that it has a military focused, at one end of the scale, on special forces for use in hybrid warfare and, at the other end, on a still reasonably effective nuclear capability. Russia continues to maintain, at huge expense, a triad system of nuclear weapons (i.e. delivered from air, land, or sea). But there is no balance; in the middle there is a relative lack of standard conventional forces.

Russia’s principal deterrence capability thus has to come from its nuclear missiles and not from its conventional forces. Given this situation, it might be expected that Russia would rattle its rockets along with all the other available sabres: it would want to scare the US and NATO over nuclear attack as well. That is, Moscow would want to change its military doctrine to reflect the fact that it was more ready to use such weapons if threatened. But this has not happened.

In the run-up to the publication of Russia’s latest military doctrine in December 2014, there was much dark talk of the fact that it would name-names in terms of just who Russia saw as its enemies and define the conditions for a Russian pre-emptive nuclear strike. Military doctrines of the Soviet Union/Russia have traditionally stated that nuclear weapons would only ever be used in response to a nuclear attack against itself, or if the state was being put in mortal danger through a conventional attack. It was mooted that the new doctrine would change this and lower the threshold of use. As it turned out, though, the doctrine did not name the US as an enemy and the threshold was not lowered. The new doctrine was thus quite conciliatory.

So, it is not all gloom and doom. Yes, Moscow is rattling sabres, but not as many as it might.

Image: “Modern T-90 tank of the Russian Army” by Vitaliy Ragulin – Репетиция парада.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Conventional Arms Control After Ukraine

This is the fifth in a series of posts from members of the Defence Studies Department’s Regional Security Research Centre, focusing on Russia and the implications of its increasingly assertive posture on the international stage. This post builds on a previous post to examine the prospects for conventional arms control in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. The final post in our series next Monday will explore implications for British defence policy.


As part of the Defence-in-Depth’s recent series on Russia, Heather Williams wrote about the prospects for nuclear arms control and non-proliferation policies in the light of the war in Ukraine. Discussing initiatives such as the New START Treaty, the INF Treaty, the Nunn-Lugar Programme, and tactical nuclear weapons, Dr Williams paints a comprehensive picture of the future for these nuclear issues. But what about prospects for arms control of non-CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear) weapons? In the short term, the likelihood of progress on so-called conventional arms control is low, as cooperation between Russia and the West shows little promise under Putin’s regime. But in the long term, conventional arms control may form the basis of a more lasting peace in Europe based on increased stabilisation and decreased anxiety.

Conventional arms control is often overlooked in favour of its more glamorous CBRN cousin. In Europe, it traditionally has been based on three agreements: the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, the Vienna Document, and the Open Skies Treaty. The Vienna Document 2011 is a Confidence and Security Building Measure (CSBM) that allows for inspections and data exchanges, and the Open Skies Treaty allows for territorial overflights for similar purposes. The CFE Treaty is by far the most substantive regime in terms of arms limitation and robust inspections. But given recent setbacks with the CFE Treaty, it is easy to see why conventional arms control in Europe is a largely forgotten topic.

The CFE Treaty, which was signed in 1990 and entered into force in 1992, is certainly seen by many as defunct since Russia’s ‘suspension’ of portions of the treaty in 2007. In fact, when typing ‘CFE Treaty’ into the Google search engine, one of the suggested ‘related searches’ reads: ‘CFE treaty a cold war anachronism’. At first glance, this seems an apt description.

The CFE Treaty was certainly a product of the Cold War. In the 1970s and 80s, NATO and the Warsaw Pact engaged in a series of negotiations relating to Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR), which culminated in the negotiations of the CFE Treaty. The aim was to eliminate ‘the capability for launching surprise attack and for initiating large-scale offensive action in Europe’ through a reduction of conventional armaments (battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters), in addition to data exchanges and inspections.

In its mission to reduce armaments in Europe, the CFE Treaty was incredibly successful: CFE States Parties removed over 52,000 pieces of conventional armaments from the treaty’s area of application from 1992 to 2008. But having accomplished this task, it has failed to endure as a lasting security institution.

This was largely because the CFE Treaty was designed to function in two blocs, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. But the latter institution dissolved before the treaty went into effect, and NATO enlargements in 1999 and 2004 included many of these former Warsaw Pact countries. This flaw was recognized early on by both sides, and by 1999 they signed a new Adapted CFE Treaty (A/CFE) that would replace bloc limitations with individual national and territorial limitations.

However, the treaty limited equipment that Russia had kept in Moldova and Georgia as part of the ‘frozen conflicts’ in those countries became a bone of contention between Russia and the Western States Parties. The latter refused to ratify A/CFE, which led to Russia’s suspension of the treaty in 2007. A year later, Russia invaded Georgia; the CFE process has yet to be revived, despite the brief appointment of U.S. Ambassador Victoria Nuland as Special Envoy for Conventional Armed Forces in Europe from 2010 to 2011.

So if the CFE Treaty could not work during the relatively stable period of the early to mid-2000s, what are the prospects for conventional arms control in a continent now beset by war?

It seems that the West has a few options:

1. Keep the Status Quo

Despite the failure of the CFE Treaty, the other two pillars of conventional arms control are still functioning and are being employed in the current crisis. According to the Brookings Institution, both the Vienna Document 2011 and the Open Skies Treaty are being used in a limited capacity to conduct inspections and overflights of relevant areas near the conflict zone. Furthermore, Russia shows no sign of leaving these agreements at the moment, and it remains a rare vehicle of cooperation.

2. Status Quo (Plus)

The West can use the Vienna Document 2011 and the Open Skies Treaty as stepping stones for deeper cooperation with Russia. This would require a long-term vision, looking beyond current conflicts and possibly Putin’s regime. Its goals would not be ambitious: most likely it would seek to rebuild trust via non-intrusive CSBMs, including further inspections, notifications, data exchanges, military-to-military contact, and other activities within existing frameworks such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or non-binding agreements. It would see any new legally-binding treaty as too ambitious for the current climate.

3. Walk Away

If sanctions and current levels of diplomatic isolation do not work to curb Russian behaviour, the West might be tempted to walk away from conventional arms control entirely. Even supporters of the Vienna Document and Open Skies Treaty would admit that, although they are positive tools for cooperation, they are not integral to Western security. Dismantling these frameworks could further isolate the Russian regime. This option likely would be seen as a last resort for diplomats.

4. Resurrect CFE

This option would, like Option 2, seek to look beyond the current situation and try to rebuild Europe based on the principles of the CFE Treaty regime as the ultimate guarantor of security. This approach seems to have at least some support in the conventional arms control community.

5. Transcend CFE

It may well be that these treaties are Cold War anachronisms, designed for a bygone security environment. But this does not mean that Europe can live comfortably without a conventional arms control regime.

Transcending the regime in Europe would be very ambitious. It would require Western leaders to take back the diplomatic initiative from Russia, proposing their own solutions rather than simply battling Russian non-starters such as the deeply problematic ‘European Security Treaty’, proposed by Medvedev in 2009. It might require flexibility on certain issues, such as missile defence. But it would also require leaders to stay firm on certain key redlines: NATO’s existence and the right of states to choose their own security alliances. This likely could never be accepted in Putin’s Kremlin. But surely Western democracy will outlive him, and when the time comes for a successor, it would be good for any potential reformer to have a viable option of negotiation with the West.

Sadly, this option would mean recognising that the Ukranian problem could not be solved by such a security regime, at least in the short term. But if the West plays the long game, and plays it well, it may well avert future crises and provide a framework within which Ukraine might eventually heal.

Image: T-90 tanks take part in the Victory Parade in Moscow, 9 May 2012. Courtesy of Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

From Brussels with love? The European Union in conflict with Russia

This is the fourth in a series of posts from members of the Defence Studies Department’s Regional Security Research Centre, focusing on Russia and the implications of its increasingly assertive posture on the international stage. This post examines the implications of the crisis in Ukraine for EU-Russian relations. Later posts will explore implications for conventional arms control and for British defence policy.


A year ago demonstrations on the independence square of Ukraine’s capital Kiev in support of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement – the so-called Euromaidan protests– reached their climax, when the then Ukrainian President Yanukovych fled the city and new elections were called for May 2014. At first, it seemed as if the pro-European protests succeeded and led to a political solution that would bring about Ukraine’s closer integration into the European Union (EU)’s sphere of influence. However, this was a solution Russia and the strong pro-Russian forces in Ukrainian society could hardly tolerate. In the following months, the unfolding events in Ukraine led to very different outcomes: the radicalization of pro-European and pro-Russian forces in the country, the outbreak of armed conflict in Ukraine’s pro-Russian Eastern regions and the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Now after one year on a political roller-coaster ride, it is timely to reflect on the broader long-term implications of the confrontations in Ukraine.

In many respects, the events in Ukraine were merely a reflection of a broader conflict between the EU and Russia in their overlapping spheres of influence. For many avid observers of EU foreign and security policies this is certainly a mind-boggling assertion to make. The EU – this soft-power paper-tiger from Venus – at the heart of a geopolitical conflict in the 21st century? Really? Well, nobody claims that the conflict with Russia over Ukraine has suddenly turned the EU into a geopolitical actor playing great power games. But the conflict does tell us important lessons about the nature of the beast, that is the EU as a peculiar foreign policy actor with both inherent strengths and shortcomings. More specifically, the conflict with Russia has revealed key characteristics of internal foreign policy-making within the EU and of the external relations between the EU and its neighbouring countries.

Internally, the conflict with Russia over Ukraine has – first and foremost – re-enforced the classical call for more unity among EU member states in its foreign policy. In the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron, Ukraine is ‘a clear example of where it is right for the nations of the EU to work closely together.’ And against all odds, unity among the 28 members of the EU has been maintained to a large extent during the last year. Although dissenting voices from Hungary and to a lesser extent from Greece and Austria remain, the EU has been able to implement a common two-tier approach based on economic sanctions against Russia and the willingness to find a diplomatic solution based on a political agreement with Russia. As in the case of the EU’s Iran policy, European unity has been particularly important in the case of the sanctions, where individual outliers would undermine the efforts by all the others. The EU has also withstood pressure from a more hawkish US administration to support the Ukrainian government with arms in its fight against pro-Russian rebels. The Europeans are clearly unwilling to turn the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine into a proxy war between the US and Russia on Europe’s doorsteps. Not surprisingly, the EU’s Russia policy scored very high on the annual scorecard of the European Council on Foreign Relations, an influential think tank based in London and other European cities. It concluded that ‘[o]verall, Europeans were united and invested significant resources on the most critical issues of the year.’ However, European unity does not mean that common European institutions – in particular the European External Action Service, the EU’s quasi foreign office – have been in the lead. Once more as in the case of Iran, it has been a small group of important member states – France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Poland, Ukraine’s Western neighbour – that have been at the forefront of European efforts to deal with Russia and the conflict in Ukraine. Most recently, it were France and Germany that negotiated the so-called Minsk II agreement with Ukraine and Russia to stop the ongoing fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

Externally, the EU as a peculiar kind of external actor had to face some hard realities in its conflict with Russia over Ukraine. Most notably, its policies of expanding the European zone of peace and prosperity to its neighbourhood, in particular the neighbourhood it shares with Russia, has reached its limits. Although both the Eastern enlargement of the EU and the subsequent European neighbourhood policies are generally seen as successful examples of how countries in transition to liberal democracy can be stabilized, the EU has underestimated how these policies – together with NATO enlargement – have antagonized Russian elites who consider many of these democratizing countries as areas of special influence. In other words, the EU – and its member states for that matter – have disregarded the geopolitical, realpolitik angle to its enlargement and neighbourhood policies. Through specific measures such as the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement the EU has not only acted as an altruistic ‘force for good’ to promote democracy and stability but also as an actor that – at least in the eyes of Russia – is expanding its influence deep into the heart of Russia’s ‘near abroad’ in order to foster its own economic and commercial interests. The problem for the EU is that any hardball confrontation with Russia in their shared neighbourhood may have dire consequences, as many national economies in the EU have strong commercial ties with Russia. On the one hand, this may prevent the escalation of the conflict between the EU and Russia, but on the other hand it also ties the EU’s hands when dealing with Russian rogue policies. As Stuart Gottlieb and Eric Lorber have pointed out in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, this ‘creates a paradox. Greater interdependence might, in fact, reduce the likelihood of conflict between nations or groups of nations. After all, it increases the cost of conflict for all of them. However, as the EU-Russian case shows, the logic can also work in reverse. It is incredibly difficult to punish economic partners for international aggression’. In short, the EU is caught in a general dilemma between promoting democracy, prosperity and stability through increasing interdependence and the need to keep its ability to react in a forceful way if a partner country such as Russia encroaches on its core interests and values.

There is no easy way out of this dilemma. We will certainly see more muddling through based on sanctions against Russia and the willingness to negotiate some sort of compromise between the EU and Russia, which will ultimately not only have to deal with the specific case of Ukraine but also the wider area of dispute comprising countries as diverse as Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and even Azerbaijan.

Image:  Pro-European demonstrators in Kiev, November 2013. “Euromaidan 01” by Evgeny Feldman. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Arms Control After Ukraine


Yesterday’s ceasefire in Ukraine can hardly be considered a Valentine. Tensions remain high between Russia and NATO over Ukraine, and past attempts at compromise failed or proved to be short-lived. A recent Washington Post op-ed by Anne Applebaum called on the international community to focus on a long-term strategy for dealing with Russia, rather than getting too distracted by short-term tactical questions. Russia is decidedly taking a long-view of its role not only in Europe but also in geopolitical balancing worldwide. A previous piece as part of this series by Tracy German highlighted Russia’s long-term attitudes and ambitions, which include an increased reliance on nuclear weapons to deter both nuclear and conventional threats.

Yet for the most part, events in Ukraine- to include Russian violation of Ukrainian borders and sovereignty, along with support for rebel forces- are likely to have minimal impact on nuclear non-proliferation and arms control policies. The same can be said for Russia’s ‘new’ military doctrine and nuclear posture. This is a case of correlation: changes in nuclear policy and non-proliferation are a reflection of the same shifts that led to events in Ukraine. The impact on nuclear policies, however, will be felt within NATO regarding the status of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Ultimately, the Ukraine crisis shed light on underlying tensions that have existed for years as a result of Russia’s evolving view of its role in the world, epitomized in the machismo of President Putin, to include its attitude towards nuclear weapons as a source of prestige.

Prospects for further arms control in the near future are unlikely, but this was the case before events unfolded in Ukraine. Following the 2010 New START Treaty, it became clear that Washington and Moscow had very different views as to what would be the next step in bilateral arms control. Russia insists the next agreement be multilateral and continues to express frustration with U.S. plans for missile defence in Europe and advanced conventional weapons; whereas the United States would want to see tactical nuclear weapons under discussion. Any informal agreements are unlikely as Russia will want a legally-binding mechanism for further reductions and unilateral reductions are unappetizing in the current Washington political climate.

A July 2014 report by the U.S. State Department concluded Russia was in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which committed both states to refrain from producing, possessing, or testing ground launched cruise missiles with a range of 500-5500km. The timing of the accusation suggested a link to events in Ukraine as the State Department report was released just weeks after the shoot-down of MH17. However, Russia may have been in violation of the treaty since as early as 2008 and in January 2014 the United States informed its NATO allies of missile testing that violated the INF Treaty. While Ukraine provided the opportunity for highlighting these incidents, they had been going on for years before Russian troops crossed the border.

In another blow to nuclear cooperation, in December 2014 Russia announced it would no longer accept U.S. assistance in securing its nuclear materials as part of a two-decade initiative, the Nunn-Lugar Programme. The timing of this announcement certainly can be seen as linked to souring relations over Ukraine, but for Russia the programme has been controversial since its 1992 inception. Accepting U.S. assistance, both financial and on-site inspectors, may have contributed to securing dangerous materials and weapons, but for many Russian hardliners this was a reminder of events in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War in the early 1990’s, an era of shame. The end of nuclear security cooperation was but one more example of an increasingly assertive Russia, not necessarily a result of events in Ukraine. For many Russians, the Cold War never ended.

On a more positive note, the United States and Russia continue to work together in other areas of arms control and non-proliferation. According to the U.S. State Department, as of the fourth year of New START’s implementation there have been over 8,000 data exchanges and eighteen inspections by each country. Other areas of cooperation include destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and ongoing negotiations with Iran as part of the P5+1 (along with China, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) to roll-back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.

Where events in Ukraine will truly have an impact on nuclear policies, however, is within NATO. In another piece as part of this series, Ellen Hallams noted that Russia’s actions in Ukraine have re-energised NATO but have not necessarily led to NATO solidarity. This is certainly true for NATO nuclear policy. U.S. tactical nuclear weapons remain in five NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) but NATO has consistently avoided difficult questions as to the status of these weapons. For eastern NATO states, particularly the Baltics, these weapons along with U.S. missile defence plans are a crucial part of the Alliance’s security guarantee and source of reassurance. For others, including many of the states hosting the weapons, they undermine global efforts at disarmament, among other concerns. Russian incursions into Ukraine may exacerbate these divisions within NATO and the status of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe is increasingly unavoidable.

Arms control is certainly at a pause, but it is hardly dead. New START inspections continue, along with cooperation on other non-proliferation issues, such as Iran. Taking a long-term view, as Russia appears to be doing, arms control remains in Russia’s interest because it feeds into Putinist ideology. Russia’s nuclear weapons are a reminder of its superpower status and any negotiations that puts it at the table with the United States, along with any resulting agreement solidifying parity in the two countries’ arsenals, reaffirms this world vision about Russia’s place in the world. Eventually, Russia will return to the arms control fold, likely as New START’s expiration approaches and Russia faces the prospect of losing the prestige of arms control, insights into the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and faces the financial costs of sustaining a massive arsenal. In the long-term, the West should be ready for when this time comes and remember that pressure, along with concessions, will be necessary.

Image: US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev sign the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), Prague, 8 April 2010. Photo courtesy of Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

Russia and NATO: A New Cold War?

This is the second in a series of posts from members of the Defence Studies Department’s Regional Security Research Centre, focusing on Russia and the implications of its increasingly assertive posture on the international stage. This post examines NATO’s response to recent Russian actions, particularly in Ukraine. It will be followed subsequent Mondays with posts on implications for the European Union, nuclear non-proliferation, and for Britain.


As my colleague Tracey German observed last week, Russia’s new military doctrine makes it abundantly clear that both NATO, and the wider West, are conceived as fundamental threats to Russia’s national security. As the war in Ukraine looks set to escalate, NATO finds itself walking a precarious tightrope between providing reassurance to member states on the alliance’s eastern flank, yet also keeping ajar the door to future cooperation. While it is impossible to predict exactly what course the conflict in the Ukraine will take, Russia’s increasing assertiveness on the international stage is providing the alliance with a renewed sense of purpose.

To understand why this is so requires stepping back – briefly – and surveying the wider arc of NATO’s post-Cold War evolution. Prior to events in the Ukraine, NATO was facing an uncertain future as it prepared to wind down its decade-long ISAF mission in Afghanistan. That mission was a double-edged sword for NATO; it gave the alliance a sense of purpose following 9/11 but it also fuelled internal dissonances within what was an already fractured alliance. In an edited volume I co-authored in 2013, NATO Beyond 9/11, we argued the difficulties that afflicted NATO’s mission in Afghanistan were only the latest manifestation of a long sequence of periodic crises over burden-sharing and alliance solidarity, military transformation, political decision-making, and relations with Russia and the EU. By 2012, the animating principles and purposes that had sustained NATO through the Cold War and post-Cold War seemed moribund; NATO was operationally exhausted, politically fractured and with little appetite to push forward further rounds of enlargement. America was rebalancing to Asia-Pacific, and member states were engaged in painful processes of defence cuts that appeared to signal a firm end to the West’s nation-building adventures of the 2000s. As NATO began winding down from Afghanistan in 2014, it thus found itself already preparing for the next phase of its post-Cold War evolution: a shift from NATO ‘deployed’ to NATO ‘prepared.’

Russian actions in Ukraine thus served to reinforce assumptions that were already shaping NATO’s agenda as it built towards the Wales Summit. Some NATO member states, notably Poland, had long lamented that NATO’s global expeditionary focus was a distraction from the ‘real’ business of collective defence. Still, it took Putin’s bold gamble in the Crimea and the steady escalation of conflict in the Ukraine to truly re-animate the debate over collective defence. NATO’s Newport Summit was inevitably dominated by the need to provide ‘visible assurance’ to nervous allies, through measures such as the Readiness Action Plan (RAP). Last week, NATO announced plans to move ahead with bolstering the NATO Response Force (NRF) as well as a Spearhead Force (SF) that could be deployed at short notice, while small command units will be established in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described the measures as the ‘biggest reinforcement of its collective defence since the end of the Cold War.’

But this narrative, one that re-conceptualises NATO as the bastion of collective defence in Europe against a resurgent Russia, warrants some scepticism. First, the idea that Russia’s actions have restored alliance solidarity may be attractive, but cracks in the façade are already beginning to show, not least over the pace, scope and funding of the deployments. In a recent speech in Washington Victoria Nuland called on all allies to contribute to NATO’s SF, criticising some member states for ‘slinking backward.’ Maintaining thousands of troops on high readiness is by no means cheap, but falling defence budgets across Europe has left only a handful of nations with the capacity to do so.  Second, it paints a somewhat rose-tinted image of a benevolent alliance standing up to Russian aggression. Russia’s actions may have been an unacceptable violation of international law and Ukrainian sovereignty as far as the West is concerned, but it is an uncomfortable reality that for many Russians, NATO’s hands are far from clean, viewing NATO’s enlargement as a deliberate encroachment into Russia’s historic sphere of influences. Such a view is readily dismissed by NATO leaders claiming Putin is denuded by a ‘false narrative,’ and that NATO enlargement was aimed at ‘helping Russia to be more secure – not less, as Moscow now claims.’

Such divergent perceptions should not be dismissed as mere tit-for-tat; they matter because they are fuelling a growing and potentially irreversible rift between Russia and the West that could define NATO’s future for the next generation. And perhaps this brings us to the heart of what is at stake here: does NATO – and the West – risk pushing Putin into a new Cold War through its increased military presence in the region and supply of arms to the Ukraine? Or is it a prudent, pragmatic and necessary response to blatant Russian aggression that must be stopped if a ‘Europe whole and free’ is to be preserved? To what extent does NATO’s increased military presence in the region bolster EU-led diplomatic efforts, or risk undermining them?

Opinion is starkly divided on these difficult questions, within both academia and in the wider policy and defence community. In a provocative article for Foreign Affairs, John Mearsheimer lays the blame for the crisis squarely on NATO’s shoulders claiming that NATO enlargement is at the core of the crisis and should be understood as a ‘central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West.’ In a robust response, Stephen Sestanovich and Michael McFaul argue Mearsheimer overstates the influence of NATO expansion, claiming Putin’s actions must be understood less as a response to NATO or US policies but in terms of Russian internal political dynamics, and a flawed ideology that falsely viewed the West’s heavy hand at play in the Ukrainian uprisings beginning in November 2013.

NATO member states are also divided on what the most appropriate response should be. German and French officials have cautioned against arming Ukraine as they push ahead with efforts at forging a diplomatic solution, while the Obama administration is under growing pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to arm Ukrainian government forces. Obama’s response thus far has been to urge ‘strategic patience’, but such an approach finds short shrift amongst former NATO officials who have urged a stronger stance; former Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned Putin is likely to test NATO’s resolve by intervening in one of the Baltic states, while former Deputy SACEUR General Sir Richard Shirreff has launched a withering critique of the UK government’s weak response.

However, the crisis plays out, two things can be said with some certainty. First, Ukrainian membership of NATO is now off the table for the foreseeable future, a concession to Russia that will inevitably form part of any peace deal should it happen and a deliberate attempt to pave the way for future cooperation. This will be a bitter pill for Ukraine to swallow and NATO must share some blame for holding out a promise of membership that was arguably always ephemeral. Second, despite its internal divisions, the crisis has re-energised NATO. It remains to be seen whether Putin will force NATO’s hand, but the challenge remains how to balance providing necessary security guarantees to member states while keeping the door open to rebuilding relations with Russia. Perhaps the final word should be left to Poland’s Defense Minister: ‘we want good weather in Europe, but we understand the need to invest in umbrellas nonetheless.’

Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry listens as then NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen opens a special discussion about Ukraine for newly installed Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and fellow foreign ministers during a series of meetings at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 25, 2014. Courtesy of the US State Department.

The Crimean crisis and Russia’s maritime power in the Black Sea


One of the many consequences of the Russian annexation of Crimea and the seizure of the majority of the Ukrainian navy’s, assets, capabilities and infrastructure is that it has, at least in theory, increased dramatically Russia’s maritime power in the Black Sea. But is this actually the case?

It seems self-evident that the seizure of Crimea by the Russian Federation has led to a significant increase in Russia’s maritime power: its ability to use the maritime domain to achieve a political effect. Russia took ownership of 12 of Ukraine’s 17 major warships, including Ukraine’s two most modern corvettes Ternopil and Lutsk, all of its military infrastructure and bases, including the Ukrainian Navy’s principal Staff College in Sevastopol, and the majority of Ukraine’s naval aviation and air assets located on the peninsular.

The seizure of Crimea has also led to a significant increase in Russia’s maritime borders in the Black Sea. It has given the Russian Government control over the Kerch Straits and unfettered control of the Sea of Azov. Russia has therefore not only increased its maritime footprint and assets in the Black Sea, but is also no longer bound by the former Ukrainian restrictions on the movement, supply, updating and modernisation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet which were part of the Black Sea Fleet basing agreement signed with the Ukrainian Government in 1997.

As a result the Russian Black Sea Fleet will also be modernised and augmented militarily. The Russian Government plans to invest almost three million dollars to improve the aging bases of the Black Sea Fleet and the airfields, docks and military barracks seized from Ukraine. Plans to position anti-ship missiles, air defence systems and naval aviation assets in the newly annexed peninsular, as well as to increase the number of Russian troops in Crimea from the previously prescribed 25 thousand to 40 thousand by 2019, will also increase Russia’s maritime force project capabilities.

As I argue in my recent book Maritime Power in the Black Sea, in actuality, the situation with regard to Russia’s maritime power is more complex. An examination of changes in Russia’s maritime capability, i.e. its military and non-military assets, does not tell us the whole story. In order to fully understand how the crisis in the region has affected Russia’s maritime power, it is important to consider how the utility and application of maritime power is shaped by the particular context or environment in which the Russian Government uses the maritime domain.

Maritime power is relative and, as such, what a state is trying to achieve, and against whom, or what, is a fundamental consideration. The Russian seizure of Crimea and its support for separatists in Ukraine has created a more challenging maritime environment for all six littoral states in the Black Sea. But it has created problems for the Russian Federation in particular, not least because relations with key neighbours, such as Turkey, have become strained and Russian relations with the West, especially the US, have reached a new low.

For example, relations between Turkey and Russia have deteriorated over Turkish opposition to the illegal Russian annexation and Turkish concerns that the Russian Government is not respecting the rights of the 300,000 Crimean Tatars living in Crimea who make up 12% of the region’s population. Illustrating Turkish concerns, last month the headquarters of the governing body of the Crimean Tatars, the Mejlis, was surrounded and searched; heavily armed police have repeatedly searched Tatar restaurants, madrassas and mosques; and a number of Tatars, opposed to the Russian annexation of Crimea, have gone missing or been murdered.

Russian relations with the West have also reached crisis point, creating a less benign maritime security environment for Moscow both within and outside the Black Sea. In response to events in the region, many of the Black Sea littoral states, including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia, have increased their military cooperation with NATO, and the US has increased its military forces and maritime presence in the region. In a clear sign that the Black Sea is likely to become a more challenging environment for the Russian Federation, the US has asked the Romanian Government for permission to increase the number of US troops and aircraft stationed in the Mihail Kogalniceanu military base in Romania.

In a direct challenge to Russia’s maritime power, the US has not only maintained a regular naval presence in the Black Sea with the USS Truxton, the USS Donald Cook and the USS Taylor all conducting port calls in Romania, but has also announced plans to sustain this tempo in the future. Highlighting that the Black Sea has become a more contested and confrontational maritime zone, in March this year, a Russian fighter jet made repeated provocative, close range, low altitude passes above the US Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook just hours after it entered the Black Sea.

In the end, then, it is important to understand that maritime power is about more than just capability: it is about influence. So while the capability of the Russian Black Sea Fleet has increased, the context, i.e. the maritime environment, in which the Russian Government tries to exert this influence, has clearly become more problematic.

Image: Ukrainian navy frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy leading Turkish patrol boats, TCG Kalkan and TCG Tufan and the Georgian Coast guard platform Sokhumi during an exercise in the Black Sea.

NATO at Newport: Back to Basics?


Seasoned observers of NATO might be forgiven for approaching alliance summits with a refrain of ‘here we go again’ ringing loudly in our ears. Such cynicism might at least in part be explained by the perpetuation of a dominant narrative that has had NATO in a constant state of ‘crisis’ ever since the end of the Cold War, with each summit since Rome in 1991 framed as coming at a ‘pivotal’ moment for the alliance. In such a narrative, each ‘crisis’ is worse than the one that preceded it, each summit the latest opportunity to pull the alliance back from the brink. Yet peering through the fog of crisis that envelopes NATO, one can discern that in many instances summits have provided an important means of adjusting the alliance to a constantly shifting security environment. Indeed, to paint a picture of NATO summits as vacuous exercises in statesmanship would be to miss the point entirely; they are a source of NATO’s lifeblood, the very means by which transatlantic unity – the glue that binds NATO together – is reaffirmed and upheld.

Setting aside – temporarily – events in the Crimea and Ukraine, the Newport summit would always have marked a key moment of transition in NATO’s post-Cold War history, as the alliance formally prepares to bring to an end the most complex, protracted and controversial mission in its 65-year history. Debate on the alliance’s future in a post-Afghan era has coalesced around a growing consensus that NATO would ‘return home’ both in a physical and conceptual sense, the retreat from Afghanistan accompanied by a refocusing on alliance fundamentals – collective defence, education and training and defence collaboration – after a decade in which NATO’s global ambitions had appeared not only to exceed its military capabilities, but also the political will of many members.

This was the argument outlined in a July 2014 article in International Affairs I co-authored with Mark Webber and Martin Smith. In that article, we argue that the twin motors that have sustained the alliance in the post-Cold War period are in need of repair. Those twin motors we describe as NATO’s core principles of purpose – operations, enlargement, partnerships, transatlantic unity, and its role as security provider – and principles of function – American leadership, allied trust and cohesion, burden-sharing and credibility – the diplomatic, political and military processes that have been necessary to keep NATO a functioning and effective alliance. We suggested that while NATO’s operational activism and expansion had been key drivers of the alliance’s post-Cold War adaptation, by 2014 NATO was reaching the limits of both its operational activity and its willingness and ability to take in new members. In addition, the transatlantic bargain that has underpinned NATO since 1949 appears increasingly strained; American leadership of NATO in the 21st century is no longer a given and members are divided over basic questions of strategy and purpose.

The Three ‘R’s (Readiness, Reassurance, Renewal) 

None of this should be read as evidence that NATO is in mortal ‘decline.’ Indeed, we argue that NATO is extraordinarily resilient. Its decade-long ISAF mission might have pushed the alliance to its limits, but it weathered the storm. NATO’s value to the US is also likely to endure; cooperating with allies in a multilateral framework brings legitimacy and credibility to US global leadership, while a strong NATO in a stable Europe is in America’s vital interests. Still, we argued that the wear and tear sustained by the alliance over the past two decades required a renewed focus at Newport in three key areas: readiness, reassurance and renewal.

In an era of austerity and war-weariness, readiness has a political logic; NATO can preserve its capacity to mount operations but at the same time prioritise core areas of common interest – collective defence, cyber-defence, training and education. NATO’s new readiness posture was indeed confirmed at Newport, the alliance unveiling a Readiness Action Plan (RAP) at the heart of which is a spearhead unit within the NATO Response Force (NRF) designed to act as a high readiness force able to deploy at short notice. Other tangible measures included an enhanced cyber-defence plan and Defence Capacity Building Initiative. In this regard, pre-summit rhetoric was at least followed by concrete steps. It was perhaps inevitable that the summit would be overshadowed by events in the Ukraine; the transition from Afghanistan appeared something of a side-show, even though much uncertainty remains over the future of Operation Resolute Support. NATO yet may be sucked back into its own Afghan quagmire, but for now at least, it is breathing a collective sigh of relief that a very long war is over.

Still, Russia’s actions in annexing the Crimea imbued the readiness agenda with a sense of urgency, to say the least. Moreover, readiness is also inextricably linked with the reassurance of nervous allies in Eastern Europe. Yet reassurance too has a long-term logic and relevance for NATO, as a means of addressing some of the wider challenges of intra-alliance cohesion and transatlantic commitment, and reaffirming NATO’s core role as security provider. Reassurance measures were already in evidence prior to Newport – an enhanced US troop presence in Eastern Europe, an increased maritime presence in the Black Sea, reinforcements to NATO’s Baltic air policing mission – and in an important affirmation of the US commitment to NATO in June 2014 President Obama announced a $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative to fund training and exercises with NATO allies in the region.

Together, reassurance and readiness can be seen as providing the foundations for NATO’s renewal, reaffirming NATO’s role as the core organization for the security and defence of the West as well as a wider sense of solidarity among members – a solidarity arguably lost amidst the traumas of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was notable that the summit’s Declaration on the Transatlantic Bond was more direct and forceful than previous communiques, not only reaffirming transatlantic unity but committing the alliance to move towards the existing NATO guideline of spending 2% of GDP on defence within a decade.

To be sure, an emphasis on readiness, reassurance and renewal is not without pitfalls or dangers. NATO leaders faced a precarious juggling act at Newport. While the RAP was clearly intended to provide ‘visible reassurance,’ alliance leaders have refused thus far to agree to Poland’s request for a permanent troop presence committing only to an increased rotation of NATO and US troops through NATO’s Polish HQ. The summit declaration left no-one in any doubt that NATO views Russian actions as a gross violation of international law and a fundamental threat to the peace and security of Europe as a whole; it denounced Moscow for ‘breaking the trust at the core of our cooperation,’ but still left the door ajar for future cooperation. NATO’s support for Ukraine as a key partner was also reaffirmed; for now at least Ukraine remains a partner – without the collective defence shield full membership would bring – but the question of membership remains a thorn in the alliance’s side that could yet cause much pain.

Whether or not the Ukraine crisis is a ‘game-changer’ for NATO remains to be seen; history will be the judge of that. It may well be another addition to the lineage of events that have shaped NATO’s post-Cold War history and it has certainly given the alliance a sense of purpose and direction it had lost. But NATO does not have the luxury of standing still to contemplate the future. As we argued, ‘its business is too important to afford it such respite. The challenge, therefore, is for NATO to service its motors while they are still running.’ Viewed in that light it is plausible to argue NATO’s Newport Summit was a modest success that will no doubt take its place in the long history of NATO summitry, and which future scholars might well judge as marking the beginning of the next era in NATO’s post-Cold War evolution.

The views expressed in this post are mine alone and should not be ascribed to my co-authors.