Nato rearms as it hits 75

Defensive alliance Nato takes a tougher stance against Russia – as India offers Moscow more help in its war in Ukraine.

| 9 min read

This week’s meeting in Washington saw the leaders of Nato congratulate the organisation on expanding from 12 to 32 states and on its role offering protection to countries against invasion. It also saw Nato toughen its approach to Russia, provide more support to Ukraine, widen its interests in the Pacific Ocean area – as well as urging its members to re arm.

As Nato leaders started to assemble for their summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was leaving Russia after signing up to a closer and more energetic Strategic Partnership with Moscow.

India has always sought to balance its contacts with the West with its friendships with the rest of the world. This time, Russia was after more Indian manufacturing of components and weapons needed in its Ukraine war, whilst India wanted to secure more Russian space and military technology and increase its reliance on Russian energy.

India is a reminder that Russia found new trade options to replace lost Western demand when wide-ranging sanctions were imposed following the invasion of Ukraine. Whilst both countries talk about climate change, both are wedded to fossil fuels. India was out to secure more Russian coal imports for its industrial development.

India and Russia talk of expanding their bilateral trade to $100bn by 2030. They are working on payments systems in their own currencies – to avoid the dollar and Western banks – and seek local solutions for insurance and freight. They are developing more trade routes, more technical exchanges and pursuing their common interest in space.

Mr Modi has been able to slip seamlessly from a state visit to Washington to receiving Russia’s St Andrews medal from Vladimir Putin in The Kremlin. India is large enough and powerful enough to be courted by both sides. Most of the tanks in the Indian army are supplied by Russia.

Nato focuses on Ukraine

Nato strengthened its stance against Russia at the Summit. Director General Jens Stoltenberg was blunt when he said the time to defend freedom and democracy is now, the place is Ukraine. He heralded what he called the world’s most successful, strongest and longest lasting alliance. He urged members to spend more on rearming and on backing Ukraine. He said there are “no cost-free options with an aggressive Russia as a neighbour. There are no risk-free options in a war”.

Ukraine has posed a series of problems for the US and leading Nato allies. Ukraine is not a member of Nato but wishes to become one. The alliance is sticking to its view that Ukraine cannot belong until the Russian war is settled. The Article 5 Security Guarantee of the Nato Treaty that asks members to assist a Nato state under fire therefore does not apply. Nonetheless, Nato condemns the Russian action and wants Ukraine to win.

So far, Nato has been very careful not to turn a Ukraine/Russia war into a Nato/Russia war, despite Russia saying they think Nato is heavily involved. This has meant Nato has declined to commit its own forces to the battles and has been selective about what equipment it supplies Ukraine. It has also imposed strict controls over use, to prevent Nato weapons being used on Russian soil.

Nato has discovered that its own stocks of ammunition and weapons are inadequate even for a limited but savage regional war and has struggled to meet demands for shells and air defence missiles.

Ukraine says that to win the war it needs to have more weapons from Nato and needs to be able to attack military targets in Russia with Nato-supplied weapons where these Russian bases and forces are going to attack Ukraine or being used to fire into Ukraine. Nato at this meeting has promised more air defence for Ukraine which would help.

Nato is also relaxing some of the limits on what weapons it will supply and how they can be used. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is concerned that there is not more support forthcoming as he wishes to counterattack to relieve pressure on his lines and to make life more difficult for Russia. Ukraine thinks Nato is giving enough help to let them resist but not enough to win. This is prolonging the conflict and adding to the deaths and destruction.

How will the Ukraine war be resolved?

Russia and Ukraine both think they can win. Russia believes it can keep all the territory it currently holds and wants an assurance that Ukraine will not join Nato. Were Russia willing to accept the current borders as a settlement on the grounds that they claim to have taken territory where more pro-Russian people live, there is no guarantee that they would not try invasion again in Ukraine or neighbouring countries to advance their borders further.

Ukraine wants Russia to leave all Ukrainian territory and to agree not to violate its borders again. It wishes to become a Nato member as soon as possible, seeing the Nato Article 5 Guarantee as a bulwark against another Russian invasion. Neither side so far has seen any need to offer a compromise in return for concessions by the other.

Donald Trump has said he could organise a negotiated peace in his first few weeks if he wins the election. It is suggested he would tell Ukraine he would throttle back weapons and assistance to Ukraine if they declined peace talks and would tell Russia he would step up US support for Ukraine if Russia refused to compromise. President Putin has said he would want to look at any suggestions Mr Trump might have but so far has not seen any detail.

Nato fears Mr Trump would want to concede too much to Russia, but also understands that he will expect the other Nato allies to spend more and develop more military capability. Mr Trump thinks Europe has been getting its defence on the cheap from the US and should take more responsibility for wars on its territory.

There have not been any public moves by the US or Ukraine to initiate talks. Ukraine wishes to get Crimea back as well as the Donbas lands taken in this war to date. Nato signed a Summit Declaration which strongly condemned Russian actions in Ukraine. It said “We will never recognise Russia’s illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea”, ruling out a negotiated ceasefire.

Agreements at the Nato Council

A total of 24 Member states signed up to an Alliance Persistent Surveillance from Space programme, planning to spend $1bn plus private sector monies on improved surveillance. Of these 22 states signed up to the Cloud and Edge programme of digital investment to improve and unify more of the data and command systems. There is a general recognition of the need for Nato to increase its supply of ammunition, increase its range and numbers of weapons and improve its digital capabilities. Responding to cyber warfare is important, and enhanced intelligence crucial. Artificial Intelligence got a mention. Nato met with leading defence companies to recognise the importance of further investment in defence manufacture and procurement.

In this uncertain world there will be further spending on defence hardware and munitions.

Nato sees itself as very successful. It has expanded greatly from the original 12 founder members to 32, pushing its borders ever closer to Russia by expanding eastwards in Europe. Today, it sees itself as needing to resist an angry Russia and to help eastern countries facing invasion. Mr Trump hangs over the conference with his view that European Nato members are still not contributing enough and that the Ukraine war should be ended by negotiation. The US remains the dominant military force and chief paymaster of Nato.

Nato is also showing more interest in the Indo-Pacific region, and sees the strong links between Russia, China, North Korea and Iran as a threat. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea were present at the summit to reaffirm the global reach of the organisation and to work as Nato allies.

In this uncertain world there will be further spending on defence hardware and munitions, more investment in productive capacity, and global challenges to the Nato alliance. There is growing pressure on member states to spend more than the minimum 2% of GDP, and a shared view that Nato needs to strengthen its forces and weapons given the nature of the threats from Russia, terrorism – and the worrying actions of China.

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Nato rearms as it hits 75

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