European countries urge the United States to deploy their military bases in their territories. Russia’s old ‘friends’ – Poland and the Baltics –are showing more activity in it than others, as they think it will guarantee their security. In fact, becoming a target for nuclear weapons has never made any country safer than it is.
In a joint press conference with the president of Finland, Vladimir Putin told about how Russia will be responding to the United States’ growing presence in Europe: “I think the best guarantee for the security of Finland is its neutral status. This is because every time when a threat emerges from a neighboring state, Russia must respond adequately and build its defense policy so that it could liquidate any threat. If anyone puts some of our territories under threat, we need to re-target our Armed Forces and advanced offensive weapons against the territories these threats emerge from. Can it be otherwise? NATO is approaching our borders. We are not moving anywhere.”
It is strange that such a simple idea is not evident for everyone. For example, Sweden and Switzerland exactly and firmly announced their neutrality and did not participate either in the WWI or in the WWII. History “does not tolerate the subjunctive mood,” but if Finland did the same after gaining independence, the Winter War might not happen and Vyborg would have remained a Finnish city.
If you do not want a war, maintain your neutrality: this technology has been quite successful during the last centuries. As well as joining a military alliance always means a risk to be involved into others’ war. This is why the North Atlantic Treaty strictly limits the geography of the military assistance to the Tropic of Cancer and the territory of Europe and North America. Otherwise, the alliance would have to war with India for Goa that was seized from Portugal or with Argentina for the Falkland Islands (Britain ousted Argentina on its own). That is exactly why NATO did not admit Russia in 90s – it would have to expand Article 5.
History shows that participation in any military bloc and treaties of mutual military assistance are fulfilled not always. Czechoslovakia vainly waited for the assistance that France and Britain had guaranteed to it. After Hitler attacked Poland, they entered in the war. What did it give to Poland? Had (let us imagine there was a different history) Stalin and Hitler managed to agree, the independent Poland would have remained in the past for decades. Sociologists say little has changed since then. A public opinion poll in Germany, France, and Italy revealed that people in those countries are against protection of the NATO countries against Russia’s hypothetical attack.
In 1937, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain defined that policy of non-interference quite distinctly: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”
Therefore, Ukraine has not received and will not receive military assistance from Europe. The Baltic states or Poland will hardly receive it either, if Russia suddenly decides to bring its troops into these countries for some unknown reasons. It is impossible to explain a German burgher or French burgeois why they should send their sons to die just because the border between Russia and Ukraine must “run this way and not that way.”
Nevertheless, Western politicians that frighten their voters with Russia’s attack, fail to answer the key question – why should Russia do it? Of course, it has become more difficult to say that Russia does not seek to expand its territory after Crimea joined it, but as our Western partners preferred (and still prefer) to say about Kosovo that was blatantly seized from Serbia “it was a unique case.”
Crimea was not seized by force – Ukrainian military did not resist (yes, I know that two people died, but they were killed accidentally, there were no military actions). Russia did not bring troops to Crimea – they were present there before. There was no doubt that the revolutionary authorities in Ukraine would immediately demand Russia to withdraw troops from Crimea and the West would actively support that demand. It would threaten the defense capacity of the continental Russia and its domestic policy. Therefore, Crimea’s case was unique and cannot be considered as a precedent. There is no other territory on Earth populated by ethnic Russians and having Russian military bases.
Russia could easily annex South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Donbass, and Transnistria, but it has not done it. Russian troops could seize the entire territory of Georgia with minimum losses in August 2008 and the territory of historical New Russia and Bessarabia in March 2014, but nothing suggests that Moscow mulled such plans.
It is not clear why should Russia attack the Baltics and Poland? Зачем? What for? Warum? Pourquoi? Dlaczego?
As to the aspirations of the Baltic states and Poland to have U.S. military bases in their territories, in a world without nuclear weapons, military bases could have brought only benefits – lease payments, jobs, improvement of genetic diversity among the local population, and, the most important, protection against probable invasion.
The point is that Russia has no intention to invade any country and had no such intention before. During the Cold War years, the conventional arms of the Warsaw Pact countries exceeded those of the NATO countries. Now, the situation has changed fundamentally. Russia’s conventional forces yield to those of NATO by both the quantity and the quality. That is why Russia stakes on nuclear weapons that can be used only in a completely hopeless situation. Yet, it is not impossible.
Of course, NATO’s closest military bases will be targeted first. Even if Russia and U.S. agree not to use nuclear weapons in case of a hypothetical war (during the WWII the conflicting countries did not resort to chemical weapons even in the most complex situations), a non-nuclear strike with Iskander ballistic missile will leave a burnt desert on the place of both the base and adjacent cities.
A NATO military base is not a security guarantee for a country, it is a guarantee of becoming a target some day. Are lease payments, jobs, and improved genetic diversity worth it?
Anton Krylov, specially for EADaily