How An Aggressive Russia Reveals NATO Weakness

NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on June 25, 2014
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on June 25, 2014
Christoph B. Schiltz

BRUSSELS — The Ukraine crisis and Russia’s aggressive behavior have hit NATO right between the eyes.

Utterly caught off guard, the defense alliance has begun asking itself how it must react, both in the short-term actions, as well as bigger questions about NATO's role for the future.

The pressure to be decisive has a firm deadline of September, when a key summit will be held in Wales of NATO country heads of state and government. The alliance, however, is deeply divided and no country is seriously prepared to spend much more money on higher readiness for action and modern equipment.

But it’s becoming clear that it's going to come to that. And the NATO foreign ministers who gathered this week for talks in Brussels know it too. In view of the threat from Russia, they are working on a new Euro-Atlantic oath of allegiance that is due to be approved at the NATO summit.

One particularly interesting fact with regard to this oath is that the plan for the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance also contains the obligation that Europeans increase their defense spending. That’s a sensitive topic, especially for Berlin. Three weeks ago Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen explained that spending would not be shored up, and pointed out that the German defense budget is 32 billion euros. But that’s not enough for the Americans. They finance more than 70% of NATO’s budget, and Washington wants stronger commitment from other rich member countries like Germany.

That’s also going to be necessary because in view of the new threat from the East, NATO wants to increase readiness with better equipment, more maneuvers, training and reaction capacity for troops — that’s the strategy for the future. What that means specifically for Eastern Europe and the Baltic states is still unclear.

Philip Mark Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, intends to present some first concrete plans on June 30. The American Air Force General is caught in the middle of the contrasting views dividing NATO members. The Baltic and Eastern European countries, particularly Poland, want adequate protection from Russia.

Boots on the ground

Estonia's Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told Die Welt that the Baltic nation has a clear idea what is needed on security. "Estonia believes it necessary for NATO ground troops to be permanently stationed on its territory for as long as security in Europe is unstable," he said.

Collective defense readiness and solidarity among NATO partners was of "fundamental importance," Paet went on to say. However Germany, France and southern European countries want to avoid Russian provocation and are against the permanent stationing of troops in eastern Europe. Washington is cautious on this score as well.

NATO diplomats have reported that, in opposition to the wishes of the eastern NATO states, "no permanent stationing of NATO forces is foreseen in Eastern Europe." Instead, in the future, longer and more substantial maneuvers as well as regular multinational training exercises with rotating participation would take place in the East. Reconnaissance by planes and ships would also be improved.

NATO is particularly alarmed by Russia’s newly-developed "subversion strategy," which it refers to internally as "hybrid war." According to NATO analysts, Moscow’s new military tactic is to infiltrate specific areas with military experts — called "little green men" in NATO jargon — that advise, incite and train rebels such as those in eastern Ukraine in the use of military equipment.

"They destabilize without firing a single shot," a senior NATO officer said. This infiltration strategy is, according to NATO experts, supported by conventional Russian forces gathered along Ukrainian borders. The troops vary in number, are flexible, can assemble quickly at set points, and are able to go from training to attack mode immediately.

NATO is working feverishly on finding an answer to the new Russian double military strategy. One reaction would be to invest in the NATO Response Force (NRF) and make it better equipped for action with quicker reaction times. NATO has recognized that it has to react to the Russian threat with units that can be moved quickly.

"We have to be in the position to get the right troops to the right place quickly," said one military strategist.

But turn it this way or that: Russian aggression is a very real test of NATO capacity. The challenge is that it must find the "right" strategy and invest in the alliance’s defense preparedness even at a moment when member budgets are growing ever tighter.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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