Ukraine Crisis Will Test NATO's Credibility
In August 2008, during the Russo-Georgian War, the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski said during rally in Tbilisi: “We know that today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the Baltic States the day after tomorrow, and then maybe my country.” At the time, those words were not taken seriously. This short war took place in Georgia, away from what Europe has traditionally considered its geopolitical sphere. But recent events in Ukraine show that military action and destabilization that may threaten independent, widely recognized states is possible even here – just behind the eastern border of NATO and the European Union. Ukraine is not a NATO member, but what if – as Kaczynski said – one of the Baltic States (NATO members since 2004) was a victim of similar actions? How will NATO react when a war is not officially declared, but guerrilla warfare is present? Will Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty be invoked? I believe that Article 5 should be invoked, but the question is – does NATO? Will NATO put its relations with Russia at stake for the small nations of Estonia or Latvia?
The population of Estonia and Latvia combined is just 3.4 million and the region is only 110,000 km2. What if Poland is next? How far will Russia be allowed to go before NATO says “STOP”? How far will be too far? For states in Central and Eastern Europe, accession to NATO was a milestone, but for my generation, people born in late 80s, it is taken for granted that we are part of this transatlantic partnership, though it is a basis on which we design our future. However, the crisis in Ukraine has sparked doubts and insecurity. Twentieth century history shows that in the past Poland could not count on its European allies. Today, Poland has high hopes in transatlantic relations and its alliance with the U.S. and NATO, but Poles are still afraid that history will repeat itself.
During a recent political scandal in which non-official conversations of high-level Polish politicians were taped, someone who is believed to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radek Sikorski, allegedly stated that the Polish-American alliance is “worth nothing. It is harmful because it gives a sense of security.” This started a debate about the status of the Polish-American alliance and showed doubts among both Polish elites and wider society.
For young people from Central and Eastern Europe, NATO does not need any “breakthrough ideas,” nor a new identity. If we want to preserve NATO and make it even stronger for future generations, we need to return to the values on which the alliance has been built, as stated in the original North Atlantic Treaty of 1949: to “unite [member states’] efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.”
All NATO members, and the U.S. in particular, should reassure each other that the alliance and cooperation remain strong. Recent events in Ukraine are a test of the strength and credibility of NATO, but will it pass this exam?
Oliwia Piskowska is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Warsaw.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.