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NATO's German/ Eastern Question


In the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia, and Germany's quasi-support for that move, STRATFOR's founder penned "The German Question." It's pretty fundamental, if you want to understand the limits of NATO in the modern world - a subject that's very important if the new administration decides to rely on NATO as a bulwark. STRATFOR:

"Germany does not favor NATO expansion. More than that, the Germans at least implicitly told the Russians that they have a free hand in the former Soviet Union as far as Germany is concerned - an assertion that cost Berlin nothing, since the Russians do enjoy a free hand there. But even more critically, Merkel signaled to the Russians and the West that Germany does not intend to be trapped between Western ambitions and Russian power this time. It does not want to recreate the situation of the two world wars or the Cold War, so Berlin will stay close to France economically and also will accommodate the Russians.

The Germans will thus block NATO’s ambitions, something that represents a dramatic shift in the Western alliance. This shift in fact has been unfolding for quite a while, but it took the Russo-Georgian war to reveal the change.

NATO has no real military power to project to the east, and none can be created without a major German effort, which is not forthcoming...."

Now pair his analysis with observations like the fact that Germany's defense spending is fluctuating around 1% of GDP, and that it has seriously downsized its military and sold off the bulk of its equipment. Europe's unwillingness to defend itself on so many levels is certainly an issue, but STRATFOR points out that there a much larger strategic issue at play in a key country. This issue helps to explain why NATO's eastward expansion has been so slow and difficult, and could not have extended farther east. It also leaves many of the alliance's eastern members is a situation reminiscent of the 1930s - dependent on guarantees that are now worth very little. They have not yet adjusted their fiscal realities to this fact. Time will tell whether they will.


Given the tremors in the EMU (the Euro Monetary Union), I'm not particularly sanguine about anyone on the NATO side spending one red cent, so to speak.

I have not read the Stratfor article yet, but I am a subscriber, so I know their editorial line on the topic. I do agree that Germany has no interest in expanding NATO, but I tend to believe that they are doing us a favor by preventing us from making a mistake-- although they're obviously doing it for their own reasons. Ukraine, Georgia, and similar regions are not in any way ready for full NATO membership. They are not stable governments. They would contribute nothing. They would consume considerable military resources. And at the end of the day, if we prove unable to properly defend them, then NATO's credibility would be fundamentally broken, which alone would make it worth doing by Russia.

I also expect Germany to play a cooling role in the region at least until such time as they manage to insulate themselves from the vastly overplayed Russian Energy Card. But because Russia beats on that drum with all the enthusiasm of a toddler with a spoon and a pot, I doubt any German government would be foolish enough to lash itself to the Bear. Once that resolves itself, I would not be at all surprised to see a German government looking for American military strength to open up eastern markets for their exports, again.

I think Germany has the right of it though. The standards for membership do not appear to warrant expansion any time soon. The NATO countries are expected to show:

1. that they each represent a functioning democratic, political system based on a market economy;
2. that they treat minority populations in accordance with the guidelines of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE);
3. that they have worked to resolve outstanding disputes with neighbours and have made an overall commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes;
4. have the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to the Alliance and to achieve interoperability with other members’ forces;
5. and are committed to democratic civil-military relations and institutional structures.


The Former Eastern block countries adjoining Russia still have property disputes to be resolved. They are probably as Democratic as Turkey, but their institutions are not mature. And their military contribution is inadequate.

"And their military contribution is inadequate."

Compared to, say, Germany? If that is the current standard, NATO is quickly going to consist of the US, UK, and Poland.

Moreover, Ukraine is unstable in a way that Turkey is not. Turkey has its generational spasm and military-assisted change of government, but it is internal, and its geopolitical basis remains intact.

Ukraine seems to have a political spasm on the order of once every 9 to 15 months. That spasm is externally generated (whether by the West, or more often by Russia) and the spasms are explicitly designed to get the country to tip its entire geopolitical orientation. This in turn is possible because culturally, Ukraine seems to two nations in one state, struggling for supremacy... and the westward leaning half is demographically and industrially the inferior one.

I know people have this idea that NATO inclusion will somehow protect Ukraine from Russian depredations because Russia will be too afraid to meddle after that, but I just don't buy it. If Ukraine is put under the NATO umbrella, the Russia response to that is to wait for next winter and turn the gas off. To which we really have no adequate response at this moment.

Georgia is even worse. Their government might in some sense be better because it is more enthusiastically and solidly pro-West, but the logistics of defending Georgia, military, are immense and the gains from it are very low. Not to mention, I shudder to think what kind of insanity a Georgian government would inflict if emboldened by NATO membership! No, I don't want my foreign policy crafted in the hallowed halls of Tbilisi, for Chrissakes.

My heart goes out to the West-leaning Ukrainians and the Georgians, but this is not the time. This is the time to consolidate.

Wikipedia has a list of all the current German military deployments (Afghanistan, the Balkans, etc). It totals 6,663. Half of those are stationed in Afghanistan with rules of engagement that essentially limit them to protecting their barracks in Kabul.

Contrast that to the 1200 soldiers tiny Georgia had manning outposts in the Green Zone before Russia dropped the hammer.

Germany is welcome to abdicate its international responsibilities vis military force, but they should drop out of NATO. Moreover we need to consider that those who arent contributing to the defense of the West should have less voice in the decision making.

I guess one question would be whether expanding NATO to include countries, with relatively small economies, spending under 2% of GDP on military are likely to be encouraged to spend more by becoming members of NATO or are likely to spend less once under the NATO umbrella.

If Ukraine is put under the NATO umbrella, the Russia response to that is to wait for next winter and turn the gas off. To which we really have no adequate response at this moment.

I think it's worse than that. During the Soviet era, the Ukraine was the beneficiary of territorial reorganizations that transferered Crimea and the strategic port of Sevastopol to the Ukraine. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed in Sevastopol. Russia has threated to "renoegiate" the Ukraine's sovereigny over these areas if it joins NATO.

NATO expansion to the Ukraine would very likely result in activation of the NATO defense treaty. Is the United States or NATO prepared to go to war over Sevastopol?

America's foreign policy treats the Muslim world as a friend though it is an enemy, and Russia as an enemy although it does not need to be. That doesn't work for Germany. German policy treats military force as worthless although it isn't, and America's efforts in the Muslim world as not only irrelevant to Germany's security concerns but immoral. Who is right?

Whether the Americans are right or wrong, and I think they are gravely wrong, the Germans cannot be right. They're such insufferable, sneering, hectoring moralistic free riders, like the rest of the EU pack, that it is impossible to have any sympathy for them. Their response to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the American mainland was so disloyal that they should not be considered real allies. And they haven't done anything very commendable like the Americans seeking improved relations with India. American foreign policy has its bad parts, but what is the good part of the EU's policy mix? Agricultural subsidies that strangle poor countries?

Consequently I think it's wise for the Germans to make their peace with Russia. There's no reason sensible Americans should be willing to go to war for their defense.

"Is the United States or NATO prepared to go to war over Sevastopol?"


Self defense is not only a right but a responsibility. If the NATO countries don't see a threat to their security, why are we still paying tens of billions of dollars each year for their defense? If they do see a threat to their security then it is their responsibility to address it. I'm not advocating isolationism. I'm advocating Europe become fully responsibile for their own defense.

#9: Germany: the new Finland?

Nort - Effectively, yes, that's what STRATFOR is saying. This is something that goes beyond simple NATO expansion, and amounts to a policy of de facto neutrality between NATO and Russia, or even support for Russia henceforth regarding other issues.

Where's their former chancellor now working, anyway? Oh, right, he works for a Russian state firm.

Now, Germany may be right about the issue of NATO's eastward expansion. Others on Winds have disagreed. What this post makes clear, is that regardless of its wisdom, expansion of NATO beyond its present borders is not possible, and was not possible before.

The usual whingeing complaints re: American "leadership" as the reason, were simply false. They weren't lies, because the extent of Germany's shift wasn't clear to very many people before. But it's quite clear now.

There are other countries in the world, and sometimes their positions even matter. When it comes to NATO membership, Germany's does.

Larry, #11:

No, you're not advocating isolationism, but you are advocating a form of moralism in international politics that may be counterproductive.

The correct calculation (one of them, anyway) is, "Is it less expensive to pay for the protection of Germany (say) than it is to pay for the protracted war that would be necessary to prize them back from Russia's hands if Russia were using their industrial base to launch further wars of aggression?"

It is no sin to admit when someone actually has you over a barrel.

A fair enough point, Marcus, but I think you have to discount the costs in those scenarios. In the first, you have a discount of 0 because we are, in fact, subsidizing Germany's social-democrat state by providing them with protection. We should also figure in the costs of our military actions in the former Yugoslavia, and apportion Germany's share of that cost.

In the second, I think you have to discount the possibility of war with Russia because 1) the Germans have demonstrated that they can simply be bought, and not too dearly - even while we're protecting them; 2) we still have a nuclear deterrent.

On the face of it, I'd certainly give serious consideration to reducing our commitment to Germany. I would be very hard pressed to endorse military intervention in any future Kosovos.

The USA has already pared down its commitment to Germany, as a result of decisions made by Rumsfeld. Extensive construction has been underway in the USA, because what is happening is that American units deploy from Germany to Iraq - then end their deployment by returning to America. This will continue, and I think it's the right thing to do for many reasons.

The prevailing doctrine has been to maintain some forces in Germany around infrastructure that the USA has paid a lot for, while adding far less well-staffed and well appointed bases in countries like Poland, Bulgaria, et. al. They're intended as "lilly pads" that American forces can fly in and out of, as a quid pro quo that's part of protection within NATO.

What good that protection will be if Germany refuses permission for NATO troops to use its country in the event of Russian invasions of former Warsaw Pact countries - and that must be considered a likely possibility now - I cannot say. Note that supply line issues would make this a problem, even if the USA decided to put an armored division in Poland.

The same American redeployment process has been underway in South Korea, and the method makes it very hard for the South Korean government to put obstacles in its way. Though they still try.

In their favor, Korea is taking steps to become more self-sufficient, and to assume command of their own defense by 2012 or so. They're also building a globally competitive defense export industry.

I'd keep all American troops on site, happily, if the Koreans would just agree to manage and build all future American surface combatant ships. The difference between their world-leading shipbuilding industry's record for on-time, on-budget delivery and the USA's, even when it comes to comparable ships like AEGIS destroyers (actually, their KDX-IIIs are bigger than the Arleigh Burkes), is very impressive. They're also emerging as a significant weapons exporter, with very good products like the XM2 tank (sold to Turkey as Altay), K9/K10 mobile howitzer (sold to Turkey, expected to do very well on the global market), and T/A-50 supersonic trainer and light fighter - which may have Iraq and the USA as customers by the end of 2012, among others I'm sure.

In contrast, Germany has already sold off the vast majority of its tank fleet and armored vehicles, and their export policies will crimp future sales of newer equipment outside of NATO/ EU joint projects.

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