Does NATO really pose a threat to Russia?

Russia has a point about the bloc’s expansion if you are willing to see it from the Kremlin’s perspective Read Full Article at

Does NATO really pose a threat to Russia?

The growing standoff between East and West is a hangover from the Cold War

Russia has laid down its red lines, insisting that NATO expansion towards its borders poses an unacceptable challenge to its policy of so-called “indivisible security.” As the US-led military bloc insists it exists solely to defend its members, Moscow’s requests for mutual security assurances have revealed the two sides no longer even speak the same language.

Russia’s red lines

Western governments committed themselves to a new defensive doctrine in all the main pan-European security agreements signed in the 1990s. The principle of “indivisible security” was explicitly defined in these agreements as the “commitment not to pursue national security interests at the expense of others,” which reflected the larger objective of ending the dividing lines in Europe. Although, Russia was weak in the 1990s and the West could ignore these security guarantees by expanding NATO. Russia has now recovered, established firm red lines, and has demanded security guarantees based on these existing pan-European security agreements.

The US and NATO, however, insist that “indivisible security” is interpreted as the right to choose alliance membership freely. The creative re-interpretation of very specific agreements does not clarify how the expansion of Cold War military alliances would achieve the overarching objective of ending the Cold War legacy of dividing lines in Europe.

Enemy at the gates?

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. © Getty Images / Russian Foreign Ministry
NATO expansionism has suffered a major setback

Even Western pundits who oppose further NATO expansionism tend to dismiss the idea that NATO could be considered a threat. Instead, those pushing for less confrontation usually appeal to the recognition of Russia’s history, “siege mentality” and other signs of irrational insecurity.

Threats consist of both capabilities and intentions. NATO’s arguments boil down to insisting that its growing offensive capabilities should not worry Russia, because the bloc has benign intentions. However, even if Moscow believed that NATO’s statements are sincere, states do not base their security on current intentions.

Furthermore, not long ago, it was commonplace across the West to argue that President Trump could start a major war with another great power. More recently, US Senator Roger Wicker casually suggested that America could engage in a war with Russia over Ukraine, in which even the use of nuclear weapons should not be taken off the table. Evelyn Farkas, the former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia in the Obama administration, and former senior adviser to the Supreme Allied Commander in NATO, also penned an op-ed in which she argued that “The US Must Prepare for War Against Russia over Ukraine.”

We must not only condemn Russia’s illegal occupations of Ukraine and Georgia, but we must demand a withdrawal from both countries by a certain date and organize coalition forces willing to take action to enforce it… The horrible possibility exists that Americans, with our European allies, must use our military to roll back Russians – even at the risk of direct combat.

Escalation dominance

Even if Washington would not follow the reckless advice of going to war with Russia, the growing US military presence along Russian borders can give the US escalation dominance. The concept of escalation dominance refers to the ability to increase military pressure and possibly resort to limited use of force, based on the logic that the stakes can be continuously increased until the other side is compelled to capitulate. With the knowledge that the US could defeat Russia in a war, the US could use its ability to escalate tensions to compel Russia to capitulate on strategically important issues.

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The intentions of states are to some extent shaped by capabilities. Dominant military capabilities enable the US to put undue pressure on adversaries and even to launch limited military strikes against weaker states with impunity, as any retaliation would result in more comprehensive military actions. Escalation dominance also makes military pressure a more appealing instrument of power and could embolden the US military to take greater risks. The US tendency to fly its nuclear bombers and sail its warships along the Russian borders are dire warnings about the threat of potential US escalation dominance on Russia’s doorstep.

The defensive alliance

NATO also argues that Russia has nothing to fear as it is a “defensive alliance” of peaceful democracies. However, it would be difficult to convince the Serbs or Libyans that NATO is a “defensive alliance” without redefining ‘defensive’ in new and creative ways. The bloc insists it has not deviated from its status as a defensive alliance since these countries were attacked to defend civilians. The US also recently concluded an agreement to establish four military bases on Norwegian soil to “defend” Washington’s interests in the Arctic. Redefining “defensive alliance” in such broad terms distorts the meanings of the words. 

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NATO’s actions in Ukraine are also defined as defensive. Member states backed the toppling of President Yanukovich to support “the Ukrainian people,” and thereafter supported Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” against the Donbass, arresting the opposition leader and shutting down the opposition media to defend from a Russian “hybrid-war.” At the moment, the US has launched an information war alleging an imminent Russian invasion to instil bloc discipline and mobilise the Europeans against Russia in defence of Ukraine.

Information warfare

Language conveys meaning and propaganda is intended to distort meaning. The ability of redefine security is the result of information dominance, as a key source of US power. Karl Rove, the former White House Deputy Chief of Staff, purportedly stated in 2002: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating new realities.” A constructed reality is that the world’s largest military alliance that has continued its original mission of containing Russia, is not a real threat against Russia. However, the empire is in relative decline and in these negotiations the US is being pushed towards returning to an objective reality.