NATO's new strategic review, which was debated on 14 October by foreign affairs and defence ministers of the alliance’s member countries, is its third since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is also likely to be its most controversial. The idea of including Russia in a European defence strategy, which has been enthusiastically put forward by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is like a red rag to a bull for Poland. According to Rasmussen, the Russians should be closely involved in the building of the missile defence shield wanted by Washington, which is supposed to protect Europe against attacks from the Middle East.

Three factions

Rasmussen’s proposal has highlighted the existence of three factions within NATO, which have also been identified by the American intelligence company Stratfor. First comes the European core countries (Germany, France and their southern European allies), then the Atlanticists (the UK and the Benelux countries among others), and finally there is a faction made up of more recent NATO members in Central Europe. For the first of these factions, associating Russia with European defence policy should now be a priority. The second wants the main emphasis to be on close relations with the United States and the fight against terrorism, while the third is convinced that Russia remains a major threat — which is why they want reassurances that they will be protected in the event of possible conventional or cyber attacks from the East.

On 14 October, Rasmussen, who was responsible for the drafting of the 10-page Strategic Concept proposal, attempted to establish a compromise between the three positions. "NATO’s core mission, to protect the 900 million citizens of NATO countries from attack, must never change – but it must be modern defence, against modern threats,” he explained, and it should also be accomplished with a view to meeting current challenges, and adopting new initiatives that go beyond the missions of the alliance.

Talking shop

However, there are many bones of contention not only on the issue of the new NATO doctrine, but also on the question of the financial resources that the allies are willing to devote to common defence in the context of an ongoing economic crisis. The United States will form other alliances if the Europeans slash military spending, warned Rasmussen. Nonetheless, even the United Kingdom has announced that it plans to introduce a reduction of 10%.

As it stands, the UK’s 42.5 billion-euro defence budget is the second highest in Europe; only France spends more on its military. And Britain is not the only country that wants to scale back, Germany is also planning cuts worth up to 6.3 billion euros.

Poland is careful to side with the Americans, who are increasingly weary of the endless debate on all of these issues. President Barack Obama is worried that NATO will become little more than a talking shop, and has demanded an end to the requirement that the alliance’s decisions be backed by unanimous vote, which has been a feature of NATO proceedings for the last 61 years.

He is also wants the secretary general to be granted greater powers in times of crisis, so that he can take the initiative as a commander in chief of the alliance — an idea which has met with a very lukewarm reception from the European members of NATO.