According to Jelko Kacin, former Ambassador to NATO, no one imagined that after centuries of neutrality, Finland and Sweden would decide to join NATO. “They say that military non-alignment is irresponsible, as it does not guarantee peace, stability and predictability in the future. Any European politician who is mature enough understands that Ukraine is fighting for a European future, for democracy, for European values,” he pointed out, saying that such a country cannot stand alone between NATO and the Russian Federation.
This week’s episode of the show “Signal” focused on the role of NATO, which was founded in 1949 to ensure peace and freedom and to guarantee the security of its members through common defence, in today’s world. Over the years, the Alliance has expanded to 31 Member States and has played an important role in resolving conflicts and promoting stability. Today, NATO faces many challenges, such as geopolitical tensions, budget issues and new security threats. Nevertheless, NATO remains a key actor on the international stage, playing an important role in safeguarding peace and stability in the world.
Dr Vladimir Prebilič, professor and expert in defence studies, began by recalling that NATO was created out of a need for security, which was very questionable at the time. If we look back to 1949 and before, we remember that at that time, Western Europe was facing a clear adversary – the Soviet Union and its leader Stalin, who had clear ambitions to extend some of that country’s influence and territory to the West. At that time, the West had difficulty in facing up to this fact, so the only way of balancing power at that time was to pool all these defensive efforts and capacities that the countries had at their disposal into a common organisation. “First, European countries came together with the creation of the Treaty of Brussels Organisation, but it soon became clear that countries across the Atlantic would have to be invited to join as well. The USA was not enthusiastic at first, but when serious aspirations were shown on the part of the Soviet Union, then-President Truman realised that something would have to be done. In April 1949, the Washington Charter was signed, marking the birth of NATO,” he recalled, explaining that the fundamental effort and objective was to pool capacities and stop the pressure from the East – in order to neutralise Stalin’s aspirations. “Later on, it became clear that NATO had outgrown these frameworks. Nowadays, it is no longer just a defence organisation.” It is also an organisation where we talk about security in the broad sense of the word, that is, political security. “We talk about defence planning, but also about the political component: the rule of law, human rights, etc.” Prebilič said it was right that the matter had outgrown its previous limitations, because the geopolitical situation was forcing the Alliance to recast itself in this context.
When asked how the war in Ukraine has affected NATO and its relations with Russia, Jelko Kacin pointed out that the war in Ukraine is only the latest step in the escalation of the Russian Federation, which crossed the line. “First, there was the crisis in 2008 after the end of our first Presidency of the Council of the European Union, when France held the Presidency. There was the military intervention in Georgia. It was a very distressing situation, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was at the Beijing Olympics. When fierce combat started, Nicolas Sarkozy went to Moscow for talks with Dmitry Medvedev. Together, the two of them were talking Putin down for more than half an hour before they could even begin to talk normally. Putin was determined to go to Georgia and to have a showdown with President Mikheil Saakashvili in the middle of Tbilisi. Then other problems followed,” Kacin recalled, stressing that we should never forget that Russia decided to send an anti-aircraft missile into Ukrainian-controlled territory to shoot down a Malaysian plane with 298 passengers and crew members on it (almost 200 people with Dutch citizenship), only to accuse Ukraine of terrorism. He mentioned this in particular because many people in Slovenia find it difficult to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
When, in the aftermath, the occupation of Crimea took place, NATO finally said enough is enough, according to Kacin. “This whole period, which has lasted for eight years, is a period when NATO is actively responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine. What happened last February was just the last straw. First, we realised that the Baltic countries were the most threatened, alongside Ukraine, so we sent battalions to Poland and the Baltic countries.” Slovenia, he said, was involved from the start. After what happened last year, the decision was taken to reinforce defence and preventive action in all frontline countries to ensure a sufficient response force (since last year, battalions have also been stationed in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria). All the while, Member States’ air forces have also been rotating to these countries. “So, we have a reinforced air defence. At the moment, we have a new ally, Finland (31 countries are in the Alliance, and we expect Sweden to join by June, as there is a compromise between the USA and Turkey that will allow Turkey to modernise its aircraft),” he added.
Tone Kajzer, former Ambassador to the USA, pointed out that he was also the Ambassador to Finland from 2008 to 2012 and that it was hard to imagine at the time that the Finns would have decided overnight to become a NATO member. He said that this was due to historical circumstances and a certain minimal predictability in relations with the Russian Federation. The Finnish and Russian Presidents met twice a year. “After the aggression began, the Finns took the decision that the situation had escalated to such an extent that the European security architecture, which was set up by the Helsinki Charter, was so loaded or so usurped by Russia that it was necessary to take the step of applying for membership,” he pointed out, adding that he had discussed with various circles in the USA what Finland could bring to the Alliance. The debate was quickly over, however, because the Finns were already spending 2 percent, if not more, of their GDP on defence before they even joined NATO.
We woke up to a new reality where predictability is practically non-existent
As soon as a country becomes a full member, it enjoys the protection of Article 5, which says that an attack on any member is an attack on the Alliance as a whole, Prebilič said. “This has increased Finland’s security. Any provocation in this direction by Putin, we know how unpredictable he is, would be a step too far for him and not something to joke around with,” he pointed out, adding that the decision to join NATO was necessary. Namely, we have recently woken up to a new reality where predictability is practically non-existent. “The only predictability is to prepare yourself for the worst.”
On the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, Kacin began by saying that no one had imagined that Finland and Sweden would decide to join – after centuries of neutrality. “They say that military non-alignment is irresponsible, as it does not guarantee peace, stability and predictability in the future. Any European politician who is mature enough understands that Ukraine is fighting for a European future, for democracy, for European values. Such a country cannot stand alone between NATO and the Russian Federation,” he stressed, adding that Ukraine needs a security guarantee, and the strongest guarantee is certainly a membership in NATO. Kacin recalled that Sweden and Finland were privileged partners before applying for membership in the Alliance (special status was obtained with the consent of all members, and they have had joint military exercises involving Swedish and Finnish aircraft).
Ukraine will undoubtedly be a member of NATO, or it will not exist anymore
Kacin said Ukraine will undoubtedly become a NATO member, or it will not exist anymore. “These are facts that speak volumes about how the world has changed so far. When the Alliance supports the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, we are talking about Ukraine, including Crimea. This is an area that needs to be protected, that needs help in its defence,” he pointed out, adding that this is a new security architecture. He went on to say that Medvedev is further proving his commitment and obedience to Putin by threatening to use nuclear weapons. The Russian Ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, who is one of the six Deputy Foreign Ministers responsible for the UN, EU and NATO, said that instead of threatening to use nuclear weapons, Russia would have to react accordingly and militarily secure its border with Finland after Finland’s accession to NATO. The latter, in Kacin’s view, is a much more rational and measured decision, a message that should be taken into account and built on, rather than reacting in panic to provocations from Moscow aimed at psyching up the populations of the allies and trying to deepen the crisis in any country, thus destabilising it and bringing down governments. “We are all democracies, we have a limited number of mandates, etc., and the dictator on the other side is taking advantage of all of this and is trying to create divisions among those who support Ukraine.”
Kajzer believes that Ukraine will succeed in liberating all its territories because this is the only precondition for the European security architecture to be restored, at least to a minimum degree, to the extent that the borders of sovereign states are respected. “Ukraine, as a democratic country, can decide who it wants to join.” In his words, Ukraine is defending the future of Europe, because it is important to realise that NATO is not a military organisation in the sense of different ideological types of countries, as we are on the same value basis.
If we all thought that a third party would take care of us, then NATO wouldn’t work
When asked how NATO is preparing for new forms of security threats, Prebilič began by pointing out that the first place to start when it comes to security is at home. NATO does not have an army per se, the member states do. Sometimes, he said, a certain belief is created that it is enough to be in the club, and then everyone will take care of you. But membership in NATO, on the other hand, presupposes that a country first builds up its own capacities and fulfils the promises it has made. These capacities will represent the capacities of everyone in the Alliance. If we all thought that a third party would take care of us, then NATO would not function, Prebilič believes. “As far as cyber and other forms of security are concerned, NATO is adapting to these challenges, and steps are being taken in the right direction. There is still a lot of work to be done or room for improvement in building our defence capabilities and also in the area of information security. I think it makes sense to be more proactive and build things better,” he pointed out, adding that this is the only way to be a credible partner.
Kacin believes that the war in Ukraine has shown that it is difficult to fight Russia with Russian arms and ammunition. Therefore, he said, a transition from Russian standards to NATO standards is taking place in Ukraine. “There are very few countries in Europe that still have the capacity to produce 122 mm, 152 mm ammunition, which are Russian calibres for heavy weapons and artillery, which plays a very important role here. We need to replace artillery with such that fits the NATO standards, while at the same time, on the NATO side, we need to increase the production and stockpiling of our ammunition and calibres for the common European defence.” He stressed that what is happening is an empowerment of the European allies on the European continent, which need to be trained to produce enough weapons of their own. “What is happening is the empowerment of Ukraine, which is fighting according to NATO standards, and the first and greatest value according to these standards is human life (a soldier is taken out when he is wounded and if he is in a difficult situation, in Russia they leave soldiers in combat regardless of what is happening to them, they don’t pick up their corpses, etc.).”
In Kajzer’s view, we need to do more to raise our competence and credibility as NATO members. “I believe that it is crystal clear here, too, that NATO is not some kind of an unnecessary burden, that this is not a dilemma between cannons and butter,” he pointed out, recalling that NATO also has a strong civil-technological development aspect, which leads member states to cooperate in technological development, which is useful for military purposes, of course, but also for all other purposes. “I see that we are moving in the right direction, but we will need to speed things up a bit.”
What Slovenia has provided to Ukraine in the military field is decent
Regarding Ukraine, Kacin said that after the occupation of Crimea, NATO reacted very quickly at the highest possible level. “On 9-10th of July 2017, the North Atlantic Council paid an official visit to Kyiv. We are present at the moment in two battalions – one is in Latvia, and we also have a unit in Slovakia. What Slovenia has provided to Ukraine in the military field is decent,” he said. It started with light weapons and ammunition, and we contributed from the strategic reserves immediately for a whole battalion. We sent a whole armoured battalion (35 vehicles, some were lost, but they turned up), 28 M55S tanks, and older guns that were in the strategic reserve from the Second World War, which we got as aid from the USA. “The sooner the Russian side comes to its senses, manages to sanitise its mistakes and starts to pull itself out of the mud, the better it will be for them. After the war, the reconstruction of Ukraine will follow and will require the solidarity of the Alliance and the EU, and on the other side, unfortunately, military aid will also be needed for Russia, which will be truly depleted of human as well as financial resources by the war,” he pointed out, adding that Russia is now falling behind technologically, losing touch with modern technologies.
Prebilic recalled that Slovenia has always been a reliable partner in the field of peace and security in the Western Balkans, etc. “The Slovenian Armed Forces perform very good tasks. The Slovenian soldiers do an extremely professional job, considering the equipment they are handling. The engagement of the Slovenian soldier must also be seen through the prism of security,” he pointed out and went on to address the question of how China’s greater ambitions affect the NATO alliance. China, he said, had seized the opportunity, even though it has been growing at an extremely fast economic pace. From an economic perspective, we are talking about the second most powerful economy in the world, which has ambitions to try to secure a certain geopolitical influence in our area. “It is clearly showing intentions that are not always the most friendly and peaceful. It is looking towards Taiwan; it is encroaching on the Pacific space. This is where things get significantly complicated. If you want to have a strong military component, you first need a strong economic component. This now allows for a generous investment in the case of China (250 billion is in the budget – they have the second strongest defence budget in the world, the USA is still more technologically advanced, but the gap is narrowing).” China wants to grow further, according to Prebilič. NATO’s strategic dossier, he said, shows that there has been a perception of Chinese penetration, from economic to military, and that this indicates intentions to do things differently. “We need to react to things and prepare in time so that things do not overtake us at a stage where we are not comfortable with it.”
China is competing with everyone, things are changing drastically
Kacin recalled that NATO had established direct relations with the People’s Republic of China. Indeed, the former Deputy Secretary-General of NATO visited China, where we made it clear that we do not see them as adversaries, but as competitors. “China is competing with everyone, things are changing drastically. After the democratisation of Russia, when people first got their ID cards, they were able to travel around Russia and, as a result, they moved from Siberia to the European part. The workforce there is Chinese. There are no exact figures, but I dare say that there are more of them than Russians.” China talks a lot about Taiwan, but Kacin says he is more concerned about what is happening further north and offshore. China is the most powerful commercial force, with the Chinese financial system controlling all the logistics routes, both by sea and by air, when it comes to silk routes. “The issue of freedom of navigation in the Pacific is a key issue for the functioning of all these economies. Whoever controls these sea lanes will make or break the functioning of other economies.”
Kacin believes that it is good to have friends, because together we can do much more. “NATO is still the framework without which security in Europe is practically non-existent. It is the only framework that works, an institution that functions, that operates well, that is the best we have at the moment. It is only right that we contribute in this context, that we operate well. How we ourselves contribute depends on us,” Prebilič stressed, adding that NATO is always just reminding us what we should do to be better partners.