Stoltenberg, NATO and Western weapons in Ukraine

(To Antonio Li Gobbi)
27/05/24

Jens Stoltenberg's invitation to NATO countries has caused a lot of discussion in recent days remove the restrictions that have so far been imposed on Ukraine regarding the possibility of using the weapon systems donated to it to also strike military targets on Russian territory. Invitation made through an interview given toEconomist. A communication method that the writer considers decidedly unorthodox for a topic of this kind.

There was immediate talk (in vain, according to the writer) of warmongering on the part of the Alliance and of NATO's intention to raise the level of conflict with Russia.

Personally, I would instead say that Stoltenberg's sentence is symptomatic of the absolute irrelevance of the Atlantic Alliance in relation to the conflict in Ukraine.

Other than the much-cited "NATO barking" referred to by the Pontiff! The Alliance effectively has no role in the conflict and the repeated apparently bellicose statements of the incumbent general secretary are probably indicative only of his own personal frustration in finding this marginal role.

Let's summarize some facts...

NATO's role in the conflict

Beyond the apparent protagonism of the Secretary General, NATO's only "real" intervention in relation to the Ukrainian crisis has so far been the sacrosanct reinforcement of the Alliance's eastern border, implemented exclusively within the territory of the member countries, without any trespassing. Deployment of assets (air, land and naval) with the aim of dissuading and possibly countering possible encroachments of Russian/Belarusian forces into NATO countries and demonstrating the military cohesion of the Alliance in the event of aggression. Activities in full coherence with the tasks of "defense and deterrence" which have represented the "core business" of the Alliance since 1949.

Everything else (economic sanctions against Russia, economic support for Ukraine, transfer of weapons systems and ammunition to the Ukrainian armed forces) it was decided elsewhere (in Washington, within the EU or in individual European capitals). In particular, the transfer of aircraft, artillery, armored vehicles, anti-aircraft systems, ammunition, etc. was actually decided by the individual nations that made them available. Activity which is nominally coordinated in Ramstein (as part of theUkrainian Defense Contact Group), Where 50 countries (many not NATO) meet, under US direction and not under NATO direction, to coordinate their military aid to Ukraine. The last meeting of this contact group (the 22nd) was held on May 20th, online, under the chairmanship of US Defense Minister Lloyd Austin. In this process, NATO has at most the role of monitoring and possibly coordinating the flow of what has been made available to the countries bordering Ukraine. However, everything is based on what was decided upstream individually from individual donor countries, countries that are not just NATO members.

Opportunity for such an interview in relation to the role held

Apart from the role subsidiary of NATO on the specific matter, which has been mentioned, the invitation to the nations to do more for Ukraine formulated in the press was also inappropriate for other reasons. The Secretary General is not a head of national government nor is he in any way comparable to the President of the EU Commission. Towards the media the Secretary General of NATO is basically only the spokesperson of the Atlantic Council! Textually, NATO policy on the matter provides that: "The Secretary General is the main spokesperson of the Alliance, representing the Alliance to the public on behalf of the member countries, expressing their common positions on political issues"1.

NATO is a political, rather than a military, forum, where decisions are taken exclusively by unanimity. Therefore, when addressing the press, in relation to topics so sensitive for some nations, especially in the proximity of the European elections, the secretary general should have limited himself to reporting the positions shared by all 32 allies. Comments not exactly enthusiastic formulated by various European chancelleries in relation to his interview indicate that these positions, however, were not entirely shared (or even if they had been, it was preferred that they not be brought to the attention of voters on the eve of the European elections).

Let's be clear, the general secretary has a difficult task and bringing together 32 capitals, each with its own selfish domestic agenda, is an almost impossible undertaking (also for this reason, when George W Bush wanted to attack Afghanistan, first, and Iraq, then, he preferred to resort to the much more malleable "coalitions of the willing").

The use of weapons systems of NATO countries to strike targets in Russia

Certainly Stoltenberg's invitation to the Allies to remove some questionable constraints placed on the use of the weapons systems sent to Kiev makes sense from a military point of view. Furthermore, in the opinion of the writer, the secretary general should have limited himself to making his recommendations to ministers and ambassadors of NATO countries, without indulging in statements to the press that were not shared by the Allies!

From a military point of view, it certainly makes little sense to donate weapons to Ukraine and at the same time prohibit their use against the same Russian territories from which many of the attacks that Ukrainians suffer every day originate.

Furthermore, if due to hidden fears, a nation that decides to donate weapons to a country that it de facto considers an "ally" (because, if it were not considered an "ally", the weapons would be sold to him and not given away) certainly has the right to prohibit him from using such weapons systems to their full potential. He has the right, of course, but that doesn't mean that this choice is logical.

Regardless of what some politicians say (I presume with an eye to the electoral polls), considering our openly pro-Ukrainian policy, the adoption of economic sanctions against the Russian Federation (often of dubious practical effectiveness but great media resonance), the seizure /freezing of state or even private Russian assets, the provision of military assistance of armaments (even sophisticated ones such as the SAMP-T), it can easily be assumed that Italy, like almost all EU countries, is in fact " at war” against Russia for over two years.

From a historical point of view it might make sense to discuss whether the position taken by the EU led by Von der Leyen and supported by the Draghi government in 2022 and then by the Meloni government was really in the best interests of the EU and Italy. But this tomorrow's historians will evaluate it.

At this point, limiting ourselves to providing "caged" support to Ukraine will no longer improve our relations with Moscow but could compromise future relations with Kiev. Unless we take for granted the imminent (possible) total collapse of the now exhausted Ukrainian defenses.

However, for Italy, all this is a fairly academic disquisition. To calm the domestic debate, in fact, it would be enough to remember that for the moment the most valuable piece among those officially sent by Italy to Ukraine is the SAMP-T (a purely defensive air defense system) and that it does not appear that our country has supplied long-range missile systems that could be used by the Kiev army to strike inside Russian territory. So, for us a false problem, but equally useful for cloak themselves in the flag of peace during heated electoral rallies.

Leaving aside the Italian "particular", on a general level, as already written, each nation has the right to place all the limitations it deems appropriate (whether sensible or not they may appear) to the aid it voluntarily provides to a "semi-ally" such as could be considered Ukraine. Let's remember, however, that it was the West that treated Kiev as an "ally" from the beginning of the Russian invasion and promised the Ukrainians military aid to resist the Russian attack also in the name of "our values", or at least that's what we said They. Like the many that the US-led West has deluded in the last 80 years, promising to remain at their side "until victory" (anti-Castro Cubans, South Vietnamese, Afghans, Iraqis, Kurds, etc.) also to the Ukrainians, new Davids, the West promised help until “the defeat of the Russian Goliath”. In this context, if on the one hand we were not required to provide military aid to Kiev, on the other, if it is granted it makes little sense to provide it if it is tied to restrictions that make its use decidedly ineffective.

Stoltenberg and Macron: similarities and differences

Some today tend to combine Stoltenberg's latest statements with those of Macron last March, when the French president hypothesized the possible future need to send soldiers from France and other NATO countries to fight in Ukraine. Taking into account the far from favorable progress of operations on the ground for Kiev, Macron had launched a serious alarm, to which it would have been honest to give the right attention even if, in the proximity of the elections, it is an alarm that is indigestible for a good part of the voters who didn't realize or who pretend not to have noticed “without their knowledge” they are already at war against Russia.

Macron, in essence, had the intellectual honesty to tell us that in a now imminent future it may no longer be sufficient to simply provide support to the Ukrainians by writing checks but by sitting in the living room in front of the television with a drink in hand. At that point either we decide to deploy our soldiers on the ground or we effectively force Kiev to negotiate and accept peace. Peace that can be neither "just" nor "unjust", as some "talk show louts" pontificate, but rather, as always has been, will be dictated only by positions on the ground. In practice, Macron, crudely, asked Europeans: “Are you ready to fight for your ideals?”. Personally, I think the answer is negative, but then it would be more honest to immediately declare it to the Ukrainians.

So, Macron like Stoltenberg? Absolutely not! Macron is a President who, as long as he remains in office, has the right and duty to express himself regarding the foreign and defense policy of his country. He has a blank delegation from the electorate and will answer for it for better or worse in the next national elections. Stoltenberg is a officer to which the shareholders (the governments of the 32 NATO nations) have never granted any blank delegation.

Stoltenberg's statements regarding China

Stoltenberg's recent accusations against China in relation to the military support provided to Russia also appear quite questionable (military support never officially declared by Beijing, unlike the political support for Moscow repeatedly claimed by the Chinese leadership).

The Secretary General deplored such aid as an element of destabilization of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Statement that could certainly be expected from Supreme Pontiff, less so by the general secretary of an Alliance whose almost all members (i.e. all except Turkey, Iceland and Hungary) officially support the other belligerent militarily, with intelligence support, training and the sending of tanks, missiles, planes, ammunition, etc.

The future of Stoltenberg

In reiterating that attempting to dictate, through the press, directives on this matter is beyond the competence of the Secretary General of NATO, one might also think that Jens Stoltenberg has not indulged in unconsidered statements at all. Some malicious people might even think of one of their own looking for employment after the now imminent end of his now ten-year mandate (so far renewed beyond any precedent and expiring on October 1st). On the other hand, his predecessor, the Danish Anders Fogh Rasmussen, after leaving the post of secretary general of NATO in 2014, in 2016 became an advisor to the Ukrainian president Poroshenko (yes, the Zelensky's predecessor). But no... They're just malice!

1 “Manuel de l'OTAN”, Division de Diplomatie Publique de l'OTAN, Ed 2006, Page 80

Photo: NATO