“He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.” The words of Niccolo Machiavelli which are, perhaps, self-evident and amply demonstrated by the success of charismatic leaders throughout history to attract followers, and to command or inspire them to achieve the extraordinary good and, alas, bad. Folk instinctively it seems yearn to be commanded by a strong leader and contemporary world politics is not short of such figures, although one might ask wither western leadership.
And thus to Brussels where a meeting of NATO defence ministers on Thursday approved a new command structure. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General, said that the changes aimed to “boost defence and deterrence against threats from any direction” and “ensure we have the right forces in the right places at the right time.” He told a press conference that the ministers had “agreed to strengthen the new command structure by more than 1,200 personnel” and that they “also agreed that our new Joint Force Command for the Atlantic will be based at Norfolk, Virginia in the United States. And that a new Enabling Command will be based in Ulm in Germany.” Stoltenburg added that “these headquarters will be essential for Alliance reinforcements across the Atlantic and across Europe.” The decisions will formally take effect after they are approved by NATO leaders during their summit in Brussels in mid-July, the IAR news agency reported.
Poland’s defence minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, speaking to journalists after the meeting said that the changes, including a decision to enhance the combat readiness of NATO troop s in member countries, were beneficial and made the country more secure. “We are interested in seeing a situation where, in the event of a crisis, a state of danger, we will know that a potential attack will be met with a swift and decisive response from the Atlantic Alliance,” he said.
Meanwhile, Poland has its eye on a larger prize. The head of the president Duda’s National Security Bureau, Paweł Soloch, said that Poland wished to become “a hub for the presence of American troops in Europe.”He told public broadcaster TVP that permanent US military bases in Poland would be “in the interest of not only Poland, but also other countries in the region.” According to Soloch, not only the three Baltic states, but also countries such as Sweden and Finland are interested in seeing permanent US army bases set up in Poland. At present, four rotating multinational battalions are stationed in Poland and the Baltic states, a decision taken at the NATO summit in Warsaw in July 2016 as a response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014.
A stronger NATO is certainly desired by the nine CEE countries on the alliance’s eastern flank. Following a meeting in Warsaw on Friday, a joint declaration, signed by the leaders of those counties, said that Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia wanted the 2018 NATO summit to build on “pivotal decisions” that were taken at previous summits and which bolstered the alliance’s eastern flank. The declaration said that the Bucharest Nine were “confident that the upcoming NATO summit will mark further strengthening of the alliance,” especially deterrence and defence against existing and future threats to security, and that they welcomed increased ally engagement in the region, and noted “with deep concern” Russia’s aggression, efforts to destabilise other countries, and boosted offensive capabilities. President Duda said the declaration was the most important achievement of the summit which he hoped “… will contribute to decisions at the NATO summit in Brussels”.
Be that as it may, a permanent us base in Poland will take some doing. Leaving aside the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 prohibits the alliance from basing large number of troops in the CEE (and that this not something which Germany, at least, is likely to leave aside) there is the question of President Trump’s continuing demands that European members of NATO should a fairer share of the defence burden. As this weekend’s G7 summit in Canada showed, Trump has other fish to fry and, much to the others’ chagrin, suggested that Brother Putin – presumably the putative enemy – be re-admitted to what was the G8. Italy also would like to see an easing of sanctions against Russia.
And at a time when the western alliance seems increasingly fractured, Putin was receiving the first friendship necklace from none other than President Xi of China. It seems clear that China will be a growing problem to the west even as the west fights to suck at China’s financial teat. In the future, beware of Chinese bearing necklaces may turn out to be but another version of beware of Greeks bearing gifts. NATO must defend its eastern border, but in the longer term, perhaps the east will turn out to be further east than we think. Those in command ought to know that.