Our Politicians Can Do Some Things Right!
by Dave Essel
I never thought I’d be saying this but the UK House of Commons Defence Committee has just published a totally exemplary report on Russia, stating what should underlie the UK’s attitude to that country.
It’s a long time since I have been able to react with pleasure and pride to something done by my country. This report is sensible, literate, clear and organised, and calls a spade a spade. The committee questioned all the right sorts of people, applied collective intelligence to the information gathered, and came up with conclusions that I do not think that any of us on LR would disagree with.
I am particularly pleased to see that the Defence Committee states unequivocally in its conclusions that there is:
• “an absence of shared values” (about time somebody noticed that!);
• that Russia takes military actions that “are not the actions of a friendly nation and risk escalating tension”;
• that “Russia [...] acted with disproportionate and illegal use of force by encroaching deep into Georgian territory, far beyond the conflict area”, “is failing to honour its ceasefire commitments”, and “needs to withdraw its military forces to its pre-conflict positions as previously agreed”;
• that “NATO needs to ensure that a continued commitment to mutual protection—Article 5 [the mutual defence clause]—is at the heart of the new NATO Strategic Concept”;
• “the EU [needs] to reduce its energy dependency on Russia and diversify energy supply” and “the UK Government should work within the EU to pursue a united approach to energy security and the prioritisation of developing the Nabucco pipeline”;
• that the UK “Government should adopt a hard-headed approach to engagement with Russia, based on the reality of Russia’s foreign policy rather than abstract and misleading notions of shared values” [very important, this].
Three cheers for the Defence Committee! One can only hope the government it reports to actually listens and acts accordingly.
Here is the full text of the Committee’s conclusion. The complete document is available as html or pdf here.
Conclusions and recommendations
Russia’s foreign policy
1. Russia has been hit hard by the global economic downturn. It is too early to judge how this will affect Russia’s foreign policy. Russia’s low level of democracy may make it more likely to be assertive in its foreign policy than would be the case with a Western liberal democratic state that faced similar economic difficulties. (Paragraph 23)
2. The West needs to engage with Russia to develop cooperation, yet the absence of shared values makes this difficult. Witnesses identified many areas where cooperation was desirable based on mutual national interests. NATO, the EU and the UK Government need a pragmatic and hard-headed approach to their engagement with Russia to achieve the best results. (Paragraph 27)
Russia’s military capability and posture
3. We welcome Russia’s military reform programme that will modernise and professionalise its Armed Forces. It provides an opportunity for Russia to increase the interoperability of its Armed Forces and thereby the possibility for increased joint operations with NATO forces, whilst also improving the conditions of its rank and file soldiers. The UK military is experienced in implementing reforms. The Ministry of Defence should offer support to Russia in implementing its reform programme. (Paragraph 43)
4. Russia’s unauthorised flights into international airspace, including the UK’s flight information region, do not pose a direct security threat to NATO or the UK; nevertheless, they are not the actions of a friendly nation and risk escalating tension. A further issue is that Russia’s actions threaten the safety of civil flights and risk leading to serious accidents; Russia should not be making such flights without informing the appropriate authorities. The Government should take a more robust approach in making clear to Russia that its continued secret incursions by military aircraft into international airspace near to the UK is not acceptable behaviour. The Government should call on NATO to ensure that it monitors and assesses the threat posed by unauthorised Russian military flights into NATO and international airspace near to NATO’s territorial perimeter. (Paragraph 49)
5. It is understandable that some of Russia’s neighbouring states should feel concerned about the possibility of Russian military action against them given Russia’s actions in Georgia. Russia has proved that it is quite capable of using military force if it chooses. Russia does not, however, need to use conventional force to achieve its objectives; it has political and economic tools at its disposal to influence its neighbouring states. (Paragraph 52)
6. In contrast to the level of threat Russia poses to some of its neighbouring states, Russia does not currently pose a direct threat to UK homeland security, nor is likely to do so in the near future. Although it is hard to conceive of a scenario in which Russia would threaten UK homeland security, Russia threatens the national interests of the UK through its attempts to establish a sphere of influence over other former Soviet States. It is in the UK’s national interest to have stable democratic and independent states in Eastern Europe as this enhances European security. Russia’s behaviour risks undermining this and thereby working against our own national interests. (Paragraph 53)
The Georgia conflict
7. We welcome the EU’s investigation into the causes of the Georgian-Russian conflict. Understanding the history and causes of the conflict is a prerequisite to achieving peace in the region. While awaiting the EU’s forthcoming report that should provide a more detailed assessment of the causes of the conflict, we conclude that:
•Responsibility for the conflict was shared, in differing measures, by all parties. Both Russia and Georgia share responsibility for the humanitarian consequences of the conflict that have left hundreds dead and thousands displaced from their homes.
• Russia provoked Georgia through its actions over many years. Russian provocation included fuelling separatism in the region through the distribution of passports in the breakaway Georgian territories, building up its military forces in the region and through its recognition of the separatist territories in Spring 2008.
• President Saakashvili’s decision to launch an offensive on 7 August was politically reckless. Russia reacted swiftly to remove Georgian forces from South Ossetia. Russia also acted with disproportionate and illegal use of force by encroaching deep into Georgian territory, far beyond the conflict area. (Paragraph 74)
8. There was a collective international failure at a political level to read the warning signs of an escalating conflict. The UK Government has stated its commitment to securing peace in Georgia. Ministers need to learn from history, and should carefully monitor intelligence on the situation in the Caucasus, to ensure that any future outbreak of conflict in the region does not come as a surprise. (Paragraph 75)
9. Russia is failing to honour its ceasefire commitments under the agreements of 12 August and 8 September 2008. We recommend that the UK Government send a strong message to Russia that it needs to withdraw its military forces to its pre- conflict positions as previously agreed. (Paragraph 81)
10. We regret that the UN and OSCE monitoring missions have been forced to close. Their closure increases the vital importance of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia and the need for its mandate to be strengthened as well as extended. The EU monitoring mission has a vital role in acting as a deterrent to further military action and promoting stability. The UK Government should increase its diplomatic efforts to secure an extension in time and strengthening of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia, including enabling the mission to have full access to the disputed territories. (Paragraph 89)
11. Russia has breached internationally accepted principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity by unilaterally recognising the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The prospect of South Ossetia and Abkhazia returning under the sovereign control of Georgia in the near future appears slight while the Russian military presence remains in these territories. It is vital for international security that NATO, EU and the UK Government remain resolute in their commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and international law. The international community has a vital role in securing stability and peace in the region. UK Ministers should press for the EU, UN and OSCE to secure a lasting peace settlement in the disputed territories. (Paragraph 93)
Russia and NATO
12. We welcome the resumption of formal engagement between NATO and Russia on the NATO-Russia Council. Engagement provides a platform for progress in building trust and cooperation. This should not, however, be at the cost of abandoning a commitment to the territorial integrity of Georgia. NATO should continue to make clear to Russia that its actions in Georgia were disproportionate and that it should honour its ceasefire commitments in Georgia. (Paragraph 99)
13. For the NATO-Russia Council to be effective in building trust between NATO and Russia there needs to be an honest dialogue on areas of disagreement as well as agreement. The UK Government should encourage the NRC to be used as a forum to discuss difficult and strategic issues—such as NATO enlargement, Georgia, and human rights—as well as issues where cooperation is more likely. (Paragraph 101)
14. Arctic security is an issue of growing strategic importance as sea routes are opened up as a result of climate change. NATO has a critical role to play in securing Russian cooperation or at least minimising tensions over the territory. (Paragraph 104)
15. There are many opportunities for NATO to pursue cooperation with Russia for mutual benefit. The full potential of the NATO-Russia Council will not be realised until it takes strategic decisions on the priority areas for cooperation. In relation to these areas of potential cooperation, the NATO-Russia Council should focus its efforts on key strategic areas where there is a consensus within NATO and realistic prospects for success: these areas could include arms control, the Arctic and Afghanistan. We recommend that the UK Government identify and communicate within NATO what its priority areas are for cooperation with Russia. (Paragraph 106)
16. The Government should work within NATO to secure an agreement with Russia on the transit of NATO military goods through Russian territory to ISAF forces in Afghanistan. We acknowledge that the UK currently relies on a southern transit route to supply its Armed Forces, yet it has a vital interest in ensuring the effectiveness of the entire coalition mission in Afghanistan. The Alliance’s effectiveness would be enhanced by accessing an alternative supply route for its military goods other than through Pakistan. (Paragraph 111)
17. Russia should not have a veto over NATO membership. The costs of NATO closing the door on further enlargement are as great as the costs of premature enlargement. (Paragraph 122)
18. Acceptance of new NATO members should continue to be performance-based; if a country meets the criteria for membership, and can demonstrate that it is able to contribute to the security of existing NATO members it should be permitted to join. We believe it is essential that NATO’s open door policy is maintained on this basis. Ending it is not in the interests of NATO or of European stability as a whole. Signalling that the Alliance has reached its outer limits, or ruling out further expansion, would consign those countries left outside NATO to an uncertain future, potentially creating instability on the Alliance’s Eastern fringes. Perpetuating this instability is not in the interests of any member of the NATO Alliance. (Paragraph 123)
19. Georgia’s unresolved territorial disputes considerably complicate NATO’s decision- making on whether to grant Georgia membership or not. On the one hand, Georgia’s membership may strengthen democracy and stability within the country and possibly beyond. On the other hand, its unresolved territorial disputes could risk NATO becoming embroiled in a direct conflict with Russia. While Georgia is working towards meeting the performance criteria for membership this issue can be avoided. But it can not be avoided indefinitely. At some point in the future, NATO will need to make a difficult decision on whether to grant Georgia membership in light of the harsh reality of the situation on the ground. It is vital that NATO does not allow Russia to dictate this decision; yet it is also vital that NATO considers the possible consequences arising from allowing a country to join while it has unresolved territorial disputes which it is in Russia’s interests to perpetuate in the short term. (Paragraph 127)
20. If NATO does grant Georgia membership it should do so to the whole of Georgia’s sovereign territory, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia. To do otherwise would be to recognise Russia’s actions in those parts of Georgia as having some legitimacy. This is a very serious issue to which we do not have an answer. Yet the international community must work to address it to produce an answer and, in doing so, reduce the tension between Georgia, Russia and NATO. This will be achievable only with a recognition by Russia that its long-term interests lie in stable and harmonious relations in the South Caucasus region, rather than a relationship of threats and domination. (Paragraph 128)
21. For Ukraine to have a realistic chance of joining NATO, it not only needs to meet the performance criteria for membership, but it needs also to demonstrate that its public are supportive of its membership. (Paragraph 129)
22. NATO needs to ensure that a continued commitment to mutual protection—Article 5—is at the heart of the new NATO Strategic Concept. NATO’s global role is vital, given the shared challenges its Member States face. Yet this should not come at the expense of the Alliance’s commitment towards mutual defence. (Paragraph 133)
23. Central and Eastern European NATO members are understandably concerned about their security. Countries such as Estonia have proved to be valuable allies, particularly in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and it is right that we reassure them about their security. NATO should take steps to reassure Central and Eastern European NATO members that their security is of vital importance to the Alliance. (Paragraph 134)
24. NATO should update its contingency plans for responding to an armed attack on its members, including ensuring that these plans cover the eventuality of attack on Baltic Member States, and setting out NATO’s planned military response. (Paragraph 137)
25. We believe that NATO’s decision to enhance the remit of the NATO Response Force, rather than creating new structures, is sensible. It is vital that the NATO Response Force is able to reassure Central and Eastern European Member States. NATO should maintain a visible military presence in the Baltic States, including through the use of air-policing and conducting exercises in the region. (Paragraph 139)
26. The UK, alongside many other countries, faces an increasing threat of cyberattack. Cybersecurity is an issue of increasing significance for the UK and NATO as society becomes increasingly dependent on information and communication technology. The cyberattacks on Estonia and Georgia demonstrate the importance of the UK and NATO developing robust resilience. (Paragraph 151)
27. We welcome the Government’s publication of a National Cybersecurity Strategy and the establishment of new offices to coordinate and implement cybersecurity measures. Despite information from the MoD, we are still not clear what the exact role and contribution of the MoD is towards national cybersecurity. In the Government’s response to our Report, we recommend the Government to set out more clearly the MoD’s current and future work in relation to national cybersecurity. The MoD should also ensure that the importance of cybersecurity is reflected within its planning and resource allocation. (Paragraph 152)
28. Given the importance that the Government now attaches to national cybersecurity, we call on it to explain its decision not to sponsor the NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. The UK Government should urge NATO to recognise the security challenge posed by electronic warfare in NATO’s new Strategic Concept. NATO should give cybersecurity higher priority within its planning to reflect the growing threat that this poses to its members. NATO should ensure that the work of the Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence is fully supported, including financially. (Paragraph 153)
European security and Russia
29. We welcome the resumption of a dialogue between the EU and Russia on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Yet the Government’s position, that the ‘pace and tone’ of negotiations on a new PCA will be informed by Russia’s fulfilment of its obligations under the ceasefire agreements in Georgia, does not provide sufficient clarity on the Government’s position. The Government should make a clear public statement that it will not sign up to a new Partnership and Cooperation agreement unless Russia honours its ceasefire commitments. (Paragraph 158)
30. We note the concern expressed by witnesses about Russia’s motives in proposing a new European security architecture. We are not convinced that there is a need for such a new architecture, which may undermine the primacy of NATO’s security role. Nevertheless, engagement with Russia on this matter is necessary to understand their security concerns. The current proposals are vague; Russia needs to come forward with further details of its proposals to enable a meaningful dialogue to take place. The UK Government should maintain its willingness to engage with Russia on this issue, but should make clear that it will not commit to an agreement that overrides existing commitments to NATO and human rights. We support the OSCE’s role in taking forward initial discussions on the new security architecture. (Paragraph 166)
European energy security and Russia
31. Regardless of the causes of the Ukraine-Russia gas dispute, it is clear that it has damaged the reputations of both countries as reliable suppliers. The threat and reality of Russia cutting off energy supply demonstrates the need for the EU to reduce its energy dependency on Russia and diversify energy supply. (Paragraph 176)
32. It is too early to judge what the long-term effect of the global economic crisis will be on future EU energy demand. Yet the EU needs to press ahead in diversifying its energy supply to ensure that it is not vulnerable to supply disputes (Paragraph 178)
33. The UK Government should work within the EU to pursue a united approach to energy security and the prioritisation of developing the Nabucco pipeline. (Paragraph 184)
34. In our view NATO should have a role in energy issues but it should not play a leading role; this is more appropriately a matter for the EU. Nevertheless, energy is an issue that it is legitimate for NATO to be concerned about because there are significant security implications arising from the possibility of disputes between countries over energy supplies and the potential for states to use their military assets to defend pipelines. The Government should work within NATO to develop an approach on energy issues that focuses on the security aspects of the energy agenda. (Paragraph 187)
35. A strong bilateral relationship between the US and Russia is vital for global security. Yet it is also important for European security that this relationship does not come at the expense of the NATO-Russian relationship. (Paragraph 190)
36. We welcome the US-Russian negotiations on a nuclear arms reduction treaty to succeed START I. We support the recommendation made by the Foreign Affairs Committee in its Report, Global Security: Non-Proliferation, that the Government should offer every assistance to facilitate a speedy and productive conclusion to the negotiations on a treaty to replace START I. We ask the Government, in its response to our Report, to set out what steps it has taken to facilitate an agreement. (Paragraph 195)
37. We are not convinced that European security will be enhanced by the United States’ planned ballistic missile defence (BMD) system as currently envisaged. If the US decides to press ahead with its BMD plans, we recommend that the Government seek ways to involve Russia in its development. (Paragraph 203)
38. Russia has an important bilateral relationship with Iran and thereby has a vital role in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. We call on the Government to encourage Russia to persuade Iran to comply with its nuclear obligations. (Paragraph 208)
39. Although Russia does not pose a military threat to NATO as an Alliance, some Central and Eastern European NATO Member States are understandably concerned about the military threat that Russia poses to them individually, given Russia’s actions in Georgia. It is important they are reassured. (Paragraph 211)
40. It is in NATO’s interests to continue to support the territorial integrity of Georgia. If Russia believes it has carte blanche to disregard international law there is an increased risk of other countries suffering the same fate as Georgia. The credibility of NATO as a military alliance is based on its ability to provide mutual defence to its Member States, as outlined in Article 5. NATO’s new Strategic Concept should contain a renewed commitment to Article 5 as well as ensuring that NATO is militarily capable of acting inside and outside of NATO boundaries. NATO is strongest when its Member States are united; the UK Government should work within NATO to ensure that this is achieved. (Paragraph 212)
41. It is right that NATO, the EU and the UK Government engage with Russia both on areas of cooperation and areas of disagreement. Russia has much to gain from positioning itself firmly within the community of nations. Engagement is important to build trust and avoid a new confrontation arising between Russia and the West. The Government should adopt a hard-headed approach to engagement with Russia, based on the reality of Russia’s foreign policy rather than abstract and misleading notions of shared values. (Paragraph 213)