Unprotected in the East: NATO appears toothless in Ukraine crisis; danger in the Baltics

A NATO AWACS plane takes off from the NATO Airbase in Geilenkirchen, Germany. Although NATO has stepped up its air policing in the Baltics and Southeastern Europe, a restricted report from the military alliance suggests it would have serious problems defending the Baltics from Russian aggression if the Ukrainian crisis escalates.

At its core, the Western defense alliance consists of a promise that the 28 member states make to each other in Article 5 of the NATO treaty: An attack against one or several members is considered as an attack against all. The article states that if the so-called mutual defense clause is applied, each member state, to the best of its ability, must rush to the aid of the NATO partner under attack…

So what happens if the Baltic nations invoke Article 5? What if Russia attempts to destabilize the Baltics with threatening military gestures? And what if it violates its borders with Estonia and Latvia?

These scenarios are currently being discussed at length in NATO and at the German Defense Ministry in Berlin. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, a draft version of a comprehensive, restricted internal NATO assessment of the situation reads:

“Russia’s ability to undertake significant military action with little warning presents a wider threat to the maintenance of security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia can pose a local or regional military threat at short notice at a place of its choosing. This is both destabilizing and threatening for those allies bordering or in close proximity to Russia.”

Six months ago, such words would have been inconceivable in a NATO document. But the crisis in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine has called many certainties into question.  One of these is that there will never be another armed conflict in Central Europe.