Northern NATO: Tracking polar bears and Russians?

The idea of a mini-NATO was one subject discussed at a summit of Northern European countries in London on January 19-20, 2011.

The idea of a mini-NATO was one subject discussed at a summit of Northern European countries in London on January 19-20, 2011. This is the name given to a military bloc of Nordic countries which many describe as the "response to Russian efforts in the north." According to WikiLeaks' revelations, the former U.S. ambassador to Norway has even coined a popular phrase to the effect that the bloc will "keep an eye on polar bears and Russians."

Who will pay?

The makeup of any potential Northern Alliance is certainly interesting: the Scandinavian countries, Finland and Iceland, the "Russian Baltics" (all three countries), and the United Kingdom. Former Norwegian foreign and defense minister Thorvald Stoltenberg is said to be the man behind the idea.

Norway's initiative is not surprising: with growing focus on polar resources, the country, already forced into military cutbacks by a faltering economy, has no option but to seek outside help. It is only logical that it should turn to its geographic neighbors, especially given the circumstances. And then there is the British factor.

The United Kingdom is no doubt one of NATO's strongest members and would be the largest power in any Nordic NATO. It has long been interested in these northern areas and, because of its traditionally rocky relations with Russia, would be likely to back the initiative.

Nor is the Baltic republics' involvement surprising: their political elites tend to be keen to support any anti-Russian initiative. In this particular case, there was no attempt to hide it - Thorvald Stoltenberg said outright that the idea was a direct response to Russian efforts.

The political picture might yet change if Sweden and Finland, two neutral countries, were to join the alliance.

However, many doubt the real potential of any such group actually forming.

A polar mirage

Former U.S. ambassador to Oslo Benson Whitney, who described the new alliance's aim as "keeping an eye on Russians and polar bears," also doubts the project has the potential to get off the ground. Dubbing it "a polar mirage," Whitney points out that, even within Norway, there is no consensus on the bloc. Consolidating joint diplomatic efforts is even a more difficult task, he said.

But he did note that the basic principle of a union is helpful: UN or U.S.-led NATO missions could use the Scandinavian countries' expedition task groups.

Clearly, the putative development of any such union does not elicit a particularly warm welcome from the current U.S. administration because it risks cooling relations with Russia. After everything that was said at the NATO summit in Lisbon that is the last thing the White House wants.

The positions of the other key European countries - above all, France and Germany - could also have a serious impact. France should be watched particularly closely because Paris and London recently concluded a military cooperation treaty. In view of France's traditional "special relationship" with Russia, the French leadership will hardly welcome attempts, however indirect, to involve it in an Arctic confrontation with Russia.

NATO: Each hunts for their own bear

That NATO in 2011 is no longer a Cold War mammoth is clear to everybody. NATO today contains a mixture of different trends, with specific countries pursuing their own (sometimes outdated) interests in relation to Russia. The big three - Germany, France, and Italy - stand out. Moscow has fostered special bilateral relations with each of these countries since the 1960s, when Soviet leaders began looking to establish a dialog on current issues and trade in centers of power beyond Washington, even though the two systems were embroiled in a global confrontation.

The result has been that Berlin, Rome and Paris have tended to lobby for cooperation between Russia and the alliance.

Russia's relations with Washington, London and NATO's East European members stand apart. Until recently, East European countries, new to NATO, have been the staunchest allies of the United States and the UK within the bloc, essentially playing the role of "cheerleaders" as the Northern Alliance rounds on Russia in a renewed spirit of confrontation.

With the Obama administration in power, Washington's foreign policy changed. The White House once again started speaking about cooperation. It cut state support for anti-Russian regimes in former Soviet republics and reduced political activity in the area (and foreign policy activity in general).

This prompted a split in the American political establishment: such serious discrepancies between the administration and its opponents over relations with Russia, and not with Russia alone, have not existed long.

What is more, no Russia-UK analog to this reset between Russia and the United States ever materialized. Once the United States curtailed its foreign policy activity, London began plowing its own furrow - after so many years in Washington's wake. One such independent enterprise led to the idea of a Nordic NATO, a bizarre fusion of Norway's northern interests, the Baltic leaders' traditional fears, Finland's search for a long-term strategy, and many other factors, being raised at the London summit.

It is doubtful that any project with so porous a base can ever become reality. The fact is that security and stability in Russia can only be achieved through cooperation between NATO and Russia. There is simply no other way.

Watching polar bears is best left to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission. It is what they are there for.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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