April 07, 2014 By SPIEGEL Staff
Once the Cold War ended, Western militaries reduced their focus on military deterrence in Europe. As a consequence, the Ukraine crisis has caught NATO flat-footed as it rushes to find an adequate response to Russia. Germany has been reluctant to go along.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier wasted little time after returning to Berlin from the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels last week. He went straight to parliament to inform German lawmakers of the decisions reached. And he did so in the manner which he would like to be perceived as he negotiates the ongoing Crimea crisis: calm, reserved and to-the-point. Indeed, the only time he showed any emotion at all during last Wednesday's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee was when he spoke of NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Earlier, Rasmussen had published an op-ed in the German daily Die Welt saying that the path to NATO membership was fundamentally open to Ukraine. "The right of sovereign states to determine their own way forward is one of the foundations of modern Europe," he wrote. That, though, marked a significant departure from Germany's own focus on de-escalating the burgeoning confrontation with Russia. "NATO membership for Ukraine is not pending," Steinmeier huffed. He said that foreign policy was in danger of becoming militarized, adding that it was about time for political leaders to regain the upper hand.
Steinmeier, though, is fully aware that the course Rasmussen is charting won't disappear any time soon. Already, preparations have begun for the next NATO summit of alliance heads of state and government in September. Thus far, there is only one item on the agenda: a new strategy for NATO. Berlin is skeptical. And concerned.
The alliance's cooperation with Russia -- which took years to build up -- has been on ice since last week. And Moscow is no longer seen as a partner, but as an adversary. The logical next step is clear: How does military deterrence function in the year 2014?
It is a term that hasn't been heard in Western Europe for some time. Prior to the fall of communism and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, deterrence was based on the destructive potential of atomic weapons, hundreds of thousands of soldiers posted in Europe, heavy weaponry and tanks. The West German army alone had some 495,000 troops, 4,100 Leopard battle tanks and 600 warplanes. The soldiers were the core of an Allied defensive force defending the border between the two power blocks -- a frontier that ran right through Germany.
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