NATO’s Article 5 and the Riga Test

Riga conference 2012

From Julian Lindley-French, New AtlanticistThe Riga Conference is a jewel in the crown of security conferences. Yesterday I shared a panel with the Italian, Latvian and Norwegian defense ministers, together with Ambassador Sandy Vershbow, NATO’s US Deputy Secretary-General to discuss “NATO post-Chicago”.  Did something happen in Chicago? I must have missed it. The questions at hand were those great oxymorons of NATO speak; ‘smart’ defense (they have a good sense humor in NATO) and NATO enlargement. Being your faithful and ever heretical Blogonaut I of course ignored all that and asked a more direct question; can NATO pass the Riga test? . . .

NATO is today the rather slim piece of salami in this very particular power sandwich. Indeed, Riga is the crucible in which a new Alliance will either be forged or die (and why the next NATO Sec-Gen should perhaps come from the Baltic States).  Or, to put it another way, Riga’s credible defense demands a new strategic bargain between Washington and Berlin and given events elsewhere the possible re-structuring of NATO into the EUrosphere and the defense Anglosphere. 

The alternative is a United States pulled progressively away from the defense of Europe by events elsewhere, a NATO that fades as a result and poor, little Latvia once again trapped between the Russian (planned) and German (not-so-planned) spheres of influence. History suggests that will not turn out well. Indeed, in the absence of a shared strategic concept with Washington Berlin will be forced to lead Europe towards an autonomous strategic defense. With Europe’s armed forces about to fall over a defense cliff that would hardly be credible.

The people of Riga need NATO and today NATO just about passes the Riga test. However, history never stops here and all the NATO allies must never forget that whatever the distractions NATO’s future will be decided not in Brussels or even Afghanistan, but right here in Riga. Riga cannot be defended by European complacency.

Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast(photo: The Riga Conference 2012)

Image: DSC_0107.jpg