NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg needs to calm it down, by Daniel Larison

Let’s abolish NATO and make Jens Stoltenberg find a real job, something other than provoking war. From Daniel Larison at responsiblestatecraft.org:

Just when the alliance needs to be deescalating the situation with Russia over Ukraine, he’s been throwing kerosene on the flames.

Twice in the last two weeks, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has made public comments that threaten to worsen already strained relations between Russia and the alliance.

Instead of calming things down, Stoltenberg has been carelessly ratcheting up tensions over nuclear weapons in Europe and the conflict in Ukraine. At exactly the moment when the U.S. and NATO need to be working to deescalate the situation with Russia over Ukraine, the top official in NATO has been throwing kerosene on the flames.

While he was urging the new German coalition government to continue hosting U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, Stoltenberg made the dangerous suggestion that the weapons could end up with NATO members to the east of Germany: “So, of course, Germany can, of course, decide whether there will be nuclear weapons in your country, but the alternative is that we easily end up with nuclear weapons in other countries in Europe, also to the east of Germany.” Raising the possibility of moving these weapons closer to Russia was bound to elicit a sharply negative reaction, and that is what happened.

Stoltenberg’s remarks prompted immediate outrage in Moscow, and it led the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to announce this week that Belarus would welcome Russian nuclear weapons to its territory in response to any NATO redeployment to the east. Stoltenberg’s warning may have been intended for Berlin, but it had its greatest and most destabilizing impact in Moscow and Minsk. At a time when the Russian government already perceives a growing threat coming from the West, talking about moving nuclear weapons into eastern Europe was a serious mistake.

It is worth noting that the continued presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe serves no real purpose. As Global Zero’s Derek Johnson has pointed out, these weapons are a relic of the Cold War and they were originally deployed to be used against countries that are now members of NATO. In any event, the new German government still supports nuclear sharing, so the weapons stored in Germany won’t be going anywhere in the near future. Nonetheless, conjuring up the specter of American nuclear weapons moving closer to Russia was enough to further sour relations. Coming on the heels of the breakdown in NATO-Russian relations that began with the expulsion of Russian diplomats in October, this could only serve to deepen mistrust between Russia and the alliance.

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