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10 Oct, 2008 21:23

NATO to bolster operations despite global recession

NATO is set to send more warships to combat piracy off Somalia. The decision came during the first day of an informal meeting of the alliance's defence ministers in the Hungarian capital Budapest.

European Union countries have pledged seven ships would be sent to the region. They should be off the coast of Somalia within two weeks and stay until December.

Russia has announced it will cooperate with the west on fighting the pirates. Up to five Russians are believed to be among those still being held.

Meanwhile, NATO is planning to pump more money into Kosovo and Afghanistan, and assist Ukraine and Georgia in their bid to join the alliance.

The US continues to support NATO membership plans for Ukraine and Georgia – against Russia’s objections. The U.S. is also, according to some reports, looking at the possibility to provide American warships to Ukraine.

“I explained that process to the minister including the need for congressional approval. I also advised that it would be some time before ships – U.S. ships of interest to Ukraine – would be available for transfer,” U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates stated.

Experts say this potential U.S. commitment is another signal to Russia.

“The ships are normally very old, some of them were constructed in the late 1940s or beginning of 1950s. Americans normally don't destroy these ships. They decommission them. That's why I don't think that if Ukraine gets certain number of these ships it will tremendously force their navy potential in the Black sea. But it gives one more line of dependence, one more string between Ukraine and the U.S., especially between military establishment, that's why, from the political point of view, this is a very important step made by the U.S,” expert Ruslan Pukhov said.

While the U.S. is pushing NATO to put Georgia on a formal track to alliance membership in December, concerns remain about the country's security after its brief war with Russia.

NATO has promised to grant both Georgia and Ukraine membership eventually but declined in April to give either a formal membership action plan, which might be reviewed in December.

The alliance’s defense ministers plan to meet their Georgian counterpart in Budapest to discuss ways to help rebuild the country. But the meeting of senior NATO officials is taking place against the backdrop of the financial crisis. Despite the challenges posed by the Taliban in Afghanistan and by the problems in Georgia the alliance’s military leaders have to bear in mind the huge cost of government bailouts of the banking system affecting the budgets of their member states, putting under question their capacities to engage in new high cost military assistance operations.

“Given the economic situation present in the west – the deep threats to the west’s financial stability – it simply cannot afford a serious geopolitical crisis. Secondly, with time western analysts, including military, who don’t speak publicly usually and work behind the scenes and are very and very influential say: ‘look – you say we are going to take Georgia and Ukraine into NATO – where are we going to find forces to defend Ukraine and Georgia?’ Particularly very large numbers of Europeans are not willing to defend Baltic states, which are members of NATO. At that point taking on more military commitements is insane,” says Anatole Lieven, Professor of War Studies at King's College in London.

But the defense ministers still say they are committed to boosting defense expenditure and improving military capabilities of the military alliance.

Meanwhile Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's envoy to NATO, believes both Ukraine and Georgia are a long way off meeting the standards required for entry to NATO. 

“Even a baby can understand that Ukraine is very far from NATO,” he said. “Ukraine is closer to Mars than to NATO.”

“The same can be said about Georgia. After what Saakashvili did, it is nonsense to say that Georgia can claim anything besides court-marshalling its leaders in the Hague. That is why there can be no bright NATO future either for Georgia or Ukraine with such leaders and such politics.”

“But if NATO, despite all rationality, puts these ‘young and brave democracies’, as McCain calls them, on the membership action plan, I would not envy NATO. Their membership will damage the discipline within the alliance, its spirit and morale.”