New WikiLeaks releases have revealed the depth of divisions in NATO over key questions of European security – with the Norwegian government accused of being part of an allegedly pro-Russian “gang of five” with France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.
American diplomatic cables between 2006 and 2010, handed over to WikiLeaks and which Norwegian newspapers Aftenposten and Bergens Tidende have accessed, suggest that the western military alliance has been “split down the middle” on a range of issues. The theme of dealing with Russia in particular has created conflict, with the reportedly German-led “gang of five,” often joined by Portugal, facing opposition from a US-headed side, consisting of several Baltic states, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.
The short outbreak of war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 provided some of the tensest debates among the allies. Before the conflict, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expended much energy in postponing Georgian membership in NATO, hoping this would maintain unity inside the alliance and pressure Russia into seeking a negotiated solution. US officials reacted strongly against her strategy, writing just two weeks before the war that the German approach “could give Russia a perverse incentive to incite something terrible.”
In a crisis meeting of the NATO Council on August 12 during the war itself, the allies could not agree on an approach to the Russian-Georgian war. The “gang of five,” as the American referred to it, reportedly blamed the announcement that Georgia and Ukraine had been invited to NATO membership for provoking the Russians, while the opposing bloc saw the decision not to give full membership as giving the Russians “a green light” to do as they pleased. It would take until August 19 to agree a statement on the crisis.
NATO was divided over another 10 issues, including missile defense, where Norway were described as being “especially difficult” over the wording of statements that “wished missile defense welcome.” They were reworded to say that NATO “registered missile defense as a relevant development.” Norway also opposed the Americans’ desire to throw the Russians out of joint anti-terror operations in the Mediterranean.
The US’ NATO ambassador Ivo Daalder, writing in 2009, asserted that the German-led propensity to avoiding aggravating Russia stemmed from fear of a “new Cold War,” and that they “would fight hard to avoid even the hint of” further NATO-Russia confrontation. German-led antipathy towards Georgian membership has therefore been revealed to be much stronger than thought, with officials warning that the alliance would “import a new Cyprus” if it chose to expand further with Georgia; the Germans also felt Georgia to be even further from NATO membership after the conflict with Russia.
Fears of hurting bilateral relationship
Some Norwegian commentators expressed concern regarding the revelations. Nina Græger of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (Norsk Utenrikspolitisk Institutt, NUPI) told Aftenposten that it may “become more demanding to find partners inside NATO,” saying that this makes it “more difficult for a small country to become heard.” Græger believes that Norway’s stance towards issues in the former eastern bloc stems from a fear that “increased tension between NATO and Russia will endanger our (Norway’s) bilateral relationship” with the Russians.
The leader of Norway’s Conservative Party (Høyre), Erna Solberg, criticized Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre for the apparent difference between his public and private stance. “When Russia went into Georgia, I criticized Jonas Gahr Støre for being too mild in criticism against Russia,” Solberg says now. “Støre scoffed at this and he claimed that such criticism was off target. I think Støre could have been more honest”.
Meanwhile, further negative reaction in Norway focused on the fact that the leaks show that the government’s two most important areas for security, the northern regions and the Artic, have barely been mentioned in NATO Council from 2006 to 2010. Newspaper Aftenposten chose to sum this up in a headline that states – “no-one cares about Norway in NATO.”