From Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University:
…Of course, Nato still has a role, not least to ensure there is no temptation for rather more robust pressure from Moscow on Europe. But to think that it can or even should try to respond to the full range of challenges of the new age of conflict is foolish — and even dangerous.
First of all, the task of inoculating bordering states from potential Russian mischief — whether stirring up disgruntled minorities, subtle destabilization or unsubtle economic pressure — is more properly handled by other agencies. National governments, obviously, need to pay more attention to what, in military terms, would be called “target hardening.” Those minorities need to be integrated, due diligence should identify flanking Russian buyouts, political finance regulated. The trouble is that this means not just taking action now that Russia looks problematic, but sustaining it — turning away potential investment, alienating a neighbor and so on — even when things look quieter.
Of course, the EU could also play a positive role here, but to date the EU’s capacity to mobilize and maintain this kind of action is also questionable. But the second serious concern is that the more Nato eases itself comfortably back into its role as the defender of the West from the Russian hordes, the more it consolidates the current dangerous and zero-sum confrontation. It also plays to a nationalist, even xenophobic constituency within the Russian elite, especially strongly represented within the security agencies and the Orthodox Church, who actually appreciate any opportunity to cut themselves off from the West and its dangerously infectious notions of egalitarianism, transparency and rule of law. This faction is currently in the ascendant, but it need not be so, especially given the evident concerns of many within the Russian business community at the prospect of being locked away from the West.
This is the challenge. Nato patently still has a role. But it is far too blunt an instrument to be able to deal with the range of subtle, deniable or downright devious tactics Russia would deploy. Instead, the West will have to develop new, more appropriate defenses — and try to avoid playing into the hands of the ultra-nationalist wing in the Kremlin happy to find excuses to see their country surrounded and beleaguered.