Josh Rogin asks NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen if the alliance has any concerns about the proposed sale of several Mistral-class amphibious assault ships by France to the Russian Navy. The answer:
"This is not NATO business, this is a bilateral question between France and Russia," he said, "So as such, NATO is not engaged in this."
As the first major arms sale from a NATO country to Russia, many feel the deal could set a dangerous precedent and further tip the balance of military might between Russia and Georgia. The Georgians, as well as the Baltic states, have raised repeated objections.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates conveyed U.S. concerns about the deal when traveling in Paris this month.
GOP senate aides have warned that Congress could resist an exemption for France in the Iran sanctions legislation currently moving on Capitol Hill, but the State Department has said it will resist any attempts to join the two issues.
"I take it for granted that the sale of this equipment takes place in full accordance with international rules and regulations," Rasmussen said, although many argue that the sale violates the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls or the European Union Code of Conduct for Arms Exports.
"France has stated that this sale of military equipment will not be accompanied by the transfer of sensitive technology to Russia," he added, although the details of what technologies the sale will include have not been announced.
"I take it for granted that Russia ... will not use this equipment against any of its neighbors or any NATO ally," Rasmussen said. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, for one, has made clear he will not foreswear using the Mistral wherever his government pleases.
Apparently NATO is taking all kinds of things for granted these days. In fact, the Russians have hardly been perfectly clear about their intentions. As Garry Kasparov, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, notes in an op-ed in the Guardian today, “The Russian military has not concealed its plan for these weapons. In September of last year, the Russian admiral Vladimir Vysotsky triumphantly declared that ‘a ship like this would have allowed the Black Sea fleet to accomplish its mission [of invading Georgia] in 40 minutes and not 26 hours’.” Moreover, there are now reports that the French firm Panhard General Defense SA is in negotiations with Moscow for the sale of armored personnel carriers of the type designed to for transport aboard the Mistral.
As Gary Schmitt wrote back in November, it's a mistake to reward Russian aggression with the sale of the Mistral. Why does Rasmussen "take it for granted that that Russia ... will not use this equipment against any of its neighbors or any NATO ally" when Russia went to war with one of its neighbors less than two years ago?