Ignoring Russia's demands in Europe could be disastrous

What better way for bureaucrats to prove their strength than to poke a bear and see what happens? Surely, an angry bear with its back to the wall, cornered in its own den, is the best one to safely poke as it can do nothing?

NATO's defiance of Russian pleas to avoid further expansion are making Russia feel cornered. While this may cause some in the West to gloat over Russia because NATO is growing seemingly invincible, a Russian reaction could be serious.

Should Georgia and Ukraine join NATO?

NATO candidates Georgia and Ukraine have ongoing territorial disputes and Russian troops within their internationally recognised borders (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea), motivating their desire to get NATO membership so the alliance can kick the Russians out. If they join, Russia and NATO will be claiming the same territories as their responsibility. Adding these countries to NATO would lead to regular NATO encounters with Russian civilians and soldiers while Russia's entire armed forces watch from nearby. Russia already complained of NATO's near misses with Russian civilian aircraft and vessels. This could mean an extremely grave and perilous situation that might delegate more and more responsibility for keeping the peace to frontline soldiers and even civilians, removing it from the politicians who created the situation.

Is it good for NATO if airline pilots and merchant captains are responsible for preventing World War Three? Does this make the alliance more powerful, or a step closer to the Stone Age?

Russia is now spoken of dismissively in the press and among leaders, as some minor threat that can be eliminated by sending a few rocket artillery to Ukraine or imposing some financial penalty. Russia, meanwhile, believes the stakes are extremely high and that its national security is in jeopardy.

The encroachment of NATO close to Russia does not create any possibility of interdicting Russian missiles and making the West safe from Russia. In fact, it may crowd the Russian border with missiles threatening both sides and increase the likelihood of a Russian first strike because the stakes are higher for them now.

NATO suggestions about countering Russian nuclear weapons in Europe without nuclear weapons are perplexing. If true, this would put NATO at a significant disadvantage to Russia. The Russians express a lack of trust, meaning they think NATO is lying or is itself deceived.

An accidental nuclear war on the horizon?

If NATO is lying about whether nuclear weapons will be sent to the Russian border, we're in trouble. The Russians being unaware of the types and yields of the weapons being deployed against them could cause an accidental nuclear war, since they won't know this type of weapon is in the area. For Russia to even think NATO is lying entails the same problem.

In fact, being dishonest may be incompatible with NATO's entire mission as an openly declared alliance, making it unable to achieve deterrence. If NATO is dishonest, then the adversary cannot even perceive what it is doing, much less be deterred by it.

This was the problem with the alliances of World War One, whose secrecy made them ineffective at preventing a world war. NATO was meant to be an alternative to this, a clearly defined alliance with its own flag.

NATO troops on Russia border are paralysed by escalation risk

Russia officially reserves the right to a first strike if its statehood is threatened, which could even be short of an actual attack on its territory, if the enemy is at the gates. In a border conflict, Russia would be very resolute about removing an enemy force they say is menacing their civilians, just as the UK or America would be.

Finally, what NATO risks doing if there are tensions at the Russian border is placing soldiers who aren't even authorised to shoot in the direction of their opponent if they take fire. An attack on Russian soil is out of the question, to avoid the risk of escalation into a full nuclear war. This will paralyse NATO troops' ability to do anything, while the Russians have permission to do as they please.

So, what starts like a brilliant plan to corner the bear could instead just end up tying the hands of NATO troops so this bear can eat them.