Wanted: a Cassandra for NATO.
Never before has the world's most successful defense alliance looked or sounded more complacent. On March 3, addressing France's crystallizing plans to sell up to four Mistral-type helicopter carriers to Russia, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared far more serene than could be expected from a man in his position.
"NATO as such doesn't have any role in this sale," Rasmussen said, giving an impression he isn't looking for one either -- despite loud protests from some newer allies and unease among others.
"I take it for granted that the sale will take place in accordance with all international rules and regulations. Russia is a partner of NATO and it's for France to decide whether it will sell military equipment to Russia," Rasmussen said.
He then proceeded to pile on the good news. "I take it for granted that Russia will not use or misuse such military equipment against any neighbor."
Later in the same press conference, Rasmussen admitted (in an Afghan context) that he is by nature a man who hopes for the best.
"If you have a pessimistic view on world affairs, [the glass] is half empty. If you're like me, by nature as an optimist, then it's half full."
NATO's new and would-be allies could be excused for feeling a little skeptical.
None more so than Georgia, which Russia attacked in August 2008 after NATO had rejected its application for a Membership Action Plan. Russian generals now say a Mistral-class ship would have cut the time it took to invade Georgia down to "26 minutes."
The Georgian minister for state integration, Temur Yakobashvili, has emerged as a leading contender for the Cassandra job.
"I'm hoping NATO doesn't find a way of proving right Vladimir Lenin when he said, 'The bourgeoisie will sell us the rope we will hang them with,'" Yakobashvili quipped at a seminar in Brussels today.
-- Ahto Lobjakas