A NATO fit for purpose
6 July 2016
In light of the upcoming NATO Warsaw Summit, Anders Fogh Rasmussen discusses the increasing threat that Russia poses on Europe's Eastern Flank and gives his opinion on the action that NATO should take to secure the region's future.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its ambition to revive the Cold War conflict have reminded us that the West needs to protect its societies and values against tyranny and oppression. The peace, security, and democratic stability we have enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, can no longer be taken for granted. The key objective at the Warsaw Summit should be to revert this alarming trend and deliver a clear strategy for a Europe whole and free.
At the Warsaw Summit NATO should face the new security environment imposed by Russia and agree policies that can enhance deterrence and defence. We in the West should hold no illusions about Russia’s intentions and its willingness to apply raw force. We have seen that in Georgia and Ukraine. Unfortunately, Russia is no longer a partner, but a revisionist state determined to create a new Iron Curtain. One can only wonder why the leaders in Kremlin want to revive an old conflict, when they could offer their public a peaceful and prosperous future with the Western world as a trusted partner. Instead Russia has opted for a competitive relationship. Western inaction would in the Kremlin be interpreted as an open invitation for Russia to continue its assertive policies toward NATO members and partners.
The key question to be asked at the Warsaw Summit is whether the present NATO deployment and deterrence can prevent a Russian attack on allies that border Russia? I think this is a big question mark. I fear a scenario where Russia could use the cover of a snap exercise to create a small invasion of NATO territory. NATO allies would face the choice of surrendering territory and credibility or risk a costly escalation involving a Russian military with highly sophisticated, layered air defences. As is always the case, prevention is less expensive and more effective than treatment.
After a decade of divestment, NATO’s reduced defence posture of the post-Cold War era is not sufficient to deter the Russian threat. I am hopeful that the Alliance has reached a turning point with regard to its military spending. In Central Europe alone, spending was up 13 percent in 2015, and the United States has sent an important message with its decision to quadruple its military budget for Europe in 2017. The UK, France, and Germany have all announced plans for modest spending increases in the coming years. In total this will help deter Russian aggression.
The NATO decision to create a spearhead force and rotate military forces in its Eastern allies on a permanent basis has been an immediate and necessary step taken following Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine, but they are unlikely to be sufficient. In order to create credible deterrence, the West should establish a more permanent presence in Eastern Europe, for as long as necessary. One could question whether NATO’s military bases would be of greater use in the Eastern than the Western part of Europe.
At the Warsaw Summit allies would also have to agree on a strategy to boost NATO’s hybrid warfare capabilities. In Ukraine, Russia demonstrated the efficacy of ‘hybrid warfare’ and unveiled how ill-prepared NATO was to grapple with a military action below the threshold of overt invasion.
However, Russia’s threatening tactics are not confined to conventional weapons or hybrid warfare. Under President Putin, Russia has enhanced its reliance on nuclear weapons and is engaged in dangerous nuclear brinkmanship and threats. Nuclear deterrence is a taboo among NATO allies. And rightly so, it is weapon we should never seek to use. But in the current security environment we have to keep all options open. NATO needs to use the full spectrum of tools at its disposal to create an effective deterrence.
Russia will do whatever it can to dilute the outcome of the Warsaw Summit. It will argue fiercely that NATO presence in Eastern Europe is in violation with the 1997 NATO - Russia Founding Act. We should remind Russia that this is a self-inflicted wound. Their illegal actions in Ukraine have dramatically changed the European landscape and forced NATO to respond in defence of its allies.
Russia’s actions have unveiled its real intentions. Moscow aims to undermine the law-based principles of European security and the liberal world order that the United States established following World War II. NATO reacts to Russia’s assertive behavior because its member countries have an interest in the preservation of the international system – which has secured peace and prosperity on the European continent since World War II. I find it quite apprehensible as democracies and law-based societies have a natural stake in preserving this global security order.
Russia will play a long game, and NATO allies and partners in cooperation with the EU and key international players should be ready to do the same thing. The Warsaw Summit comes at a crucial time in history. The Summit should send a clear message about the resilience of the Alliance and agree on concrete steps to counter threats to our way of life.
By Anders Fogh Rasmussen
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