This artictle was publiched at the annual Academic Conference “WHAT NATO FOR WHAT THREATS? WARSAW AND BEYOND“, which had been organized by NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT), the University of Bologna and Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) of Rome.
Margarita Šešelgytė – Vilnius University
“My dear, have we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.
In spite of re-appearing discussions about the fading relevance and inability to provide security in the changing global environment, NATO, throughout the last decades, has demonstrated resilience and ability to transform. It has appeared that the changing security environment has time and again reinvented a raisons d’être for the North Atlantic Alliance and reinvigorated it. After the Cold War, the collective defence role – the one for which NATO was created –was supplemented by the roles of cooperative security and crisis management. It might be argued that, in fact, the latter ones have been dominating NATO’s activities for the past two decades. NATO became a political organization operating in a wide network of political partners and occasionally providing crisis management capabilities for security hotspots. However, it should also be admitted that the volatile security environment has more than once caught NATO by surprise and unprepared. NATO lacked the necessary capabilities and knowledge to react to the escalating conflicts in the Balkans. NATO was shaken when the planes commanded by the terrorists hit the twin towers in New York. After the Cold War, NATO has undergone two transformation cycles. The first one concentrated on the reform of its armed forces from large heavily equipped and based on conscription, which were meant for large scale conventional activities mainly undertaking the tasks of territorial defence, towards the light, deployable and profession units equipped with modern weapons, aimed at conducting crisis management operations outside NATO borders. September 11th attacks have triggered another reform- development of rapidly modern crisis management capabilities which would be deployed at a relatively short notice, to every spot on earth and able to combat terrorists and defend against weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Both reforms were made with reference to the strong belief that the times of conventional warfare in Europe were over and the main threats to NATO were coming from outside. Moreover, they were based on the premise that Russia was no longer an adversary but rather a partner in solving global security issue.
The occupation of Crimea and the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine have once again taken NATO aback. The premise about the impossibility of military inter-state conflict in Europe turned out to be wrong. In spite of collective defence remaining one of the main missions of NATO after the Cold War, the know-how and ability to fight large scale conventional warfare was almost lost during the last decade. Moreover, along the conventional war fighting in Ukraine, Russia is also employing hybrid strategies, involving the exploitation of other non-military instruments. In the summer of 2014, defence experts had simulated a war game adapting the scenarios evolving in Ukraine to the Baltic states. It turned out that NATO was unable to defend Baltic countries1. It became apparent that one more reform in NATO was needed to enable it to respond to the Russian challenge. The Wales summit decisions represent a first step in the next cycle of NATO’s transformation. Yet it is obvious that it will not be an easy task to implement. First of all, NATO will be facing a dilemma of how to develop necessary capabilities designed for conventional territorial defence and at the same time maintain crisis management capabilities within the limits of existing defence budgets. Secondly, NATO members would have to change their security discourse in which Russian status is reconsidered from a partner to a competitors or a potential source of threat.
The paper aims to evaluate NATO’s readiness in the post-Crimea security environment. The paper, therefore, first seeks to identify main tasks for NATO in the post-Crimea environment, with the main focus on the challenges emanating on the Eastern flank of the Alliance, as these tasks are relatively new for NATO. The first part, therefore, is devoted to the explanation of the multidimensionality of the Russian challenge to NATO and the definition of the new tasks necessary to answer this challenge. It also discusses measures enhancing NATO’s readiness agreed in the Wales summit. The second part argues that the measures taken in Wales are not sufficient to enhance NATO’s readiness to respond to the new tasks, as they might be heavily constrained by slow decision making in NATO, disagreements of member states, financial shortages and reluctance of Western societies vis-à-vis defence issues. The last part of the paper is dedicated to the military constrains and strategic challenges for NATO’s readiness2.
New Tasks for NATO in the post-Crimea Security Environment
The crisis in Ukraine has dramatically changed the security environment in Europe. Former Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has defined it as the “gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War”3. Parallel security challenges are emanating from the southern neighbourhood, the Middle East and North Africa. It might be argued, though, that the Russian challenge is particularly perilous for NATO. First of all, it challenges the habitual security thinking of the 21 century, which is dominated by post-modern security challenges and the belief in a democratizing Russia. Consequently, there is little understanding and preparation to answer a conventional Russian challenge. Secondly, occupying a piece of Ukrainian soil, Russia has breached a number of international agreements, such the UN Charter, the Helsinki Accords, the Tashkent Treaty4and the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances,5thereby, as Stephen Blank argues, ripping “apart the post-Cold War settlement based on the indivisibility of European security”6. This behaviour not only has reduced predictability in international security but has also set a precedent for other revisionist powers. Third, Russia is far bigger and stronger opponent than the terrorist groups or insurgents NATO has been fighting for the last decade. Reform of the armed forces in Russia, which started in 2009, is very ambitious. It aims to renew around 70 per cent of equipment until 2020 and consumes around a quarter of the national budget yearly. Russia possesses around 1 million of standing forces and 2 million of reserves. Estimating that defence spending has been continuously decreasing in the majority of NATO countries in the same way as the number of their military personnel since the end of Cold War, makes Russia even a larger challenge for the West. Moreover, differently from the majority of the Western states, as NATO Secretary General concluded, Russia possesses the will to employ military capabilities7. Fourth, Russia has one of the biggest nuclear arsenals in the world and Russian politicians, including Vladimir Putin, are not hesitating to bring this fact to the attention of the West8. Fifth, Russia employs covert hybrid strategies in Ukraine, which on the one hand create politically and legally vague situations of ‘between peace and war’, and on the other hand require multidimensional strategies of response, including political, economic, informational, and cyber tools, which are not in NATO’s possession. Sixth, contemporary Russia is well integrated into Western financial, business and energy systems and has a great leverage to intimidate, divide9and influence the West, which creates additional challenges to the Alliance.
Former Secretary General Rasmussen has highlighted that “in these turbulent times NATO must be prepared to undertake the full range of missions and to defend Allies against the full range of threats”,10which means that NATO has to be able to make an effective use of its crisis management capabilities as well as to generate capabilities for collective defence operations. Effective deterrence of Russia and assurance of NATO Eastern members might require conventional military capabilities and collective defence strategies but might as well demand readiness to react to a covert hybrid attack, such as the disruption of critical infrastructure or civil disorder in a member state. The Readiness Action Plan (RAP) approved in the Wales Summit has designed assurance and adaptation measures to make NATO respond “swiftly and firmly to the new security challenges”11. The RAP at the same time responds to the challenges posed by Russia and their strategic implications and foresees the enhancement of current crisis management capabilities necessary to answer threats stemming from the southern neighbourhood, the Middle East and North Africa. The same hybrid strategies are being employed by the terrorists and the actors such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sirya (ISIS). Therefore, by strengthening NATO’s capabilities to address hybrid threats stemming from Russia, NATO could enhances at the same time capabilities to fights the same threats in other regions. NATO’s experience in the latest crisis management operations can be as well employed vis-à-vis Russia. The measures outlined in the RAP include increased military presence, exercises and activities in the Eastern members, changes to the Alliance’s long-term military posture, command structure and capabilities and the creation of the spearhead Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) with a reaction time of 3-5 days. The Wales Summit declaration announced that these reinforcements “will provide the fundamental baseline requirements for assurance and deterrence, and flexible and scalable response to the evolving security situation”12. It could be argued that the measures adopted in the RAP have demonstrated strong commitment of NATO to once again transform itself in order to be able to respond to the changing security environment, reinforcing this time the ‘collective defence’ dimension, but also increasing the speed of possible reaction. NATO Secretary General has called the RAP the “biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War”13. But whether the RAP is a sufficient response for the current security situation and whether it will be implemented remains to be seen.
One of the key elements of all NATO’s transformations is the speed of reaction. The European Leadership Network (ELN) Report argues that the lack of speed remains one of the major constrains to NATO’s readiness14. Reaction speed includes fast decision making on the political and military levels and the ability to send adequate troops at short notice. The RAP foresees some measures to speed up the time of NATO’s response e.g. VJTF, new command and control units in the area. However, it does not provide the ground for the reform of NATO’s decision making procedures. Decisions to deploy troops have to be affirmed by North Atlantic Council (NAC). It takes time to assemble 28 nations and more time is needed to ensure consensus among them. The decision to send NATO forces to Bosnia took more than a year; meetings of the working group that was drafting a proposal for the Military Committee alone took 8 months15. It is worth noting that, to send troops to military operations outside the country, member states have to also undergo national decision making procedures; in many cases this requires voting in the national Parliaments. In especially pressing situations, slow decision making can seriously endanger the situation on the ground. Considering the current security environment, it should be admitted that the necessary speed of reaction is increasing. It took Russia less than four days to occupy Crimea and no more than three weeks to initiate its annexation16. Russia is able to take decisions quickly, in secret and to send forces across borders immediately, whereas NATO forces are dispersed, owned by member states and force generation process after the operational plan has been drawn and agreed might take weeks, if not months17. In addition, through its channels of influence in the Western states, Russia might try to manipulate decision making process both at the international and at the national level. Slow decision making might turn especially dangerous in collective defence cases, because unfavourable changes on the ground might have serious effects on further ability of NATO to defend itself and, by extension, on the same survivability of the Alliance. One of the suggestions on how to streamline NATO’s decision includes granting the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) a ‘discretion rule’ to prepare contingency operational plans for potential NATO missions18. This rule might be particularly beneficial when engaging VJTF. The similar scheme is employed by the US Armed Forces. On the one hand the ‘discretion rule’ might be more difficult to apply in an Alliance of 28 members that in the US. On the other hand, NATO might look for options on how to grant SACEUR the right to start planning pre-emptively and on how to make this process more transparent for other members.
Another significant constraint, which might slow down the decision-making process, is a narrow definition of Article 5. September 11 and the use of Article 5 for the first time triggered debates on how binding this article is and when it should be invoked. Pal Johnson argues that there were at least three groups of states in NATO having different attitudes towards Article 5. First of all, those who wanted more focus on strengthening the credibility of Article 5; second, those who required to devote more efforts to out-of-area operations; and third, the groups of countries who insisted on better relations with Russia19. The hybrid strategies that Russia is employing in Ukraine brought back discussions on the scope of Article 5. It became evident that should Russia employ similar strategies in e.g. Baltic states, its activities might be qualified below the threshold of Article 5 and NATO would not be able to invoke the collective defence clause. The Wales Summit declaration defined cyber defence as “a part of NATO’s core task of collective defence” which could lead to the invocation of Article 5, because “cyber attacks can reach a threshold that threatens national and Euro-Atlantic prosperity, security and stability”20. But the questions ‘what is the threshold’ and ‘what NATO will do to respond to this attack’ remain unanswered. Reacting to the altered security challenges some experts suggested an amendment of Article 5, removing the notion of armed attack from the definition21. However, this might be too risky, because it is not clear what should be put in the formulation instead of the notion of ‘armed attack’. Hence, amendment might make Article 5 even more ambiguous. On the other hand, a vague definition of Article 5 might as well be considered as a‘fertile ambiguity’, allowing to include into the definition much more than being more precise and expand the limits of potential engagement.
Lack of unity between member states is one of the most serious constraints for fast decision making in NATO and might also have a negative effect on NATO’s ability to react timely and effectively. Major dividing lines between member states today include different threat perceptions, conflicting prioritization of defence development and diverse strategies on how to react to the Russian challenge. NATO members have quite conflicting understanding of what threats are most urgent for the Alliance and therefore should be addressed first. Southern member states believe that the ISIS, as well as the deteriorating security situations in Syria and Libya, deserve more of NATO’s attention. On the other hand, Eastern members of NATO tend to emphasize the necessity to deter Russian aggressiveness and to react to the declining security situation in Ukraine. These differences become even more evident bearing in mind the limited capabilities of NATO and might have consequences both in the short term decision making regarding the use of NATO forces as well as in the long term NATO reforms.
Another dividing line is contradictory interpretation among member states of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, signed in 1997. The Act committed NATO “in the current and foreseeable security environment” to “carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces”22. This agreement, according to the mainstream opinion in NATO, prevents the Alliance from permanent stationing of additional military capabilities at its Eastern flank. Baltic states and Poland maintain that the Act is not binding any longer since Russia itself has breached it by occupying Crimea and seriously damaging the security situation in the region. They argue that adherence to the Act might substantially reduce NATO’s reaction time in case of an attack from Russia and corrupt the credibility of NATO’s deterrence. They believe that, without NATO troops permanently stationed on their soil, they are becoming second rank members, sending also wrong signals to Russia. The then Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk declared “we want Poland to be defended by the military, not only by words written in a treaty”23. In May 2015, Chiefs of defence of the Baltic states sent a letter to the SACEUR, requesting to deploy a brigade sized unit in the region24. Nonetheless, the majority of NATO members do not support the cravings of the Balts and the Poles25and would like to keep their obligations in order to diminish potential risk of escalation, as Russia continuously keeps claiming that violation of this agreement on NATO’s side will provoke counter measures. Former NATO Secretary General Rasmussen declared that the Alliance was sticking to the agreement26. Divergent interpretations of the Act reduce the trust among the members of the Alliance and could inflict damage to the unity of NATO, as Baltic states and Poland may feel second rate members and under-protected. Reluctance of NATO to deploy permanent capabilities in the region is forcing these countries to search parallel security guarantees foremost strengthening bilateral cooperation with the United States. A similar line of divide goes along the debate on how far deterrence measures and escalation in the conflict between Russia and NATO should go. The report recently published by the ELN expresses fears that further strengthening of deterrence vis-à-vis Russia might turn counterproductive or even irresponsible as it, first of all, reflects the security dilemma dynamics and, secondly, increases risk of dangerous military encounters between Russian and Western military units. The report suggests that NATO should combine a two-track approach and introduce de- escalation27. Similarly during the Cold War NATO adopted a dual-track approach proposed by Pierre Harmel in 1967, in which strengthening deterrence and pursuing détente with the Soviet Union were to be implemented simultaneously28. Support in Europe for détente vis-à-vis Russia was expressed by the High Representative of the EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, already at the beginning of 201529. Later on it was proposed as well by a Report of the US Army War College, emphasizing the possibility of cooperation in areas such as the Syria’s civil war, the fighting against ISIS etc30. The Baltic states and Poland oppose these proposals fearing that any signal of de-escalation might be interpreted by Russia as a sign of NATO’s weakness and might provoke more aggressive actions. Thus, if NATO continues towards de-escalation, there will be much distrust towards NATO in these countries and this will undermine the Alliance’s solidarity31.NATO Deputy Spokesperson Carmen Romero observed that “Russia is deliberately avoiding military transparency and predictability. It has deliberately circumvented the requirements for notification and observation of exercises under the OSCE Vienna Document and has made routine use of the ‘exception’ for large-scale, no-notice ‘snap’ exercises”32. Therefore, it might be argued that Russia itself lacks interest in détente and the chances for its success are thin. Insufficient defence spending is a serious constraint for the implementation of reforms in NATO. During the Cold War, NATO members had to spend approximately 3 per cent of their GDP for defence; now there are only four members that spend 2 per cent, the rest are concentrated around 1 per cent. In order to fulfil more tasks and develop new capabilities, NATO will require additional finances. In Wales NATO members have committed to increase defence spending during the forthcoming 10 years, but only a few of them has already taken necessary steps to reach this goal. Moreover, in order to remain relevant, NATO has to spent more money on new equipment, whereas 20 per cent NATO requirement is met again only by five states. New initiatives proposed by NATO and the EU, such as the Smart Defence, the Pooling and Sharing, the Framework Nations are meant to pool the existing resources and make countries specialize in certain areas. On the one hand, these initiatives might become the right solution for the challenges of insufficient financing; on the other hand, due to the lack of unity, different threat perception and mistrust among members, they might turn out very difficult to implement. Labour division in NATO might also be hampered by the changes in defence planning of certain countries inspired by the changing security environment. Although very active in NATO’s out-of- area operations, the Baltic states,33Poland, Romania and Bulgaria are at the moment more preoccupied with the defence of their territories and this affects their defence planning.
Finally, the attitude of the European societies towards the use of the military instrument as well as their unwillingness to spend on defence might turn to be the biggest constraint for NATO’s transformation. The scepticism of Europeans regarding the use and utility of armed forces was triggered by the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, but considering that any decision to deploy the troops should undergo national legislation, this might also be an obstacle to collective defence. A public opinion survey performed in 2008 found out that should a similar attack to Georgia have taken place in one of the Baltic states, less than 50 per cent of the population of major NATO members would have supported their defence (US, UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and France)34. Another survey conducted in 2015 demonstrated that only 48 per cent of the European population would use their armed forces to come to the aid of another NATO country attacked by Russia35. Aiming to implement the decisions of the Wales Summit, politicians will have to convince their voters to change their attitudes, otherwise as John Deni remarked, when these countries will feel budget pressures, readiness will be the easiest thing to cut36. Moreover, it will be a challenge to convince European societies that Cold War thinking is back. Jamie Shea argues that it will be “difficult to resurrect notions of force-on-force conventional engagements, big military bases and large scale manoeuvres” in the atmosphere of current security thinking37. Thus, politicians in NATO countries will have to find out strategies to convince the societies to invest in security as they are investing in health and education.
Military Constraints and Strategic Challenges
The Rapid Action Plan (RAP) and the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) reinforcement plans adopted in the Wales are meant to increase NATO’s readiness to respond to the changing security environment. Camille Grand maintains that in order to remain relevant NATO has to maintain force structures able to address multiple challenges38. But is it possible to create forces able to effectively perform both crisis management and collective defence tasks? Does the RAP provide reinforcement for both? The VJTF – “spearhead” force of NRF – increases NATO’s reaction speed from 5-30 days to 3-5 days. This may boost NATO’s readiness to respond to covert non-conventional attacks similar to the ones Russia conducted in Crimea as well as to the crises outside NATO. However, due to the small size (up to 5000 troops) and without reinforcements the VJTF cannot answer larger conventional attack and consequently does not offer credible deterrence alone39. If there is a further escalation, 30000 strong NRF could be deployed within a month. In 3 months reinforcements of 45000 might come40provided all decision making procedures go smoothly at all levels together with capabilities generation process. Russia can generate large-scale conventional forces at very short notice within a couple of days; neither the VJTF nor NRF reinforcements might be able to produce adequate and timely response for this kind of attack. A House of Commons report produced in 2014 argues that different forms of warfare require “different force profiles, training, exercises, logistics systems, equipment and priorities”41. It should be admitted, though, that some capabilities, e.g. airlift, satellite communication, intelligence, UAVs could be useful for both collective defence and crisis management tasks. Moreover, NATO’s experience in and capabilities developed for crisis management operations might be very useful in addressing so called hybrid threats. However, NATO is poorly prepared to address large scale conventional challenges in the East. Thus, measures specified in the RAP are a good starting point for both strengthening the readiness of the Alliance to respond crisis management needs and also to re-assure Eastern member states against conventional threats; nonetheless, their adequacy and sufficiency in the changing security situation might be reduced by a number of military constrains and strategic challenges.
First of all, most of NATO’s countries during the past years were developing crisis management capabilities and reducing capabilities meant to conduct large conventional operations. Drent and Zandee argue that in some countries, capabilities to provide an answer to a large scale conventional attack were reduced to the minimum; for example, the Netherlands has no longer tanks42(though the decision this year was made to re-introduce them back into Dutch armed forces)43. Other European countries also lack heavy equipment, large deployable forces, strategic enablers, necessary command and control capabilities; their forces are not trained for such operations. Secondly, as already mentioned, transition towards crisis management capabilities in NATO coincided with decreasing defence budgets, which caused a massive downsizing of European states’ militaries and equipment44. More specifically, in NATO allies, on average, defence spending over the past 5 years have decreased by 20 percent; instead, Russia has increased its defence spending by 50 per cent45. Third, the balance of military capabilities in Europe is uneven. Having dismissed Russia as a threat after the Cold War, NATO did not trouble to reinforce militarily its Eastern flank. A report conducted by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) demonstrated that of a “combined NATO strength of around 3 million troops, including 1.5 million in Europe, less than 10 percent (around 300,000) are located in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)”46. A similar situation is with NATO’s installations and concentration of the United States forces. There are also no nuclear weapons in the territories of CEE countries. The balance is particularly uneven in the Baltic Sea region. At the end of Cold War, Russia withdrew its armed forces from the Baltic States, Poland, and Eastern Germany, but those forces have not been moved far. Most of them were redeployed to bases in the Kaliningrad Special Defence District, the Leningrad Military District, or the Kola Peninsula,47 causing a concentration of armed forces particularly dense in this region as compared to Central Europe. Reform of the Russian armed forces, which started in 2009, is increasing this misbalance even more. Reinforcements of the newly established Western Military district and offensive exercises directed towards the West48(with one of them simulating nuclear attack over Poland) also reveal changing Russian attitude towards NATO. The frequency of military drills has increased impressively on both sides during the last year, but these exercises also reflect uneven capabilities.49The ELN report argues that on the one hand, exercises conducted by both parts were quite similar – involving rapid mobilization, redeployment of forces over long distances, concentrating on a mixture of high intensity combined arms training and focusing on both conventional and non-conventional engagement. On the other hand, differently from NATO Russian exercises, they relied heavily on elite formations such as airborne troops and mobilization of thousands of conscripts50. It is important to note that the unpredictability of Russia and the effect of surprise that its hybrid strategies are based on raises fears that these exercises could be used for the further escalation and military intervention; in August 2008, exercise Kavkaz-2008 was used as a platform for the aggression of Georgia51.
For NATO it would be too difficult to generate forces of this size in general, not mentioning the ability to do this very fast. It could be even more difficult to transfer these capabilities to the Baltic states, as, first of all, NATO countries lack transportation capabilities and secondly, the region is tightly covered by Russian air defence system (S-400) which might constrain air transport. Land reinforcements might be attacked by tactical ballistic missiles OTR – 21 Tochka, deployed in Kaliningrad. Additionally, Russia has deployed Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad as a part of the exercises at the end of 2014 and in the 201552, which may be a considerable game changer should the situation further escalate. Commander of the US Army Europe Lt Gen. Ben Hodges argues that at the moment Russia can reach about 90 per cent of targets in the Baltic and Black Seas and thereby can block entrance to both seas53.
Finally, NATO lacks experience to respond to large scale conventional attacks as such scenarios have not been exercised since the end of the Cold War. Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Gen. Sir Richard Shireff, has warned NATO that these misbalances and poor preparation on the NATO’s side might provoke the likelihood of Russian attack on the Baltic54. Despite all reinforcement measures undertaken in Wales, the Baltic states and Poland remain vulnerable to the fast attacks and escalation on the ground, which might create a fait accompli situation, similarly to how it was done in Georgia and Ukraine.
In 2014 – 2015 NATO has conducted an extensive number of exercises in the region, which on one hand were sending a strong symbolic message to Russia about the commitment of NATO to reinforce security at its Eastern borders, and on the other hand were ensuring almost permanent presence of NATO troops in the region albeit on a rotational basis. And yet, rotating exercises as a credible deterrent face certain challenges. First of all, decision making procedures in NATO are slow both on the political and military level. Permanent deployment of troops would allow bypassing these procedures if situation escalates on the ground as reinforcements might be sent on the bilateral level, which is not the case with rotating exercises. Second, due to the rotational logic, equipment also should be rotated. However not all countries have the necessary equipment. Moreover, the costs of the transportation of the equipment are usually higher than that of the personnel. Prepositioning of the equipment, especially including heavy armour, might reduce some challenges, but it has constraints of its own. Many NATO members lack these capabilities. Even in the crisis management operations most of the times the United States has provided the Alliance with the immediate response brigades, the reinforcements, the strategic enablers, the prepositioned equipment, and the command and control and intelligence and surveillance platforms55. Conventional deterrence and the implementation of collective defence would require even more capabilities that are scarce in Europe (heavy land forces and fire power)56. The US proposed 1 bln USD for additional defensive reassurances, including the prepositioning of military equipment in Europe and infrastructure improvements. Implementation of the prepositioning of military equipment has already started. Each Baltic state should expect the equipment for a company or battalion- size unit57. But military equipment on the soil of the Baltic states alone cannot serve as credible deterrent as it could easily become target to Russian missiles (e.g. Tochka) deployed in Kaliningrad and be destroyed before the troops arrive. Considering the scope of Russian capabilities and the mobilizing potential it is more a symbolic dissuading step than credible deterrence, as this latter would require the permanent presence of NATO combat units in the region58which could act on short notice.
Another important strategic challenge for NATO, which is not elaborated in the RAP, is posed by the Russian nuclear posture. The Russian military doctrine adopted in 2010 foresaw a possibility for Russia to employ tactical nuclear weapons in cases “of aggression on the Russian Federation with conventional weapons, when it endangers the existence of the state”59. The Russian military reform grants a special attention to the upgrade of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Last September, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin promised that “ongoing military modernization will contain a “nuclear surprise” for the country’s potential adversaries”60. According to Mike Bird, Former CIA bureau, the Russia President Vladimir Putin is prepared and has a will to use tactical nuclear weapons in Europe61. NATO’s Secretary General Stoltenberg warned that Russia’s plans to deploy nuclear- capable missiles in Kaliningrad – near Poland’s border – and its threat to move nuclear forces in Crimea would “fundamentally change the balance of security in Europe”62. Therefore, the nuclear policy of NATO as well needs to be reconsidered. Moreover, NATO has to revive exercises with nuclear component to check if all decision-making lines are working effectively In addition these exercises might work as a deterrent demonstrating to Russia that the second strike would follow. However for such message to be convincing it is crucially important that the US is present in the region. The US military involvement in the Eastern members of NATO is crucial not only in terms of nuclear but also for conventional deterrence. Yet, US reinforcements in the region are also meeting a number of constrains. First of all, due to the changing strategic priorities, the US have been reducing their military participation in Europe throughout the past years. Secondly, the majority of their bases, equipment and necessary infrastructure is concentrated in Western Europe, whereas deterrence is necessary in the East. Third, US forces may be forced to react at the simultaneously deteriorating security situation in the East and in the South Pacific.
There is a number of other less significant military constraints to NATO’s readiness that nevertheless deserve to be mentioned. Firstly, bottlenecks identified at the military level e.g. legal and logistical challenges of cross-border movement of troops and equipment within NATO’s territory,63rules of engagement64and various pre-existing commitments of member states. In that sense, NATO forces differ from Russian armed forces, which operate in a single administrative framework and enjoy a single pool of forces65. Second, although the RAP foresees the reinforcement of Multinational Corps Northeast and the creation of command and control units in other countries of Eastern and Central Europe, command and control capabilities at all levels of NATO are still undermanned66. Third, mission financing based on the principle of ‘costs lie where they fall’ is very discouraging for the countries intending to provide forces for military operations.
Previous experiences of transformation have demonstrated NATO’s ability to reinvent its raison d’être in the changing security environment, and despite a lot of criticism its capacity to change. However, it seems that the security situation around NATO borders had deteriorated excessively fast during the past years, generating multiple, divergent and ambitious tasks for NATO. In the situation of decreasing defence spending and unwillingness of the western society to support military activities, NATO will be challenged to ‘run’ twice as fast as during the previous reforms to remain relevant. If it wants to be a viable collective defence organization, it will have to develop capabilities able to deter Russia and to defend its Eastern members on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to maintain high quality crisis management capabilities to address threats outside its territory. The RAP is a good reinforcement plan strengthening NATO’s readiness in both directions; however, it does not provide all necessary measures to ensure credible deterrence vis-à-vis Russia, neither it eliminates already existing political and military constraints. Moreover, implementation of the RAP will be revealing additional challenges related to the insufficient defence spending, unwillingness of the Western societies to support military activities as well as lack of trust among member states.
Although it should be admitted that Russian armed forces are suffering from serious problems due to the out-datedness of equipment and lack of discipline, its major advantage is the number of troops, which could be mobilized at short notice and primacy vis-à-vis the West in heavy mechanized equipment stationed in the region. NATO will have to find the method to reconcile the fears of the Eastern members with the unwillingness to breech the NATO – Russia Founding Act in the rest of the Alliance. This challenge is one of the most serious ones as NATO’s inability to do so might seriously damage trust between member states and trust in the Alliance. Disagreements might be misread by Russia as the unwillingness of NATO to defend its members. Lack of political unity might encourage Russia to take an opportunity and try to damage the Alliance.
Although de-escalation and détente should be debated in parallel to deterrence measures to avoid further escalation of conflict and possible situations of brinkmanship, it should be admitted that for the de-escalation and détente to be effective these policies should be supported by both sides. It appears, though, that in the current situation Russia is not willing to change its stand; moreover, it continues provoking NATO either by aggressive rhetoric or increased military activity at NATO’s borders. Substantial change towards the de-escalation is not in the interests of the current Russian regime, as due to this change it may lose the support of the society, which tends to view current economic difficulties as the inevitable consequences of the NATO – Russia competition rather than the result of bad governance and corruption. On the one hand, hot lines and agreements for the management of uncertainties and misperceptions are necessary in order to prevent situations of brinkmanship. On the other hand, as the experience of the Cold War has demonstrated, better readiness of NATO and more credible deterrence leads to more effective détente.
NATO has very few instruments to respond to multidimensional hybrid strategies; therefore NATO’s readiness to address them will depend on the flexibility and speed of the military response and on the effective cooperation with other international organizations and member states. Economic sanctions employed against Russia by the EU, the US and some other countries created cumulative effects for the measures adopted by NATO in deterring Russia. The aim of hybrid strategies is to expose and make use of vulnerabilities both in the states but also in international organizations. Therefore, in order be ready to respond to hybrid attacks, NATO has to identify its most pressing vulnerabilities and try to prevent making use of it both by Russia and by terrorists. Therefore, addressing vulnerabilities that could be exploited by Russia such as the lack of the unity or slow decision making procedures and lack of capabilities NATO would increase as well it’s resilience vis-à-vis such strategies in general. One of the crucial challenges in the forthcoming years will be the lack of finances for the extensive tasks of NATO. Cooperation projects within NATO but also with other organizations and private industries should become number one priority, as it is not likely that defence budgets of NATO members will be increasing much. Development of these projects will be constrained by the lack of trust and competition between member states but also by the lack of support by the societies. Therefore, more attention should be devoted to the communication of security goals and needs in order to change the existing mind set.