As NATO allied foreign ministers met this week in Riga, Latvia, they did so against the backdrop of an increasingly tense geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe. A large number of Russian forces stay deployed not far from the borders of Ukraine, posted for offensive military action. And Minsk announced on November 29 that he was ready to conduct large-scale exercises with Russia near the Ukrainian border.
Although Ukraine is not a NATO ally and therefore not covered by the alliance’s mutual defense clause, another Russian invasion there would greatly destabilize Central and Eastern Europe. NATO allies, Poland, Romania and the Baltic states, would all perceive a renewed existential threat. They would most likely call on NATO to respond with efforts to strengthen the alliance’s eastern flank.
To its credit, NATO has done a lot in recent years to prepare for and deter a traditional Russian attack. A reinvigorated NATO defense planning process improved Allied capabilities, preparedness initiatives reduced Alliance response times, and Allies returned to Home Defense. It is likely that a Russian military assault on Estonia or Lithuania, for example, would result in a strong and unified response that would ultimately defeat and expel the invading force.
Putin probably knows it. And so, unsurprisingly, he has focused Russian efforts towards the West in the hybrid realm, engaging in information operations, cyber attacks, and political manipulation, for example. Here, the alliance struggles to function and react to events that lie between the seams of its three parts. strategic construction collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security.
Collective defense is at the heart of NATO, it is embodied in the Article 5 mutual defense clause of the founding treaty of the alliance and in the military forces of its thirty member countries.
Crisis management sometimes relies on these same military forces, for example in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, as well as on the alliance’s politico-diplomatic toolbox. NATO’s intention here is to deal with events before they develop into full-fledged conflicts and to help consolidate stability in post-conflict environments.
Cooperative security is conducted largely in peacetime, which involves the use of security partnerships and training and education activities.
This three-part construction has been at the center of the alliance since the end of the Cold War thirty years ago. Unfortunately, it is out of fashion for the 21st century, where the alliance’s main state adversaries, primarily Russia, but also china—Use hybrid tactics iteratively in several areas. These tactics and their effects lie between the limits of the conflict, crisis and peace that NATO is best placed to handle, at least for now.
This raises the fundamental question of whether and how the alliance can adapt to the new security environment. This is a particularly appropriate time to consider these questions, given the ongoing work on the alliance’s next strategic concept, expected in 2022.
It is conceivable that NATO is simply not the answer. Its nature as an intergovernmental organization of sovereign countries and its character as a defensively oriented alliance means that it may not be suitable for proactive and continuous cyber operations, for example.
If NATO is response or at least part of it, the allies must use the 2022 strategic concept and subordinate documents to develop a new plan and operational concepts for how they will confront adversaries between conflict, crisis and peace.
In the spotlight, the alliance has made significant progress in this direction since 2014, in terms of identify threats and hybrid challenges as well as in the fight against hybrid activity in the information and cyber kingdoms. Yet, given the ongoing and evolving Russian and Chinese actions, much remains to be done to fully protect Western security and restore deterrence.
Some have argued that the alliance must pursue a “A comprehensive approach” address hybrid tactics, using its existing convening authority, partnerships and other tools to develop multilateral approaches to the non-military aspects of hybrid conflicts. Others suggested that the alliance should build closer partnerships with the private sector, overcome the reluctance to conduct offensive actions below the war threshold, and devote more resources to the aggressive identification and attribution of emerging hybrid threats.
At a minimum, the alliance should use the 2022 Strategic Concept to conceptualize and clearly frame its role in managing Russian and Chinese actions that fall between conflict, crisis and peace. It is possible to add a fourth main task— Beyond the three mentioned above — could achieve this objective.
However, given the reluctance of some European allies for NATO to step on the EU’s feet, a more politically acceptable outcome might be to reconceptualize, broaden and deepen the task of collective defense. . To some extent, the alliance has leaned in that direction. For example, NATO declared cyber attacks could trigger a collective defense response under Article 5.
But if the alliance pursues this option, it must more actively develop campaign plans and operational concepts for hybrid activities, empower coalitions of willing allies to carry out covert hybrid actions on behalf of all, and engage more of its countries. members to acquire the necessary advanced skills. for a hybrid activity. Otherwise, NATO will remain outdated and foiled when it comes to the Russian and Chinese hybrid warfare.
John R. Deni is Professor and Researcher at the Institute for Strategic Studies at the US Army War College and Senior Non-Resident Researcher at the Atlantic Council. The opinions expressed are his own.