An Intern's Perspective

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Reinvigorating NATO: The need for increased multilateral defense efforts in the 21st century Europe

Posted by [email protected] on November 21, 2017 at 4:40 AM

By Jason D'Antonio

On 26 December 1991, the free world had won. Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final Soviet premiere, had resigned and the USSR dissolved into the records of history. As the world breathed a sigh of relief following the collapse of the USSR, countries (especially the United States and in Europe) began to adjust for a post-Cold War world. One of de-escalation, economic development and liberalization, reconstruction of diplomatic relationships, and above all, peace. Yet recently, Russia, under the control of Vladimir Putin, has attempted to establish itself as the primary global play, and increasingly, aggressor.

In 2013, after President Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement with the EU, pro-European Ukrainians launched the “Euromaidan” revolution to bring the country closer to its eastern neighbors. They succeeded in ousting Yanukovych, but threw the country into chaos. The awaiting Russians seized the opportunity, and soldiers (dressed in unmarked, but suspiciously Russian-style uniforms with Russian military weapons) took control of major Crimean areas. By March of 2014, Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation. This new type of hybrid warfare threw many leaders (who were capable of handling conventional warfare) into confusion. It was the signal for a new threat.

Such an action sparked outrage around the world, causing many liberal democratic states and institutions such as the UN and NATO to issue strong condemnations of Russia’s illegitimate actions. “Ukraine is a valued partner for NATO,” the alliance said, and it would continue to “support Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, without outside interference.”

Following the Crimean annexation, NATO agreed to increase its rapid reaction force from 13,000 soldiers to 30,000, and create a 5,000-strong “spearhead” force that can mobilize and deploy into combat zones in a matter of days. These forces would be assigned to strategic bases in states bordering Russia such as Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and Lithuania. Adhering to their 1997 promises, NATO agreed to not permanently station large quantities of soldiers in Eastern Europe but instead renewed its commitment to Eastern Europe.

Aside from territorial expansion, Russia poses intangible threats to the West and liberal democracies around the world. As of June 2016, NATO classified cyberwarfare as a domain of war making it equivalent to land, sea, and aerial combat. Therefore, any NATO member can invoke Article 5 of the group’s North Atlantic Treaty calling for an attack on an individual member to be considered an attack on all members. This is a crucial step in combating the Russian threat. Recently, Russia has utilized its advanced cyberwarfare apparatus to inflict damage to regions beyond the reach of traditional Russian influence from remote locations using minimal resources. In a series of information campaigns, Russian-backed hackers more than likely caused major power outages in Ukraine and released troves of private emails and alerted voter tallies in the country’s 2014 presidential election. Several German officials also credited Russian efforts to steal documents from German Parliamentary investigations only to sell them to WikiLeaks for publication. The most famous and recent incident of Russian misinformation campaigns can be seen in the 2016 US presidential campaign where an estimated 10 million Americans viewed Russian-created advertisements just on Facebook alone. While these actions may not constitute cyberwarfare, they are a testament of the Putin regime’s efforts to influence (and eventually control) democratic elections and essential government functions. Part of NATO’s budget and strategy should be to train its member states and to facilitate measures to protect against Russian military cyberwarfare. Such measures will allow the organization to prevent a crippling cyberattack that would pave the way for invasion and hinder counteroffensive coordination, and to also allow NATO to conduct similar cyber offenses if appropriate.

In the summer of 2017, Russia began one of its largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, involving some 100,000 troops near the Baltic Sea and western Russia. The exercise of military maneuvers, known as Zapad, or “West”, has a worrying resemblance to the Cold War. In response, the US sent over 600 paratroopers to three Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Earlier that year, Russian aircraft “buzzed” by NATO-member warships, a move seen by many as a provocative measure by Russian officials to flex their muscles. The increased and more assertive Russian presence forced NATO commanders to reevaluate their strength and response ability. Earlier this month, NATO commanders met to discuss the creation of new naval bases in northern Europe to ensure several things. An increased naval presence would 1) counteract the preexisting Russian naval militarization; 2) protect communication cables and shipping lanes from hostile warships; and 3) provide the ability for NATO to send additional troops, equipment, and supplies to strategic allies and likely targets of a Russian invasion such as those in the Baltic states and Poland. This would also aid NATO’s efforts to install a 21st century rapid response “spearhead” force.

But, the main question is, how will this all play out? In theory, it sounds like the organization is readying itself for an unprovoked assault from Russia, but let us look at current challenges to one of the guardians of the free world. Following the September 11th attacks, the US invoked Article 5 for the first time in NATO’s history. The subsequent military campaigns from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) helped the United States conduct operations within the region, and secure the country from the Taliban. By 2010, 400 of the 700 bases in Afghanistan were used by American-led NATO forces with countries like Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and Italy all conducting substantial military operations alongside the US vanguard force.

As conflict within the region has reached its 16th year, many nations are growing weary. However, one can assume that in the event of a conflict with Russia, European NATO member states would be unwavering since the threat is so large and the possibility for defeat is so disastrous. Currently, only 5 of NATO’s 29 member states are reaching the requirement of allocating 2% of their respective GDP towards defense. The 2006 collective agreement has caused some members such as the US, UK, France and Germany, to express various levels of frustration as they bear the majority of the budget.

If Russia continues to assert itself as a global manipulator, NATO and its member states must be ready to meet the odds and prevent a large scale aggression towards the west. The protection and prevention of Russian territorial expansion, development of cyberwarfare measures, and the continuation of collective financing and cooperation will surely reduce the risk Putin poses to the free world.

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