NATO and the new war: dealing with asymmetric threats before they become kinetic

I’m enjoying the privilege of attending this year’s Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn and already there have been fascinating discussions in both formal sessions and informal conversations. Needless to say, despite the intention on focusing on the Baltic as a potential “mare nostrum”, Ukraine hangs heavily over the whole event. Many who were once considered hawks are able to, if I may extend the analogy, preen a little and feel that Moscow has justified their concerns admirably. And I cannot blame them.

If once the divide was between those who saw Russia as a problem, even a potential partner, rather than a threat and those who simply saw the threat, then I wonder if now the divide that is opening up is between those who think purely in terms of “old wars” rather than new. In Ukraine we have seen a distinctive evolution of old forms of political-military, covert-overt conflict. To be sure,  the Ukrainian situation was distinctive and extraordinary: a state in virtual collapse, a large Russia-looking minority, a disgruntled and scared eastern elite looking for a new krysha (‘roof’ – protection) and seeing it in Moscow. We do not see this in Europe. If Cossacks or Night Wolves motorcycle gangers rolled into Narva tomorrow, not only would the Estonian security forces be perfectly able to deal with them, but it they would have the support of the overwhelming majority of Russophone Estonians in doing it, too.

Instead, the response to any potential threat of “little green men” at the conference tends to focus on kinetic capacities: special forces, precision weapons, command and communication, etc. Understandable, and I agree that if foreign paramilitaries or special ops teams try to make their way into your country, these are the guys you want to unleash. Likewise, there’s is still certainly a value to a credible conventional and nuclear deterrence: had Ukraine’s forces been more capable and Kiev more decisive, then maybe things would not have reached the current stage. 

But my point is that the Russians–if they really did want to make incursions into Europe–would only unleash such tactics after they had already created suitable conditions. Just as in Ukraine, they’d need already to have created pretexts, disorder, confusion, local allies.

In other words, the real conflict would not be so much PGMs vs LGMs (Precision-Guided Missiles vs Little Green Men) but a shadow one of ensuring that Russia’s abilities to create the preconditions for incursion could be deterred, detected and dealt with. The soldiers of this war are spies and criminals, cynical lobbyists and gullible commentators, businesses desperate to make a profit from Russia, and populations eager not to see themselves engaged in any civilizational struggle.

I appreciate NATO is not the obvious instrument with which to combat this potential threat, that is better suited to developing those kinetic solutions to the actual military stage of any conflict. But given that it is, at present, hard to see the EU able to muster the will, strategy, resources and cohesion to do the job, I wonder who else can fill the role of identifying and addressing this form of asymmetric warfare? If it comes to shooting, then I agree that the West needs smart, well-trained shooters. But given that the shooting stage would be the final one of an escalating campaign of subversion, division and misdirection, I’d rather this be headed off Putin’s guerrilla geopolitics before it reaches such a stage.

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  1. Sarge Cheever

     /  April 26, 2014

    Looks like European energy needs have priority over Ukraine.


  2. Well said, Dr. Galeotti.

  3. An excellent article.

    Asymmetric spying and subversion is always much easier for ‘closed’ societies to control than open ones, by the very nature of the societies. Is this one of the reasons why Russia has been clamping down further on their media and enacting new laws against bloggers and alike, while increasing the exposure of their views to Western audiences through channels like RT?

    Russia was heavily involved in such operations during the height of the cold war from the funding of individuals and ‘friendly’ organisations to subversion and spying networks. This I would have thought is nothing new for NATO or each countries intelligence services to deal with. Where since 1991 the assumption has been that Russia is becoming more like one of us, the clock has now been reset to them and us again.

    Russia is going to find out the hard way that it can’t have its cake and eat it. The USSR didn’t fail through lack of military power but through their economy and this will be where they will fail again. Adam Smith made the observation that you need the right conditions for capitalism to flourish. The 20/50 club (more than $20,000 income with a population of over 50m) consists of 7 countries and they all have several common characteristics: Multi-party democracies, strong property rights, an independent judiciary and freedom of speech and expression. These aren’t optional requirements, but necessities for investor confidence. The return of the money is always more important than the return on the money, due to how long it takes recover from a total loss on an investment. The clamp down on freedoms in Russia, not to mention the confiscation of a factory belonging to Petro Poroshenko and also of various business interests of other Ukrainians who supported Euromaiden has not been lost on investors as can be seen from the accelerating capital flight, interest rate rises to prop up the Rouble from 5.5% to 7.5% so far and their steadily falling stock market. At best investors are going to be looking for much higher returns on what is now a much higher risk environment or invest elsewhere. Like last time this will be a long game, but I hope it will being a new urgency to Western Europe weaning itself off Russian energy dependency.

    With Ukraine, the worst outcome would be a broken federalised country with an eastward looking government and would also be what most Ukrainians are looking to escape. In Ukraine they have had enough of looking in the ‘shop window’ of Western Europe, their wealth, democracies and corruption free public services and this is what Euromaiden was about. I personally can’t see many Ukrainians putting up with this external suppression and subjugation and lack of opportunity so any such Government would have to suppress another Euromaiden or worse.

  1. NATO and the New War: Dealing with Threats before they become Kinetic
  2. Dienas grauds | vara bungas
  3. Linksammlung für März bis Mai | Sebastian Müllers Blog
  4. Hybrid Warfare | rmsmc's blog
  5. The ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ and Russian Non-Linear War | To Inform is to Influence

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