NATO’s Essential Minnows and the Russian Threat

By Joseph Rollwagen & Justin McCauley

The Bridge

When living on a shoestring budget, it is important to make your limited resources go a long way. Beans are cheaper than meat; rice is a great meal stretcher. While this analogy is simplistic, it could easily be applied to the way NATO security appropriations are made. For example, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently renewed the Trump administration’s calls for 2% defense spending commitments by European members of the alliance; but as German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel asserted, “more money doesn’t mean more security.” Instead of simply meeting budgetary recommendations, an analysis of small state security potential and funding of smarter, more cost-effective contributions to the alliance is needed. Furthermore, using a few of NATO’s “minnows” as examples of how to make limited means count in the face of an expansionist Russia, it becomes apparent that the continued existence of the alliance is of paramount importance. Ultimately, conventional “hard power” alone is not an effective strategy for combating current Russian security challenge facing Europe. For the small, frontline states on NATO’s eastern flank, a focus on special operations forces and intelligence are a better use of limited resources.

Although Russia has re-emerged as the preeminent geopolitical foe for the NATO alliance, the nature of the threat is somewhat different than it was during the Cold War. Alongside its renewed conventional military build-up, Russia has increasingly employed methods detailed in the so-called “Gerasimov Doctrine,” otherwise known as new generation, hybrid, or non-linear warfare. This involves information operations, cyber warfare, and covert action combined with low-intensity military operations. NATO describes hybrid threats as an actor exploiting the “’full-spectrum’ of modern warfare; they are not restricted to conventional means.” As military strategist Colin Gray argues, the use of asymmetries has long been employed to exploit the weaknesses of adversaries, which is why NATO must shift to counter Russia’s increasingly brazen use of hybrid methods.

American conventional military power is yet unrivaled, and an assertion of that strength could be sufficient deterrence against incursions into NATO states that share a border with Russia. A return of American armor to continental Europe has indeed already begun. Ultimately, the U.S. military remains the only force capable of engaging and defeating Russia in a full-scale conflict. That said, Russia has had astounding success with its hybrid doctrine in Ukraine, and it is known that Putin has encouraged this approach in other countries in the Russian “near abroad” since the 1990s.

Continue to full article . . .

Picture: Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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