“…they should know when we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies, ‘Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting’”.
Winston Spencer Churchill (No, I am not raising the ghost of Winston to make a point about Brexit!)
Can NATO REALLY adapt?
Izmir, Turkey. 14 March. How can we better engage Alliance leaders with the security and defence of their own citizens in a dangerous world? A shifting balance of military power is often glacial and takes place over many years but at times it can also act like an earthquake as a fault-line gives a bit. This week the fault-line definitely gave a bit. On Tuesday, I had the honour to speak to NATO commanders at the LC3 conference hosted by Lt. General Thompson and his excellent team at NATO LANDCOM here in Izmir. My speech, on NATO and Future War, came a week after Russia’s now long-serving Chief of the General Staff, General Valerij Gerasimov, had laid out his thinking on Russia’s future military strategy. It was also a week in which the US launched a $718bn defence budget, whilst also announcing the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman will be paid off early to enable the US to afford an entirely new generation of weapons to match those being developed and deployed by China and Russia. In this week’s Defense News RAND’s David Ochmanek frankly admitted that, “In our [war] games, when we fight Russia and China blue [Allied forces] gets its ass handed to it”.
My message to NATO commanders was thus necessarily uncompromising – unless NATO REALLY adapts to the security environment, shapes it and fast the old West could be heading for catastrophe. The message I got back from a few of my senior military colleagues was equally and justly compromising – ‘We hear you, Julian, but do our leaders?’ It is this disconnect between NATO collective defence and much of the Alliance’s political leadership which is potentially the greatest vulnerability.
Which Trojan, which horse?
Let me deal with the nature and scope of the threat. A piece in Foreign Affairs this week by Chris Miller asked if economic stagnation is the new Russian normal. It would certainly seem so. Contrast that with a 4 March speech by the Russian Chief of the General Staff entitled The Development of Future Military Strategy at Moscow’s Academy of Military Sciences. Gerasimov echoed (immodestly on my part) a lot of what I had written in my latest article for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Complex Strategic Coercion and Russian Military Modernisation https://www.cgai.ca/complex_strategic_coercion_and_russian_military_modernization He talked of the transformation of military threat and the need for a “…system of knowledge and action for the prevention, preparation and conduct of war”. He placed particular emphasis on strategies of what he calls global war, nuclear deterrence and, critically, indirect action.
Gerasimov, predictably, painted the US as the aggressor state and accused the Americans of ‘Trojan horse’ policies designed to eliminate the statehood of “unwanted countries”, undermine state sovereignty, and impose enforced change on elected bodies. Russia see thyself? He also cited what he called Washington’s expansion of its military presence on Russia’s borders and the US abrogation of arms control treaties such as INF as proof positive of Russia’s need to deploy new, advanced missile systems…some of which breach INF. You get the picture.
5D warfare and the new method of struggle
Gerasimov also talked of new ‘methods of struggle’ and the shift towards the integrated use of political, economic, international, and other “non-military measures, albeit implemented with reliance on military force”. Critically, he re-stated his long-held conviction that the main effort for Russia’s military strategy must be the preparation for war and its conduct, primarily, but not exclusively, by the armed forces.
All of this chimes rather neatly with my own concept of 5D warfare – the systematic application of deception, disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, and implied destruction as strategy. Gerasimov’s vision for the Russian future force also echoes American thinking about the coming conduct of warfare simultaneously across the seven domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. Gerasimov placed particular emphasis on the prosecution of what I call war at the seams of our complex societies and war at the margins of our complex institutions, most notably NATO and the EU.
Shock and some limited aweski?
At the heart of Gerasimov’s remarks was a very Russian idea of shock and awe, albeit in pursuit of limited strategic objectives. To that end, he highlighted the need for constant high combat readiness and rapid force mobilisation to achieve decisive surprise. To reinforce that aim he called specifically for the systematic identification and exploitation of the vulnerabilities of adversaries and the threat of “unacceptable damage” as a means of imposing influence and deterring a response.
Gerasimov’s Ultima Ratio Regum is that Russian force of arms be underpinned by strengthened Russian nuclear and non-nuclear ‘deterrence’ via the continued deployment of advanced weapons systems with his military art ‘enlightened’ by the strategic and operational lessons Russia has learnt in Syria for the conduct of what he calls “restricted actions”. Gerasimov also talked at some length about the large-scale use of military robotic and other unmanned systems allied to the enhanced exploitation of electronic warfare but again only as part of “strategy of limited action”. In other words, Russia still only envisages fighting a brutal but short war, if it fights one at all.
What particularly struck me was the level of understanding Gerasimov displayed of Allied vulnerabilities and weaknesses. There was also a particular emphasis on innovative thinking via so-called ‘Forecast Scenarios’ that would enable a better understanding of armed conflict might be started and exploited by Russia for maximum political effect. In other words, Gerasimov is seriously thinking about war with NATO and how to fight it.
The problem for the Alliance is just how ‘limited’ is Gerasimov’s ‘limited’? A Norwegian friend and colleague at the meeting said that the real danger posed by Russia was that it was “risk willing”. In fact, threat is the consequence of President Putin’s ‘risk willingness’, the scope of his strategic ambition, and the risk aversion of many European leaders in combination. It is a threat that is further compounded by a very Russian idea of a strategic-economic ‘model’ – the weaker the economy becomes the more Moscow invests in ‘security’. History suggests this ‘model’ more often than not eventually falls apart and leads to catastrophe.
Simulating Smart NATO
How could a smart NATO counter Russia’s unsmartness? This week also marked the twentieth anniversary of the moment when former Warsaw Pact states the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland exercised their right to self-determination and joined the Alliance. Thereafter, a wave of former Cold War adversaries became allies. Reading General Gerasimov it is clear how much this profound shift in the political and security geography of Europe still rankles with Moscow and the Kremlin’s determination to re-impose influence over many of those states around Russia’s western border with force a key component in Moscow’s complex coercive influence strategy.
Gerasimov has one clear advantage over his NATO counterparts – his boss President Putin has given him unequivocal instructions to do just that - coerce. President Putin routinely chairs exercises and simulations in which he plays himself. When one talks to NATO commanders the work they are doing to counter Gerasimov and his now several ‘doctrines’ is impressive. However, unlike Gerasimov, NATO commanders struggle with real political buy-in at the highest levels.
Part of the problem is political culture, particularly across much of Western Europe. There was a time when politicians would routinely take part in exercises and simulations to properly understand their own role during an emergency. Now such participation rarely, if ever, happens. And, one of the many seams Gerasimov is seeking to exploit is the yawning seam that too often exists between NATO’s political leaders and their military commanders.
It is not easy to get latter day Western European politicians (and this problem is to a large extent a Western European problem) to engage with such challenges beyond the routine but only occasional NATO Summit. One idea would be to tack a simulation onto such events – be they at Heads of State and Government level or foreign/defence ministerial level. NATO’s leaders need to see and understand why NATO needs to plan for the worst-case and how their own role would unfold during a fast-burning and inevitably multifaceted crisis of the sort General Gerasimov is planning.
The Scheer Bloody Gaulle of it!
Simulating NATO would thus be a good step towards a smart NATO because a smart NATO is a vital part of a wider strategy that offers Moscow both a way out of the economic and strategic contradiction into which it is driving itself, and protects the free citizens of the Alliance from the very worst case consequences of Russia’s potentially catastrophic contradiction.
Such an approach might also help Western European leaders stop their latest retreat into defence pretence. This was also the week when senior German CDU politician Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested France and Germany together build a new aircraft carrier. Given the state of Europe’s land forces there are many other things the French and Germans might consider building if they were serious about playing a serious role together in deterring Russia and projecting power. Still, if they ever do build this thing (which of course they will not) I have come up with the perfect name for – the Scheer-Gaulle. Get it?