Security Insiders: NATO Unprepared to Counter Newly Aggressive Russia

Troops under Russian command assemble before getting into trucks near the Ukrainian military base they are blockading on Wednesday in Perevalne, Ukraine. The Obama administration has been critical of the Russian action, and the crisis could further delay stalled U.S. nuclear security efforts in Russia.
National Journal
April 28, 2014, 5:56 p.m.

A whop­ping three-quar­ters of Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders said the NATO al­li­ance is not pre­pared to counter a newly ag­gress­ive Rus­sia, which has been con­duct­ing mil­it­ary ex­er­cises on Ukraine’s bor­der, spark­ing fears it may in­vade.

“NATO (ex­cept for its East­ern European mem­bers) bought the whole ‘peace di­vidend’ idea when the Ber­lin Wall fell. Every­one seems to have missed a renas­cent Rus­si­an mil­it­ary force that can cause quite a bit of dif­fi­culty even if the Rus­si­an state is in ser­i­ous so­cial and eco­nom­ic trouble,” one In­sider said. “This situ­ation is a clear warn­ing to NATO and the U.S. that they need to be able to handle a re­sur­gent Rus­sia while com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism at the same time. The Pentagon clearly needs to re­think its force-shap­ing and budget­ary plans for the next few years since [Rus­si­an Present Vladi­mir] Putin has already shown what he wants to do.”

NATO has neither the will nor the cap­ab­il­it­ies to counter Rus­si­an moves in Ukraine, an­oth­er In­sider ad­ded. “The de­fense cuts of the post-Cold War era are hav­ing their ef­fect, and in the for­eign policy realm, de­cidedly not for the bet­ter.” 

Years of European de­fense cuts, one In­sider said, “res­ult­ing from post­mod­ern Europe’s de­cision to uni­lat­er­ally dis­arm, have left NATO un­pre­pared for a newly ag­gress­ive Krem­lin. Only three European coun­tries — the U.K., Es­to­nia, and Greece — cur­rently meet NATO’s re­quire­ment of spend­ing at least 2 per­cent of [gross do­mest­ic product] on de­fense. As former Latvi­an De­fense Min­is­ter Artis Pab­riks has com­men­ted, ‘Com­pared to what Rus­sia has been build­ing up on our bor­ders, we are a de­mil­it­ar­ized zone, and that will have to change.’ ” What’s more, the U.S. has no ser­i­ous mil­it­ary pres­ence in Europe any­more, one In­sider said, “and Putin knows it. Our de­terrence is nonex­ist­ent.”

A 26 per­cent fac­tion dis­agreed, in­sist­ing the al­li­ance is ready to counter Rus­sia, al­beit with some ad­just­ments. “NATO will need to re­fresh their ap­proach and mem­ber na­tions must spend the pledged 2 per­cent of GDP on de­fense,” one In­sider said, “or NATO should look to a col­lect­ive fund­ing ap­proach for cap­ab­il­it­ies — pool­ing their money to buy air­lift and [in­tel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, and re­con­nais­sance] as­sets.”

The U.S. is send­ing a re­l­at­ively small con­tin­gent of 600 troops to four coun­tries in East­ern Europe, but 70 per­cent of In­siders still said the U.S. should sig­ni­fic­antly in­crease U.S. or NATO troops, and mil­it­ary equip­ment, in coun­tries bor­der­ing Rus­sia. 

“The U.S. should re­turn to Europe an Army Com­bat Bri­gade Team (4,000-5,000 sol­diers, the Army’s ba­sic unit of man­euver war­fare) and base it in Po­land,” one In­sider said. “Same for a U.S. Air Force com­bat air­craft wing. In light of the for­cible an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, NATO should put aside its earli­er as­sur­ances to Rus­sia and be­gin mov­ing more Al­li­ance mil­it­ary in­fra­struc­ture east­ward, to the ter­rit­ory of the new­er mem­bers of NATO who are in­ter­ested in hav­ing it. More NATO war­ships should patrol the Black Sea, to pro­tect Ukrain­i­an ship­ping and the port of Odessa from in­ter­fer­ence by Rus­sia’s Black Sea fleet.”

One In­sider said troops and equip­ment should de­ploy “only in NATO mem­ber states” — and re­cog­nize their lim­it­a­tions. “Even here it’s im­port­ant to real­ize that de­terrence some­times fails — re­mem­ber the ‘red line’ on Syr­i­an chem­ic­al-weapons use?” the In­sider said. “Troop move­ments meant to de­ter Rus­sia risk drag­ging the U.S. in­to war if our sig­nals aren’t read the way we in­tend. Saber rat­tling is some­times ne­ces­sary but al­ways dan­ger­ous, and should be kept to the ne­ces­sary min­im­um.”

A vo­cal 30 per­cent fac­tion dis­agreed on bol­ster­ing troops and equip­ment in the re­gion. “All this will do is cost us money and re­sources we don’t have to de­ploy and re­pos­i­tion troops and equip­ment.”

Ex­er­cises and smal­ler, tem­por­ary de­ploy­ments of U.S. per­son­nel in NATO mem­ber states in East­ern Europe, an­oth­er In­sider said, “should be suf­fi­cient to re­as­sure our al­lies and send a sig­nal to Rus­sia.”

1. Is NATO pre­pared to counter a newly ag­gress­ive Rus­sia?

(65 votes)

No 74%
Yes 26%


“NATO is not pre­pared to do this in a mil­it­ary sense, but it bet­ter be pre­pared to do so in a polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic sense. The net ef­fect of Rus­sia’s ac­tions should be to breathe new life in­to the al­li­ance.”

“One need only look to Bob Gates’s re­marks pri­or to leav­ing of­fice (not to men­tion European de­fense budgets) to know that … NATO is far from a truly ready force.”

“The use of the mil­it­ary in­stru­ment of na­tion­al power is un­real­ist­ic by NATO or any part­ner coun­try, as no NATO na­tions have the polit­ic­al will to stand up to Putin.”

“NATO’s 2010 stra­tegic concept, which speaks of Rus­sia as a part­ner, must be re­vised to ad­dress Rus­sia also as an ad­versary. This change ought to be widely dis­cussed in the al­li­ance, to build sup­port for it. Plan­ning re­vi­sions should fol­low. NATO ought to do more ex­er­cises and train­ing aimed at coun­ter­ing Rus­si­an para­mil­it­ary and con­ven­tion­al mil­it­ary threats.”

“U.S. lead­er­ship is crit­ic­al for any NATO activ­it­ies to hap­pen.”

“West­ern Europe has been na­ive. To be in a po­s­i­tion where they’re totally de­pend­ent Rus­sia for en­ergy, weakened mil­it­ary, and moved more in that dir­ec­tion in the last few years, crazy.”

“The U.S. has an­nounced that there will be no boots on the ground to con­front Rus­sia, while Europe’s cold feet will not fill those boots either.”

“Not yet, but it needs to be led there by the U.S.” 

“The ag­gress­ive­ness ex­ists in areas where a NATO com­mit­ment neither ex­ists nor would be plaus­ible.”

“European de­fense spend­ing has been in­ad­equate, by the meas­ures European part­ners have set for them­selves.”

“Not without bold Amer­ic­an lead­er­ship.” 

“Just look at the de­fense-budget plans of most NATO mem­bers. The peace di­vidend has come to an end, if there ever was such a thing. NATO needs to stop re­ly­ing on Rus­sia’s stated in­ten­tions and more on its ex­ist­ing/emer­ging cap­ab­il­it­ies in plan­ning al­li­ance strategies.”

“The in­tel­lec­tu­al in­er­tia of the al­li­ance is very strong.”

“The ques­tion is a joke. NATO and the West have vir­tu­ally dis­mantled while ‘the East’ is arm­ing at a fast clip. This is not a new trend but one un­der­way for years now.”

“NATO couldn’t even main­tain op­er­a­tions in Libya without our help and without us re­plen­ish­ing their stock­piles of mis­siles and am­muni­tion.”

“It re­mains up to Ger­many. If they de­cide to make a show of coun­ter­ing the Rus­si­ans, the rest of NATO comes along. So far, they have not and neither will NATO.”

“The Europeans tend to think fight­ing ma­jor-power wars in Europe is a bad thing. I’d call this pro­gress, ac­tu­ally.”


“But it may well have to re­ori­ent its fo­cus to­ward Europe and re­in­vest in de­fense cap­ab­il­it­ies.”

“At some point, Putin’s cost-be­ne­fit bal­ance is go­ing to re­strain him.”

“The Rus­si­an spe­cial forces are pretty good; the core mil­it­ary is neither good nor likely to be used in a ag­gress­ive man­ner.”

“A united NATO can counter Rus­sia if all ele­ments of power are em­ployed. Mil­it­ary re­sponse should be avail­able but used only as a tool of last re­sort.”

“We must see our role as de­terrent as we did against the USSR.”

“I think gen­er­ally, yes. But we don’t know their pain points, which we should as­sume to be low. That is they will have a low tol­er­ance for polit­ic­al pain, do­mest­ic­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

“Real is­sue is en­ergy de­pend­ence and they could really help by chal­len­ging how their col­lect­ive eco­nomy could af­fect Rus­sia’s.”

“But de­pends very much on how much is re­quired and where.”

2. Should the U.S. sig­ni­fic­antly in­crease the pres­ence of U.S. or NATO troops — and mil­it­ary equip­ment — in coun­tries bor­der­ing Rus­sia?

(65 votes) 

Yes 70 %
No 30 %


“The U.S. needs to re­as­sure our al­lies that the NATO Art­icle V guar­an­tee is mean­ing­ful. They are look­ing for such re­as­sur­ance, and will draw their own con­clu­sions if Wash­ing­ton of­fers noth­ing but empty rhet­or­ic.”

“NATO should ac­tiv­ate the NATO Re­sponse Force which could provide 15,000 trained and ready troops to show some back­bone.”

“There should be a bet­ter, NATO-wide op­tion, but ab­sent U.S. ac­tion, the core of NATO might find it hard to take any ac­tion at all.”

“At the same time NATO must tell Rus­sia that Art­icle 5 of the NATO treaty will ap­ply. We should not have ex­pan­ded NATO as much as we did but now we are ‘stuck’ with the res­ult.”

“We should not just con­sider bor­der­ing coun­tries but for­ward de­ploy­ment mari­time forces in the East­ern Med and Black Sea. The chal­lenge is what kind of forces or troops. NATO needs to step up and we need to be part of what ‘pack­age’ gets put to­geth­er.”

“Send­ing com­pany-size forces to each of four coun­tries is ris­ible. Putin must be amused. Why not in­stead de­ploy to the Balt­ic and Po­land bat­talion-sized ele­ments of one or both of the two Europe-based Army bri­gades that were re­cently de­ac­tiv­ated? Now that would get the Krem­lin’s at­ten­tion.”

“But faint hope.”

“Yes. And in pack­ets lar­ger than 150 per coun­try.”

“Care should be taken not to present a pro­vok­ing pos­ture but it should sig­nal NATO pre­pared­ness and unity. Train­ing ex­er­cises in Po­land would be use­ful and per­haps pub­lic con­sid­er­a­tion giv­en to mov­ing the CMTC to Po­land.”

“If we want Rus­si­ans to ask why Putin has got­ten them so isol­ated, they have to BE isol­ated.”

“Yes, on a ro­ta­tion­al basis.”

“We should both in­crease per­man­ently sta­tioned forces and re­vive large-scale ex­er­cises — at least a di­vi­sion — on a four-year cycle. RE­FOR­GER II.”

“Ab­so­lutely. The only way to counter what Putin is do­ing in Ukraine is to make him think that if he goes one step fur­ther he just could risk a great­er con­front­a­tion with the West than even he might be will­ing to en­gage in. De­ploy­ing just 600 troops won’t cut it. Need to put at least a bri­gade in there, with a Fight­er Squad­ron or two. Plus, both Po­land and the Czech Re­pub­lic should re­ceive the Mis­sile De­fense Shield they had been prom­ised un­der the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. Now it’s all about the sym­bol­ism … and there is no great­er sym­bol­ism than a genu­ine show of force.”

“Yes, but with enough force to ac­tu­ally make a dif­fer­ence in Rus­si­an cal­cu­la­tions. A com­pany of in­fantry is a laugh­ably small num­ber. Bet­ter to po­s­i­tion a bri­gade com­bat team in Po­land — and make it a per­man­ent pres­ence.”

“Of course. Rus­sia is clos­ing off mar­kets, look­ing to un­ravel demo­cracy, and us­ing anti-U.S. pro­pa­ganda as a weapon. Ques­tions?”

“Not just the U.S. but all of NATO. This is as much about the fu­ture vi­ab­il­ity of NATO as it is about Rus­si­an ag­gres­sion.”

“We need to show Putin there is a cost for what he is do­ing. We also need to show the ol­ig­archs that sup­port Putin that he is dan­ger­ous to their in­terests and should be re­moved. A show of mil­it­ary strength would help that along. Great­er per­son­al­ized fin­an­cial sanc­tions would really drive it home.”

“Fo­cus should be on NATO mem­ber states with highly vis­ible ex­er­cises with U.S. forces air su­peri­or­ity out in front. Sep­ar­ately, bi­lat­er­al ex­changes by NATO mem­ber-state se­cur­ity ser­vices should take place both with NATO mem­ber states and al­lies to counter Rus­si­an in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions and black ops.”

“Rus­si­an claims of NATO pro­voca­tion are already wide­spread, so why wouldn’t we at least show a con­crete will­ing­ness to sup­port our friends and treaty-bound al­lies?”


“Giv­en that the US does not have an in­terest in fight­ing Rus­sia over coun­tries bor­der­ing Rus­sia, no. The U.S. should have ex­ited NATO once it achieved its stated anti-Rus­si­an ob­ject­ive and left European se­cur­ity to the Europeans.”

“Not yet.”

“Only in NATO mem­ber states. It is pro­voc­at­ive in oth­er states; the prob­lem is a 400-year old Rus­si­an para­noia about its near abroad.”

“The U.S. and NATO should be plan­ning and pre­par­ing for the pos­sib­il­ity of de­ploy­ments but should not de­ploy un­less in­tel­li­gence in­dic­ates Rus­sia plans to move against those coun­tries.”

“No, we should work on get­ting Ger­man, Dutch, Span­ish, etc. troops to ro­tate in be­hind the U.S. troops. This is an al­li­ance with an Art­icle V guar­an­tee, not the U.S. as lone ranger.”

“Just what sort of war do we have in mind?”

“The fo­cus is and should be on the eco­nom­ic cost to Rus­sia of bad choices.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders Poll is a peri­od­ic sur­vey of more than 100 de­fense and for­eign policy ex­perts. They in­clude: Gor­don Adams, Charles Al­len, Mi­chael Al­len, Thad Al­len, Gra­ham Al­lis­on, James Bam­ford, Dav­id Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Ber­gen, Samuel “Sandy” Ber­ger, Dav­id Ber­teau, Steph­en Biddle, Nancy Bird­sall, Mari­on Blakey, Kit Bond, Stu­art Bowen, Paula Broad­well, Mike Breen, Mark Brun­ner, Steven Bucci, Nich­olas Burns, Dan By­man, James Jay Cara­fano, Phil­lip Carter, Wendy Cham­ber­lin, Mi­chael Cher­toff, Frank Cil­luffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clem­ons, Joseph Collins, Wil­li­am Court­ney, Lorne Cran­er, Ro­ger Cres­sey, Gregory Dahl­berg, Robert Dan­in, Richard Dan­zig, Jan­ine Dav­id­son, Daniel Drezn­er, Mack­en­zie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, An­drew Ex­um, Wil­li­am Fal­lon, Eric Farns­worth, Jacques Gansler, Steph­en Gan­yard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gun­zinger, Todd Har­ris­on, John Hamre, Jim Harp­er, Marty Haus­er, Mi­chael Hay­den, Mi­chael Her­son, Pete Hoek­stra, Bruce Hoff­man, Linda Hud­son, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Don­ald Ker­rick, Rachel Klein­feld, Lawrence Korb, Dav­id Kramer, An­drew Kre­pinev­ich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Mi­chael Leit­er, James Lind­say, Justin Lo­gan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ron­ald Marks, Bri­an Mc­Caf­frey, Steven Metz, Frank­lin Miller, Mi­chael Mo­rell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kev­in Neal­er, Mi­chael Oates, Thomas Pick­er­ing, Paul Pil­lar, Larry Pri­or, Steph­en Rade­maker, Marc Rai­mondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Ro­ten­berg, Frank Rug­giero, Gary Sam­ore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Steph­en Ses­t­an­ovich, Sarah Se­wall, Mat­thew Sher­man, Jen­nifer Sims, Su­z­anne Spauld­ing, James Stav­rid­is, Con­stan­ze Stelzen­müller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Town­send, Mick Train­or, Richard Wil­helm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Za­kheim, and Juan Za­r­ate.

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