The British drive for all-out NATO confrontation with Russia is the controlling factor in the NATO summit now underway in Wales. One of the major indicators of this was the House of Commons Defense Committee report released on July 29, entitled “Toward the next Defense and Security review: Part Two-NATO,” the central thrust of which is that NATO should consider reworking the Article 5 mutual defense commitment, to lower the threshold at which it could be invoked.
The underlying basis for the Defense Committee report—one of a series of reports the committee is producing on British defense policy—is that Russia is now the overriding threat for which Britain and NATO must be prepared, but it’s not like the Soviet threat of the Cold War era, which was based heavily on massed tank formations in Eastern Europe. The threat today is much more ambiguous, in that it is capable of attack using methods that don’t rise up to Article 5’s “armed attack” threshold—as the Russian takeover of Crimea and the 2007 cyberattack on Estonia show—and therefore, NATO must adjust to this new reality.
“Our conclusion is that NATO is currently not well-prepared for a Russian threat against a NATO member state,” the report says in its opening summary. “A Russian unconventional attack, using asymmetric tactics (the latest term for this is “ambiguous warfare”), designed to slip below NATO’s response threshold, would be particularly difficult to counter.” The 48-page report focuses on NATO, Article 4 and Article 5, because, among other reasons, “the attack on Ukraine has raised the possibility—however currently unlikely—of an attack, conventional or unconventional, on a NATO member state in the Baltics, potentially requiring an Article 5 response; and because such a response would be challenging and requires significant adaptation from the UK and NATO.”
Among the report’s recommendations are the following: dramatic improvements to the existing NATO rapid reaction force; the pre-positioning of equipment in the Baltic States; and a continuous (if not technically ‘permanent’) presence of NATO troops, on training and exercise in the Baltic. All of these measures are on the agenda for the summit. One of the measures they add to what the summit needs to also address, is, “The circumstances in which the Article 5 mutual defense guarantee will be invoked in the face of asymmetric attack.” The report says that “NATO must consider whether the adjective ‘armed’ should be removed from the definition of an Article 5 attack.”
The axioms underlying the Defense Committee report were well in evidence in the last few hours’ run-up to the start of the summit Thursday morning. During a speech to the Royal United Services Institute that was broadcast by ITN television news, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that NATO member states faced a “stark choice,” to either ” enfeeble” the alliance by letting investment dry up, or by “reviving its spirit.” As for the UK position, “It’s time now to toughen up so that Nato can deal with the aggression and the threats that we face,” he said. “That means rapid reaction forces that are worthy of the name, that means better sharing of capability, and it means the first ever public commitment to increase defense spending. That will demonstrate to all those who threaten us that the state of our transatlantic bond is strong.”
This was also reflected in remarks that NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove made, Thursday morning, to an Atlantic Council session running alongside the summit. NATO members, especially the Baltic states that border Russia, must take into account such tactics as allies prepare for future threats, he said. That means steps should be taken to help build the capacity of other arms of government, such as interior ministries and police forces, to counter unconventional attacks, including propaganda campaigns, cyber assaults or homegrown separatist militias.
“What we see in Russia now, in this hybrid approach to war, is to use all the tools they have … to stir up problems they can then begin to exploit through their military tool,” according to a report in Stars & Stripes. Breedlove wouldn’t go so far as to call for a rewrite of Article 5, but he does want to push NATO forces ever closer to Russia’s borders, as per the British strategy of confrontation. With an operational presence in the east—including a new operational headquarters that Breedlove is proposing—NATO will also have the ability to “surge” forces if needed. “If we need to, we can rapidly respond with much larger and more capable forces if we see an act of aggression,” Breedlove said.