Contrary to the popular belief prevailing since the end of the Cold War, the end of the military standoff between NATO and Soviet Union did not mark a new era of peace and safety. Under the rule of Vladimir Putin, Russia is once again trying to assert itself as a world power and regain lost influence and prestige by pursuing an increasingly aggressive and revanchist policy.
The Kremlin is also seeking to distract Russian citizens from the country’s growing internal problems. There is turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, civil war in Syria, and conflicts in Yemen and Libya, bringing to life radical Islamist movements that loathe all things Western and have sworn to bring their war to European and American soil. This in turn has pushed an unprecedented wave of migrants towards Europe. Almost all of the EU is touched by open or frozen conflicts, unrest and civil war, while its citizens are exposed to the threat of terrorism.
Both Europe and NATO face unprecedented threats on many different fronts. These range from conventional warfare through the expansion of terrorist groups, radicalisation of our own citizens and – last but not least – dangers posed by the information warfare and propaganda fuelled mainly by Russia. Therefore, the Warsaw Summit is timely and should be used as an opportunity to decisively respond to these new forms of threats, which also include hybrid warfare and cyber-attack.
Despite predictions by numerous experts that future warfare will predominantly belong to special forces and not tanks and artillery, the situation in Eastern Ukraine (and to some degree in Syria) clearly shows that this is not the case, at least not yet. The threat posed by Russia is much bigger than it has been since the end of the Cold War. As Antoni Macierewicz, Polish minister of defence, underlined when talking about preparation for the NATO Summit in Warsaw, in August 2009, one year after the meticulously planned aggression against Georgia, Putin had said that Moscow wanted to change the political configuration in Europe and move towards separate agreements between Russia and individual, chosen countries.
But Moscow’s vision of “divide and rule” went far beyond diplomacy. What has followed – including the annexation of Crimea, aggression against Ukraine and intervention in Syria on the side of Assad regime – clearly shows that the Kremlin is determined to pursue its goal of working on different fronts and using a variety of tools. Therefore, the Warsaw Summit should be used as a key platform to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank and to project stability beyond our borders. Today it is not only Ukraine, but also Moldova and Georgia that are under threat.
The second major challenge for the security of NATO countries is terrorist groups such as ISIS aqnd al-Qaeda. NATO should be ready to militarily counter and fight terrorist groups which use partisan tactics and often melt into civilian populations or use human shields on their soil. This requires a completely different way of thinking about warfare, especially in cities and densely populated areas. The other side of this coin is the need to dismantle terrorist cells operating in our own countries.
Another directly linked threat is the spread of radicalisation among young people. Europe’s population is suffering from terrorist attacks led by radicals and militants who have either been trained abroad or recruited by terrorist organisations in Europe and the Middle East. These individuals often have European citizenship and are therefore much more difficult to track. We also have to remember that experienced Islamist fighters may – and almost certainly do – infiltrate the waves of refugees coming to Europe.
Last but not least, we have recently witnessed the revival of a threat which was previously very creatively used by the Soviet Union – information warfare targeting both NATO and the EU. The strategic communications employed by Russia are not only undermining security on Europe’s Eastern border, it is also targeting our partners like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The “weaponisation of information” by the Kremlin is a well-thought through and well-funded strategy and should be regarded as a threat equal to more traditional ones. NATO is aware of the problem and its Stratcom Centre of Excellence in Latvia does a great job at exposing Russian lies and manipulation.
The importance of the crucial Warsaw 2016 NATO summit this month should not be underestimated. Wales 2014 saw the alliance change direction to face a more dangerous world but Warsaw 2016 will decide if the needed level of support and commitment to this change is fully carried out.
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