News / Europe

'Ambiguous Warfare' Provides NATO With New Challenge

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 25, 2014.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 25, 2014.
Reuters

Since Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, NATO has been publicly refocusing on its old Cold War foe Moscow. The threats it now believes it faces, however, are distinctly different to those of the latter half of the 20th century.

The West then was defending against the risk of Soviet armor pouring across the North German plain. Now, officials and experts say, it is “ambiguous warfare” that is focusing minds within NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Confrontations are viewed as more likely to start with cyber attacks or covert action to stir up Russian minorities in Europe's east than from any overt aggression.

So as NATO prepares for its summit on Sept. 4 and 5 in Wales, it is having to come to grips with relatively new threats to test Article 5 of its treaty. That essentially says that an attack on one NATO state is an attack on all.

Since NATO's post-Cold War expansion that has meant protecting eastern members including the Baltic states. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all have considerable Russian minorities while Poland and others worry Russia still views them as within its sphere of influence.

High-profile troop, aircraft and ship deployments and exercises have been designed to send the message that the United States and its allies would react with force to any attack on its territory.

A less conventional attack, however, could be harder to defend against. For example, without firm proof that Moscow was behind a cyber attack or covert action, deciding whether to invoke Article 5 would be very difficult.

“This is new territory but it's something that is going to have to be discussed,” said Janine Davidson, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans from 2009-12 and now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It is very difficult to know how to react to it. It will have to be very much on a case-by-case basis.”

Events in non-NATO member Ukraine, senior officials say, could be a sign of how complicated things might get.

Ukrainian and Western officials accuse Moscow of arming and training separatist rebels who have now been fighting the Ukrainian military for months.

Some NATO officials privately and publicly worry the same could happen in Russian-speaking regions of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and

Similarly, in 2007, a series of crippling cyber attacks paralyzed much of Estonia in an apparent response to a dispute over the movement of a Soviet-era war memorial. Most Western experts suspected the Kremlin was responsible.

Russia has denied involvement with rebels in Ukraine and says the 2007 cyber attacks were simply by “patriotic (independent) hackers.”

But it leaves NATO wondering how to react.

“We need to mature the way we think about cyber, the way we think about irregular warfare,” U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme allied commander, was quoted as saying by the U.S. military Stripes newspaper.

Between diplomacy and war

The Cold War was fought through espionage and proxy wars across much of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Both sides knew that any serious military incursion into Soviet or NATO territory would almost inevitably spark nuclear war.

The difference now, strategists say, is the perceived greater potential for Russian interference in the new NATO member states it dominated for decades.

NATO does have its own unconventional capabilities. Experienced in operating with tribal and militant groups in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa, U.S. special forces and intelligence personnel could theoretically stir up trouble in Russia.

Agencies such as the U.S. National Security Agency and Britain's GCHQ could also wreak cyber havoc on Russian telecoms and other systems.

For now, however, there is little precedent for such decisions.

“What they (NATO) don't have at this stage is any kind of doctrine for using them in situations short of outright war,” says John Bassett, a former GCHQ official now an associate at Oxford University.

“There's been a lack of willingness to focus on the area beyond diplomacy but below the threshold of traditional military conflict and there is still a very long way to go.”

Some strategists suggest NATO is not currently up to dealing with the situation.

“A Russian unconventional attack, using asymmetric tactics designed to slip below NATO's response threshold, would be particularly difficult to counter,” said a report last month from Britain's Parliamentary defense select committee.

It added: “The challenges, which NATO faces in deterring, or mounting an adequate response to, such an attack poses a fundamental risk to NATO's credibility.”

Recently, however, senior officials have begun quietly laying out some of NATO's new red lines.

Breedlove, the NATO commander, said last weekend the Alliance would react militarily if Russian troops infiltrating a member state territory in the way the West believed they did in Crimea.

That intervention, Western officials say, was rather more obvious than more recent events in eastern Ukraine. Russian-speaking troops in uniform but without insignia took up checkpoints across the peninsula and surrounded Ukrainian military bases. Moscow then formally annexed territory.

The United States has also publicly stated that it might react with conventional military force to a cyber attack that took lives or inflicted serious material damage.  

 

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More