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

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.