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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Resolve Nuclear Deal Issues

Leaders find resolution on issues of liability of suppliers to India in event of nuclear accident, US demands to track whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid