A pro-Russia separatist displaying a Russian national flag on his uniform stands next a comrade at a checkpoint near the front line in the northern outskirts of Donetsk, Ukraine, on July 22. Citing Russian support of separatists in Ukraine and other actions, a UK parliamentary defense committee is calling for Britain to take the lead in pushing for changes to help strengthen NATO against future Russian threats. (Bulent Kilic / AFP)
LONDON — NATO is ill-prepared to face the threat posed by Russia, and the British government should take the lead in fixing the problems at the Sept. 4-5 alliance summit in Wales, according to a parliamentary defense committee report set to be published July 31.
There are “alarming deficiencies in the state of NATO preparedness, which will be tough to fix,” the parliamentarians warned in a report that is sharply critical of the alliance’s shortcomings.
The Russians were employing asymmetric, or ambiguous, warfare tactics that might make it difficult for NATO to respond under its current guidelines of collective security, the committee said.
Release of the report comes as the US and the European Union start to detail new sanctions against Russia agreed in the wake of the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines airliner over eastern Ukraine, and as evidence increases of Moscow’s support for separatists fighting the Kiev government.
Events in the Ukraine, the 2007 cyber attacks in Estonia and the 2008 invasion of Georgia all should act as a “wake-up call” for NATO as it considers Russia as a threat to its member states for the first time in 20 years, the committee said.
The NATO summit being held in Newport, South Wales, was primarily aimed at considering the alliance’s future following the end of its combat mission in Afghanistan. The Russian actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have pretty much changed that.
The British lawmakers issued a catalogue of recommendations the NATO allies need to start addressing at the summit and said Britain should take the lead in driving through the new requirements.
Amongst the changes the report recommends for NATO:
■ Dramatic improvements to the existing NATO rapid reaction force.
■ Pre-positioned equipment in the Baltic states.
■ Establishment of headquarters structures up to corps level to focus on Eastern Europe and the Baltic.
■ A continuous (if not technically permanent) presence of NATO troops training and exercising in the Baltic.
■ Restablishment of large-scale military exercises including all NATO member states and involving political decision-makers.
■ Re-examination of the criteria, doctrine and responses to calls under NATO’s Article 4 for collective security support against asymmetric attacks.
NATO faces a new challenge from the Russian deployment of ambiguous warfare tactics in the Ukraine, the defense committee said.
“Events in Ukraine demonstrate in particular Russia’s ability to effectively paralyse an opponent ... with a range of tools including psychological operations, information warfare and intimidation with massing of conventional forces. Such operations may be designed to slip below NATO’s threshold for reaction,” according to the committee’s report.
As a “matter of urgency,” the report said, the alliance had to create a new collective security doctrine to respond to asymmetric, or ambiguous, warfare, especially cyber attacks where attribution is difficult.
Rory Stewart, the recently appointed chairman of the committee, said the risk of a Russian attack on a NATO alliance member, particularly in the Baltic, remained small but significant.
“NATO has been too complacent about the threat from Russia, and it is not well-prepared,” he said in a statement. “Even worse, the nature of Russian tactics is changing fast — including cyber-attacks, information warfare, and the backing of irregular ‘separatist groups,’ combining armed civilians with Russian special forces operating without insignia. We have already seen how these tactics have been deployed by Russia and its proxies in Ukraine to destabilise a NATO partner state, annex part of its territory, and paralyse its ability to respond.
“The instability in Russia, President Putin’s world-view, and the failure of the West to respond actively in Ukraine means that we now have to address urgently the possibility — however small — of Russia repeating such tactics elsewhere. We are not convinced that NATO or the UK government has fully grasped the implications of this threat,” Stewart said.
The committee said the British government should use the summit to commit to keeping defense spending levels above the 2 percent of gross domestic product recommended by NATO.
British defense spending hovers just over the 2 percent mark, but Prime Minister David Cameron has declined to commit to maintaining that level, telling reporters at the Farnborough International Airshow recently that budgets would be reviewed along with other government spending plans after the general election set for next May.
The committee also told the British government it should immediately undertake a “substantial reworking of the National Security Strategy” given the questions raised by the Russians.
“In particular we note that state-on-state conflict was designated a low, tier 3, threat,” the report said.
Security strategy is due to be updated as part of the strategic defence and security (SDSR) review planned for after the elections.
If the Conservatives, who currently lead the coalition government here, are returned to power, a new SDSR would likely emerge towards the end of next year. But if the Labour Party wins, it could be 2016 before the review is completed, defense analysts here said. ■