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Ukraine must be a wake-up call for NATO

31 July 2014

The Defence Committee publishes its Third Report of Session 2014-15, Towards the Next Defence and Security Review: Part Two - NATO, HC 358

The Defence Committee, in its report published today, argues that recent events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine should be a wake-up call for NATO and the UK. It argues that NATO is not well prepared to face the new threat posed by Russia. NATO has serious deficiencies in its command and control structures, in its ability to predict and give adequate warning of potential attack, and in the readiness of its forces. NATO may not have the collective political will to take concerted action to deter attack.
Russian Federation actions in Ukraine have now raised the prospect, however unlikely, of a Russian attack on a NATO Member State. The risk of a conventional attack by the Russian Federation on a NATO state is low, but NATO needs to take much more action to deter that risk. The risk of an unconventional attack using the “ambiguous warfare” tactics deployed in Ukraine and elsewhere, whilst still small, is more substantial and would be even more difficult to counter.

NATO needs to reorder, train and exercise its capabilities to be able to defend against both eventualities. The Committee calls on the UK Government to take the lead at the NATO Summit in Wales in September to ensure that NATO is ready to face such threats.


The Committee’s specific recommendations call for:

  • The pre-positioning of military equipment in the Baltic States;
  • A continuous presence of NATO troops on training and exercises in the Baltic;
  • The re-establishment of large-scale military exercises including all NATO Member States and involving political decision makers;
  • Improvements to the NATO rapid reaction force and the possible establishment of a new Standing Reserve Force for NATO;
  • Improvements to processes for warning of imminent attack;
  • Radical improvements in Russian expertise in the UK government, allowing for real analysis and assessment of the Russian threat;
  • The development of new tactics to respond to the threat of "ambiguous" attacks from Russia - including how to counter threats from cyber, information warfare, and irregular militia; and
  • A reconsideration of Article 5, to allow response to less conventional attacks.

The committee concludes that the threats to UK security are increasingly dynamic in their scale, complexity, uncertainty and urgency. NATO needs radical reform to be able to anticipate, plan and respond to these threats. Threats from terrorism and failed states continue to increase, change and develop. Meanwhile, events in Ukraine and Crimea represent the re-emergence of a real state on state threat to NATO’s eastern borders.

Committee Chair

Rory Stewart MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The risk of attack by Russia on a NATO Member State, whilst still small, is significant. We are not convinced that NATO is ready for this threat. NATO has been too complacent about the threat from Russia, and it is not well-prepared. 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. In particular, the NATO Member States in the Baltic are vulnerable. We are not convinced that NATO or the UK Government has fully grasped the implications of this threat.
The UK has the opportunity at the Wales summit to lead the reordering of NATO. It should drive the planning and capabilities now required to counter such threats. It should ensure that NATO begins to train and exercise at a scale to make its 'deterrence' credible. The UK should demonstrate leadership in this area.   To make Articles 5 and 4 of the Washington Treaty credible, NATO needs to re-examine its capabilities and organisational structures. It must put itself again into a position to carry out its core responsibilities of protecting its member states. It needs to do this alongside its current focus on terror and failed states".

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