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NATO Warsaw summit must focus on defence, deterrence and dialogue

5 July 2016

Russia's annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine have undermined the post-Cold War assumption of a stable Europe in which the military threat to NATO is low, says the Defence Select Committee in its report. The North Atlantic alliance must therefore restore its defences, review its deterrence and reopen its dialogue with the Russian authorities.


"The fact that NATO and the UK were 'taken by surprise' by the interventions in Ukraine," said Committee chairman Julian Lewis MP, "shows a failure to comprehend President Putin's determination to maintain a sphere of influence beyond Russia's own frontier, if necessary by force."

According to the Report, Russia has become increasingly active, not only in conventional warfare, but in unconventional methods—often deniable—which are designed to fall below the threshold that would trigger the Article 5 NATO guarantee. Article 5 is the undertaking to consider an armed attack against one NATO member state as an attack against them all.

Whilst the creation of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), among NATO member states and the Enhanced Forward Presence on NATO's contested eastern flank are steps in the right direction, the Committee warns that the VJTF has only just been formed and its capacity to guarantee to deploy the necessary forces within the required time-frame is as yet unproven.

Among the Report's recommendations are:

  • To recognise the extent of Russian remilitarisation and robustly to respond to it.
  • To review the effectiveness of current deterrence policy against nuclear, conventional and hybrid or 'multi-dimensional' warfare.
  • To determine whether the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is in need of repair or replacement, in the light of allegations that Russia has breached its provisions.
  • To set out the timetable for the Trident Successor submarine debate and decision in Parliament "without further delay".
  • To encourage renewal of EU sanctions against Russia and consideration of their extension to a wider group amongst the Kremlin leadership.
  • To accept that it is "perfectly possible to confront and constrain an adversary in a region where our interests clash, whilst cooperating with him, to some degree, in a region where they coincide", and that the threat posed by DAESH, al-Qaeda and other international terrorists is an example of the latter.

The Committee considers that Russian cyber-attacks across Europe, and territorial seizures in Georgia and Ukraine, may not be isolated actions but symptomatic of an ambition to restore Moscow’s global influence. Because Russia is a global player, there remain opportunities for cooperation, if they can be grasped.

However, with relations at an "all time low", the Committee concludes that the UK must urgently boost its cadre of Russian specialists and restore and maintain a high level of expertise for the foreseeable future. Given the current climate, the Defence Attaché's office in Moscow, for example, must be properly staffed by the end of the year.

Chair's comment

Dr Lewis stated:

"Russia has not been a UK priority since the end of the Cold War and our expertise in this field has withered on the vine. The UK needs a vastly improved cadre of experts who can help to provide an effective response to the challenges which Russia now poses.

We cannot hope to understand Russia without a forthright dialogue and, under current conditions of mistrust, we run the risk blundering into conflicts that may be preventable through better communication."

Further information