The Return of Direct Defense in Europe: The Head of NATO Focuses on the Challenge


2014-05-20 by Robbin Laird

Dateline: Paris, France

With the return of direct defense considerations, the Western Alliance will need to focus on what needs have to be addressed and how.

But has the Russian action in Crimea as well as earlier actions in Georgia raised the prospects that NATO territory is not really considered indivisible?

Putin is acting under the assumption that Ben Franklin was right: the European nations will hang separately.

His actions are really designed to shape disaggregated responses to pressures on the key points within the European Union, for he really does not fear an American surge of leadership of NATO that would lead to the kind of cohesion to head off piecemeal threats.

Perhaps what is emerging is a situation in which lead states need to express their core commitments to proximate defense. 

Poland and the Baltic states are clearly in the front lines, and the question becomes then who really is committed to support the actions of these states in providing for their direct defense?

This means that for the Baltic states, the Nordic states are crucial front line bumper states providing defense in depth for the Baltics and then the question is what or who does what to augment capabilities in a crisis situation. 

Fogh Rasmussen: 'In the Russian military doctrine Nato is considered as an adversary, and I think we should take that seriously' (Photo:
Fogh Rasmussen: ‘In the Russian military doctrine Nato is considered as an adversary, and I think we should take that seriously’ (Photo:

Whether the Germans like or not, they are the key state backing Poland in terms of proximity and if they fail in some fundamental way to be able to reinforce Polish defense in depth, the ripple effects from Ukrainian instability and fragmentation will be directed at the heart of Poland.

According to a recent piece by Andrew Rettman in the EU Observor, the head of NATO clearly is very concerned about Russian actions and the return of direct defense as a core European concern.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said Russia’s partition of Ukraine has created “a completely new security situation in Europe.”

“What we have seen in Ukraine is outrageous”, he told press at a regular briefing in Brussels on Monday (19 May).

“For more than 20 years we have based our defence planning on the assumption that there would be no imminent threat from Russia, but now we have seen the Russian doctrine that Russia reserves the right to intervene in other countries to protect the interests of Russian communities and we have seen in Crimea and in Ukraine that this doctrine is not just words – it can easily be turned into action.”

“We have seen that in the Russian military doctrine Nato is considered as an adversary, and I think we should take that seriously – it’s not just words.”

He accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of lying about his troops.

Referring to a Kremlin statement earlier in the day that it had pulled back forces, Fogh-Rasmussen said: “Now, I think, it’s the third Putin statement on withdrawal of Russia troops, but so far we haven’t seen any withdrawal at all. There’s absolutely no reason why the Russians should mass a military force of this scale along Ukraine’s borders.”

He noted “there is a clear risk instability in [Ukraine’s] eastern regions will make it difficult to conduct elections in that part of the country” and “there’s no doubt Russia is deeply involved in the destabilisation of the situation in eastern Ukraine”.

He also predicted more trouble in the run-up to EU plans to sign free trade pacts with Georgia and Moldova in June.

“It’s my assessment that we will see the same [Russian pressure] as Moldova and Georgia are going to finalise these agreements,” he said.

“Based on previous experience, that might include gas prices, gas supply, trade restrictions and also attempts to further destabilise the situation in these countries through exploiting the protracted conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transniestria.”

But make no mistake, this is NOT the Cold War where the US will shape as cohesive an alliance as possible to deal with the Soviet Union.

It is about Europe shaping and deploying capabilities to deal with the indirect and direct pressures of a Russia set to reverse course within European security. 

We have heard much in the past twenty years about European defense, which now needs to see an effective light of day.