The Return of Direct Defense In Northern Europe


By Robbin Laird

October 11, 2018, the Danish Atlantic Treaty organization hosted a conference sponsored by our partner Risk Intelligence entitled, “Threat Perception 2018: The Northern European Perspective.”

The hosts will provide a full report of the proceedings of the day.

The conference provided a detailed look at the presentations and the arguments made during the day.  The seminar was opened by a presentation by the Danish Defense Minister, Claus Hjort Frederiksen, which framed the day and posed some of the initial questions to be considered.

Programme – Threat Perception

In effect, the Danes like the other Nordics, are having to focus on direct defense as their core national mission, within an alliance context.

This will mean as well a shift common to other alliance members from a focus on out of area operations, such as in Afghanistan, back to the core challenge, namely, the defense of the homeland.

The Danes are raising their investment in defense and there is growing public support in Denmark for such a course of action.

Russian actions starting in Georgia in 2008 and then in the Crimea in 2014 have created a significant environment of uncertainty for European nations, one in which the refocus on direct defense is required.

Denmark is not only earmarking new funds for defense, but buying new capabilities as well, such as the F-35.

And they are reworking their national command systems as well as working with Nordic allies and other NATO partners on more effective ways to operate to augment defensive force capabilities in a crisis.

It was very clear from the day’s discussions that the return of direct defense is not really about a return to the Cold War and the Soviet-Western conflict.

Direct defense has changed as the tools available to the Russians have changed, notably with an ability to leverage cyber tools to leverage Western digital society to be able to achieve military and political objectives with means other than direct use of lethal force.

This is why the West needs to shape new approaches and evolve thinking about crisis management in the digital age.

It means that NATO countries need to work as hard at infrastructure defense in the digital age as they have been working on terrorism since September 11th.

New paradigms, new tools, new training and new thinking is required to shape various ways ahead to shape a more robust infrastructure notably in a digital age.

Article III within the NATO treaty underscores the importance of each state focusing resources on the defense of its nation.

In the world we are facing now, this may well mean much more attention to security of supply chains, robust infrastructure defense and taking a hard look at the vulnerabilities which globalization has introduced within NATO nations.

Put in other terms, robustness in infrastructure can provide a key element of defense in dealing with 21stcentury adversaries, as important as the build up of classic lethal capabilities.

The return of direct defense but with the challenge of shaping more robust national and coalition infrastructure also means that the classic distinction between counter-value and counter-force targeting is changing.

Eroding infrastructure with non-lethal means is as much counter-force as it is counter-value.

We need to find new vocabulary as well to describe the various routes to enhanced direct defense for core NATO nations.

Virtually every national representative provided example of Russian cyber trolling and cyber-attacks which have affected their countries.

It is also clear that a new strategic geography is emerging in which North America, the Arctic and Northern Europe are contiguous operational territory targeted by the Russians and the NATO states need to focus on ways to enhance their capabilities to operate seamlessly in a timely manner across this entire chessboard.

The Nordics have clearly enhanced their cooperation and with Poland and the Baltic states as well in an effort to shape more interactive capability across a common but changing strategic geography.

It is changing as the Russians evolve the reach and lethality of their air and maritime strike capabilities.

An example of a very different dynamic associated with direct defense this time around is how to shape a flexible basing structure.

What does basing in this environment mean?

How can allies leverage national basing with the very flexible force packages which will be needed at the point of defense or attack to resolve a crisis?

The Poles recently offered to invest in a US/NATO base which unfortunately the US Secretary of the Army decided was not a good idea.

Perhaps to put US Army capabilities into Poland is not a good idea; but this has little to do with the general challenge of crafting a new basing approach for the Northern European-North Atlantic-Arctic chessboard.

Indeed, the Polish Ambassador to Denmark drove home the point of how important a permanent presence was to the Poles and that they were very open to what this might actually look like.

In short, this is not a new Cold War.

There is a return to direct defense as the primary task for the Northern European nations, rather than out of area activities.

But now the very tasks which direct defense need to deal with have changed, expanded and mutated.

This Danish conference provided an important opportunity for the participants to discuss the challenges and the way ahead.

The featured photo is of the Danish Defense Minister and Secretary General of the Danish Atlantic Treaty Association, Lars Bangert Struwe.