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  March 31st, 2022 | Written by

Defending Every Inch of NATO Territory: Force Posture Options for Strengthening Deterrence in Europe

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In light of Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s Transatlantic Security Initiative convened a task force of Atlantic Council experts focused on strengthening US and NATO force posture. This Scowcroft Center Issue Brief outlines the strategic context that NATO now faces, key principles for strengthening NATO’s deterrence posture, and a menu of recommended posture enhancements for the Alliance.

Strategic Context and Key Insights
■ We are now in a new era of sustained confrontation with Russia. It
is not a broad-based competition for influence across numerous domains (e.g. economic), as is the case with China; rather, it is a dynamic confrontation throughout the transatlantic theater, most heatedly along NATO’s eastern flank from the Arctic in the north to the Black and Mediterranean Seas in the south. Russia wishes to push its influence or direct control of territory as far west, north, and south as possible, especially in the former Soviet states.
■ Russia has now demonstrated both the intent and capability to mass forces to underwrite a sustained coercive-diplomacy campaign and invade the sovereign territory of another nation. Moreover, now that Russian forces have undertaken operations in Ukraine, Putin may decide to further threaten the territory and freedom of action of additional non-NATO members, such as Georgia, Moldova, and Finland—as well as NATO members themselves. Russia today has a preponderance of conventional combat forces in Eastern Europe.
■ No matter what happens next regarding Russian military operations in Ukraine and Belarus, the security environment in Europe and adjoining regions has been structurally changed for the worse for the short to medium term. Thus, NATO’s approach of deterrence by punishment—conducted by rapid reinforcement to its frontline allies—can no longer be NATO’s sole model for deterrence. Deterrence by denial must now gain greater weight in NATO’s strategic concept.
■ Based on Russian actions, the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act—and its restrictions on NATO’s eastern posture—is no longer relevant. We are in new, dangerous territory—a period of sustained tensions, military moves and countermoves, and major intermittent military crises in the Euro-Atlantic area that will ebb and flow for at least the remainder of the 2020s, if not longer.
■ In this environment, military tensions will likely be exacerbated by increased, aggressive Russian unconventional activities in the homelands of NATO and European Union (EU) members. We should expect Russia, feeling the impact of coordinated Western sanctions and other diplomatic measures, will ramp up the level and intensity of cyberattacks, election meddling, online disinformation,
covert activities, and support for extremists in homelands across the democratic world. On top of a local conventional-combat power imbalance between Russia and allied forces in Eastern Europe, and increasingly aggressive sub-threshold operations, the Alliance also
faces a highly dynamic strategic-forces balance. Russia has undertaken a long-term, sustained nuclear-modernization program that has produced several new types of offensive nuclear weapons. These novel systems present new threats to NATO, its outmoded conceptual approach to nuclear deterrence, and its aging nuclear force inventories.
■ In turn, the Alliance will need to assure its nuclear deterrent capabilities. Modernized and adapted NATO nuclear capabilities must be prioritized in order for the Alliance to effectively deter numerically superior Russian forces from attacking NATO’s eastern-flank members, from Norway in the north through Lithuania, Poland,
Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Turkey in the south.
While this conclusion may run counter to the Biden administration’s initial proposition to reduce US reliance on nuclear weapons in its national security strategy, itwould represent a clear-eyed reappraisal of the new security environment. That Biden administration commitment was made well before the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. If President Biden were to wisely
decide to reassess this policy position, he would likely gain bipartisan and Alliance-wide backing.

Though deterrence of Russia will take on greater weight
in US defense planning, the threat posed by China will
still demand significant resources. Thus, though the
United States must play a leading role in shaping and
contributing to an adapted NATO defense posture, the
US capacity to contribute will be constrained by IndoPacific requirements necessitating increased contributions in Europe from European allies and Canada.