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Amid Ukraine crisis with Russia, NATO needs new strategy now

By Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist
Amid Ukraine crisis with Russia, NATO needs new strategy now
Russian military vehicles gather at an undisclosed location in Russia, on January 24, 2022, on the way to Belarus to attend the Russia and Belarus joint military drill "Union resolve 2022." File Photo courtesy of the Russian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE

Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The standoff over Ukraine has underscored a pressing need for NATO. Even though NATO released its new military strategy of defense and deterrence last year, given the events in Ukraine, that strategy appears dated.

Why?

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First, Russia has shown it is prepared to use its military in anger and certainly as a threat. And it has modernized its conventional and nuclear forces. NATO has not begun a major modernization for either its conventional or nuclear forces. And the current strategy offers rhetoric and not substantial guidance on modernization.

Second, while NATO centers of excellence have been created to deal with specific aspects of hybrid war, it still has not produced a viable and comprehensive counter-gray area/hybrid-war strategy with corresponding capabilities. Russia calls these operations "active measures" that include cyber, propaganda, misinformation, disinformation and information operations to erode the will and cohesion of NATO.

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Third, while advanced technology has generated even revolutionary advances in military capability, conversely, greater vulnerabilities -- particularly in command and control and logistics -- have also been created. Effectively targeting these vulnerabilities will disrupt any offensive.

In the 1940 Battle for France, had British and French forces sustained air and long-range artillery attacks on the many miles of German convoys crowding major roads driving west, one of the greatest traffic jams in history would have resulted. That did not happen.

Fourth, while NATO spends many times more collectively on defense than Russia does, costs are rising faster than defense spending increases for virtually every item from people to pencils to precision weapons. As an ironic result, the more is spent on defense, the more NATO's forces shrink in numbers.

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All these factors would seemingly demand a major strategy review. The Ukraine crisis intensifies this urgency. The question is whether NATO will take note.

As NATO is a defensive alliance, an effective strategy would be to disrupt and defeat any initial assault that Russia might contemplate whether kinetic or through other means. And it must be affordable and sustainable.

Here geography counts. Only four NATO states border directly on Russia -- Norway in the north; Estonia and Latvia in the Baltic region; and the United States in the Barents Sea.

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Poland and Lithuania border on Kaliningrad, an enclave in the Baltic separated from Russia.

If war were to break out, geography limits Russian military options while creating strategic chokepoints. To move west, Sweden and Finland, non-NATO members, could threaten Russia's northern flanks. Belarus and Ukraine are also barriers, as well as access points.

A Porcupine Defense addresses all these factors. This defense is designed to attack an enemy's strategy and disrupt any initial forays, making the costs unacceptable, thereby reinforcing deterrence. The main capabilities are less traditional weapons systems such as expensive tactical air; armor and artillery; and long-range standoff missiles, although each is needed but in lesser numbers. Drones; short range anti-armor and personnel; and anti-missiles make up the main battery.

Greater emphasis on deception, misinformation, disinformation, all forms of warfare covering the entire electronic spectrum; and massive 20,000-pound explosive devices positioned at critical chokepoints complement this defense.

Overwhelming numbers makes this case. Ten F-35 Lightning II stealth aircraft nominally cost $100 million each for a total of $1 billion. For that amount, 1,000 $1 million missiles or 10,000 $100,000 drones could be procured. On the battlefield, 1,000 cruise missiles and 10,000 armed drones are a formidable force.

Electronic systems for deception, as well as physical destruction through cyber and other means, will prove highly disruptive. Similar defenses apply to space and sea, even though focus has been on disrupting air-land offensives. Considerable effort must also go into countering, neutralizing and defeating "active measures" and hybrid tactics, as well.

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And these options can be war-gamed in advance to derive strengths, weaknesses, costs and other critical factors.

Intense opposition to change is obvious. In cases where defense companies provide substantial employment through producing high-end expensive military equipment, governments will not be amenable to ending those programs. The question of countering a follow-up second attack is also relevant.

However, part of the Porcupine Defense is to field a home guard or guerrilla force to harass and disrupt the enemy, thus adding to deterrence.

NATO has made profound change before in the late 1960s, moving from "massive retaliation" and dependence on nuclear weapons to "flexible response" and greater conventional and tactical nuclear capability. Another transformation is urgently needed. But will NATO listen and will NATO act?

Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large."

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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