#Russia, #NATO and the future of war

By Tracey German

This blogpost summarises the key takeaways from a recent Chatham House webinar, given by Tracey German.

1. NATO and Russia hold very different perspectives

The actions and decisions of NATO have shaped Russian views of the future of war in the twenty-first century. This influence, however, goes both ways as Russian military behaviour, particularly its intervention in Ukraine, has prompted NATO to refocus its efforts on collective defence and deterrence.

While both are very concerned and influenced by the behaviour of the other, this does not mean that they view the current situation or their relationship the same way. In fact, Russia considers NATO to be a threat, not least because as an alliance of 29 states (and potentially growing) NATO is militarily superior. In turn, NATO sees Russia’s actions towards Ukraine and many other countries throughout Europe — including Estonia, Italy and the United Kingdom — as indicative of Russian aggression.

2. NATO‘s intervention in Kosovo in 1999 remains key

Part of what is at the root of these very different understandings, is that Russia and NATO interpret key events differently. NATO’s Operation Allied Force in 1999 is a perfect example of significant events being understood completely differently by Russia and NATO. For NATO, this was a humanitarian intervention to stop the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Kosovar Albanians by Serbian troops.

For Russia, Operation Allied Force reinforced perceptions that NATO was transforming into an organization that used force offensively in pursuit of its interests, under the banner of humanitarian intervention. Just twelve days after NATO had completed its first enlargement of the post-Cold War era, with the accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Russia watched the alliance intervene in what it considered to be the internal affairs of a sovereign state. This set the parameters for Russian understanding of the alliance in the post-Cold War era and prompted the beginning of several long-running themes in Russian foreign and security policy, notably continued opposition to NATO’s global reach and enlargement.

Get startedInternational Affairs Blog

Russia, NATO and the future of war

Tracey German

International Affairs

International AffairsOct 1 · 3 min read

Russian servicemen in Moscow’s Red Square during a night rehearsal of a military parade, 29 April 2019. Image credit: Mikhail Tereshchenko via Getty Images

This blogpost summarises the key takeaways from a recent Chatham House webinar, given by Tracey German.

1. NATO and Russia hold very different perspectives

The actions and decisions of NATO have shaped Russian views of the future of war in the twenty-first century. This influence, however, goes both ways as Russian military behaviour, particularly its intervention in Ukraine, has prompted NATO to refocus its efforts on collective defence and deterrence.

While both are very concerned and influenced by the behaviour of the other, this does not mean that they view the current situation or their relationship the same way. In fact, Russia considers NATO to be a threat, not least because as an alliance of 29 states (and potentially growing) NATO is militarily superior. In turn, NATO sees Russia’s actions towards Ukraine and many other countries throughout Europe — including Estonia, Italy and the United Kingdom — as indicative of Russian aggression.Introduction: re-visioning war and the state in the twenty-first centuryRussia’s actions in Ukraine, the rise (and apparent fall) of Islamic State in Syria and northern Iraq, and Chinese…doi.org

2. NATO‘s intervention in Kosovo in 1999 remains key

Part of what is at the root of these very different understandings, is that Russia and NATO interpret key events differently. NATO’s Operation Allied Force in 1999 is a perfect example of significant events being understood completely differently by Russia and NATO. For NATO, this was a humanitarian intervention to stop the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Kosovar Albanians by Serbian troops.

For Russia, Operation Allied Force reinforced perceptions that NATO was transforming into an organization that used force offensively in pursuit of its interests, under the banner of humanitarian intervention. Just twelve days after NATO had completed its first enlargement of the post-Cold War era, with the accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Russia watched the alliance intervene in what it considered to be the internal affairs of a sovereign state. This set the parameters for Russian understanding of the alliance in the post-Cold War era and prompted the beginning of several long-running themes in Russian foreign and security policy, notably continued opposition to NATO’s global reach and enlargement.Russian responses to the changing character of warAbstract. For much of the post-Soviet era there was a widespread belief that improving capabilities required for…doi.org

3. Everyone sees increasing competition and complexity

Despite these differences, there are commonalities in perception. Like many states, Russia views the security environment as becoming increasingly complex as the result of a variety of factors, including technological change, growing competition between states and a blurring of the lines between war and peace.

This means that both Russia and NATO believe that armed forces will need to be trained and equipped to deal with a wider range of threats in a strategic environment where the once binary distinction between war and peace is disappearing.

Get startedInternational Affairs Blog

Russia, NATO and the future of war

Tracey German

International Affairs

International AffairsOct 1 · 3 min read

Russian servicemen in Moscow’s Red Square during a night rehearsal of a military parade, 29 April 2019. Image credit: Mikhail Tereshchenko via Getty Images

This blogpost summarises the key takeaways from a recent Chatham House webinar, given by Tracey German.

1. NATO and Russia hold very different perspectives

The actions and decisions of NATO have shaped Russian views of the future of war in the twenty-first century. This influence, however, goes both ways as Russian military behaviour, particularly its intervention in Ukraine, has prompted NATO to refocus its efforts on collective defence and deterrence.

While both are very concerned and influenced by the behaviour of the other, this does not mean that they view the current situation or their relationship the same way. In fact, Russia considers NATO to be a threat, not least because as an alliance of 29 states (and potentially growing) NATO is militarily superior. In turn, NATO sees Russia’s actions towards Ukraine and many other countries throughout Europe — including Estonia, Italy and the United Kingdom — as indicative of Russian aggression.Introduction: re-visioning war and the state in the twenty-first centuryRussia’s actions in Ukraine, the rise (and apparent fall) of Islamic State in Syria and northern Iraq, and Chinese…doi.org

2. NATO‘s intervention in Kosovo in 1999 remains key

Part of what is at the root of these very different understandings, is that Russia and NATO interpret key events differently. NATO’s Operation Allied Force in 1999 is a perfect example of significant events being understood completely differently by Russia and NATO. For NATO, this was a humanitarian intervention to stop the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Kosovar Albanians by Serbian troops.

For Russia, Operation Allied Force reinforced perceptions that NATO was transforming into an organization that used force offensively in pursuit of its interests, under the banner of humanitarian intervention. Just twelve days after NATO had completed its first enlargement of the post-Cold War era, with the accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Russia watched the alliance intervene in what it considered to be the internal affairs of a sovereign state. This set the parameters for Russian understanding of the alliance in the post-Cold War era and prompted the beginning of several long-running themes in Russian foreign and security policy, notably continued opposition to NATO’s global reach and enlargement.Russian responses to the changing character of warAbstract. For much of the post-Soviet era there was a widespread belief that improving capabilities required for…doi.org

3. Everyone sees increasing competition and complexity

Despite these differences, there are commonalities in perception. Like many states, Russia views the security environment as becoming increasingly complex as the result of a variety of factors, including technological change, growing competition between states and a blurring of the lines between war and peace.

This means that both Russia and NATO believe that armed forces will need to be trained and equipped to deal with a wider range of threats in a strategic environment where the once binary distinction between war and peace is disappearing.

4. Russia sees increasing risk of war

What does this mean then for Russia and the future of war? The Russian leadership sees war with a peer adversary as a significant risk. Speaking in March 2019, the Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, accused the US of undermining strategic stability through its recent actions on the international stage and warned that the risk of war was growing.

A lot of the Russian behaviour evident on the international stage in 2019 is the result of several decades of observation and assessment, of both western actions and concern about their own vulnerabilities, either in terms of technical inferiority or the risk of falling victim to similar actions. The lessons from western interventions in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1999), Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011) have been instructive, shaping Russian perceptions of the changing character of conflict and the implications for their military. This points to a continuation of geopolitical competition and confrontation between Russia and NATO.

Tracey German is Deputy Dean of Academic Studies (Research) at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London.

She is the guest-editor of the July 2019 special issue of International Affairs, ‘Re-visioning war and the state in the twenty-first century’.

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