Russia’s New Military Doctrine and NATO

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by Arie Groenveld

putinOn December 26, 2014, Russia released its new military doctrine. In this document, as in the previous edition released in 2010, NATO is named as the main external danger to Russia. While this updated military doctrine was first requested by the Russian Security Council in July 2013, it comes at a time when relations between Russia and NATO are increasingly strained – especially over the conflict in Ukraine. As a result, it includes several new features that have implications for what the alliance should expect from Russia going forward, and how it should prepare.

Continuity, Change and Context

The new military doctrine is similar to 2010 version in several ways. Concern is expressed over NATO’s expanding military presence in Eastern Europe and the potential for expanding its membership up to Russia’s borders. NATO’s increasingly sophisticated missile defense and precision weapons systems are also reiterated as top concerns. The document, moreover, cites NATO’s “global functions” as a violation of international law – a reference to NATO operations over Kosovo in 1999 and Libya in 2011. Other aspects of Russia’s new military doctrine also remain the same: Russia will continuously seek to bolster its own military capabilities and those of its allies, and its nuclear capabilities will be used to deter both nuclear and conventional conflict.

The document does, however, include several additions relevant to NATO, including the perceived danger posed by the overthrow of “legitimate public authorities” friendly to Moscow – a clear reference to developments in Ukraine. An important change is the greater emphasis placed on the perception that foreign actors are using information warfare and “a complex usage [integration] of military force and political, economic, information, and other non-military means, accomplished [in part] through the extensive exploitation of the potential of popular protest and special operations forces.” These are, at the very least, indirect references to what Russia accuses NATO states of doing in Ukraine. Also notable are added references to the Arctic and space. The doctrine now explicitly mentions the Arctic as a key security interest and reiterates the dangers of placing precision weapons in space, but adds that the United Nations should regulate space to prevent its militarization.

These additions and changes to Russia’s military doctrine reflect the Kremlin’s increasingly anti-NATO narrative and actions. As other analysts have argued, Russia now views dangers and threats (which are defined differently in the document) as more immediate than they were during the past two decades, and continues to build its military as it vests little trust in the international system to help maintain a favorable status quo. After Russia’s inability to curtail NATO military action during the Kosovo conflict in 1999, it has seen NATO take steps which it deemed as being anything from aggressive to illegal. As a result, Russia has sought to prop up friendly neighbors such as Belarus and fosters ties with ethnically Russian populations from Ukraine to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

More recently, the annexation of Crimea and a variety of other intimidating and aggressive actions – such as Russian military planes flying over the Baltic with deactivated transponders – highlight this posture. Moreover, Moscow’s emphasis on information warfare and political subversion as key dangers reflects its own use of “hybrid warfarein Ukraine: the use of special forces, information campaigns and proxies as an alternative to direct warfare.

Implications and Recommendations for NATO

For NATO, the new military doctrine further confirms that it is facing a far more assertive Russia which is willing to act aggressively at times to counter what it perceives to be a deteriorating security environment. The emphasis on precision weapons in space and hybrid warfare – indirect references to perceived dangers emanating from NATO states – illuminates Russia’s growing concern about their activities. Russia’s anti-NATO narrative and actions also signal its intent to address these concerns. NATO should therefore not expect Russia to withdraw from Ukraine without substantial, and most likely unacceptable, incentives to offset its perceived loss of influence there.

In response, NATO must be prepared to reassure its Eastern European members over the long-term, absent a constructive change in leadership and vision in Moscow. Further, as Western sanctions take their toll on Russia’s economy and leadership, and the crisis in Ukraine freezes into a strategic stalemate, NATO must be prepared for Russian action against other states – particularly those with Russian speaking populations – along its periphery.    

Arie Groenveld is a transatlantic security analyst at the Streit Council. Photo credit: Republic of Korea

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