NATO Membership for Sweden and Finland?

December 11, 2014

by Dean Ensley

Meetings of the Foreign Ministers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels - Meeting of the North Atlantic Council

The Ukraine Crisis, however it is ultimately resolved, will have a lasting impact on the NATO-Russia relationship. With increasing Russian assertiveness in terms of gas exports, bomber flights and naval expansion, Sweden and Finland are likely to reconsider their positions on joining NATO. While membership would benefit these countries and the alliance, it would lead to a net loss for European security at this time.

Occasional Russian military activity is nothing new, but the recent increase along NATO’s periphery is being used as political saber-rattling. In 2014 alone, there have been over 400 NATO intercepts of Russian military aircraft (50 percent more than in 2013), an Estonian intelligence officer was seized and imprisoned on the pretext of counterespionage, and a possible Russian submarine was spotted just outside of Stockholm. According to a recently published study by the London-based European Leadership Network, 3 out of 40 close encounters by Russian forces with the West are classified ashigh risk – meaning that they “carried a high probability of causing casualties or a direct military confrontation.”

Most analysts assert that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions are rooted in a desire to consolidate domestic political support, roll back the post-Cold War international order, and preserve what he views as a zero-sum Russian interest in Ukraine. His speech at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 25th reflected these views:

“…the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests….Let me stress that Russia is not going to get all worked up, get offended, or come begging at anyone’s door. Russia is a self-sufficient country. We will work within the foreign economic environment that has taken shape, develop domestic production and technology and act more decisively to carry out transformation. Pressure from outside, as has been the case on past occasions, will only consolidate our society, keep us alert and make us concentrate on our main development goals….The crisis in Ukraine is itself a result of a misbalance in international relations.”

There are three central conclusions we can draw this understanding of Putin. First, he will not, under any circumstances, allow sanctions to deter or change his chosen path of action in Ukraine. Second, Russia will temporarily cooperate with what Putin perceives to be the U.S.-dominated “foreign economic environment,” but ultimately hopes to replace this system with one of his own liking. Third, by harkening once again to the “past occasions” of World War II and the Cold War, he seeks to galvanize his inner circle and the broader population in an “us versus them” mentality.

Putin’s pursuit of these objectives will have long-term effects on NATO’s attractiveness as an alliance, most notably on non-NATO members Sweden and Finland. Despite their “non-aligned” status, these long established liberal democracies are more inclined to join – and more likely to be accepted by – NATO than other European non-members and already participate in alliance activities and operations.

Non-aligned since the Napoleonic era, the Ukraine crisis has roused discussions on Sweden’s defenses, level of defense spending and relationship with NATO. After 250 public sightings and a week-long operation that failed to find a supposed Russian submarine, the government announced a 300 million Swedish krona increase to its annual defense budget and a 900 million Swedish krona purchase of 10 fighter aircraft and a submarine. For the first time ever, pollster Novus found in October that 37% of Swedes favor joining NATO, versus 36% who are against the idea. This represents a significant shift from May, when the numbers were 28% in favor and 56% against. A participant in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program since 1994, Sweden participates in alliance operations and activities but has not been granted the security guarantee that comes with membership.

Similarly, after three unauthorized Russian military aircraft overflights within a single week in August, a Finnish poll showed 43% of Finns perceived Russia as a danger, an increase of nearly 20% from March. Russian officials have repeatedly and explicitly warned Finland against joining NATO, a reflection of a Finland-USSR treaty in 1948 that barred Finland from assisting or joining the alliance. Like Sweden, Finland joined the PfP program in 1994 and participates in alliance activities and operations without a security guarantee. Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said in September that his nation should have “become a member in 1995” and that each threatening gesture by Russia strengthens the pro-NATO argument.

While Sweden and Finland are not yet moving to join NATO, in September they signed  Host Nation Support Memorandums of Understanding with the alliance, allowing for joint exercises on their soil and assistance from NATO members in situations such as “disasters, disruptions and threats to security.” There are compelling arguments in favor of taking the next step toward full membership in NATO: Membership would politically reassure these countries – strengthening their ability to deter Russia militarily and politically – while expanding NATO’s collective defense capabilities and improving the alliance’s ability to guard against non-traditional threats such as the spread of long-range delivery systems and weapons of mass destruction.

Yet there are major risks to expanding NATO to include Sweden and Finland. Sergei Markov, a senior adviser to Putin, said in August that “Russophobia” in these countries could start another world war and that they should therefore not join the alliance. This is likely to contain a degree of bluster, but given Putin’s actions in Ukraine it is likely that he views Finland’s neutrality, in particular, as vital to Russian interests. In this case, Finnish membership in NATO is likely to trigger a similar response. Putin may not be willing to use force on a NATO member, but the expansion of the alliance could lead to the full annexation of Eastern Ukraine or Transnistria, a bolstered military presence in Kaliningrad or Crimea, or a withdrawal from arms control agreements – among other potential reactions. Domestically, the admission of Sweden and Finland would feed into Putin’s narrative of encirclement by the West, granting him political leeway to take further action. This dynamic has strengthened since the Ukraine crisis started, and as a result Putin’s approval rating is almost at an all-time high.

On balance, Sweden and Finland’s entrance into NATO would be harmful for European security at this time. Memorandums of understanding can facilitate further steps toward enhancing interoperability and cooperation between the alliance and these states, but full membership would give Putin’s Russia a major pretext for further action.

Dean Ensley is a transatlantic security analyst at the Streit Council. Photo credit: NATO

The Ukraine Crisis: The Current Sanctions Regime and its Limits

November 6, 2014

by Jack Beecher

Vladimir Putin

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, military aid to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, direct military intervention, and the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 triggered a series of escalating sanctions from the United States and the European Union, among others. Yet it does not appear that Russia will be moving from Crimea anytime soon, and the Ukrainian government has effectively ceded autonomy to the eastern regions following a ceasefire. More than eight months into the Ukraine crisis, are Western sanctions achieving their objectives?

Western sanctions target Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and senior officials, and – when applicable – their companies, but not the broader economy or people at large. Even so, they are weakening the Russian economy as a whole. The IMF believes the Russian economy will grow by 0.2% this year, down from its previous estimate of 3%, while it recently downgraded its estimate for 2015 from 1% to 0.5%. The ruble continues to depreciate, raising prices on imports, the cost of living and overall inflation. The latter is at 8.4%.

The ostensible goal is to inflict economic pain on Putin’s inner circle and senior officials, leading them to put pressure on him to change course. “Now that their wealth has been diminished by Putin’s actions, they have a big incentive to act against Putin and he knows that,” said Bill Browder, a hedge fund manager and vocal campaigner against Russian corruption. Yet Moscow has not ceased its support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, and, as was the case with Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008, Putin’s public approval rating increased from 65% in October 2013 to 86% in September 2014. The house arrest of Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov and seizure some of his assets may be a sign of growing tension among the ruling elite, but it is not clear that they are willing to undertake any great personal risk to alter Putin’s behavior. Ukraine and the EU, moreover, decided to delay the implementation of their trade pact to assuage Moscow’s opposition to the agreement.

Given Putin’s lack of responsiveness to Western sanctions so far, what can be expected going forward? When it comes to the history of sanctions, the record is mixed. While the outcome was the right one in Rhodesia and South Africa, these were minority regimes facing great domestic pressure. Sanctions have arguably not undermined the Cuban regime, and some assert that they give the regime an excuse for the poverty generated by its economic system. The U.S. first sanctioned Iran in 1979, but Iran simply sold its oil to other countries. In contrast, multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran in response to its nuclear program since 2006 have imposed serious costs on the Iranian economy, and are largely credited for its more positive tone since the election of President Rouhani. In other words, the record shows that the effectiveness of sanctions depends on many variables, many of which are specific to the target country.

With regard to Russia in particular, some argue that targeting its leadership could have the opposite effect, making it more radical and less willing to compromise with Ukraine and the West. While it is not clear if this is happening, Putin’s aforementioned poll numbers indicate that a “rally around the flag” effect has, at the very least, taken hold at the public level. This may continue in the short-term, but as the punitive economic effects of the sanctions affect more of the Russian public, Putin’s approval rating is likely to fall as it did after his conflict with Georgia, leading him to provoke another conflict, change course, lose the next election, or resign. Assuming that the West successfully prevents the first pathway from materializing, and that the last two outcomes are least desirable for Putin, at least two open questions are: 1) How long will it take for the sanctions to alter Putin’s behavior? and 2) Will the West lose its resolve to maintain its sanctions in the interim period? Putin may not be able to withstand the consequences of his aggressive policies indefinitely, but there are also limits to the West’s cohesion and the how quickly its sanctions regime can achieve results.

Jack Beecher is a transatlantic economy analyst at the Streit Council. Photo credit: Jürg Vollmer

Winter is Coming: Time to Bolster EU Energy Security

October 27, 2014

by Dean Ensley

Natural Gas

Recently, the European Union completed its first bloc-wide stress test on energy supplies. As Russian natural gas exports to Central and Eastern Europe shrink, the EU needs to move forward on several aspects of its natural gas policy to avoid a repetition of the 2006, 2008 and 2009 gas crises with Russia. 

If the EU’s energy security strategy is not more completely implemented, the 28-state bloc risks grave supply shortages this winter due to enduring tensions with Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Faced with shrinking Russian gas imports, the EU recently conducted its first gas stress test, which is a consideration of its gas distribution system as a whole rather those of individual nations. Ideally, this review will enable the EU to better prepare for disruptions in gas supplies during winter months, but it must be followed with swift adherence to its existing energy security strategy released in May.

There is no questioning the impact that gas shortages would have on the quality of life of European citizens and the resulting economic stress as nations try to meet demand. As of 2014, the EU receives about 30% of its total gas imports from Russia and pays around $250 billion in annual energy bills. This is all the more concerning when one recognizes that half of Russian gas exports to Europe, over 86 billion cubic meters in total, passed through Ukraine’s pipelines in 2013. The situation in 2014 has deteriorated because Gazprom, Russia’s state-run energy giant, cut off all gas exports to Ukraine in June over claims that Kiev had not paid its bills. Additionally, Russia has reduced gas exports to Poland by a 45%, and reduced supplies by relatively smaller amounts to Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary. What reason does Russia give for targeting other European nations? Gazprom claims they are “re-exporting” Russian gas to Ukraine when it “isn’t intended for them.” 

On May 28th, the European Commission released the EU’s energy security strategy, which outlines several suggested short and long-term measures. Short-term measures include reducing energy demand and switching to alternative fuels, whereas long-term measures include increasing energy efficiency and protecting critical infrastructure. The suggestions are constructive, but will do little in the near future to curb Russia’s leverage. For example, the goal of increasing energy efficiency is defined by reaching the proposed 2030 energy and climate goals. In the intervening period, outlying nations such as Ukraine and even the bloc itself will continue to suffer Russian methods of coercion.

Given Russia’s current strategy, how can Europe further protect itself in the face of such dependence on Russian gas exports? That is where the recent stress test comes to play. According to The New York Times, this test was officially designed “to see how badly [Europe] would fare if flows of Russian natural gas were disrupted.” The test effectively checked whether member countries have improved energy security since the 2009 gas crisis, when Russia disrupted exports through Ukraine. Even though the stress test showed that the EU could withstand the loss of Russian gas flows through Ukraine for one month, it should be followed by at least four steps to more fully implement the EU’s energy security strategy.

First, the EU needs to develop a single gas market. Currently, members in the east and southeast such as Poland, Finland, Romania and the Baltic states would suffer the heaviest impact of gas shortages from Russia. This is partially due to their proximity to Russia, and therefore greater trade density, but also due to the lack of pipeline interconnections. If the EU builds more pipeline interconnectors, which the European Commission estimates will cost $22 billion, there will be enough pipelines such that countries without access to gas can import it from others with sufficient supplies. Therefore if the EU as a whole suffers a gas supply crisis, the burden will be shared as a bloc. This implies Russia would have no middle ground option, and would likely have to cut off several countries in order to effectively cut off one. This increased cost makes it a less attractive option for a nation so dependent on gas exports.

Second, the EU should collectively demand that Russia sell gas to EU members at a uniform price. Russia benefits from its status as Europe’s biggest gas supplier and uses that as leverage to manipulate prices. For example, as Russia recently increased gas prices in Ukraine it decreased gas prices in Lithuania. Beyond internal European price differentials, Russia has even sold Europe gas it bought from Turkmenistan at several times the original price. If the EU is to pursue collective energy security, then it must place unity over parochial interests to prevent Russia from weaponizing gas sales. This would likely change Russia’s behavior dramatically because its options would be reduced to targeting the entire bloc or not using gas exports for political leverage. Given its current trajectory, perhaps Russia is willing to antagonize the entirety of Europe, but it would only feasibly happen when it is left without alternatives or feels intrinsically threatened.

Third, the EU must pursue the accelerated construction of the South Stream pipeline in order to prevent Russia from holding the EU hostage over disagreements with Ukraine. Most major gas pipelines currently pass through Ukraine or Belarus. As of December 5, 2013, the Nord Stream pipeline finished its final 30-day test and it currently transports up to 27.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas directly from Vyborg, Russia to Lubmin, Germany. Similarly, the proposed South Stream would pass through the Black Sea, and directly export gas to Varma, Bulgaria, and onward to Central Europe. While the EU should not abandon Ukraine, it should not be dependent on gas transiting through it. This would allow European leaders a degree of political flexibility if they decide that energy security is more important than Ukrainian security.

Fourth, and most importantly, the EU must diversify its energy sources and increase emergency stockpiles. The European Commission has an initiative to establish a Southern Gas Corridor from the Caspian and Middle Eastern regions to Europe, which would decrease Russian dominance over EU imports. In terms of other forms of transporting gas, the EU currently has over 20 regasification terminals designed to receive liquefied natural gas, with six more under construction. By expanding these operations, there will be new opportunities to import from LNG-exporting countries such as the U.S. or Israel. Finally, coming full circle, the recent stress test confirmed a 30-day buffer of emergency gas supplies. But if Europe is willing to go head-to-head with Russia, it will need a bloc-wide emergency supply, similar to the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which should last longer than 30 days.

In summary, the EU is still highly dependent on Russian gas exports. The Ukraine crisis has once again ignited debate, leading to the first-ever EU-wide review of gas supplies. However, the EU must fully implement the aspects of its energy security strategy that center on natural gas. While not limited to the measures suggested here, such collective policy would strengthen European energy security and move it away from the yolk of Russian gas manipulation. With winter only months away, the stress test must serve as the basis for a more robust EU commitment to its own strategy rather than a purely academic exercise.

Dean Ensley is a transatlantic security analyst at the Streit Council. Photo credit: Ervins Strauhmanis

Defense and Disease: Policy Implications of the Ebola Outbreak

October 15, 2014

by Stephanie Linares

Ebola

President Obama’s decision to send U.S. troops to help combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa – while welcomed by many in the medical and public health community – stems from the administration’s designation of Ebola as a “national security threat.” The deployment of these troops marks not only the largest humanitarian aid mission since the U.S. response to the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia, but is part of an unprecedented surge in global efforts to combat a public health crisis that threatens both the economic and hard security of critical regions.

The current Ebola outbreak is the deadliest in recorded history, both in terms of the number of people who have been infected and in geographic scope. Eight countries are currently affected: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are seeing widespread transmission, while Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the U.S. are seeing localized transmission. There is also separate outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the World Health Organization, the outbreak has infected more than 5,500 people and killed more than 2,500. In what the White House has dubbed Operation United Assistance, up to $750 million and 3,200 U.S. military personnel will be committed to the crisis, targeting Ebola in West Africa.

Although the spread of the disease is a severe public health crisis, the security implications of the outbreak are equally daunting. A continuing outbreak of the Ebola virus could have serious effects on the already-fragile economies of West Africa, which in turn would directly and negatively affect the security of countries in the region. Even if the Ebola virus can be contained to currently-affected nations, the implications of weakened economies and diminished security will spread beyond West Africa, largely in the form of disrupted trade.  According to the World Bank, Liberia’s most important agricultural export, rubber, has been severely disrupted by reduced workforce mobility and transport restrictions due to quarantine. Rubber exports initially expected to be about $148 million in 2014 are estimated to drop 20 percent. Palm oil, another product of Liberia, is also being affected.

Obama, in his address from the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta, stated that “this is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security — it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic. That has profound effects on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease.” UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, in his address to the UN Security Council session on the Ebola Virus – only the second disease-focused gathering in the body’s history – highlighted the security, economic and humanitarian dimensions of the crisis in the region, calling for anunprecedented level of international action to combat it. As a prime example of unprecedented action, Doctors Without Borders, a traditionally pacifist, neutral, humanitarian organization, for the first time in its history made a request for U.S. military support, surprising even the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The classification of a disease as a security threat is not unique to Ebola. In the past 15 years, diseases have increasingly been categorized and formally incorporated into national security strategies. Stefan Elbe, a professor of international relations at the University of Sussex, pointed out that the year 2000 marked a fundamental shift toward the “securitization of disease,” when the UN Security Council made the unprecedented to convene a meeting to address the out-of-control HIV/AIDS pandemic in January of that year. In 2005, the H5N1 flu was declared a security threat by President George W. Bush and resulted in the declaration of the U.S.’ first pandemic preparedness plan, with other nations creating similar plans.

The challenges for Western aid and cooperation are immense.  Simon Rushton, a researcher in global politics of health at the University of Sheffield, says that the current situation is theconsequence of a long-term failure to help countries develop their own health systems,” maintaining that the outbreak could have been contained had these nations possessed adequate systems. Local public health systems in many of the affected nations are very weak and ineffective, or even non-existent in many places. Complicating matters further are a lack of basic infrastructure, roads and structures necessary for emergency preparedness planning. Harmful beliefs and misinformation about the disease in local communities, and low literacy levels, prevent the spread of accurate information on how to prevent infection. Rampant ethnic, political and religious divisions add a further level of complications.

With the advent of globalization and the increased potential for diseases to spread internationally, a virus can come to threaten trade and economic stability in critical regions, expanding the list of national security threats. With the U.S. taking the lead in addressing the crisis, several other Western nations have been contemplating taking on a larger role in the crisis. The EU, while active in assisting with the outbreak and providing financial aid, should assume a more united and active role in mitigating the crisis. Indeed, several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have urged the EU to take on a three-fold approach.  First, coordinate with all international partners, particularly the U.S., via a joint effort through the UN as the most appropriate forum. Second, deliver the promised financial support (the EU has pledged $230 million and individual European states have committed $255 million) as soon as possible. Third, the EU must offer further support to the African Union in drawing up a feasible action plan to deal with the political, economic and hard security implications of the outbreak.

Stephanie Linares is a transatlantic security analyst at the Streit Council. Photo credit: U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Trouble in Europe’s Neighborhood: Rise of the ISIS

August 26, 2014

by Stephanie Linares

ISIS Map

The emergence and subsequent spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has dealt a severe blow to Western – in particular American – counterterrorism policies and increasingly poses a threat to the EU. The ISIS, a predominantly Sunni jihadist group committed to establishing an Islamic state, has gained territory in Iraq and Syria and is so confident in its progress that its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, openly appeared in public to declare the establishment of his caliphate in late June.  While EU member states are providing humanitarian and military aid to combat the ISIS, the EU can significantly strengthen its European Neighborhood Policy to help address this and other sources of extremism in the Middle East and North Africa.

For the EU, the return of European members of jihadist groups to their home countries and the immigration of refugees who spread extremist ideology, and  even bolster the emergence of terror cells in various European nations – particularly in already-contentious regions such as the Balkans – pose significant threats. At least 320 German citizens and over 2,000 other individuals from other European nations are believed to have traveled Syria to join the ongoing conflict. Adding to these concerns is the expected influx of refugees from ISIS conflict zones into the EU, which could further spread extremist ideology and trigger a massive humanitarian crisis. The potential for economically damaging increases in oil prices presents another, though less salient, risk to the EU.

The rise of the ISIS also poses a more indirect threat to the EU via North Africa, where it is attracting  recruits from Al-Qaeda affiliates. Security expert and retired Colonel Omar Ben Jana warns of the danger posed by ISIS, noting that in the past, extremists returning to Algeria from Afghanistan fueled terrorism in that country for years. The entry of ISIS into the region is a “reality and not just a scenario,”  and even the chairman of the Algeria-Africa Committee of Peace and Reconciliation, Ahmad Mizab, said that collective action by African countries against this threat is needed in the Maghreb  to ensure its security. This is true not only for North Africa, but for the EU as well given its close proximity.

The key to defeating the ISIS lies in Syria, where the organization is based and does not fear Western intervention. The ISIS continues to gain ground in the country and remains a central rebel group opposing President Bashar al-Assad even as it battles the Free Syrian Army – an anti-Assad group which has enjoyed backing of the EU, U.S., Britain, Turkey and Gulf states. The Free Syrian Army claims to be the only group capable of defeating the ISIS and the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra while also bringing about democratic change in the country – a reasonable assertion if it were to receive enough external support, given the more moderate character of the group. But the EU, as well as the U.S., have ruled out the level of intervention needed to accomplish this, largely due to the perceived risk of intensifying what has become a proxy war.

As a result of this geopolitical stalemate in Syria, funneling humanitarian and military aid to actors in Iraq will not, on its own, lead to the defeat of the ISIS.  While doing so is necessary and should continue, the EU can and must also reinvigorate another tool it uses to influence states at its southern and eastern borders – its European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The ENP offers incentives such as financial support, economic integration and access to EU markets in exchange for structural reforms that promote democracy, the rule of law and market economies. However, recent years of economic hardship throughout the EU and deteriorating relations with Russia have left resources for the ENP increasingly inadequate, particularly in the post-Arab Spring Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, the most salient criticisms of the ENP in this context include the inconsistent enforcement of conditionality and that it is mainly designed for long-term engagement in a stable environment – making it a poor fit for the fast-paced changes currently taking place in the EU’s neighborhood.

As the EU’s new leadership assumes office late this year, they have an opportunity to address these weaknesses and significantly boost the resources committed to the ENP. Additionally, as Stefan Lehne at Carnegie Europe argues, the ENP should be placed under the sole authority of the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and receive stronger political backing from member states. With these steps, the EU would have the means to dramatically boost its influence over actors engaged in the Syrian Civil War and other developments in the Middle East and North Africa that are breeding extremist groups like ISIS – developments that cannot always be addressed through more direct intervention but increasingly threaten European and transatlantic security.

Stephanie Linares is an Intern at the Streit Council. Photo credit: Institute for the Study of War

 

 

 

NATO Policy on Cyber Defense: Have We Learned from the Past?

June 20, 2014

by Lindsay Kihnel 

Cyber warfare is a growing threat to many states, and even NATO – the most effective military alliance in the world – has not been able to protect itself from all cyber attacks, as seen in the cases of Estonia (2007) and Canada (2011). In June 2013, NATO held its first meeting dedicated to cyber defense, and its defense ministers agreed that they needed to have a fully operational policy in this area by the fall. NATO coordinates and advises its member states on cyber defense policy through bodies ranging from the North Atlantic Council (responsible for high-level political guidance and decision-making) to its Computer Incident Response Capability Technical Center (responsible for “technical and operational cyber security services”).

The current policy being implemented focuses on: integrating cyber defense considerations into NATO structures; prevention, resilience and defense of critical cyber assets; developing cyber defense capabilities; consolidating protection of NATO’s networks; developing minimum requirements for cyber defense of national networks critical to NATO’s core tasks; providing assistance to Allies; and reducing vulnerabilities of critical national structures. NATO also engages external actors to promote awareness and share best practices. An example of this is Locked Shields, an annual cyber defense exercise aimed at training IT specialists to detect and alleviate large-scale cyber attacks.

NATO cyber defense policy largely stems from previous attacks and the lessons learned in their aftermath. The first major incident that galvanized preparations in this area occurred in April 2007 when, following tensions with Russia over the removal of a Soviet war memorial, Estonian government networks were harassed by a denial of service attack from an anonymous source. Estonia, which was particularly vulnerable to this attack because of its highly developed electronic infrastructure, experienced an interruption to online government services and had to shut down its banking system. In response, NATO member states began to debate new directions for cyber security and the appropriate punishments for states found to have engaged in such attacks. Secondly, the January 2011 cyber attacks against Canada helped to mold current policy. The Canadian government reported a major cyber attack against its agencies, including Defense Research and Development Canada, leaving many government officials without internet access for almost two months. Following the attacks, Canada launched several public awareness campaigns, such as the booklet Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy, educating Canadians on cyber threats and how to combat them.

As cyber attacks continued to be employed, most recently during the Ukraine crisis, a pressing question is whether or not NATO’s Article 5 should be invoked in response. While Article 5 specifies that “armed attacks” trigger a response by all NATO members, cyber attacks are generally considered to be an unconventional form of warfare. Nonetheless, they should be designated as armed attacks because they can inflict as much damage as a conventional bomb in terms of lives lost and physical damage. As the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept states: “Cyber-attacks are becoming more frequent, more organised and more costly in the damage that they inflict on government administrations, businesses, economies, and potentially also transportation and supply networks and other critical infrastructure; they can reach a threshold that threatens national and Euro-Atlantic prosperity, security and stability…” While uncertainties hinder a clearer policy on this issue – particularly in determining the origins of attacks – cyber attacks constitute a growing threat that needs to be taken seriously if NATO is to fulfill its Article 5 pledge and maintain its credibility as an alliance, especially given its members’ increasing dependence on information technology. State and non-state actors thinking of launching cyber-attacks need to know that swift and unified measures will be taken against them in the form of a collective defense response. 

Lindsay Kihnel is an Intern at the Streit Council. Photo credit: UK Ministry of Defence

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