Tag Archives: Russia

NATO’s Southern Flank: Russian A2/AD emerges in the Mediterranean Sea

By BEF Vice President and NATO-chair Ionut Sutea

The Syrian quagmire is finally nearing a certain status quo. ISIS has been stripped-off its quasi-state form and forced back to operate as a traditional insurgency. The defeat can mostly be credited to the efforts of the U.S.-led International Coalition and its embedded local indigenous multi-ethnic group, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  On the other hand, the Assad regime is has regained more than half of the national territory and now controls over 75% of the Syrian population. The opposition forces are utterly degraded and boxed into a few isolated patches of land in the western parts of Syria. Largely abandoned by their wealthy backers, inter-Rebel skirmishes further polarized the opposition between Islamists and hardcore militant Salafist (Jihadists). Turkey has made good use of their situation to further its own anti-Kurdish agenda on the borderlands with Operation “Euphrates Shield” (2016-2017) in northern Aleppo countryside, and Operation “Olive Branch” (2018) in Afrin canton.  But resulting from the Loyalist success in the civil war, geopolitical objectives are being translated into practice by the two main external backers of the Regime. The Russian Armed Forces as well as the Iranian-backed Shi’a paramilitary groups have played a key role in emboldening the Assad regime and degrading the Opposition – which enabled the two backers to satisfy their initial objectives.

Russia’s military intervention launched in mid-2015 was mostly motivated by long-term strategic goals that sought to undermine NATO’s southern flank and forward the agenda of resurgence. Inherently, the Russian Federation will now maintain a permanent military presence in the Mediterranean Sea and the Levant amid the end of the Syrian Civil War. The Latakia Air field, initially established a center of operations against ISIS, will now continue to host dozens of fighter jets and bombers; while the Naval Facility of Tartus, leased since the early 70s to Moscow, will be enhanced to form a Mediterranean Fleet consisting of a nuclear submarine and 11 warships. Guarded by the advanced S-400 anti-air system, the Russian military-assets on the Syrian coastline form a new Anti-Access Area Denial Zone (A2/AD). Russia has invested considerable energy into developing A2/AD capabilities and carefully positioning them to maximize their strategic effect. That process accelerated after the seizure of Crimea. A2/AD bubbles are purposed to deny an adversary’s forces access to a particular region or otherwise hinder freedom of maneuver – it includes, but it is not limited to: anti-air defense systems, counter-maritime assets and theater offensive strike weapons. The strategic ramifications of the action underpinned on the Syrian coastline are to vanguard the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus, challenge NATO’s freedom of maneuver on its southern flank and enhance Russia’s geopolitical posture and security needs throughout the region and the world.

In addition, the Russian expeditionary forces, mechanized units and fighter jets have been operated and moved as far as Syria’s central and eastern provinces. The Tiyas (T4), Shayrat (hit by U.S. tomahawk cruise missile in mid-2017) and Deir ez-Zor Air Bases are jointly operated by Syrian, Russian and Iranian forces. The Kremlin made good use of those assets to establish a forward operational presence stretching to the mid-Euphrates river valley, that is only contained by the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) present on the river’s eastern shores. The Russians are not only attempting to close the airspace in western Syria and contest the eastern Mediterranean, but also to establish a pro-active military expeditionary presence seeking to profit from U.S. disengagement in the Middle East. Such undertakings are projected to expand into Iraq, Libya and possibly Egypt.

The strategic diagnosis will, however, encounter several “black swans”. Given the current geopolitical environment, Russia’s plans are caught between a rock and a hard place. The Kremlin is playing Russian roulette in the Israeli-Iranian divergence. It is simultaneously attempting to maintain its military cooperation with the Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian militias, Iraqi PMUs and al-Quds forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whilst pivoting with Jerusalem. This gamble has proven reckless and inefficient in recent deteriorating conditions. Operations security (OPSEC) and asset-protection has also been dangerously poor. Recent Rebel attacks on the Latakia Air Base show that Russia and the Syrian Regime are unable of fully securing vital and strategic bases from unsophisticated acts of aggression. This is only a taste of the long-term insurgency facing the Russian presence there, as the Kremlin continues to support a genocidal government formed by an Alawite minority in a predominantly Sunni, but hyper-complex, societal landscape. This is without mentioning the Turkish-Kurdish showdown developing in Afrin that further complicates a permanent settlement.

In the long-run, the creation of AD/2D bubbles on NATO’s flanks is counter-productive for the Kremlin. Moving advanced air defense and tactical nuclear weapons on Allied borders will only urge its richer and more capable Western adversaries to further proliferate precision-strike missile systems. This is a tech race that Moscow cannot keep up with, given its worsening economy and obsolete weapons industry. The United States will maintain strategic supremacy for the near future regardless of attempts from foes to compete. This should not downplay that Russian interference in the most contested region of the world has severely complicated the local dynamic and has strongly hampered Western strategic goals in the area. Now, more than ever, the Southern Flank needs to gain traction as a theater of utmost interest for NATO and Euro-Atlantic strategists.

Read an extended version of this assessment on T-Intelligence.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

NATO and Hybrid Warfare

by Marie Gibrat, represented the UK in the NATO North Atlantic Council, at BEF 2015

“In preparation for BEF 2015, the chairs of the NATO simulation requested participants to write an essay on hybrid warfare and the position of their country. The essays were entered into our committee competition, and we are happy to present our winner!” – Marian Fritz

Clausewitz stated “Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions and its own peculiar preconceptions”.

Definition of hybrid warfare

Hybrid warfare can be defined as the use of a combination of conventional and irregular methods such as military operations, cyber-attacks, propaganda, and terrorist acts. It is composed of an interconnected group of state and non-states actors pursuing overlapping goals where the social and political context is complex and the state is weak.

Due to the growing proliferation of non-state actors, information technology and advanced weapons system, it has renewed.

 Photograph © Philipp Mehl 2015

Nowadays hybrid warfare involves four threats: traditional, irregular, catastrophic terrorism and disruptive which exploit technology to counteract military superiority. The environmental context in hybrid warfare is one of the chief characteristics of this type of war. Hybrid war takes place on three distinct battlefields: the conventional battlefield, the indigenous population and the international community.

The lack of flexibility and adaptability within conventional militaries explains difficulties to defeat hybrid threats. In order to balance the latter one need to focus on the overall environment, not simply on the enemy. Armies should have in mind an operational approach with a holistic understanding of the environment. They should think on the conflict termination with a respect to the political and social grievances instead of focusing on a purely military-security end-state.

Besides operational shock i.e. attack the coherent unity of the hybrid threat as a system and dislocation i.e. the art of rendering the enemy’s strength irrelevant should be used simultaneously.

Hybrid warfare and NATO

NATO is a military alliance that will never embrace the full spectrum of challenges embodied in hybrid warfare. The current NATO deterrence policy for hybrid warfare is based on a rapid military response. However the latter has three main limits. A quick decision from member states is difficult to reach. Hard power is not sufficient. A military response alone is not credible.

Nevertheless, facing the current Russian threat, NATO considers it a necessity to develop a set of tools in order to deter hybrid warfare. Russia has risen its military budget and has announced an ambitious military modernization. Informational war, propaganda and cyber-attacks are already taking place in Eastern Europe, especially in Baltic States. General Sir Adrian Bradshaw said that Putin could use “hybrid warfare to seize former Baltic States”.

Hence hybrid warfare constitutes a far-reaching institutional challenge for NATO. A solution would be to increase cooperation with the European Union. By intensifying consultations and by engaging in joint planning, NATO and the EU would be a solid counterweight to hybrid threats.

Moreover, NATO needs to be present during the first step of hybrid warfare and even before. Prevention represents the best possible means of countering hybrid warfare since irregular threats are far more difficult to manage once they become an over attempt at destabilization. That is why NATO encourages the Security Sector Reform. The latter aims at strengthening a state’s resilience of their security sectors, while embracing transparency and accountability.

Lastly, NATO has developed a refreshed system of warnings to identify threats such as cyber-attacks, subversion and hostile propaganda.

The UK and Hybrid warfare

Military chiefs have warned that Britain has entered a new Cold War with Russia. Russia military planes, ships and submarines have made at least 17 incursions close to the UK since the start of 2014. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the Russian aggression poses “as great a threat to Europe as the Islamic State”. Michael Fallon wants to deliver the strongest possible message to Putin and asserts the Alliance will be strong, resolute and will prevail. The Defence Secretary warned of the threat to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia posed by Russia and claimed Putin was continuing to test the UK and NATO.

Nevertheless some military chiefs said the UK could not cope in case of a Russian attack because of cuts in the UK defence budget. Moreover, dealing with these hybrid threats requires much more investment in cyber, in strategic communications and in intelligence because these are not conventional threats.

Notwithstanding the fact that the UK defence is one of the most advanced in the world, it cannot fight alone against hybrid warfare. The UK will need NATO and the USA to counterweight any hybrid threat.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.