The Alphen Group (TAG)
It is my honour to share with you the TAG’s latest publication “A Comprehensive Strategy to Secure Ukraine’s Future.” This is Alphen Group’s latest working project, which I have had the honour to lead. The Strategy has been prepared over several months with the support of experts from fifteen democracies, including Australia and Japan. Signatories, inter alia, include one former NATO Secretary-General, two Deputy Secretaries-General, three former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commanders, former ministers, several Chiefs of Defence Staff, and senior diplomats, as well as many subject matter experts all of whom are members of The Alphen Group. Our aim is simple: to secure a legitimate peace for Ukraine as quickly as possible and secure that peace going forward. This blog summarises the main points of the Strategy the TAG believes should be adopted now by the community of democracies (the West for the purposes of the Strategy) that form the coalition supporting Ukraine.
2023 will be the decisive year of the Russian-Ukraine war. The prospect of a total Russian victory that would see the complete dismemberment of an independent Ukrainian state, although by no means impossible, seems remote. However, Ukraine will only prevail with sustained and extensive Western support. Equally, continued Ukrainian advances and recovery of still-occupied territory cannot be assumed and Russia may have sufficient capability to repel Ukrainian offensives and force a stalemate. Russia enjoys far more strategic depth and industrial capacity than Ukraine which is precisely the reason why Western support remains indispensable.
As Russia’s war of aggression enters its second year, the Western definition of success must remain the re-establishment of Ukraine as a secure and sovereign European democracy with all the rights and responsibilities that entails. The critical issue the TAG Ukraine Strategy 2023 (the Strategy) thus addresses is the scope and extent of Western support required to reinforce that goal across the diplomatic, informational, military and economic domains. For the purpose of the Strategy, “the West” encompasses the Euro-Atlantic Community and those members of the G7 and beyond, such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, the policies of which are largely aligned. The specific aims of the Strategy are threefold: To bring the war to an end on terms acceptable to Kyiv that deny the Russians the fruits of aggression and ensure that Russia does not invade Ukraine again; to restore Ukraine as an independent state in full control of its internationally-recognized borders, with the capability to deter and defeat any further Russian aggression; and thereby, to demonstrate to any potential aggressors that the democratic nations will defend the rules-based international order.
The TAG Ukraine Strategy is established on the following principles: Russian aggression and attempts to change borders by force must not be rewarded or legitimized in any way; Russia must pay reparations for the death and damage it has inflicted on Ukraine; there can be no de facto Russian veto over NATO’s support for Ukraine and no secret deals with Moscow that undercut Ukraine’s position; the lifting of sanctions on Russia will only come as a consequence of Russian action and only over time; the West must be able to determine the European security order on its own terms, including Ukraine’s place in it; and, a NATO-Russia war is avoided.
The Strategy has two phases: the short-term (2023) and the medium-to-longer term (2024 and beyond). Within the Strategy there are four lines of action: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic (DIME) the main elements of which can be thus summarised:
Diplomatic: issue a new “Declaration for Ukraine” to maximize Western cohesion and further deter Russia; pursue more vigorous diplomatic measures with China to seek their intervention to end the war; clarify further for Russia the consequences of nuclear use or another massive invasion of western Ukraine; convene a “Conference of Democracies” to begin planning the post war order; maintain diplomatic contact with Moscow to the maximum extent possible; provide all support necessary to support Ukrainian efforts to hold Russians accountable for war crimes.
Informational: Prepare western publics for the broad consequences of a protracted war; escalate the information campaign in Russia to counter the kremlin’s narrative; maintain a high level of public support for assistance to Ukraine; and publicly define the meaning of a Ukrainian victory in which the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity is the goal.
Military: Streamline decision-making on assistance to Ukraine; increase the pace and volume of weapons transfers to Ukraine designed to allow them to retake occupied territory, while refraining from attacks on Russian territory with western arms; seek to deter and prepare to deal with further Russian escalation should it come; take additional steps to guarantee Ukraine’s long-term security, including security guarantees and eventual NATO membership; and, avoid the temptation to slow efforts to further strengthen the NATO alliance because Russia will rebuild its forces in its long-term struggle with the alliance.
Economic: Maintain and further strengthen sanctions; there is much more that can be done; continue to provide short-term economic aid and budget support to Ukraine to counter Russia’s effort to undercut Ukraine’s will to fight; pass western legislation as needed to allow sequestered Russian financial reserves to be used for Ukrainian reconstruction; and prepare for a massive Marshall-style plan for Ukraine once the conflict ends.
LESSONS FROM THE WAR FOR NATO
War is a giant black hole into which people and materiel vanish at an alarming rate far beyond that envisaged by peacetime establishments. Consequently, there are two overarching lessons for the Alliance from the Russian-Ukraine War. First, NATO’s Deterrence and Defence Posture across Central and Eastern Europe must be reinforced to frustrate possible future Russian territorial ambitions. Second, whilst NATO’s missions and tasks were stated clearly in the 2019 Military Strategy, the 2021 NATO Agenda and NATO Strategic Concept 2022 the Alliance must also learn the military-technical lessons already apparent.
The initial military-technical lessons for the Alliance can be thus summarised: the vulnerability of armour unsupported by infantry and helicopters in the battlespace; the vital need to dominate both fires and counter-fires; the vulnerability of deployed ground forces to expendable drones, strike drones and loitering systems allied to precision-guided munitions; the need for more robust logistics forward deployed, with enhanced and far more secure military supply chains; more ready-action materiel, most notably small arms and tube and rocket artillery ammunition; build more and rebuild infrastructure to accelerate military mobility in scale; remove all legal impediments to rapid cross-border movements in a pre-war emergency; and, improve force protection of deployed forces, allied to a particular need to reduce the detectability and thus digital footprint of force concentrations.
THE WAY AHEAD
The core aim of Western strategy must remain, and must continue to remain, the complete and irreversible withdrawal of Russian forces, an end to all shelling and rocket attacks on the Ukrainian people, and the restoration of normal democratic governance across Ukraine’s territory.
However, a wider strategy must also be embraced by the West. Russia is seeking to tear down the rules-based order with the massive use of Russian power and illegitimate coercion using all other possible means. It is precisely such coercion that the West is confronting in Ukraine with Ukrainians and which must be contained and then ended. History suggests that only when Russia has acknowledged the West’s countervailing power will rules and all-important institutionalised structure be re-established. In Europe, such structure is particularly important.
Therefore, when negotiations for an enduring and equitable peace agreement do eventually begin there must be no territorial compromise. That said, the West, in consultation with Kyiv, must also consider its minimum conditions for a peace settlement beyond a mere cease-fire precisely so that serious negotiations may begin.
Those conditions might include: Any eventual peace agreement would be linked to Russia’s future behaviour, and not just to ending its use of force in Ukraine; effective security guarantees for Ukraine, as part of which the West excludes nothing in advance, including NATO membership, and with no repeat of the failed 1994 Budapest Memorandum; OSCE-guaranteed language and other ‘rights’ for Russian speakers in Eastern and South-Eastern Ukraine, in tandem with similar guarantees by Russia for ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars; a lease-back deal for the Black Sea Fleet’s base in Sevastopol could be considered, coupled with guarantees that Crimea will not be used as a base for aggression against Ukraine as in 2014; reparations by Russia to Ukraine; and, an immediate and expanded Association Agreement with the EU and Ukrainian membership of both the EU and NATO by 2033.
A much greater Western effort is also needed to convince the likes of China and India to further withhold support from Russia. At this year’s G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, China and India should be invited to join a G7-Plus Contact Group charged with both preventing nuclear escalation and returning the conflict to an institutional framework. A major diplomatic demarche is also needed towards other important democracies, such as Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines, and South Africa.
Beyond the future of Ukraine, what is also at stake in the war is the West’s capacity to shape its strategic environment and shape the European security order on its own terms in a way that upholds the principles of the rules-based international order established following World War Two. All and any collective action will involve risk. A new European security system will be needed in order to restore respect for the principles of international law that Russia has violated and, over time, to lay the basis for a new relationship with Russia, whatever the outcome of the war. And, in the short term, it will also be indispensable in order to maintain a sufficient level of support from Western public opinion.
The Alphen Group,