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TAG PREMIUM BLOG: Putin’s Second War

By Ambassador Stefano Stefanini

Putin’s calculation is that Europe will blink first because it might be unable or unwilling to go through the winter without Russian gas. That’s not going to happen.

“How did you go bankrupt?” “At first gradually. Then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway

For nearly seven months Vladimir Putin has been fighting against Ukraine a war that he cannot win. He might even lose it. In the last week Russia has lost ground – and credibility – to the Ukrainian counter-offensive. But he cannot backtrack. Too much is at stake.

Russia’s security and Russian territory are nowhere threatened by his war of choice. But his power is.

For two decades Vladimir Putin has built it, domestically and externally, on a track record of rapid success, ruthlessness, and bullying. He cannot let it go. What can he do?

Putin’s default response is likely to escalate the conflict. He is running short of options, of troops, of conventional assets. But he still has an array of non-conventional tools.

Leaving aside how far Putin — with Russia’s cyber, chemical and nuclear arsenals — might be willing to go to prevent Ukraine’s further advances, let alone victory, he is trying his chance at a second war by weaponizing energy and, specifically, gas.

On this second front, the European Union is the primary target. Gazprom is Putin’s faithful army. In a two-pronged offensive it is aiming at crippling European economies with a combination of shortages and skyrocketing prices and at sapping European resolve and unity in supporting Ukraine.

As a collateral benefit, the entire West, even if it does not directly dependent on Russian energy exports, feels the pain of unbearable energy bills for households and industries, gas prices at the pump, rising inflation, and potential social unrest.  

In duly executing Kremlin’s orders, Gazprom reduced this year’s overall gas supplies to Europe by 40% compared to 2021, selectively targeting, countries and companies.  As of September Nord Stream 1 was shut down completely. Even the pretense of maintenance was abandoned. Moscow announced that regular gas flows would only resume if EU sanctions were lifted.

That request is key to understanding the rationale of Putin’s gas war. The sanctions are beginning to bite Russian economy especially because of the loss of essential Western technology. Threatening to leave Europe without gas, while turning off and off the taps, is the best weapon to put pressure on energy starved Europeans. It also punishes them for supporting and militarily assisting Kyiv. In short: two birds with a stone.

But like any war, the gas war is not risk-free. The squeeze also amounts to a self-imposed embargo. Europe is left short of gas. In return, Russia will be short of money. It is that very money that keeps the Russian economy afloat and Putin’s war machine running.

Isn’t it counter-intuitive? Or not?

The energy/gas weapon will not last forever, and Putin knows it. He must use it now. The EU is on a one-way ticket to no-dependence on Russian oil and gas. It will not go back to Russian supplies.

Yes, Europe faces a critical energy crunch in 2022-2023 with severe risk of shortages. Yet don’t forget that storage facilities are filling up and Europeans have rapidly diversified their energy sources, however costly.

So in a couple of years Europe will have stabilized supply from non-Russia sources to meet demand. 

Thus, Putin must maximize his leverage now with multiple purposes: removal of sanctions; sowing divisions within the EU and splitting the West; decreasing the intensity of political support and of military assistance to Ukraine – those hurt; scoring a political victory over Brussels and European capitals.

Again, as he did on 24 February, Vladimir Putin has entered an all-or-nothing game.

Either, the EU bends and he wins, or the EU does not remove the sanctions and he remains high and dry with unsellable gas. There are the existing pipelines that go to Europe – and what happens to them – and the new pipelines to China and India that have to be built from scratch. Call it victory and bankruptcy: there is not very much in between.

Putin’s calculation is that Europe will blink first because it might be unable or unwilling to go through the winter without Russian gas. And that the EU and/or individual countries will cave in before Russia’s war machine runs out of money (and/or he runs out of power). Putin bets on the EU being forced to lift the sanctions and/or at least fracturing. He is counting on unhappy public opinions pressuring governments to relent on sanctions and stop sending weapons to Ukraine.

Again, Vladimir Putin might have miscalculated. The EU will not remove sanctions. Even if some EU countries might lean in that direction, removal of sanctions requires unanimity. There’s not a chance for them to lift sanctions. Sanctions will stay.  

Moreover, the EU has responded quickly. It has adopted a new regulation (2022/1369) on reducing gas demand reduction by 15% target. And it is working on new measures to contain prices, such as cap prices, windfall taxes etc.). Meanwhile, gas storage is up, already over the 80% target set for the end of September. 

The EU, as well as the UK, is gearing up to a winter of a “war economy” that is needed to make sure that Putin also loses his second war.

Ambassador Stefano Stefanini is the former Italian High Representative to the North Atlantic Council

NATO’s Clint Eastwood Doctrine

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

“I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”

Clint Eastwood explains deterrence by denial


The new NATO Strategic Concept is clear, concise, and considered and does exactly what it sets out to do: communicate Allied seriousness about deterrence and defence. It has been published against the backdrop of a major war in Europe and like all such documents is a trade-off between what needs to be done and what can be afforded with transatlantic burden-sharing and European strategic responsibility central to its ethos. The Strategic Concept is one half of a two part strategic realignment of NATO and should ideally be read in conjunction with the NATO Military Strategy. Unfortunately, the Military Strategy is classified.  It adds much of the detail implicit in the Strategic Concept and the NATO 2030 Agenda. There are two critical future NATO deterrence and defence components; lessons for the near term from the Ukraine War and future force interoperability going forward and the balance between technology and manpower. What matters now is that the strategic momentum generated is maintained and the goals and missions both implicit and explicit in the Strategic Concept and the Military Strategy are realised by the European allies, for whom the Madrid Summit was a call to legitimate arms. If so, the NATO Madrid Summit will pass the Riga Test and the good citizens therein can sleep easy in their beds. Time will tell.

The Riga Test

July 5th. That was the week that was! For many years I have had the distinct honour of attending the wonderful Riga Conference. Each year I set the Riga Test: can the good citizens of Riga sleep easier in their beds than last year.  In 2021, I had my concerns having predicted the war in Ukraine but worried by the continued ‘we only recognise as much threat’ as we can afford defence policies of many NATO European allies and the wilful ignoring of the Russian threat.  In the wake of last week’s NATO Madrid Summit I am somewhat more reassured, but there can be no complacency.

The NATO Deterrence Summit in Madrid was a much needed dose of Allied strategic realism because it committed the Alliance to re-generate a credible and relevant threat to use force against a strategic peer competitor if necessary, implied the will and future capability to do so, together with an understanding of the need for the demonstrable speed to act allied to a clear capacity to inflict punishment. Consequently, NATO’s traditional posture of deterrence by punishment is once again to be reinforced by ‘Go ahead. Make my day’ deterrence. The tragic and criminal slaughter of Ukrainian citizens by Russian forces means it is no longer acceptable to aspire merely to ‘rescue’ the citizens of Allied countries after some possibly 180 days of occupation. Now, the fight will be taken forward against any aggressor from the moment they set a foot on NATO soil. This is important because one of the many lessons of the Ukraine War is that if Russia ever did attack NATO territory it would be on a narrow front and designed to exploit a lack of strategic depth.

However, the devil is in the detail and the detail is quite devilish. NATO’s New Force Model is an act of deterrence in its own right but needs to be delivered and quickly.  The plan is that some 300,000 mainly European troops across the continent soon be placed on high alert (not high readiness) but it needs to be delivered. Finland and Sweden’s accession to the Alliance will extend NATO presence on both the northern and eastern flanks requiring a new concept of victory across a much expanded area of responsibility (AOR). Existing NATO forward deployed defences on the alliance’s eastern flank will be increased to the size of a brigade, which is about 3,000 to 5,000 troops in addition to local forces.

The 2022 NATO Strategic Concept

The centre-piece of the summit was the publication of the first NATO Strategic Concept since 2010. The 2022 Strategic Concept is deterrence and defence heavy and thus has the feel of strategic guidance which is what it is for. It also instructs the Alliance to realign core tasks with capabilities post-Afghanistan in a new age of geopolitical competition to which Europeans are finally awakening. To that end, Strategic Concept 2022 re-confirms NATO’s commitment to collective defence and a 360 degree approach built on three core tasks of deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management, and co-operative security.  It also affirms the importance of resilience of the ‘home’ base.

The basis for future development is the NATO 2030 Agenda agreed at last year’s Brussels summit. The Agenda can be thus summarised; enough forces to deter, engage crises and build partnerships and enough European forces able to respond quickly to any crisis in and around the Euro-Atlantic Area. That is the sum of an agenda that includes deeper and faster political consultation, strengthened defence and deterrence, improved resilience, preservation of NATO’s technical edge, the upholding of the rules-based order, increased training and capacity-building, and the need to combat and adapt to climate change.  

The Strategic Concept also strikes all the right political chords.  NATO’s purpose and common values are all stressed, particularly on women and security. Reference is also made to further command and control reform and the need for digital transformation, with strong passages on cyber, and emerging and disruptive technologies.  The friction over increasing common funding and defence capacity building also seem to have been resolved, whilst it reaffirms the NATO remains a nuclear alliance that also remains committed to a nuclear-free world.

It is also not the first NATO Strategic Concept to be published against the backdrop of a war. In April 1999, the NATO Washington Summit also published a Strategic Concept against the backdrop of the Kosovo War. However, Strategic Concept 2022 bears some resemblance to MC3/5 “The Strategic Concept for the Defence of the North Atlantic Area” of December 1952, which took place against the backdrop of the Korean War. The 1952 Strategic Concept tried to square the same circle as Strategic Concept 2022 – the need to ease US military overstretch with increased European capabilities and capacities in the face of an economic crisis, a Russian aggressor in Europe, and a Chinese regional-strategic competitor. Both in 1952 and 2022 the elephant in the room concerned Germany and the role it would play in Allied defence.

Russia and its invasion of Ukraine pervades all sixteen pages of the Strategic Concept with a marked change of tone compared to the 2010 Strategic Concept which described Russia as a ‘strategic partner’, even though Russia had invaded Georgia two years prior in 2008.  The 2022 Strategic Concept is far less equivocal. “The Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine has shattered peace and gravely altered our security environment. Its brutal and unlawful invasion, repeated violations of international humanitarian law and heinous attacks and atrocities have caused unspeakable suffering and destruction.” China is now a “systemic challenge” and terrorism the “most direct asymmetric threat”. 

Will the rubber hit the road?

Can ambition and reality be aligned? The Military Strategy is centred on SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) wide Strategic Plan (SASP) and the Concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA).  There are two main pillars, the NATO warfighting cornerstone concept (NWCC) and the Deterrence Concept.  The New Force Model at the heart of the Strategic Concept is the consequence of the Military Strategy and it is there one finds the necessary detail. Specifically the call for the enhanced NATO Response Force of some 40,000 troops to be transformed into a future force of some 300,000 troops maintained at high alert, with 44,000 kept at high readiness. For the first time all rapid reaction forces under NATO command will be committed to a deterrence and defence role and all such forces will be consolidated within one command framework.  Whilst the new force will be held at 24 hours ‘Notice to Act’ the bulk of the NATO Force Structure will held at 15 days ‘Notice to Move’, which will be a marked improvement over the current structure in which some forces are 180 days’ notice to move. 

At American behest the new force will be mainly European with Allies on NATO’s Eastern and South-Eastern Flanks agreeing to expanded deployed battalions to brigades of between 3,000-5000 troops. For example, the British have two battlegroups deployed to Estonia and they have now committed to adding an additional battlegroup. Indeed, the UK will commit an extra 1000 troops and a carrier-strike group (???) to the defence of Estonia, the US will send an additional 3000 troops to the Baltic Sea Region, 2 more squadrons of F-35s will be stationed in the UK and two US Navy destroyers sent to Spain. The new Forward Defence strategy will also see heavy equipment pre-positioned near NATO borders. 

A force of that size and with the necessary level of fighting power would normally mean that with rotation there would always be a force of some 100,000 kept at high readiness, which will be extremely expensive for NATO European allies grappling with high inflation and post-COVID economies. A NATO standard brigade is normally between 3200 and 5500 strong. Given that both air and naval forces will also need to be included a land force of, say, 200,000 would need at least 50 to 60 European rapid reaction brigades together with all their supporting elements. At best, there are only 20 to 30 today. There are already concerns being expressed by some Allies.

That is precisely why Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the NATO Defence Investment Pledge of 2% GDP to be spent by each Ally on defence is now “more of a floor than a ceiling”. Several NATO European allies have now committed to increasing their respective defence budgets accordingly. Germany is leading the way (at last) with its commitment to markedly increase its defence budget which is vital given that the Bundeswehr will in future become the central pillar of NATO land deterrence on the eastern flank. The UK has also committed to spend at least 2.5% GDP on defence “this decade”, whilst the Netherlands has committed to a 5.4% real terms increase in defence expenditure over last year’s defence budget allied to spending 2% GDP on defence by 2024.

The sharing of NATO burdens

Whilst the Strategic Concept is mainly a consequence of Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine, the forthcoming US National Defense Strategy (NDS) is no less important.  For the first time the NDS places a premium on the support of allies and partners, particularly NATO. NDS 2022 also implies a greater role for allies going forward in assisting the US meet its strategic goals and challenges, particularly in and around the European theatre.  This is because China and the Indo-Pacific are afforded a higher priority than Russia and Europe in NDS 2022, even though Russia is described as an “acute threat”. There are also profound implications for the new NATO future force, in particular the challenge of maintaining interoperability in high-end conflicts with the US future force. The US future force will be built on three principles: “integrated deterrence” and credible combat power (including nuclear forces); effective campaigning in the grey zone; and “building enduring advantage” by exploiting new, emerging and disruptive technologies. NATO European forces?

For NATO the message from the Americans is clear: if the US security guarantee for Europe is to be credibly maintained going forward Europeans are going to have to share the defence burdens far more equitably, with 50% of NATO’s minimum capability requirements by 2030 probably the least the Americans will expect of their allies.   That will mean Europeans taking on far more strategic responsibility than hitherto within the framework of the Alliance and all Allies will need to develop an expeditionary mind-set, even the Finns.  In time, greater European strategic responsibility will inevitably lead to capacity for European tactical and eventually strategic autonomy.   

NATO’s Big 2030 Plan

The Strategic Concept and the Military Strategy together are NATO’s Big 2030 Plan. The plan involves two phases much of which will need to run concurrently. Phase one involves identifying and learning the lessons of the Ukraine War to bolster deterrence, defence and resilience in the short-term. War is a giant black hole into which people and materiel vanish at an alarming rate far beyond that envisaged by peacetime establishments. NATO European forces will need for more robust logistics forward deployed, with enhanced and far more secure military supply chains particularly important. Far more materiel is also needed, most notably ammunition. If NATO deterrence and defence are to be credible Allies will also need to rebuild and build infrastructure to assist military mobility and remove all legal impediments to rapid cross border movements in a pre-war emergency. Deployed NATO forces will also need much improved force protection with the need to reduce the detectability and thus digital footprint of force concentrations (‘bright butterflies’). 

The war in Ukraine has also revealed the vulnerability of armour unsupported by infantry and helicopters in the battlespace, as well as the need for NATO forces to be able to dominate both fires and counter-fires.  Much of the vulnerability of Russian forces is due to the effectiveness of expendable drones, strike drones and loitering systems allied to precision-guided munitions. NATO forces need an awful lot more of all such systems across the tactical and the strategic. Enhanced land-based, protected battlefield mobility will also be needed together with increased force command resilience given how often the Ukrainians have been able to detect and ‘kill’ Russian forward (and less forward) deployed headquarters.

Thankfully, given that NATO is a defensive alliance, the war in Ukraine has also revealed the extent to which the defence has dominated the offence if forces are reasonably matched.  Whilst no-one envisages a return to some kind of twenty-first century equivalent of the Maginot Line secure pre-positioned capabilities and access to individual ready reserves will be vital.  There is one other lesson NATO leaders and commanders need to learn given the attritional nature of the war: do not sacrifice significant mass to afford a little manoeuvre. Britain, are you listening?

Beyond NATO’s horizon

NATO must also look beyond 2030 and develop a hard core future war concept if deterrence by denial now enshrined in NATO doctrine is to remain credible. In addition to the Military Strategy the new SACEUR, General Chris Cavioli and his team must also set the future force agenda with something akin to the 1952 Long-Term Defence Plan with the aim of forging a markedly transformed military instrument of power by 2030.  Such a plan will need to include strengthened forces postures, news structures & forces, a much expanded NATO Readiness Initiative with supporting plans & concepts, transformed training & exercises not dissimilar to the famous Battle Schools set up by General Harold Alexander during World War Two, and a proper understanding where capability, capacity, manpower and interoperability meet, especially when it involves new emerging and destructive technologies.

In other words, the true test of Madrid’s legacy will be the standing up of a high-end, collective, US-interoperable, strategically autonomous (if needs be) European-led Allied Mobile Heavy Force able to operate as a powerful first responder in a pre-war emergency in and around Europe and across the domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge from sea-bed to space at the highest levels of conflict complete with its own combat support and enablers.  Nothing less will suffice to meet the ambition implicit in the NATO Strategic Concept.  Are Europeans up to the challenge? Some leaders are already looking to slide out of their respective commitments partly because they never really understand what they have signed up to until their finance ministers present the bill/check. So, here’s a novel idea. Turn the NATO defence planning process on its head. Let the experts identify the defence architecture NATO will need by 2030 and beyond, together with the capabilities, capacities, structures and organisation to support it. Then sit down again and agree how it can be afforded and fielded.

Critics suggest that the Strategic Concept’s conciseness is a weakness, that it is light on facts. What did they expect? NATO’s strategic and political goals are now far more closely aligned with NATO’s Military Strategy, the first such demarche since 1962, implying a new relationship between effectiveness, efficiency and affordability.  Critics also fail to understand the purpose of a Strategic Concept or its relationship with the NATO Military Strategy. A NATO Strategic Concept is essentially a contract between leader and practitioner in which the former instructs the latter what the Alliance must minimally ensure and assure over the coming decade or so and publicly commit to those goals. It is not a public relations document per se, even if it does play such a role. 

In time, the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept could well come to be seen as a landmark document that set the direction of travel for the Alliance in a new “age of strategic competition”, in much the same way as the December 1967 MC14/3. However, that will only happen if the Alliance adopts the “Clint Doctrine”. For that reason Secretary-General Stoltenberg and his team are to be congratulated for being bold. ‘I know what you’re thinking. Did they fire all they have? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is NATO, the most powerful military alliance in the world and could blow you clean away, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?’  Fact or fiction?  The real work starts now!

Sleep well, Riga.

Professor Dr. Julian Lindley-French

The Retreat from Grand Strategy

By David Richards, TAG Member

Premium Blog Post, May 2022

“Strategy without Tactics is the slowest route to victory, Tactics without Strategy is merely the noise before defeat.”

Sun Tzu

Grand strategy is the stuff of great power. It is the generation, organisation and application of immense means in pursuit of high strategic aims. There was a time when the conduct of grand strategy was such a second nature for Britain’s elite that it did not even have a name. As Britain’s relative means have retreated – power is always relative – so has a culture of grand strategy at the heart of government.  Worse, the relationship between strategy and tactics has become hopelessly broken undermining the all-important mechanism for application through ends, ways and means. Post Brexit Britain is trying to rekindle such a culture through the mantra of ‘Global Britain’. From my own command experience re-establishing grand strategy as a ‘doctrine’ of power at the heart of government will be hard. Catchy slogans are a useful indicator of intent but devising and then coherently executing the strategy to achieve it is quite a different issue.


In 2003, at the time of the Second Gulf War, as the Assistant Chief of the General Staff and an occasional member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, I observed Western political leaders at fairly close quarters. Both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair had a relatively clear strategy for Iraq in 2003, but their tactics were (not for the first time) hopelessly flawed. There were also marked limits to Britain’s influence.  For example, I visited Ambassador Paul Bremer, US head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. My instructions from London were to try and reverse US decisions over the status of the Baath party and the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and police. Sadly, Sun Tzu’s point about the effect of rotten tactics was borne out. The situation is only now improving but the failure back in 2003 properly to understand sensible ends and the best ways and means to seek them led to a very long and tragically drawn-out process. It was the slowest possible route to what arguably now looks something like a strategically successful outcome.


As Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF), like my US successors, I was forced to repeatedly question both NATO and UK strategy and tactics in Afghanistan, but with little effect. Despite accepting the logic of my arguments, politicians back in Washington, London and elsewhere never took ‘ownership’ of the campaign with the profound consequence that ends, ways and means were never in synch. Last summer the campaign reached its strategic denouement and a chaotic withdrawal. Even then political leaders focused on, and at times seemed to revel in, a tactical withdrawal ignoring the hard truth – complete strategic failure. The withdrawal was only possible with the co-operation of an ‘enemy’ who had killed and maimed thousands of Allied soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent civilians.


In 2011, as Chief of the UK Defence Staff, I disagreed with Prime Minister Cameron on the Libya strategy. It is on the public record that I was implacably opposed to regime change because of the long term strategic consequences for a country that was inherently unstable. Like many politicians both Cameron and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, helped by a strategically-detached President Obama, confused politics, strategy and tactics. They were entirely focused on the short–term and the tactical, and their respective political needs to be seen as the heroic victors of a war. 


Good strategy is about hard choices. As Chief of Defence Staff, I and my outstanding team devised a coherent Syria strategy which independent experts agreed had a good chance of leading to a successful strategic outcome. Once again, political leaders were not prepared to align ends ways and means with Washington going as far as to say that ‘the General’s plan is more than the market can bear’. What ‘market’? Consequently, my advice was to let Assad win and quickly and to stop encouraging and supplying opposition groups with insufficient support to ensure success. The price in deaths, ruined lives and destroyed cities would be too huge and a massive strategic setback for the West. Russia was already sensing an opportunity and so it proved. 


A similar lack of a coherent strategy is now apparent in Ukraine. There is, at best, what might be termed incremental strategy with again no early and decisive synchronisation of ends ways and means.  It is a ‘let’s see how it goes’ ‘strategy’, in other words not really strategy at all. There is still little idea in London, Washington or elsewhere how ‘we’ want the war to pan out, or what sort of Russia we are seeking to shape, especially on the vital long term issue of relations with China. Is there an opportunity, using carrots and sticks, to persuade a weakened Russia to align with the West rather than having it pushed ineluctably into China’s orbit? No-one is thinking grand strategically because no-one is brave enough to think beyond the political convention of the moment.

The retreat from grand strategy

London should be capable of grand strategic thinking and acting. Britain remains one of the world’s leading economies and military powers even if it is a decidedly regional strategic power these days. Strategy is about choices and the more choices one needs to make to balance the ends, ways and means when pursuing the national interest the more informed they need to be. That means big clear thinking about big issues and a much better understanding of how plausibly to achieve our goals.

David Richards                                                                       

General Lord Richards is a member of The Alphen Group

PREMIUM BLOG: A NATO Secure Neighborhood Initiative for Ukraine and Russia’s Other Vulnerable Neighbors

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow

Two months after Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine, and eight years after the illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization of eastern Ukraine, Russia continues to hold Ukraine’s security hostage. If Russia succeeds in subjugating Ukraine, then Georgia, Moldova and other vulnerable neighbors – potentially including even the Baltic States – may be next in the Kremlin’s revisionist crosshairs.

The best solution for Ukraine, fast-tracking its membership in NATO and giving it the protection of an Article 5 guarantee, is now off the table, with Ukraine reportedly prepared to accept neutral status to end the war in return for international security guarantees.

The NATO allies – and Ukraine – are paying the price for the incoherent decision by NATO leaders at their 2008 Summit in Bucharest.  That is when they first declared that Ukraine (and Georgia) “will become members” of NATO one day, but kept the door shut in practice in subsequent years.  This not only raised false hopes in Kyiv and Tbilisi that ultimately demoralized the Ukrainians and Georgians; it also signaled weakness to Moscow that may have contributed to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022.  That invasion seeks to deprive Ukraine of its legitimate right to defend itself and to ensure its sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity – a direct challenge to the rules-based international order and a recipe for long-term instability in the heart of Europe. 

Given the stakes, allies should use NATO’s new Strategic Concept to adopt a Secure Neighborhood Initiative (SNI) that would extend the Alliance’s security protection to non-members along Russia’s borders.  Under this approach, allies would make it a strategic objective to do everything possible, short of extending an Article 5 guarantee, to help Ukraine and other vulnerable neighbors of Russia to defend themselves and resist political and economic destabilization by Moscow.

In the case of Ukraine, the partner already under attack, by maximizing that country’s capacity to impose significant costs on Russia for future aggression, NATO would bolster Ukraine’s deterrence and increase its leverage for establishing peaceful relations when Moscow is ready to end its aggression. NATO’s commitment to robust security assistance to Kyiv could be the foundation of any new security guarantees provided to Ukraine by Allied nations and other possible guarantors of a negotiated peace settlement. Armed neutrality under the SNI, with the emphasis on “armed,” may be the best way for Ukraine to deter Russia going forward.

If, as is likely, a comprehensive political settlement cannot be rapidly achieved, assistance under the SNI would increase the pressure on Moscow to comply with a ceasefire as the first step toward a settlement, and it would increase Ukraine’s leverage for inducing Moscow to accept a long-term settlement that preserves Ukraine as a sovereign state with internationally recognized borders. It would be a more systematic and sustained version of what the United States and its allies have been doing to support Ukraine on an ad hoc, improvised basis over the last few months.

The SNI would encompass NATO HQ coordination not only of supplies of military equipment and training to Ukraine’s armed forces, but measures to increase Ukraine’s resilience against cyber-attacks, financial and energy disruption, disinformation, economic warfare and political subversion. The NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC) could be a focal point for Ukraine and the Alliance to align their perspectives on Ukrainian needs.  The NUC could also be convened for urgent consultations whenever Ukraine believes it faces a renewed security threat from Russia.

Under the SNI, Ukraine would gain more access to the Alliance’s Centers of Excellence and benefit from NATO Trust Funds that provide resources for practical projects in the areas of defense transformation and capacity building. A new Trust Fund could be added dedicated to promoting capability development, including financial support for new weapons acquisitions from Allied nations and incentives for joint production by Ukrainian and Allied defense industries. The SNI could provide the mechanism through which NATO could participate in a broader international effort to help Ukraine recover and rebuild following the war.

Under the SNI, a similar package of deterrence and resilience measures could be offered to Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose NATO membership prospects are also in limbo.  It could also be extended to Moldova and other former Soviet states (such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) that have never pursued NATO membership but may be fearful of Russian aggression and destabilization aimed at altering post-1991 borders by force.  If Finland and Sweden decide to postpone their bid for NATO membership, similar deterrence and resilience support could be provided to them under the Enhanced Opportunity Partner program, although full NATO membership for both countries would do even more to enhance security across Northern and Northeastern Europe 

To have a real impact on the partners’ and Allies’ own security, the SNI would depart from the traditional NATO formula that partnerships are demand-driven and funded largely by voluntary national contributions.  Allies would need to agree to use partnerships more strategically, rigorously prioritizing the use of NATO’s limited Civil and Military budgets and steering partners toward the highest-value activities rather than allowing them to choose activities à la carte.  The targeted deterrence and resilience support under the SNI would be of far greater benefit than a hollow promise of future NATO membership.


Alexander Vershbow is a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security in Washington DC. In his 40-year diplomatic career, he served as NATO Deputy Secretary General (2012-2016), US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (2009-2012), and US Ambassador to NATO (1997-2001) Russia (2001-2005), and the Republic of Korea (2005-2008).

Kulminatsionny Moment?

Ben Hodges and Julian Lindley-French

“Everything…depends on discovering the culminating point by the fine tact of judgement. Here we come upon a seeming contradiction. The defence is stronger than the attack; therefore we should think that the latter should never lead us too far, for as long as the weaker form remains strong enough for what is required the stronger form ought to be still more so”.

Karl von Clausewitz

March 15th, 2022. Idus Martiae! The race to the culminating point of Ukraine’s tragedy is on! Possible Chinese support notwithstanding the next ten days or so will prove critical. The Russian war of conquest in Ukraine is now entering a critical phase; a race to reach the culminating point of Russia’s offensive capacity and Ukraine’s defensive capacity.  That is why it is vital the West reinforces Ukraine’s capacity to resist and why Russia has started attacking supply bases through which Western lethal aid is passing. The next week or so could prove critical.  

The culminating point is reached when a force can no longer conduct operations. For a force engaged on offensive expeditionary operations that point is reached when a force simply can no longer advance. In the wake of the second Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, several constraints on the capacity to conduct a Blitzkrieg became immediately apparent. The moment Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border a large gap appeared between the scale and quality of the Russian forces needed to maintain offensive Russian military momentum and the force available given the capacity of Ukraine’s capacity to resist and the space in which to conduct defensive operations on their own terrain. 

It also became rapidly clear that the basic operational and tactical planning of the Russian General Staff was inadequate. Much of the intelligence underpinning the campaign was either faulty, out-of-date, or just plain wrong; mission goals and areas of responsibility between Battalion Tactical Groups had not been clearly established or delineated; secure communications between headquarters and forward deployed forces failed often; force protection was virtually non-existent; joint operations between air and ground elements were rendered extremely difficult by a lack of co-ordination and communications, and the Russian practice of ‘seeding’ regular army formations with conscripts led to rapid deterioration in the morale of the force in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance. Above all, the lack of sufficient Special Operating Forces and Specialised Forces, allied to a lack of precision-guided munitions in sufficient quantity, rendered the original strategy of decapitating Ukraine politically and militarily impossible to realise. 

The result is becoming increasingly self-evident for a poorly-planned and executed Russian military campaign in which incompetence marches side-by-side with costly but stalled momentum with Russian forces forced to adopt a campaign of attrition against Ukrainian civilians for which they are not designed.  Attrition warfare requires time, manpower, ammunition and resources.  The Russians are rapidly running out of all three which is why they are recruiting Syrians.  One lesson they should have drawn from their major VOSTOK and ZAPAD exercises is that the consumption of combat ammunition always exceeds ready stocks, particularly in urban warfare.  Sanctions have accelerated this by blocking the delivery of munitions to Russia from places such as Finland and Slovenia. This is why Russia has turned to China. 

The Ukrainians have excelled as a defensive force and as the morale of Russia’s forces has plummeted the defenders have seized the moral high ground.  Lessons-learned from Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea are apparent in the way the Ukrainians have successfully conducted information operations and managed to get inside of the Russian command loop.  Reinforced by Western real-time intelligence and advanced anti-air and anti-tank munitions the Ukrainians have been able to maintain a mobile defence hitting Russian formations when and where it hurts.  However, this heroic defence has come a great cost to Ukraine’s embattled regular forces and the many irregulars who have joined the fight.

For Clausewitz the successful application of military force requires both the moral and the physical to be superior to that of an enemy.  Russia began this war firm in the belief that the physical superiority of its forces over their Ukrainian enemy would prevail. As the war shifts from one of movement to one of attrition it is vital the West reinforces the capacity of the Ukrainians to resist. In practice, that means supplying them with sufficient lethal aid to fight the Russians to a standstill and pose the Kremlin with an acute dilemma: order general mobilisation to fight a long war and risk the wrath of the Mothers of St Petersburg and beyond or come to terms with the Ukrainians.  Either way the political price for Putin will be high given the human cost of his strategic folly.

In two months in 1982 Britain successfully re-took the Falkland Islands from the Argentinian occupiers.  To do so the British had to undertake the longest seaborne invasion in military history.  Whilst Argentina was only 400 miles from the Falklands the British were over 8000 miles distant.  The sheer distance meant the size of the Task Force sent was limited in scale. However, it prevailed because the force was of such a higher level of technological and force quality compared with the bulk of its Argentinian opponents that it was able to exert both physical and moral superiority over a larger defensive force. Russian forces lack both the quality and the quantity over their Ukrainian counterparts to establish physical or moral superiority. The war in Ukraine is thus testament to the abject failure of the Russian General Staff to modernise the Russian Army in particular.  Consequently, Putin’s entire political strategy of using coercion and implied threat of force to extract concessions from his neighbours already lies in tatters. Does that mean the end of Putin and bully Russia is over?  No, far from it.

What must the West now do?  First, accelerate and expand the delivery of capabilities and weapons specifically intended to help Ukraine destroy the land and sea-based artillery, rockets and cruise-missile launchers that are land-based and sea-based platforms.  This means more intelligence, more counter-fire radar, more long-range systems, more ammunition, and more anti-ship, and naval mines. Second, look to the future. Both China and Russia will already be deconstructing this war to identify and implement lessons for the future. So must we!

Putin? Beware the Ides of March, Caesar!

Ben Hodges and Julian Lindley-French

LTG (Ret.) Ben Hodges is the former Commander, US Army Europe. Julian Lindley-French was Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy. They are co-authors with Gen. (Ret.) John R. Allen of the book Future War and the Defence of Europe and both are members of The Alphen Group.

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