The Future of NATO and European Security

January 10, 2018 - nr.106

Summary, conclusions and recommendations

1     Summary and conclusions

The security challenges facing the Alliance are substantial and complex. European security is under threat from Russia’s destabilising actions and the arc of instability spanning the Middle East and North Africa. Russia is harming European security by violating the integrity of sovereign states and through its attempts to expand its influence in the ‘near abroad’ and undermine the credibility of NATO and the EU. In addition, Europe is vulnerable to terrorist attacks and must, for the foreseeable future, bear in mind the serious prospect of terrorist acts by organisations, lone actors or ISIS fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. Europe faces direct security threats emanating from North Africa, including terrorism and religious extremism, drug trafficking and people smuggling, and arms proliferation.

In light of these significant threats, it is all the more worrying that NATO’s internal unity is  fragile. Since January 2017, the United States, which has formed the political and military backbone of the Alliance since its establishment in 1949, cannot be depended upon to provide political leadership. The Alliance’s internal cohesion is also under pressure caused by differences of opinion between the eastern and southern Allies concerning NATO’s general direction, the differing defence efforts of the NATO countries and the difficult relationship with Turkey. The energy dependency of several European countries is also a potential source of tension. Russia is a key energy supplier for several NATO countries, including Germany. As in its June 2014 advisory letter ‘The EU’s Dependence on Russian Gas’ (no. 26), the AIV therefore recommends creating a European energy policy, diversifying oil and gas imports and making the energy supply more sustainable.

Security threats have not been this substantial, and NATO has not been in such a poor position, since the end of the Cold War. The security situation has changed dramatically since the adoption of NATO’s most recent Strategic Concept in 2010. The AIV believes that it would have been appropriate to re-examine the basic principles and policies of the Strategic Concept in light of these developments. However, due to the current lack of US leadership and differences of opinion within NATO, it will be difficult to reach agreement on a new Strategic Concept. The AIV regrets this. For the time being, the final declarations of the summit meetings in Wales and Warsaw, which date from the time of the Obama administration, will have to serve as strategic guidelines for the Alliance.

In the present advisory report, the AIV analyses the security threats on NATO’s eastern and southern flanks, evaluates the measures NATO has taken and identifies what decisions are required to secure the Alliance’s long-term future. In addition, it presents various recommendations for Dutch security and defence policy.

Security policy and military developments on the eastern flank
Russia aspires to the status of a great power that is able to take military action outside its own region. Its efforts to strengthen its military potential (‘hard power’) play an instrumental part in achieving this aim. Russia has shown that it will not hesitate to deploy military assets (e.g. in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria), or threaten to do so, if the opportunity arises. It is increasingly seeking to influence political developments in Central and Eastern Europe. The politically unstable countries in the Balkans have become more vulnerable. Not enough progress has been made on economic reforms, strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption and organised crime. The ethnic reconciliation process is also moving slowly. This state of affairs presents Russia with opportunities to expand its influence.

Russia cannot win a prolonged, large-scale conflict with NATO, but it is capable of rapidly assembling a large military force at regional level, for example in the vicinity of the Baltic states. In 2008, it launched an ambitious, large-scale programme to modernise its armed forces, resulting in a substantial increase in combat strength in both qualitative and quantitative terms. Russia has access to, among other things, sophisticated offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, and is highly proficient in information warfare. Russia’s military action in Ukraine has shown that its weaponry is more advanced than NATO’s in several key areas. Examples include a new generation of cluster munitions filled with thermobaric explosives, which are significantly more lethal than conventional explosives, the extensive use of tactical drones for target acquisition, and electronic warfare capabilities. Russia has robust Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities, which can be used to partially or fully deny an adversary the use of land, sea or airspace. These weapon systems, including air defence systems and ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads, constitute a threat to the Baltic states in particular.

Military exercises are an effective way of hiding one’s intentions in the build-up to a surprise attack. Such a scenario would leave NATO with hardly any time to respond in the event of an attack on the Baltic states. Many Russian military exercises are characterised by offensive scenarios targeting the Baltic states, Poland and Scandinavian countries. Given the current lack of transparency, NATO can do little more than monitor Russia’s capabilities, since intentions can change rapidly. Although Russia does not currently appear to be planning to attack these countries, the possibility cannot be ruled out. It could happen – for example when NATO and the EU are distracted by a different crisis – in response to US actions in another part of the world or because of domestic problems in Russia. In such a case, the Russian propaganda machine could frame the country’s actions in a given light, by claiming, for example, that it needed to protect oppressed Russian-speaking minorities, that it was responding to a planned attack by NATO or that it needed to safeguard access to Kaliningrad.

NATO cannot afford to entertain the illusion that the confrontation with Russia is fleeting in nature. It may be possible to achieve modest results on arms control and to make agreements to reduce the risk of ‘war by accident’, but Russia’s desire to exercise control over neighbouring countries should never be tolerated. Engaging in realpolitik, for example by accepting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, would be morally reprehensible and strategically ill-advised. Russia is part of the global community and is involved in decision-making on many issues. It therefore cannot be isolated or ignored. However, NATO can attach clear conditions to doing business with the regime and, if necessary, impose new sanctions.

For the sake of the stability of the Baltic states, it is important that Estonia and Latvia resolve the issue of the statelessness and lack of political rights, including the right to vote, of Russian-speaking minorities within their borders. For reasons of principle, and in view of security policy considerations, official and non-governmental representatives of other NATO countries should continue to emphasise the importance of integrating Russian minorities in their discussions with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Discrimination, unemployment and other disadvantages suffered by pro-Russian minorities pave the way for open and covert attempts by the Russian government to undermine social cohesion in the Baltic states and to fabricate reasons for Russian intervention.

Defence and deterrence posture – credible military deterrence
Deterrence can be achieved through the deployment of military and non-military instruments of power. Non-military options include diplomatic and economic sanctions and denial of access to the SWIFT international payment network. Deterrence by military means can take the form of ‘deterrence by denial’ or ‘deterrence by punishment’. The first strategy aims to convince an adversary that it cannot achieve its objective. Such a preventive approach requires the defender to maintain a strong and visible conventional presence in the territories that the aggressor might attack. The second strategy aims to convince an adversary that any objective it achieves is only of temporary value and will always be followed by a response that more than wipes out any advantage it has gained. Possession of nuclear weapons contributes to both forms of deterrence, but ‘deterrence by denial’ is far preferable since it helps prevent armed aggression and the risk of nuclear escalation.

Effective military deterrence rests on three pillars: capabilities (possessing sufficient military striking power to prevent an adversary from achieving its objectives), credibility (convincing an adversary that, if necessary, all available assets can and will be deployed) and communication (clearly communicating one’s willingness, if necessary, to deploy all available assets). One of the questions in the government’s request for advice concerns the effectiveness of the measures agreed at the summit meetings in Wales and Warsaw. These measures accordingly need to be assessed against the three pillars. For instance, what impact would they have on a potential Russian invasion of one of the Baltic states, where NATO is at its most vulnerable?

Deterrence by denial relies on the visible size, strength and location of NATO’s forward deployed forces in peacetime. However, the multinational battalions stationed in the Baltic states lack striking power and serve exclusively as a tripwire. Even the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) – should it be able to reach the deployment area within the specified response time – consists largely of light units and lacks the power to prevail in a military confrontation with Russian troops. The Initial Follow On Forces Group (IFFG), which complements the NATO Response Force (NRF), has a lengthy response time of 30 or 45 days and thus would provide scant relief in the event of a surprise attack. In the context of NATO’s current defence and deterrence posture, a strategy based on deterrence by denial therefore lacks credibility. Such weakness may provoke aggression and could increase the risk of NATO having to resort to nuclear weapons.

At present, NATO is thus obliged to rely on deterrence by punishment. Under this strategy, its true military strength must come from deployable and available follow-on forces, in conjunction with a credible nuclear strategy. US involvement is crucial to this strategy too. Credible deterrence by punishment requires that the aforementioned follow-on forces be available and that NATO be able to reach a decision by consensus with regard to military deployment involving heavy losses. Years of cuts in defence spending and a focus on light units and counter-insurgency and stabilisation missions have seriously eroded the capability of particularly the European NATO countries to operate successfully in high-intensity conflicts. Significant improvements would be required in a large number of areas for a period of several years in order to achieve credible deterrence by punishment and reduce NATO’s reliance on nuclear weapons.

For NATO, the greatest weakness of a deterrence-by-punishment strategy lies in the requirement to reach decisions by common consent during a military conflict with Russia. The question arises whether Russia can be prevented from paralysing the decision-making process by exploiting a lack of unity within NATO, for example through intimidation, including nuclear threats, and by spreading disinformation. For this reason, too, deterrence by punishment is significantly riskier than deterrence by denial.

In all likelihood, Russia is not intent on a prolonged, large-scale conflict with NATO. Among the many relevant considerations, certain non-military factors and risks may persuade Moscow to exercise caution, such as the costs arising from Russia’s ongoing interventions in Ukraine and Syria, the economic impact of tighter Western sanctions, and popular opposition to a new military adventure. At regional level – especially in the Baltic region, which lacks strategic depth – Russia could achieve military dominance by carrying out a rapid surprise attack. The AIV believes that the greatest risk facing NATO is misjudgement on the part of Russia. Russia should not be tempted to swiftly create a fait accompli, for example by suddenly invading one of the Baltic states.

The AIV believes that NATO’s strategy should therefore focus as much as possible on deterrence by denial. The Alliance’s decision-making processes will always be considerably slower than Russia’s. Credible deterrence by denial requires more forward deployed units with sufficient striking power, creating additional response time for deploying the VJTF. This is particularly important owing to the impossibility of pre-positioning military equipment and supplies for the VJTF on account of the force’s multinational character and the fact that its composition changes with each rotation. In addition, NATO should transform the current air policing mission into an air defence mission, reinforce the Standing Naval Forces in the Baltic Sea and ensure the availability of deployable follow-on forces as soon as possible. After all, if deterrence by denial fails, NATO must be able to fall back on these follow-on forces. Furthermore, it should be absolutely clear to Russia that deploying nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict would fundamentally change the nature of that conflict. In order to ensure that nuclear weapons never have to be deployed, a credible NATO nuclear strategy is thus essential.

In addition to the above, other measures are needed to shorten response times, such as lifting restrictions on the transport of military units and materiel across national borders (a ‘military Schengen’), shortening the response time of NRF units and establishing a fast-track procedure for political approval in national capitals. The AIV believes that it is wrong to assume that measures supporting credible deterrence would lead to escalation. On the contrary, a weak stance on the part of NATO would be more likely to tempt Russia into taking undesirable action.

Nuclear weapons play an important role in Russian military doctrine. Russia recognises the political and strategic significance of being the first to carry out a ‘demonstration strike’ with nuclear weapons in order to ‘de-escalate’ an escalating conflict. The purpose of such a strike might be to discourage NATO countries from intervening in a conflict or taking any further action. Public references to nuclear weapons are therefore very common. During its annexation of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin referred explicitly to Russia’s nuclear capability. The AIV therefore believes that it is important to determine whether NATO’s nuclear strategy and assets, in particular its sub-strategic – and specifically its ‘tactical’ – nuclear weapons, still exert sufficient deterrent (i.e. conflict-preventing) force.

Communication is an essential component of credible deterrence. It is therefore vital that NATO member countries should aim to speak with one voice, set a joint course and keep their populations well informed. In some NATO countries, doubts are emerging as to their willingness to come to the aid of a threatened Ally. In Germany, for instance, only 40% of the population believes that the country should deploy military assets if a NATO Ally is attacked by Russia. The AIV believes that such signs should be taken seriously and that NATO has a key responsibility here where strategic communication is concerned.

Dialogue with Russia
It is very important that NATO and Russia resume their dialogue. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, discussions in the main forum – the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) – have practically come to a standstill. At the same time, it is essential to keep talking, especially when relations are tense, in order to prevent misunderstandings and accidents. Issues of common interest, such as developments in Syria and counterterrorism, should be discussed. However, it remains to be seen whether Russia is truly interested in a meaningful and constructive dialogue.

Talks on conventional arms control have also stalled. Russia blocked the revision of the Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in 2016 and suspended its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe in 2007. All in all, the two sides’ contradictory principles, perceptions and political interests, as well as the mutual mistrust and suspicion concerning each other’s intentions, leave little room for an improvement in NATO-Russia relations. On the other hand, there is an unmistakable need to stabilise the current situation as soon as possible, before accidents and misjudgements lead to a serious escalation. The AIV firmly believes that it is worth considering making optimum use of the complementarity between the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security and the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, in order to hold trilateral consultations on issues of common interest that also fall within the EU’s sphere of competence. This applies, for example, to the issue of counterterrorism, as Russia is interested in working together in this area, while the NATO countries themselves still need to further their coordination on this issue.

Furthermore, NATO’s efforts – and those of the Netherlands in particular – should focus on reviving the talks on modernising the Vienna Document. Certain aspects of the plans of former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, such as the need to devote attention to the many new military and strategic developments, should definitely be included in this process. As a result, the emphasis will shift from the numerical reduction of different categories of weapon systems to restricting threatening innovations in the field of hybrid warfare, such as disinformation and cyber weapons. The same applies to the spirit of the German initiative: however great the objections of certain countries may be and however intractable the problems may seem, the AIV believes that dialogue remains necessary.

Security policy developments on the southern flank
The security threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa – refugee flows, irregular migration, transnational crime and terrorism – are increasingly drawing NATO’s attention. The Alliance’s efforts in the Middle East and North Africa are part of its Projecting Stability initiative, a catch-all concept that lacks clear geographical or substantive boundaries. This illustrates the diffuse nature of NATO’s involvement in these regions. Individual countries are participating in the fight against ISIS, for example by carrying out air operations, while NATO is supporting Afghan security institutions through the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) and organising training activities and supporting capacity building in the framework of the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building (DCB) Initiative. The AIV would welcome the expansion of these DCB activities where possible. Working in close cooperation with the EU, which has a wider range of instruments at its disposal, NATO can add value, particularly in non-permissive environments.

NATO lacks a clear-cut strategy for its southern flank. The AIV believes that the security threats emanating from this area are more likely to increase than decline in the coming decades. Partly for this reason, it believes that NATO should develop a southern strategy and step up its cooperation with the EU in this area. This would also address the concerns of the southern Allies, help discourage unilateral military intervention and promote cohesion within the Alliance.

EU-NATO cooperation
For many years, EU-NATO cooperation was hampered by friction between Cyprus and Turkey and interinstitutional rivalry. More recently, the member states of both organisations have realised that the complexity of the security situation necessitates cooperation, and a natural division of labour is emerging between the EU and NATO. Relations between the two organisations have improved significantly. In July 2016, they issued a joint declaration containing 42 action points on such issues as hybrid threats, cybersecurity, operational cooperation, defence capabilities, the defence industry, defence-related research, military exercises and capacity building.

Under the European Defence Action Plan (EDAP), the European Commission will, by creating a European Defence Fund (EDF), play a major role in defence-related research and the joint development and procurement of capabilities by groups of EU member states. Building on the recent initiatives of the Council and the Commission in the field of defence, Franco-German leadership, in particular, could stimulate an increase in European military strength. The AIV welcomes the European Council’s decision of June 2017 to develop concrete plans for Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), in order to further deepen EU defence cooperation.

The AIV believes that the entry into office of US president Donald Trump and the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the EU make good EU-NATO cooperation even more important. In order to safeguard their own security and present themselves as a credible security partner to the United States, the Europeans will have to make optimum use of the various mandates, memberships and instruments that the two organisations have at their disposal. From this perspective, EU-NATO cooperation has undeniably improved, but there is still a long way to go.

In order to keep the United Kingdom involved in European security, the AIV recommends reviving the Eurogroup, which played a useful supportive role within NATO between 1968 and 1994. The Eurogroup was established in 1968 at the initiative of then British defence secretary Denis Healey, for the purpose of strengthening European defence cooperation within NATO. A new Eurogroup would enable the United Kingdom, France (which did not participate in the past) and Germany, along with the other European member countries, to discuss – informally and in a NATO context – how their political, military and financial efforts can best serve transatlantic cooperation. Such a mechanism might also be helpful in keeping the lines of communication open with Turkey.

Dutch security and defence policy       
The AIV firmly believes that, alongside its transatlantic orientation, Dutch security and defence policy should focus more heavily on the continental dimension. Although the United Kingdom and the United States will remain key security partners in the future, European security and defence policy is expected to develop and deepen considerably in the next few years under the leadership of France and Germany. The AIV believes that the Netherlands would be wise to keep pace with this development, since the lack of clarity in US policy, Brexit and the current security situation require a coordinated approach. The AIV agrees with the Dutch government that it is also important to agree on a ‘security arrangement’ with the United Kingdom so that it remains involved in European cooperation on security policy. However, the AIV would note that the United Kingdom has often attempted to block proposals to expand European defence cooperation in the past. It should not be given any leeway to do so in the new constellation, and the Netherlands should play no role in facilitating such behaviour.

The need to strengthen collective defence and deterrence does not detract from the importance of the Alliance’s other two core tasks: crisis management and cooperative security. If a confrontation with Russia were to occur, it would be very likely to manifest itself in varying degrees not only in Eastern Europe but throughout the continent’s periphery. Quite apart from our relations with Russia, our security interests may come under threat in the vicinity of the Alliance or elsewhere in the world. In this context, it is also important to take China’s growing influence into account. The Netherlands must therefore be able to make full use of the range of diplomatic and military instruments for prevention, partnerships and outreach, including the ability to initiate or participate in crisis management operations. This means that the Dutch armed forces must retain their capacity to carry out expeditionary operations.

In light of the current security challenges, the AIV regards substantial additional investment in security as a necessity – not only to strengthen the armed forces but also to boost cyber defence and expand the network of diplomatic missions. The AIV previously drew attention to this last issue in its May 2017 advisory letter ‘The Dutch Government’s Presence Abroad’ (no. 32). NATO is highly critical of the Netherlands’ defence efforts, particularly its land forces. The AIV considers it crucial that the defence budget be raised to meet the European NATO average over the next four years. During the subsequent four years, it should reach the 2% target. According to the Ministry of Defence, in 2015 the Dutch defence budget stood at 1.09% of GDP, which is well below the average for the European NATO countries (1.43% of GDP in 2015).

This very necessary increase in the defence budget over the next few years will first have to be used to eliminate existing shortfalls. This means not only replenishing stocks of spare parts and munitions that are currently in short supply, restoring the balance between combat and support capabilities and preventing weapon systems from becoming obsolete, but also restoring operational capabilities that have been scrapped in recent years purely because of cuts. The growing importance of all three core tasks, especially the first, makes it all the more vital to eliminate these shortfalls. The AIV firmly believes that the Netherlands should also invest heavily in cyber capabilities, both in financial terms and in terms of interministerial coordination, and cooperation with the private sector.

The Netherlands occupies a special position in relation to nuclear weapons, and sees itself as a ‘bridge builder’ on the issue of disarmament. It was the only NATO country to participate in negotiations with 131 other countries at the United Nations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but was ultimately the only country to vote against it. The AIV has doubts about the Netherlands’ role as a ‘bridge builder’ in the field of nuclear disarmament. Our country cannot afford to chart its own course. The AIV considers it vital that the Netherlands continue to toe the NATO line on this issue.

The AIV wishes to draw particular attention to the position of the States General in connection with the deterioration of the international security situation, the likely increase in demands on the Dutch armed forces and the need to intensify European defence cooperation. Under article 97 of the Dutch Constitution, the government is not obliged to inform parliament in advance of deployment of the armed forces in the event of an article 5 situation. However, the government has given the House of Representatives its undertaking that it will do so whenever possible. The AIV believes it is essential that the House of Representatives consider potential scenarios, certainly including those that fall below the threshold of article 5, and reflect on its own role in such situations. The AIV also believes it is important to invest substantially in interparliamentary contacts in order to promote consensus on matters affecting all NATO Allies.

2 Recommendations

1. Political discussions within NATO, based on exchanges of information and consultations between partners, should be frequent and wide-ranging. The NATO Secretary-General should develop a recognisable profile, for example by presenting initiatives in the framework of international diplomatic consultations.

2. It is crucial to continue investing in the transatlantic relationship, since the United States remains indispensable to European security. In this context, it is important to pursue a common policy on sanctions against Russia. In order to ensure the United Kingdom’s continued involvement in European security, the AIV recommends breathing new life into the Eurogroup within NATO.1

3. At the same time, the Netherlands would be wise to be actively involved from the outset in the discussion on the French-German proposals for developing and intensifying European defence cooperation and to participate ambitiously in enhanced cooperation. This has various implications, including active involvement in the implementation of PESCO. A half-hearted approach would undermine the Netherlands’ position as a key discussion partner in the development of new collaborative initiatives. It is important to ensure that the United Kingdom remains involved in European security, but the UK should not be granted any say over the shape of defence cooperation within the EU.

4. The collective defence of the Alliance’s eastern border will be one of NATO’s primary tasks in the coming years. In this context, the AIV considers it crucial to develop deterrence by denial as much as possible. To this end, the forward deployed forces, particularly those in the Baltic states, need to be reinforced considerably. Options include deploying a rotating brigade-sized unit in each Baltic state of sufficient military strength to provide additional response time for VJTF units in particular, if the need arises. NATO should also develop an adequate response to the A2/AD threat. In addition, it should transform the current air policing mission into an air defence mission, reinforce the Standing Naval Forces in the Baltic Sea and ensure the availability of deployable follow-on forces as soon as possible.

5. In addition to investing heavily in military capabilities, a further key priority is the swift movement of military units. The numerous formal restrictions on transporting military materiel and logistic assets across the borders of European NATO countries must be lifted. In cooperation with the EU, these countries should establish a military Schengen area as soon as possible.

6. It is vital to improve NATO’s relations with Russia. The agenda of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) should focus, in particular, on measures aimed at preventing aerial and maritime accidents (risk reduction), maintaining hotlines between military headquarters and ensuring compliance with the Vienna Document, especially as regards the notification and observation of Russian snap exercises, which are perceived as threatening.

7. The Alliance’s ability to act decisively is contingent on the degree of political agreement between national governments. The military recommendations on which the North Atlantic Council (NAC) bases its decisions must bring together and consolidate factors that address the complexity of modern crisis situations. The AIV believes that regular exercises involving various actors, including the NAC, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the Military Committee and the national parliaments of the NATO countries, are vital to ensuring that NATO is able to take effective action where necessary. Such exercises should focus, in particular, on decision-making in conflict situations, such as cyberattacks, that fall below the threshold of article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

8. The AIV recommends that the States General establish a parliamentary committee to examine parliament’s role in the potential deployment of the Dutch armed forces and the various scenarios that might arise in this context.

9. In the coming years, NATO must continue to contribute to the fight against terrorism and other security threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa. Crisis management outside the treaty area remains one of the Alliance’s key tasks. Military interventions in conflict areas should be carried out in the framework of an integrated approach that also comprises diplomatic initiatives and development cooperation. In close cooperation with the EU, NATO can add value, particularly in non-permissive environments. The AIV believes that NATO should develop a southern strategy given its security interests in these regions.

10. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has shown that his views on democracy, freedom of expression and the rule of law are incompatible with the values cited in the preamble of the Washington Treaty. Turkey should be called to account on this issue both within NATO and in other international forums. Nevertheless, the AIV warns against alienating the country from NATO. Given its location and size, Turkey remains a key partner in confronting the numerous security challenges facing the Alliance. It may also be necessary to call other NATO countries, such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland, to account on steps that undermine the rule of law and violate the shared values that NATO seeks to uphold.

11. At the present time, NATO should refrain from further expansion. Relations with Ukraine, Georgia and states in the Balkans should be fostered on a different basis, including strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation with Ukraine.

12. NATO needs to develop an effective offensive cyber strategy. In addition, NATO and the EU should intensify their efforts in the field of cybersecurity. The same applies to cooperation with the private sector and cooperation among the NATO countries themselves.

13. An effective NATO nuclear strategy is crucial to maintaining a credible deterrent. As long as nuclear weapons are indispensable to deterrence and defence, the Netherlands should not make a unilateral decision to reject NATO’s nuclear task. It is open to question whether NATO’s nuclear strategy and assets, in particular its sub-strategic – and specifically its ‘tactical’ – nuclear weapons, are still adequate. In fact, the AIV believes that developments in this area make it imperative for NATO to re-evaluate its nuclear strategy.

14. As a result of developments in the national and international security situation, the three core tasks of the Dutch armed forces – and especially the first (protecting Dutch and Allied territory) – have become more important. The armed forces will have to ensure the simultaneous availability of capabilities for all three core tasks. Over the next four years, under the new government, the defence budget should rise to meet the European NATO average. During the subsequent four years, it should reach the 2% target.

15. Priority should be given to restoring the military’s basic level of readiness and its striking power, in particular by endowing land-based operations with sufficient escalation dominance and improving the balance between the armed forces’ combat and support capabilities. Only then would it be appropriate, in the view of the AIV, to raise the armed forces’ level of ambition and increase their sustainability, bearing in mind the shortfalls that exist within NATO and the EU. If the armed forces are to remain relevant, it is important that operational reform and innovation (for example in the information and cyber domains) feature prominently in every step that is taken over the next few years.

1 This Eurogroup should not be confused with the current Eurogroup, which comprises the finance ministers of the countries that make up the euro area. See footnote 103.
Advice request

Professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Chairman of the Advisory Council on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague    

Date  October 2016
Re     Request for advice on NATO’s long-term adaptation      

Dear Professor De Hoop Scheffer,

 At the NATO summit meetings in Wales and Warsaw, the NATO countries’ heads of state and government took several key steps to adapt the Alliance to the changing security environment. The Readiness Action Plan (RAP) addresses the concerns of those Allies that feel most threatened by Russia and demonstrates the Alliance’s determination to defend the treaty area. In today’s turbulent security environment, it is vital that NATO continue to reflect on the scope and effectiveness of the RAP’s adaptation measures and the Alliance’s enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states and Poland, which was approved in Warsaw.

Following a period in which the main emphasis was on crisis management operations outside NATO’s territory, the Alliance’s original purpose – collective defence and deterrence – has clearly gained in importance, especially as a result of the change in Russia’s stance. In addition to reinforcing its deterrence and defence posture, NATO is focusing specifically on dialogue with Russia, cooperation with partners, and arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. Finally, in addition to collective defence, NATO’s two other core tasks – crisis management and cooperative security – remain as important as ever.

Russia’s actions require a firm response, as the AIV rightly noted in its April 2015 advisory report ‘Instability around Europe’ (no. 94). The issue is not just Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its destabilising actions in eastern Ukraine and Syria. Other concerns include the increase in military activities along the eastern and northern flanks of the Alliance, the far-reaching modernisation of the Russian armed forces, the expansion of Russia’s Anti-Access/Area Denial capabilities, which pose a direct threat to the Baltic states and the region around the Black Sea, Russia’s doctrine on the deployment of nuclear weapons, and the use of hybrid or new generation warfare, in which the information domain plays a prominent role.

In addition, the Alliance is under threat from terrorism emanating from the Middle East and North Africa, due in part to the presence of ISIS, and European NATO countries are facing an acute migration crisis and cross-border problems resulting from the collapse of state authority elsewhere. In general, the Alliance’s interests and values are increasingly under pressure as a result of global power shifts and geopolitical changes.

The Alliance is expected to act as a collective defence organisation in an environment that in many respects differs substantially from the one that prevailed during the Cold War. The organisation no longer faces a single (and to some extent predictable) potential adversary and has undergone far-reaching changes, due in part to the accession of a large number of new members. Further examination is required to determine how NATO can best defend itself against conventional military threats as well as mixed, hybrid tactics and advanced cyber warfare. Due to the complexity and multiplicity of these threats, both individually and collectively, modern crisis management requires closer cooperation with security partners, such as the EU, in order to guarantee joint access to a wider range of capabilities and instruments. The recent NATO-EU joint declaration, issued at the summit meeting in Warsaw, reflects this view.

As a result of the worsening security situation, NATO’s collective defence tasks are placing increasing demands on military units. In light of the new security context, NATO has set higher standards for the readiness, rapid deployability and availability of military capabilities. The Netherlands is a member of NATO with good reason, and it is expected to make a meaningful contribution to the Alliance. The roles and tasks that the armed forces must be able to perform in response to assorted threats, as well as in a wide range of locations and during various stages of a conflict, have important implications for their composition, equipment and readiness.

Within these parameters, the government requires a detailed analysis of the adaptation measures the Alliance will have to take in the long term and their implications for the Netherlands. For this purpose, the AIV can build on the analysis presented in its aforementioned advisory report, though it should also take more recent developments into account, such as the outcome of the NATO summit meeting in Warsaw – which highlighted the importance of arms control and non-proliferation – UN peace operations, the adoption and further elaboration of the EU Global Strategy, the ongoing military conflicts in eastern Ukraine and Syria, the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, the attempted military coup in Turkey and the response to it, and the Dutch public debate concerning all these developments. Finally, the analysis could also cover potential changes in the direction of US foreign and security policy as a result of the entry into office of a new president and administration.

Against this general background, the government would ask the AIV to address the following specific questions:

Principal question:

Given the diffuse and variable nature of the threat situation, how can NATO continue to perform its three core tasks in a sustainable manner in the long term, what is the best way to build on the results of the summit meetings in Wales and Warsaw, and what are the implications of NATO’s adaptation requirements for Dutch security policy and defence efforts?

Subsidiary questions:

  1. What is the AIV’s assessment of the measures taken by NATO thus far in response to the threats on Europe’s eastern and southern flanks, both in terms of strengthening its deterrence and defence posture and regarding its use of diplomacy and other instruments of security policy?
  2. What follow-up steps does the AIV consider necessary? In its response to this question, the AIV should at any rate devote attention to the following issues:

    -The change in Russia’s stance and new methods of warfare. What demands do these developments place on NATO? How should it respond to provocations and conflict situations that remain below the threshold of article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty? How can NATO conduct a meaningful and constructive political dialogue with Russia without returning to business as usual? What topics might such a dialogue cover and what objectives might it reasonably pursue?

-Projecting stability. What role should NATO play with regard to responding to the challenges on its southern flank and the threat of terrorism? How does its contribution to stabilisation efforts and crisis management in this region relate to similar efforts in other, more distant deployment areas, such as Afghanistan?

-Cooperative security. What are the AIV’s recommendations regarding cooperation with other international organisations, in particular the UN and the EU? The translation of the NATO-EU joint declaration into actual opportunities for cooperation is an important starting point. In this context, the government would also ask the AIV to examine NATO’s cooperative relations with partner countries, countries that wish to join NATO and countries in unstable regions. What existing and additional options does the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building (DCB) initiative offer? How can NATO realistically revive the debate on and implementation of conventional arms control in Europe? How likely and relevant is the establishment of a new regime along the lines of the CFE Treaty? From a Dutch perspective, should the first priority be to modernise the Vienna Document? German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s recent attempt to relaunch conventional arms control and the United States’ cautious response to this initiative are also relevant here. In this respect it is crucial to determine what form and degree of military transparency is needed to address the concerns of NATO’s eastern Allies, particularly with regard to Russia.

  1. How can NATO ensure that it remains able to perform all three of its core tasks in an effective manner? How can NATO’s member countries – and the Netherlands in particular – contribute to this goal?

This request for advice has been included in the AIV’s 2016 work programme. We look forward to receiving your advisory report, preferably in the first quarter of 2017 so that its recommendations can be included in the preparations for the next NATO summit meeting.

Yours sincerely,

Bert Koenders
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert
Minister of Defence

Government reactions

Letter of 26 April 2018 to the President of the House of Representatives of the States General from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok, and the Minister of Defence, Ank Bijleveld, presenting the government’s response to the AIV’s advisory report The Future of NATO and European Security and its advisory letter Russia and the Defence Efforts of the Netherlands

This letter presents the government’s response to advisory report no. 106, The Future of NATO and European Security, and to advisory letter no. 31, Russia and the Defence Efforts of the Netherlands, by the Advisory Council on International Affairs.

The government is grateful for the in-depth analysis and recommendations contained in both reports. They examine one of the most important and timely security issues facing the Netherlands. A comprehensive overview of Dutch strategic efforts in this regard and the government’s broader security and defence policy is given in the Integrated International Security Strategy (IISS) and the Defence White Paper.

With this in mind, the present response will relatively briefly discuss a number of topics covered in the advisory report and letter: defence expenditure, collective defence efforts on NATO’s eastern flank, relations with Russia, transatlantic relations, the role of NATO in the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey’s position within the Alliance, cyberspace, NATO enlargement and NATO’s nuclear strategy.


In the government’s view, NATO remains the cornerstone of Dutch security policy. The threats to the east and south of the Alliance are not expected to disappear in the foreseeable future. Those threats include not only Russia’s aggressive and destabilising actions, particularly in Ukraine, Georgia and on the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Treaty area, but also the migration crisis, transnational terrorism and the unstable situation in parts of the Western Balkans. Given their geographical proximity, these threats have direct repercussions for the security of the Netherlands and its Allies. NATO has a primary role to play in combating and preventing these threats. The government feels bolstered in its view by the AIV’s advice.

With regard to NATO’s three essential core tasks (collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security), the Alliance’s efforts in the area of collective defence have been stepped up in recent years owing to the threats on its eastern flank. The government supports that decision, but believes that NATO must also be capable of continuing to fulfil its other two tasks. After all, the threats to the Alliance are diverse in nature and enhancing our collective defence capabilities is not the only solution. What is more, crisis management and cooperative security can themselves be considered a form of forward defence. The Netherlands will therefore press within NATO for the safeguarding of all three core tasks during the various reform processes (such as the adaptation of the NATO Command Structure).

Transatlantic relations

Continued engagement by the United States is crucial for NATO. Despite President Trump’s past criticism of the Alliance (e.g. his branding of NATO as ‘obsolete’ and his argument that NATO’s security guarantee should be extended only to Allies that meet the defence spending levels agreed at the Wales Summit), over the past year the US administration has endorsed the importance of NATO on several occasions, and in particular the significance of article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The US Senate, too, has reaffirmed the importance of article 5. The US, moreover, is continuing and strengthening its contribution to NATO’s missions, operations and other activities, both on the eastern flank (in the form of the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) 1 and the Enhanced Forward Presence in Poland, where the US is Framework Nation) and in Afghanistan. These contributions are concrete expressions of the ongoing US commitment to NATO. The government will of course continue investing in political and military relations with the US, at various levels.

Defence expenditure

The government recognises that effective security policy cannot be viewed separately from adequate defence funding. The Integrated International Security Strategy and the Defence White Paper set out the steps the government plans to take during its term in office.

NATO has observed that, despite the investments we have made, there are many capability goals which we are not yet able (or not sufficiently able) to realise. In a world that is undergoing change and growing less secure, it is important to enhance the Alliance’s striking power and sustainability. NATO has expressed its concerns about this and the government takes these seriously. The government therefore aims, during its term in office, to shape the longer-term policy lines required to ensure the stable funding and strengthening of the armed forces. This should be seen against the background of the pledge made at the Wales Summit in 2014 to increase defence expenditure towards the NATO guideline of 2% of GDP within 10 years. A steady increase within the framework of these long-term policy lines – with a view to achieving NATO’s capability goals – will be included in the revision of the Defence White Paper, scheduled for 2020.

Any extra follow-up steps during the government’s term in office will, at the appropriate time, be considered in the light of the overall security situation and the Netherlands’ central government-wide priorities, and within the agreed budgetary parameters. As stated in the Defence White Paper, it is important to align defence spending with the broad security policy priorities detailed in the Integrated International Security Strategy. That strategy shows clearly that the integrated deployment of the armed forces in combination with diplomacy and development cooperation will enhance the Netherlands’ security, in part by removing the root causes of instability, terrorism and migration – as noted in the coalition agreement. With that in mind, the planned investments in the Netherlands’ network of diplomatic missions and development cooperation are of great importance for Dutch security.

At NATO level, the Netherlands also highlights the Dutch contributions to the Alliance’s missions and operations around the world, including those in Afghanistan, Mali, the Middle East and Lithuania, and to NATO’s maritime missions.

Collective defence on the eastern flank

The government shares the AIV’s view that the collective defence of the eastern flank is one of NATO’s main challenges. As is recognised, the Netherlands contributes actively to this task through its deployment of around 270 military personnel in Lithuania, as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence. However, this does not lead the government to conclude that units in the Baltic States and Poland need to be reinforced to brigade strength in the present circumstances. The current presence already has a deterrent effect, especially given the large number of Allies that have proved willing to contribute to that presence. The multinational composition of NATO’s forward presence sends a strong message: any military attack on the eastern flank will be considered an attack on the Alliance as a whole. Moreover, NATO’s military planning is geared towards the rapid deployment of other units to the eastern flank in the event of a crisis.

This issue should also be seen in the context of efforts to simplify cross-border military transport in Europe, the importance of which the AIV rightly underlines. This entails the removal of physical, legal and administrative barriers to transporting troops and military capabilities, and NATO and the EU need to work in concert to achieve it. To this end the EU and NATO formally agreed at the NATO Ministerial Meeting of 5 December 2017 to work together. NATO will also work with the European Defence Agency to identify obstacles to the rapid movement of military personnel and materiel. In addition, the European Commission and the High Representative have presented an action plan containing proposals aimed at improving military mobility in Europe, and EU member states are working to simplify military mobility through their Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The Netherlands is playing a leading role in this regard.

In the government’s view, NATO’s military presence must be seen as only one of a number of instruments governing relations with Russia. These include the EU’s sanctions instruments, strategic communications and the deterrent effect associated with the development of cyber capabilities. What is more, the significance of coherent and united Allied input at the meetings of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) must not be underestimated. This also sends a powerful political message.

Relations with Russia

The government endorses the AIV’s conclusion that improving relations with Russia is vital. Such efforts should be couched in a policy of deterrence on the one hand and meaningful dialogue on the other. The government also shares the conclusion that significant efforts should be made to prevent military incidents from occurring. Transparency will be a major element in these efforts, as laid down, for example, in the Vienna Document (the OSCE’s package of politically binding confidence- and security-building measures). At the same time, the government believes there should be scope within the NRC to address other issues too. As stated in the Communiqué from NATO’s Warsaw Summit in 2016, the primary issue is the situation in Ukraine. In the government’s view, the main thing to consider is that, despite the present difficult circumstances, Russia remains a major player on the world stage. Given its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, its extensive nuclear arsenal, its role in matters concerning non-proliferation (e.g. with regard to Iran) and disarmament, and the ongoing situations in Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea, it is essential to ensure an ongoing political dialogue with Russia.

NATO in the Middle East and North Africa

The government welcomes the AIV’s conclusion that NATO has a role to play in countering security risks, such as terrorism, in the Middle East and North Africa. In this respect NATO’s emphasis should be on providing training, advisory services and capacity-building to the partner countries concerned, such as Iraq and Jordan, so as to enhance their resilience in countering threats. Eventually, such support can be expanded to other countries in the region if they request it. The Netherlands is currently contributing to NATO’s work in Iraq and Jordan, providing funding and trainers. NATO activity in the region is closely coordinated with the EU and other international actors such as the UN and the anti-ISIS coalition. In this connection the Netherlands is pressing for NATO to further enhance its cooperation with these partners.  

Turkey’s position

Like the AIV, the government believes it would be unwise to alienate Turkey from NATO. Owing in part to its size and location, Turkey is a strategic partner. What is more, the country is making a considerable contribution to NATO’s various missions and operations, for example in the fight against ISIS and in Afghanistan. It is also evident, however, that Turkey must be called to account for shortcomings in the area of democracy, individual freedoms and human rights, including freedom of expression and the rule of law. After all, the Alliance is a community of values, as the NATO Secretary-General has noted on several occasions. The government endorses that view. In the government’s opinion, the dialogue with Turkey can best be managed at the level of bilateral contacts and in international forums such as the EU and the Council of Europe. However, when it comes to the proportionality of the Turkish government’s actions against the PKK and in Syria, the Netherlands has opted explicitly to use NATO as well as a channel for communicating its severe criticism (see also the letter to the House of Representatives of 14 March 20182).


The government supports the AIV’s recommendation that NATO and its member countries should examine the scope for offensive deployment of cyber capabilities in the service of the Alliance’s tasks. NATO’s Warsaw Summit of July 2016 openly recognised cyberspace as a domain of operations. Acknowledging that NATO needs to be able to defend itself as effectively in this domain as on land, at sea and in the air implies that the Alliance’s cyber activities must also have a potential offensive impact. Lastly, the EU and NATO are collaborating more and more effectively on cybersecurity. The Netherlands welcomes this development.


The government seeks to uphold the basic principles of NATO’s ‘open door policy’. Countries in Europe that meet the criteria for NATO membership, and in addition are willing and able to contribute to the security of the Alliance as a whole, should be given the opportunity to accede to the organisation. The latest example of such a state is Montenegro. Countries that aspire to membership must be able to make the decision independently, with full sovereignty and without the involvement of third countries. This is in keeping with the AIV’s observation that Russia should not have a say in any future enlargement of the EU or NATO.

The government would note in this connection that the requirements that candidate countries have to meet are not trivial. Far-reaching reforms have to be implemented in areas such as democracy, the rule of law, media freedom, the position of minorities and democratic oversight of the intelligence services and armed forces. In addition, candidate countries must contribute to the security of the North Atlantic Treaty area. The Netherlands will hold candidate member countries strictly to these conditions. For this reason, accession by Ukraine and Georgia is currently not on the agenda. Where Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are concerned, the government will press for strict compliance with the criteria prior to any invitation to join the Alliance or any offer of Membership Action Plan (MAP) status.

Nuclear strategy

The government endorses the AIV’s view that an effective nuclear strategy is essential to maintaining a credible deterrent. At the same time, the government is of the opinion that NATO also has a role to play in the area of non-proliferation and nuclear arms control. Since the AIV intends to discuss the role of nuclear weapons (in NATO and otherwise) in a separate advisory report, the government will wait until it receives that report before giving an opinion on this issue.

1 Now called the European Deterrence Initiative by the US administration.
2 Parliamentary Paper 2018Z04598.

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