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‘Ukraine should be a wake-up call for NATO and the UK’ – Defence Committee

Published time: July 31, 2014 10:15
AFP Photo / Peter Muhly

AFP Photo / Peter Muhly

The Ukrainian crisis should be a wake-up call for NATO and the UK, said Britain’s Defence Committee, which called for assertive measures to counter the “Russian threat.” Critics warn the committee’s “knee-jerk” proposals will only inflame tensions.

The committee’s latest report, issued on Wednesday, says NATO is not well prepared to face Russia, citing serious deficiencies in its command and control structures, in its ability to predict and give adequate warning of potential attack and in the readiness of its forces.

The report further adds that NATO may not have the collective political will to take concerted action to deter attack.

“Russian Federation actions in Ukraine have now raised the prospect, however unlikely, of a Russian attack on a NATO member state,” said the report. “The risk of a conventional attack by the Russian Federation on a NATO state is low, but NATO needs to take much more action to deter that risk.

“The risk of an unconventional attack using the ‘ambiguous warfare’ tactics deployed in Ukraine and elsewhere, whilst still small, is more substantial and would be even more difficult to counter,” it added.

AFP Photo / Bay Ismoyo

The Defence Committee called upon the UK government to take the lead at the NATO Summit in Wales this September to push the alliance into action.

Among its core recommends, the report urged the pre-positioning of military equipment and a continuous presence of NATO troops on training and exercises in the Baltic States. It also called for the re-establishment of large-scale military exercises including all NATO member states and their respective political decision-makers.

Improvements to the NATO rapid reaction force and the establishment of a new Standing Reserve Force for NATO were also suggested, as were enhancements to imminent attack warning procedures.

The committee also recommended radical improvements in expertise on Russia within government, and for the development of new tactics to respond to the threat of “ambiguous” attacks, including how to counter threats from cyber, information warfare, and irregular militia.

“The committee concludes that the threats to UK security are increasingly dynamic in their scale, complexity, uncertainty and urgency,” the report said. “NATO needs radical reform to be able to anticipate, plan and respond to these threats.

“Threats from terrorism and failed states continue to increase, change and develop. Meanwhile, events in Ukraine and Crimea represent the re-emergence of a real state on state threat to NATO’s eastern borders.”

Rory Stewart MP, chair of the Defence Committee, said NATO has been too complacent about the threat from Russia, claiming it is not well-prepared to deal with the fast moving tactical changes taking place.

“The instability in Russia, President Putin's world-view, and the failure of the West to respond actively in Ukraine means that we now have to address urgently the possibility - however small - of Russia repeating such tactics elsewhere,” said Stewart.

“We are not convinced that NATO or the UK Government has fully grasped the implications of this threat.”

The Foreign Office announced that a UK battle group will be taking part in a number of major military training exercises with other NATO forces in the autumn, designed to “reassure” allies in Eastern Europe.

The US and the EU imposed fresh sanctions on Tuesday against the Russian economy, including an arms embargo, a ban on the sale of bonds and equities in European capital markets by state-owned Russian banks and a ban on the sale of dual use and sensitive technology. Eight Russian officials also face asset freezes and travel bans.

“We are not about to launch a European war, we are not about to send the fleet to the Black Sea, we are not looking for a military confrontation,” said David Cameron following the announcement of sanctions. “But what we should do is use the economic power that we have.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted to the NATO build-up in Eastern Europe, promising a “well-measured” response.

“We shall provide an adequate and well-measured response to NATO’s expansion towards Russia’s borders, and we shall take note of [the West] setting up a global missile defense architecture and building up its arsenals of precision-guided weapons,” Putin said on Tuesday.

“No matter what our Western counterparts tell us, we can see what’s going on. As it stands, NATO is blatantly building up its forces in Eastern Europe, including the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea areas. Its operational and combat training activities are gaining in scale.”

The UK’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) condemned NATO’s assertiveness in the region, accusing the alliance of increasing tensions.

“NATO's expansion in Eastern Europe and its provocative military exercises are a hugely destabilizing force in the region,” said Kate Hudson, CND general-secretary. “The Defence Committee's knee-jerk call for ratcheting up NATO's presence there would only further exacerbate tensions.

“There is little appetite for a heightened NATO presence in Eastern Europe – just as there is little appetite for maintaining US/NATO nuclear weapons on European soil. It is outrageous that in the 21st century we are left with not only the infrastructure of the Cold War, but [also] the mentality.”