Policy Paper

Drawing Red Lines in Gray Areas: Deterring Russia’s Challenge to Transatlantic Security Today

November 30, 2017
Steven Keil
Martin Michelot
3 min read
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / BPTU

Russia is rejecting the post-Cold War status quo, increasing its challenge to the transatlantic partners in recent years. Espoused by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech in 2007, Moscow maintains that the Euro-Atlantic political and security architecture challenges its regional role and core interests, particularly in the post-Soviet space. With General Valery Gerasimov’s articulation of a Russia’s full-spectrum conflict strategy — which is one part an appropriation from Russia’s own Soviet past, and another part asymmetric opportunity of the current age — Russia is exploiting Euro-Atlantic weaknesses across a number of domains and contexts. Moreover, the Kremlin is weakening transatlantic red lines by blurring the line between conflict and peace, and confusing unity. 

In the face of Russia’s full-spectrum challenge, identifying key priorities and developing clear red lines among Euro-Atlantic nations and institutions is critical. This must include shoring up NATO’s conventional capability and making clear that Article 5 stands resolute. Reconciling the varying priorities among Allies, addressing the capabilities gap in Europe, overcoming reinforcement issues, and looking at the future role of a strategic nuclear deterrent force vis-à-vis Russia are all crucial to this endeavor. The transatlantic partners must turn to gaping vulnerabilities in the realm of cyber and disinformation. Together, they must create a depth of long-term resilience, while addressing concerns of the day. By drawing and retracing clear red lines, Allies will arrive at a stronger foothold from which resolution of an ongoing conflict across domains with Russia may begin to be more achievable. By neither properly understanding the Kremlin’s aims nor by confronting its aggressions, Russia will continue to exploit Euro-Atlantic weaknesses and sow discord among the partners. If red lines are unclear, it could lead to devastating miscalculations, which would incur unthinkable costs. Effective deterrence is essential.  

  • Effective deterrence will not only require recementing clear red lines so transatlantic nations can begin to tackle the multi-faceted challenge piece by piece, but thinking of deterrence in new ways given the new challenges posed by Russia’s tactics.

  • Russian General Valery Gerasimov’s strategy seeks to exploit and further muddy the gray areas that exist between peace and conflict, and the doctrine does so by articulating the fundamental change in how wars are fought.

  • By blending military and non-military means, as well as war and peacetime, Russia seeks to gain a simultaneous advantage across strategic, tactical, and operational domains, even before armed conflict begins.

  • The responsibility of the transatlantic partnership is twofold: to add strength and resolve behind the one red line, Article 5, and to build coherence, across sectors and across countries, on the gray areas of low intensity warfare.

  • The new EU agenda on defense can significantly reinforce the European pillar of NATO, but can European countries agree on priorities in the NATO framework to decisively reinforce deterrence at its eastern border?

  • Maintaining unity and cohesion on nuclear deterrence will be a long-term goal for the Alliance, one that will signal NATO’s resolve to warding off any territorial challenges, and providing an umbrella under which conventional deterrence can be adjusted.

  • Completing full-spectrum deterrence in Europe will require a smart combination of increased defense spending by European Allies, and increased coordination between the institutions that provide security. The stakes of EU–NATO cooperation are high.


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