Investing in Resilience as a Response to a Military Threat in Europe

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Dr. Cynthia Cook appeared before the Committee for Defence of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands to testify on the consequences of a military threat in Europe and the potential response.

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Russia’s war shattered the vision of a peaceful Europe free from the threats of conventional attacks. Over two years later, Ukraine is still struggling to defend itself against an enemy that even in the face of significant loss of soldiers and of material has been able to sustain and perhaps to increase its operational effectiveness. Russia’s initial logistical errors and industrial base weaknesses seem to have been rectified and the operation has become a grinding war of attrition and logistics. Even as Europe has stepped up as never before and as Congress may vote this weekend on an additional $60 billion supplemental for Ukraine, the situation remains urgent. One serious concern is that if Russia is allowed to prevail, it could very well continue to threaten Europe. The United States National Security Strategy recently referred to Russia as an acute threat and the new NATO Strategic Concept recognizes Russia as a direct threat to Euro-Atlantic Security. Indeed, Putin has made clear that he views NATO’s expansion as a serious concern and wants a buffer zone between Russia and the West with Russia labeling Poland as a "dangerous enemy."

The question is what the West should do in response. Our recommendation is that we return to the concept of resilience—incorporating military capacity, civil preparedness, and emergency planning—which was central to the Cold War narrative as a first line of defense against the Soviet Union. Anchored in Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty, it committed allies to “separately and jointly, maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.” The question of resilience is ever more salient in the face of the current war. We offer an updated definition of resilience as the individual and collective capacity to withstand, fight through, and quickly recover from disruption caused by military and non-military threats to Euro-Atlantic security from authoritarian actors and strategic competitors as well as global challenges.

The Madrid summit confirmed that “Resilience is a national responsibility and a collective commitment.” Our research focuses on tactical solutions to the resilience challenge, with the observation there are benefits that will accrue from working together, from identifying, considering, and building on interdependencies and interconnectedness, and from deepening collaboration and coordination between like-minded nations to provide credible military options and faster decision-making. We want to go beyond affirmations of unity to the specific focus on planning and implementation of change.

Even in the absence of national resilience plans or organizations, a new NATO Resilience Planning Process modeled directly on the NATO Defense Planning Process can help bolster collective resilience in Europe

The first step is to establish political guidance and set priorities. NATO can incorporate resilience questions into top-level political guidance documents, which it produces every four years. Future political guidance documents—should include specific objectives for resilience. As part of this, a NATO-wide Security Risk Assessment can consider and review the chronic vulnerabilities and challenges that need to be addressed.

The second step is to determine specific requirements to meet this resilience level of ambition. Analytic work will be necessary for developing and defining a consolidated list of minimum resilience requirements. which should be the full set of resilience capabilities and assets that NATO needs if it is to support the effective enablement of its forces to ensure the collective defense and security of all allies

The third step is to apportion resilience requirements and set targets for actionable goals. These minimum resilience requirement targets should have associated priorities and timelines and should allow for innovative solutions rather than requiring specific approaches.

The fourth step is to facilitate implementation by making investments, which may require a new NATO resilience organization working to require provide continuous assistance to allies in implementing the targets, especially those allies with lesser resources. Investments in capabilities like energy and cybersecurity are not new to the allies, but connecting them into an overarching capability framework will require new approaches to implementation and measurement.

Finally, the fifth step is to review the results and offer additional support where it is needed, so assess how NATO is doing to meet its goals and revise plans to achieve them. Setting clear goals should facilitate periodic assessments of how NATO’s resilience objectives, ambitions, and targets are being met. The goals of this assessment can include identifying shortfalls, which may mean that new strategies or support structures will be needed—and that allies will require financial support to overcome these shortfalls. However, a periodic assessment could also offer a pathway for seeking out success stories and useful insights on a regular basis, lessons that will then be able to be rolled out to other nations

The new NATO Resilience Committee offers a springboard for this, and we also recommend naming a senior official with the specific responsibility and authority to oversee and ensure coherence between civilian and military collective resilience efforts across Europe. In addition, establish an advisory group to the NATO Resilience committee comprising representatives of think tanks and academia, research institutions, and especially the private sector including industry.

For resilience, the civilian and military worlds overlap. One clear example of this is energy. The Madrid summit declaration included an affirmation of the importance of strengthening energy security and ensuring reliable energy supplies to military forces—and we note fuels planning can help with civilian energy needs as well. Our case study on fuels cites Royal Netherlands Navy Admiral Rob Bauer, then Chair of NATO’s Military Committee, as saying “NATO has for decades ‘neglected the larger-scale logistics that is connected to collective defense’ because it was planning for operations out of its operational area.” In short, NATO underinvested in Europe as it supported anti-terrorism and other contingencies overseas. Our recommendations on fuels focus on sustainment as a strategic imperative, along with a variety of planning and investments. Improving fuel supply logistics is fundamental to building capacity along Europe’s eastern flank to address Russia’s military threat. Effective logistics across national borders will depend on the integrated effort of every ally. Military planning for NATO collective defense can take insights from the current conflict and ensure that these considerations are part of the implementation for the deter and defense strategy.

Certainly, there are examples of success. Along with Poland’s fuel pipeline investments, we can highlight the recent announcement that the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland will develop a military corridor to make it easier to move troops and equipment between the North Sea ports and NATO’s Eastern flank. This agreement was a first step and will require additional planning and investments. Successful implementation will require sustained effort over time and across government leadership changes. Considering how the nations achieved this initial agreement and monitoring subsequent implementation should be done both to support the success of this project and for lessons learned for others. 

Cynthia Cook
Director, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and Senior Fellow, International Security Program
Anna Dowd
Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group