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NATO Needs To Mobilize for a Possible War with Russia

An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 134th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron performs preflight checks at the 407th Air Expeditionary Group, Dec. 29, 2016. The 134th EFS is flying combat missions for Operation Inherent Resolve to support and enable Iraqi Security Forces’ efforts with the unique capabilities provided by the fighter squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Wilson/Released)

NATO is massively increasing its overall military footprint to deter Russia from any acts of aggression beyond Ukraine: NATO’s 2022 summit has transformed the alliance’s approach to Russia after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The organization’s updated strategic concept says the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. ‘It seeks to establish spheres of influence and direct control through coercion, subversion, aggression, and annexation,’ the concept says. This is a marked shift from the 2010 concept which focused on terrorism as the main threat and saw Russia as a ‘strategic partner’.

The view of Russia as a major threat to Europe is backed by changes to force posture flagged before the summit by secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg who said forward defenses would be strengthened. Stoltenberg said NATO would enhance its battlegroups in the eastern part of the alliance up to brigade levels, and increase the number of high-readiness forces to well over 300,000 from its current 40,000. He said this constituted the biggest overhaul of collective deterrence and defense since the Cold War and flagged a significant boost in spending with the target of 2% of GDP ‘increasingly considered a floor, not a ceiling’.

The Biden administration will significantly increase the US military presence in Europe. This includes deploying additional destroyers to Spain’s Rota naval base, establishing a permanent headquarters for the US Army’s V Corps in Poland, placing an additional army brigade in Romania, increasing rotational deployments to the Baltic States, sending two additional F-35 squadrons to the UK, and providing additional air defences to Germany and Italy. This represents a substantial boost to the existing US military presence in Europe, which currently numbers more than 100,000 troops.

The United Kingdom looks set to follow, with the chief of the general staff General Sir Patrick Sanders announcing ‘Operation Mobilise’ in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute that will see a focus on preparing to fight Russia to deter Russian aggression. Sanders warned:

‘This is our 1937 moment. We are not at war—but we must act rapidly so that we aren’t drawn into one through a failure to contain territorial expansion. So surely it is beholden on each of us to ensure that we never find ourselves asking that futile question—should we have done more?’

Sanders’s reference needs to be treated with some caution given that Russia is regarded by many as a declining power while Germany in 1937 was on the rise. However, Russia does have the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

Sanders went on to say: ‘We don’t yet know how the war in Ukraine will end but, in most scenarios, Russia will be an even greater threat to European security after Ukraine than it was before.’

The summit backed the bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO in the face of growing threats to Baltic and Arctic security, highlighted by Russian threats against Lithuania as it implements European Union sanctions against the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The decisions of Finland and Sweden to join NATO are perhaps the most important development, representing a decisive shift by two neutral states to actively support the alliance in the face of Russian aggression. Given that one of Putin’s declared rationales for invading Ukraine was an expanding NATO, it’s ironic his aggression has generated an even larger alliance. This spectacular own goal by Putin also reinforces the importance of the Baltics and the Arctic as key new areas for NATO’s operational focus.

NATO’s strategic concept didn’t just focus on Europe. It noted that China’s ‘stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values’, it highlighted the ‘deepening strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order’, and identified the ‘systemic challenges posed by the PRC to Euro-Atlantic Security’. Meia Nouwens, of Britain’s International Institute of Strategic Studies, suggests NATO will seek constructive engagement with Beijing, but also work with allies to enhance resilience and preparedness against Chinese coercion that seeks to undermine that order, including freedom of navigation. NATO efforts would include enhancing dialogue and cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific on ‘cross-regional challenges and shared security interests’. There’s an important role for Australia working with NATO to support efforts to counter the challenge posed by Beijing, given its ‘enhanced opportunities partner’ status. This will be explored in a future post.

The recognition of Russia’s broader strategic ambitions beyond Ukraine, as noted by Sanders, reinforces the importance of NATO’s decision to return to its traditional role of deterring major-power aggression, specifically as posed by a revanchist Russia. NATO must make firm commitments to avoid the worst-case outcome—a Russian attack on a NATO member such as a Baltic state or Poland.

Russia cannot be allowed to achieve any degree of victory in Ukraine, and it’s vital for NATO and its partners across the globe, including Australia, to sustain and expand military support to Kyiv to blunt Moscow’s ability to sustain operations in key areas. This will be challenging given the very long timeframe now emerging. US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines suggests the war will continue and Putin’s objective is still to capture most of Ukraine, with immediate Russian efforts focused on the Donbas.

A failure of Western resolve to sustain support for Kyiv and expand the shipment of materiel to defeat Russian advances would probably see a Russian breakout from the Donbas and a renewed offensive towards Kyiv. Defeat for Ukraine would be catastrophic for European security. Accepting any degree of Russian success, including by offering ‘off ramps’ as part of efforts towards a negotiated settlement, would embolden Putin to launch further acts of aggression.

And with that requirement to ensure Russia is decisively defeated, NATO must consider a growing risk that Putin will be tempted towards either vertical escalation, by using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine, or horizontal escalation, by attacking supply lines of NATO support, including those beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Moscow could also continue to make implicit and explicit nuclear threats to coerce NATO, such as Putin’s announcement that Russia will transfer nuclear-capable Iskander-M ballistic missiles to Belarus, while also raising the threat of hybrid warfare against NATO members. Lithuania and Norway are already coming under cyberattack from Russian-based hackers and Putin is set to ruthlessly exploit food and energy as weapons to coerce NATO states into stopping support for Kyiv.

NATO needs to mobilize for possible war by deploying sufficient force to deter Russian aggression across its eastern frontier while strengthening resilience against hybrid and grey-zone threats. It also needs to boost the credibility of its nuclear deterrence against Moscow. The naming of ‘Operation Mobilise’ is apt, but NATO must face down Russia to avoid an even larger and more disastrous European war.

Malcolm Davis is a senior analyst at ASPI, where this first appeared.

Written By

Malcolm Davis is a senior analyst at ASPI.



  1. Dale

    July 3, 2022 at 7:01 pm

    What is really happening here is not an expansion of NATO. It is the making of a new world order that will become the enforcement of whatever they decide they want for the world and heaven help those who don’t go along with them. Not saying that right now there not doing the correct thing but that may not always be the case

  2. The Predator

    July 3, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    There are a few problems hurting the effort. The first is that business investors are pushing for peace and an off – ramp to cut their losses which have amounted to almost 15 trillion in 2022. They control the media, and their calls are surfacing everywhere from UK to India, mostly through attempting to present to the public that the resistance is futile. To that end, they are pushing to show more casualties, more destruction, more apathy, to insinuate low morale and desertions.
    The second issue to face is the co-ordinated attack from Russia using the Republican Party in the US as its proxy. They will try to seize control of the United States military in order to stifle attempts to bolster NATO presence in Europe. This shouldn’t be dismissed as a real threat.
    The third difficulty is tactical. The Russians are amassing artillery in the center, around which they have formed a protective ring, thus effectively creating a dreadnought-type fighting force, a navy group on land if you will, where the artillery acts as a proverbial carrier. It operates in a style of a tornado, wiping everything out that it comes in contact with with little to no effort. For a counter artillery strike to have any chance, heavy weapons have to be brought to the very front line, where they are then exposed to attacks from the air.
    Without proper air support and rocket artillery, this dreadnought formation can continue to wreak havoc unimpeded. It is imperative that a plan is made on how to handle this. Luckily, the aggressor seems incapable of mustering more than one such huge tactical entity.

  3. Henry

    July 3, 2022 at 8:09 pm

    These folks are clueless. Russia has enough nukes ready to fire from land and sea and bombers to level every European and American city in minutes. You may think ‘well would they risk a NATO response’ and you’d be right. But if Russia is on the verge of being conventionally defeated, it will resort to unconventional means. And believe me, the Brits care about London being nuked than they do Kyiv.

    NATO is really just the US. So Americans who are already facing 40 year inflation highs, unheard of $7 a gallon gas, need to ask are they ready to see LA, New York, and American cities be destroyed for Ukraine? Dictators will cling to power however they can and by having such a full court economic and political sanction press, all the US and NATO has left is a military response, of which it will escalate to nuclear war.

  4. Steven

    July 4, 2022 at 1:59 am

    In all the analyses, no one factors in Cyber Command.

  5. Him

    July 4, 2022 at 10:02 am

    If Russia succeeds, then China will be emboldened with Taiwan and the Pacific – and the mess will become more putrid than it is now. Basically if China makes war, then it’s the end of the world as we know it.

  6. cobo

    July 5, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    “NATO needs to mobilize for possible war by deploying sufficient force to deter Russian aggression…” I think that NATO’s former role of detering aggression is obsolete. NATO needs to go to war with its enemies, Russia, Belarus, etc. And it needs to win, so no holds barred. Our enemies’ nuclear forces are not more lethal than ours. Their aggression against our interests can not be allowed due to constant pleas for weakness and submission from those enchanted by the psychological operations of the opposition, which have long been insinuated into our societies.

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