Russia and the defence efforts of the Netherlands

June 7, 2017 - nr.31

Conclusions and recommendations

The international security situation in Europe and beyond has changed fundamentally over the past three years. The nature, scale and speed of these changes are cause for concern. International institutions such as the EU and NATO are under pressure, which in the case of the Alliance also appears to be affecting the transatlantic relationship. It is hard to predict where this rise in international uncertainty and tension will lead. Managing these tensions requires a comprehensive security policy, especially with regard to diplomatic, economic and defence-related issues. Russia is seeking to sow discord in Europe by means of cyberattacks, disinformation and support for populist movements. Since 2008, it has invested heavily in modernising its armed forces, including the development of a rapidly deployable military capability that is superior to NATO’s in certain areas. Following the annexation of Crimea, NATO took a series of measures to reassure the eastern Allies and strengthen its deterrence. Despite these measures the Baltic states, in particular, remain vulnerable to a potential Russian intervention, which could be triggered by real or perceived problems involving Russian-speaking minorities. There is a risk that Russia could be able to create a fait accompli before NATO has decided how to respond.

Russia’s actions must be met with a united and resolute response. It is clear that the new security environment places different demands on NATO and the contributions of its member states. The renewed need to be able to conduct large-scale operations at the high end of the spectrum of force sets different requirements for the size, availability and composition of the required capabilities. For example, there is a greater need for robust, rapidly deployable units for the purpose of maintaining a credible deterrence. The United States’ leading role within NATO is under pressure. For this and other reasons, countries such as the Netherlands must show that they take the Alliance seriously, demonstrate solidarity with other Allies and increase their defence efforts.

At the same time, it is essential to conduct a dialogue with Russia on developments in Eastern Europe, Syria, Northern Africa and other regions. Depending on Russia’s stance, this dialogue should focus on preventing and controlling the use of armed force and resolving urgent political problems. Attempts should be made in multilateral consultations to encourage Russia to adopt a constructive approach. In this context, the Netherlands needs to strengthen its diplomatic missions in the countries most affected by the growing threat emanating from Russia. In addition, attempts should be made to resume and renew existing arms control agreements that are no longer being observed, especially those concerning the timely announcement of military exercises and the movement of troops or weapon systems.

According to the Ministry of Defence, in 2015 the Dutch defence budget stood at 1.09% of GDP, which is well below the European NATO average (1.43% of GDP in 2015). After excluding those parts of the budget that do not contribute to sustaining the armed forces (e.g. pensions, redundancy pay and VAT payments), less than 0.7% of GDP is actually available for this purpose rather than the official figure of 1.09%. Under the present government, the deployability of the armed forces has continued to deteriorate. The AIV considers it very serious and irresponsible that as a result of current policies the armed forces will not return to a basic level of readiness until 2021. Both the Netherlands Court of Audit and NATO have severely criticised their deployability. NATO’s criticism focuses mainly on the army. The Dutch armed forces thus have a long way to go before they recover the ability to carry out their constitutionally mandated tasks and comply with the Netherlands’ obligations under international agreements in a responsible manner.

In its forthcoming advisory report on NATO’s adaptation requirements, the AIV will examine more closely what measures need to be taken and what role the Netherlands can play in this regard. Regarding the Netherlands’ defence efforts, the AIV would make the following recommendations:

  1. In view of the deterioration of the security situation as a result of the threat emanating from Russia, it is crucial that NATO’s mutual defence clause and the transatlantic relationship retain their effectiveness. With this in mind, the agreements reached at the NATO summit meeting in Wales, specifically the commitment to raise defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2024, should be honoured.
  2. As a result of developments in the national and international security situation, the three core tasks of the armed forces – 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.
  3. The government should adopt a ‘Delta plan for the armed forces’ to create a multi-year financial framework for the stable development of the armed forces. Given the discrepancy between current levels of defence spending and NATO’s 2% target, and taking into account the armed forces’ limited ability to absorb more funding and personnel, a phased increase in the Dutch defence budget is necessary. Over the next four years, under a new government, it should rise to the European NATO average. Over the subsequent four years, it should reach the 2% target.
  4. The AIV believes that, as it gradually increases the defence budget, the government should focus first and foremost on ‘repairing’ operational deficiencies in the armed forces’ basic capabilities, which should always be available at national level. The NATO Defence Planning Capability Review 2015/16 has identified these deficiencies. If the armed forces are to remain relevant, operational reform and innovation, for example in the domain of information and cyber warfare, should feature prominently in every step that is taken over the coming years, from ‘repairing’ operational deficiencies and restoring the balance between combat and support capabilities to expanding the military’s striking power.
  5. Priority should be given to restoring the military’s 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 shortcomings that exist within NATO.
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.
  3. 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

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