Evolution of European Security System
-- Visualization of Deterrence by NATO and the "Russian Problem"

Michito Tsuruoka

At first sight, it appears that European security has been radically undermined as a result of a Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The largest-ever war since the end of World War II is being fought on European soil, and it will not leave the situation unchanged. It will deeply affect Europe and determine the future of its regional order. In this sense, it is a "European war" 1.

Nonetheless, the fact is that, when seen as the security system, not everything has fallen. Far from it, a close study will reveal that NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) has strengthened its unity and demonstrates still more clearly its role and value. Moreover, Sweden and Finland, the Nordic duo which have long maintained military non-alliance, are seeking NATO membership. It is to be noted that the recent war has occasioned the visualization of deterrence by NATO. This must be an ironic outcome for Vladimir Putin's regime which has long criticized the expansion of NATO.

It must be added, however, that strengthening NATO will not perfect the European security system or its order. Although reinforcing NATO's deterrence and defense setup is indispensable, it will be costly. Even if the situation is realized, NATO cannot evade the task of resolving relations with Russia. Let us call it a "Russian Problem". This will involve how to properly position Russia in the European international order and security system.

As discussed below, I will first examine the visualization of deterrence by NATO, and further discuss the way to meet the Russian Problem in Europe.

1. Visualization of Deterrence

Deterrence will not be viewed as being effective, while it is working. It will be determined to be ineffective, only when it fails. This is a structural weakness of deterrence theory. It will be difficult to tell, for example, if it is because of deterrence by the US- Japanese Alliance, or (the Alliance notwithstanding) because of the lack of any will on the Chinese side that it dares not attempt to take over the Senkaku Islands. Furthermore, it will not be easy to determine if deterrence has ever worked until it eventually failed.

As for NATO, it has been ridiculed in the cold war years as a "No Action Talk Only" organization. The Organization at the time compiled a voluminous emergency action plan in preparation against an attack from Russia and Eastern Europe. It was a serious task which required enormous efforts, but it has been seen by outsiders as doing nothing useful.

(1) Inside and Outside of the Alliance

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has starkly revealed the disparity between being inside and being outside of the NATO alliance. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. US President Joe Biden mentioned as a reason for not deploying US forces in Ukraine that it is not a member state, and thus "NATO's defense obligation will not extend to the country" 2. This is a harsh fact.

Fear mounted in the Russia neighboring Baltic states and Poland for being the next targets of an attack, but there has yet been no obvious military provocation. It may be an undeniable fact that Russian resolve for keeping Ukraine within its sphere of influence or under its sway far outstrips her interest in managing its relationships with Poland and the Baltic states, and further also Finland with which it shares a 1300-kilometer land border. Ukraine is so special for Russia that its resolve is very solid. Such an interpretation may lead to the conclusion that Russia from the start did not have any intention to invade other states. There is, however, no way to prove the point.

Seeing, however, a war in Georgia in 2008 and the unilateral (ex parte) recognition of independence for the two regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the unlawful annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the intervention in Donbass region in 2014 and the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, one cannot dismiss any deepening anxiety in the neighboring nations as being a baseless obsession. Even this war on Ukraine indeed took place after repeated declarations of the absence of an intention to invade.

NATO has seriously dealt with such anxiety. A NATO summit meeting held in Madrid on June 2022 adopted a new "Strategic Concept" 3. It was the first ever revision brought to its most important document since November 2010. NATO displayed its commitment not to cede "even an inch" of its territories, and for that purpose placed a particular emphasis on "forward defense" 4.

Details of NATO's Defense Plan are not known. As far as the Baltic states are concerned, however, it is presumed that defending them against a Russian ground attack is difficult, and therefore defense strategies should involve launching a counter landing and retrieval operation after initially conceding a retreat. But that may result in a reenactment of the brutal destruction and massacre which took place in Ukraine. This is the reason why forward defense, destined to prevent occupation, is now thought necessary. NATO territories have not been encroached upon at this time in the war, but its defense posture has undergone a profound change.

(2) Implication of the landing of a missile on Polish territories

The incident of a possible Russian missile landing in Poland in November 2022 has underscored in a clear-cut way the significance of NATO, notably its collective defense obligation and its deterrence effect.

This is a full account of what happened. In the afternoon of November 15, a missile landed on the village of Pshevodov in Southeastern Poland, a few kilometers away from its border with Ukraine, killing two villagers. Russians were launching missile attacks on the entire Ukraine, and it was presumed that one of them flew across the border. Initially, it was thought that two missiles were involved, one Russian and another intercepting Ukrainian missile.

If a Russian missile was indeed involved, resulting in the loss of human lives, NATO may well be activated, prompting the US and other allies to take military actions against Russia in accordance with Art. 5 of the Treaty. It would have resulted in a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO.

The world suddenly faced a tense situation. A great deal was at stake, and NATO dealt with the situation cautiously. The facts of the incident were apparently quickly established. The Polish authorities recovered debris from the site and examined it. In addition, the US made a collateral study of its radar reports to establish from where the missile was launched.

By the morning of the following day, when an emergency North Atlantic Council (NAC) meeting was summoned, a conclusion was reached that it was highly likely that the missile which landed in Poland was an interceptor launched by Ukrainian forces. Seeing that there was a possibility that Art. 5 would have to be activated, leading to a military confrontation with Russia, NATO had acted quickly. Ukraine refused to admit officially that her own missile was responsible, but NATO must have concluded that the facts were fully established from the collected debris and radar reports.

NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated at a press conference, after the NAC meeting in the morning of 16 November as follows 5: "An investigation into this incident is ongoing, and we need to await its outcome. But we have no indication that this was the result of a deliberate attack. And we have no indication that Russia is preparing offensive military actions against NATO. Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks. But let me be clear. This is not Ukraine's fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility, as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine."

Even if tentative, the fact that NATO had quickly reached a reliable conclusion paved the way to resolve the crisis. What is noteworthy in the statement by Stoltenberg is that firstly he made it clear that this was not a Russian missile strike, and further that there was no evidence of Russian preparation of an attack against NATO. As for NATO, the most important objective would have been being sure of its conclusion. It could also safely be presumed that NATO indicated its willingness to allow for the possibility of missing the target, even if the missile was indeed launched by Russia. What was important was the lack of any aggressive intention on the part of Russia against NATO. That led to his reference to "any sign that Russia is preparing for offensive military actions against NATO", followed by a denial.

Secondly, in the backdrop of a definitive, if tentative, statement by NATO's Secretary- General that it was highly likely that the incident was caused by a Ukrainian air-defense missile, one can assume the existence of material evidence as well as the radar reports which clearly dispelled any doubt.

Thirdly, it is also noteworthy that an emphasis was placed on a lack of blame on the part of Ukraine, if it was indeed her air-defense missile. Ukraine would have had no reason to fire an air-defense missile, had Russia not mounted an attack on the Ukrainian territory, including border areas with Poland.

The Polish government also behaved very carefully, as President Andrzej Duda promptly judged that the strike would not have been intentional 6. NATO did as well. Its consideration would have been that it wanted to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia, inasmuch as it could probably secure easy evidence on the ground.

On the other hand, it may be appropriate to consider what would have been the reaction if the missile that landed in Poland had in fact been Russian. That is because there are always risks of stray missiles landing on Poland, so long as Russia continues her full-scale attack on Ukraine, including its western border, with missiles which are hardly very accurate. The incident in November 2022 could well have been caused by a Russian missile. The same situation still holds today. It may have been Russia that was most frightened by this incident.

Suppose suspicion fell on a Russian missile, while depending on the extent of damages caused, one would start by collecting evidence, debris and radar reports, to determine the facts, and then, after reaching a conclusion that a Russian missile has been involved, some form of contact would be made to let her admit responsibility. Thereupon, once it is established that the attack was not deliberate and apologies (any reaction tantamount to one) are offered, and that the damages are limited, one might reach a decision not to activate the Art. 5 of the Treaty. In this sense, the statement of NATO's secretary-General mentioned above is instructive. It would indicate that NATO will pass judgment after taking account of any preparation for further systematic attacks, even though a missile has indeed landed within its area.

NATO will have to be cautious so as not to be in direct confrontation with Russia. On the other hand, however, even if the attack is unintended, resulting in large damages and casualties or a Russian refusal to admit responsibility may well call for activating Art. 5. Defending the territories of its member states is NATO's most important task, and it will determine the resolve of its members.

The missile incident of November 2022 has definitively demonstrated the "inside and outside" of the alliance. The whole of Ukraine is exposed to Russian attacks day after day, causing tens of thousands of human casualties and never-ending destruction to its land. Whilst this is an everyday occurrence in Ukraine, the landing of a single missile in Poland led to very strong reactions across the world, in fear that another world war would begin. This is what the deterrence of NATO means.

(3) Significance of NATO's expansion into Northern Europe

Another transformation in NATO which the Russian full-scale invasion into Ukraine has occasioned was the application for NATO membership by Nordic Finland and Sweden and the progress of its procedural process. Formal admission will require approval by all member states of their accession protocol, and as of today (March 2023) Hungary and Turkey have not given their approval, with the latter specifically opposed to Swedish membership on account of the treatment of Kurdish activists based in Sweden.

Although there is no clear prospect of formal admission for the two, they are being invited to all NATO meetings, including at the ministerial level (without a vote, however) as "invitees".

It goes without saying that what promoted their decision to join NATO, discarding their long-standing non-alignment policies was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While this proved to be the final shove, one cannot overlook their long-standing cooperative relations with NATO since the 1990's, supported by their basic common values which endured the cold-war period.

It must be added that there has been an assumption that both nations will join the alliance when required. For this purpose, the way to membership must be kept always open. The Russian proposal for a treaty with the US and NATO in December 2021 was meant to foreclose further expansion. It included a provision to prohibit further expansion of NATO, which led to prompt reactions from Finland and Sweden 7. There was practically no possibility that NATO and the US should accept such conditions, and indeed the proposal was rejected outright by them. That an issue was raised over the possibility of expanding the organization, however, prompted reconsideration of the assumption that both nations can join when desired. Finland swiftly decided that it should seek membership while it was still possible. The Russian proposal was indeed a big shove.

If both nations are admitted, NATO will cover the entire Nordic region. Russia might feel surrounded by NATO, but it would be Putin's "own goal". The Russian maneuver forced them to join the alliance. Their membership will be a great geographical contribution to the defense of the Baltic states, who would earnestly welcome them.

It was a most basic element of the strategic formation of the Nordic region since the cold-war years that it has included non-NATO members. It has now undergone a change, a very profound change since World War II, far outstripping any change which has taken place in the post-cold war or post post-cold war years.

2. How to deal with the "Russian problem"

As noted above, the European security system centered around NATO has been strengthened as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and its deterrence which is by nature essentially difficult to measure, has been demonstrated.

Nonetheless, it would be premature to conclude that this direction of change will strengthen the European security system on a mid and long-term basis. This is because, just as things stood during the cold-war years, it has been indispensable to find a modus operandi to carefully manage relations with the USSR or Russia, even if it is an enemy. This will not be achieved by excluding the USSR or Russia.

Although NATO's new Strategic Concept of June 2022 defined Russia as "the most serious and direct threat" and adopted forward defense as a new position, a consensus has not been established within the alliance over how to bear military and fiscal burdens on a long-term basis. As for the Baltic states, Poland and some Nordic states which are faced with direct Russian threats, a solution of a sort is being formed to confront the long term menace. An expansion to their defense budgets and national debates to reintroduce conscription in some of the countries bear witness to this.

Notwithstanding, setting that aside while the war is still raging in Ukraine, a post-war perspective would tell that Russia remains a neighbor in Europe, like it or not. One will have to be aware that excluding Russia will not ensure a stable Europe. Particularly Germany and France hold such views.

It is far from easy to arrive at a consensus within Europe on the post-war relationship with Russia, which is a matter of deep concern that may well lead to a serious internal division. For the time being, however, there is a common consent to beef up their deterrence and defense position as far as is practically possible. The same goes with ‘deRussification' of their energy policies.

Regarding energy, the Russians took an unintended initiative by reducing its shipments (notably natural gas) to the West, which in effect realized its deRussification without discussion in Europe. Nonetheless, a broad agreement seems to have been formed within Europe over the need to reduce its vulnerability to Russian attempts to weaponize its energy exports. The agreement is likely to be maintained even after the war comes to an end. They are aiming at enhancing resilience as regards military and defense policies as well as economic security, energy issues inclusive.

Their aim will be sustained by a shift of European perception of Russia. Looking back over the past, Europe, or the West, has anticipated that Russia will be reborn as a "normal European nation". Not necessarily at an early stage of the post-cold war era but also up to recently the West has extended assistance and care to Russia. Ultimately their efforts came to nothing on 24 February 2022. Hope for Russia turned into an illusion. Dealing with Russia with velvet gloves did not bring about any change. This points to a failure of an appeasement policy toward Russia. The Russians may not have thought they had been appeased at all, with NATO expanding even more eastward. The mutual misconception will persist further. Like I described above, there is no common long-term perspective formed within NATO beyond its failed appeasement policy.

3. Conclusion

In looking over the post-war years, one thing which seems certain is that NATO will be expected to further play a central role for European security. Logically it could be argued that NATO's role may be diminished, if Russia weakens, but it will not negate the deepened understanding that Russia will have no scruples about invading, as shown in the case of Ukraine. As I have discussed in this paper, the visualization of NATO's deterrence will have extensive repercussions.

Furthermore, regardless on how the invasion is ended, as long as Putin survives (or under another leader), one cannot preclude the possibility that another attempt will be made on Ukraine. A ceasefire may only be a period of preparation for another invasion.

It must be added that in whatever way a ceasefire is agreed upon, all the war crimes which have been committed will not be forgotten. One feature which stands out about this war is that efforts, with international support, are being made, even during the war, to collect and preserve the evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. In this sense, it is significant that US Vice-President Kamala Harris declared at the Munich Security Conference of February 2023 that Russian actions amount to a ‘crime against humanity' 8, a judgement based on the evidence obtained by the US government.

It may well be that there is no chance of bringing President Putin to the ICC or any other international court even if he is indicted, but it will also be realistically impossible to return to the status quo ante.

It is, however, also unlikely that the said state of things will ever restore the stable order of Europe. One will be asked to make up one's mind whether to revert to the costly containment policy system from the cold-war years. This is not simply a question between Russia and Ukraine, but primarily an issue that Europe will have to examine.

(Keio University)

(Translation by the SSDP Secretariat)

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