International cyber conflict doesn’t occur in a strategic vacuum. The Institute of Land Warfare's Contemporary Military Forum featured a panel discussion on European security: "An Ocean Closer: Synchronizing Actions and Words from the Baltic to the Black Sea" that described the challenges to the post-World War Two security order in Europe. Those challenges are essentially two-fold: an increasingly active Russia that presses on its European neighbors from the East, and the rise of "radical Islam" and its attendant terrorist threat not only to the South, but inside Europe itself. These have led to the rise of hybrid warfare, with heavy cyber and information operations components. They have also, in the view of some of the panelists, led to widespread "populist" skepticism about the political order in both Europe and North America.
The lead speaker was Lieutenant General Frederick B. Hodges (Commanding General United States Army Europe and Seventh Army). The panelists included Ambassador Daniel B. Baer (United States Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), Lieutenant General Jörg Vollmer (Chief of Staff, German Army) Lieutenant General Seppo Toivonen (Commander of the Finnish Army, Finnish Defence Forces).
General Hodges framed the issue of European security in terms of the US commitment. That commitment remains strong, he argued, but it's also changed fundamentally from what was familiar during the Cold War. Then the US maintained about 300,000 troops in Europe. Today it maintains about 30,000, and those 30,000 have, again, essentially the same mission as Russia resumes the place in Europe formerly held by the Soviet Union.
The Current State of European Security
After General Hodges' welcoming remarks, Ambassador Baer outlined what he took to be the seven fundamental points necessary to understanding the present challenges to European security:
- European security remains foundational to US security. The European security order and the transatlantic partnership is the model for a rules-based system that transcends geopolitics.
- Russia has demonstrably departed from the common project of European security. President Putin is approaching security in a 19th century power politics framework using 21st century tools. "How do you deal with an actor trying to reassert a broken model without oneself participating in that model?"
- Collective action against terrorism, the management of refugees, and the rise of populism are urgent challenges to the transatlantic community.
- Russian assertiveness and the rise of terrorism emanating from the failed states in Africa and Southwest Asia is "bad news" for Europe and the US. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, where Ambassador Baer represents the United States, has two pillars: first, the late Cold War Helsinki Final Act, with its ten principles and its grand political bargain—the West traded respect for borders in Europe in exchange for formal recognition of the value of open societies—and second, after the Cold War, the integration of nations formerly controlled by the Soviet Union into the free world.
- How should the West respond? "First, we buck up." The European security order faces military and political challenges, but not, really, intellectual challenges. "We should call out violations and impose consequences." As we do so, we should still offer to engage, and still seek to bring Russia or others who violate the rules of the system back to the table.
- The United States and Europe must do this, and are doing this, together.
- "There is only one way forward," and that is to continue to pursue the rules-based order we built so painfully in the wake of the Second World War. Russia has had some tactical wins, but it doesn't look good for them in the long run. Thus, he concluded, a marriage of strength and principles is the foundation of the transatlantic partnership.
A view from Germany and Finland
Finland's General Toivonen described his country's interests and situation—a country on 5.5 million, sharing a border with Russia, and closely focused on security in its own area. Finland's strategy rests on four pillars: credible national defense, strong Western partnerships, maintenance of relations with Russia, and active participation in international organizations.
General Vollmer argued that everyone recognizes that the world changed on 9/11. He said that it also changed, and just as drastically, in 2014. That year saw the Russian invasion of Ukraine (with its attendant suppression of civil society and hybrid warfare); it also saw the rise of ISIS and the beginning of the ongoing refugee crisis as people fled the failed states of North Africa and the Middle East. With that crisis, terrorism came back to Europe. This changed world requires NATO to adopt flexible, effective forces capable of acting rapidly at need, and of cooperating effectively against the terrorist threat. "We are relearning maneuver warfare," he noted, and rebuilding capabilities we shed at the end of the Cold War. We have had to shift from assurance and back to deterrence. And deterrence (principally of Russia) will work only if NATO has reliable, properly equipped forces ready to deploy on short notice.
Lessons from the World that Changed in 2014: Speed Kills
During the question period, General Hodges, looked at lessons learned from the fighting in Ukraine and saw a new digital imperative drastically changing the fight at the tactical level.
One of these involved a new urgency to information security for tactical units. "If you don't have secure, frequency-hopping FM radio, you will be targeted and killed from the air." And the air threat isn't something United States has experienced since the Second World War.
The speed of operations has also increased, and will require automation if we are to keep up with it. He took as his example the counterfire fight in Ukraine—that is, the response to incoming cannon or rocket fire with artillery fire that can neutralize the enemy batteries. He said that fire and displacement by artillery units are now so fast that you have only three minutes to deliver counterfire before the enemy unit has moved. And this, he said, requires the speed and automation of digital connectivity. (This is a bit of inverse rodomontade—manual fire direction was demonstrably capable of counterfire in less than three minutes, but his larger point stands: tactical speed will beget an automated response.)
Lessons from the World that Changed in 2014: Tickling the Id
Ambassador Baer offered an observation on what he called the "rise of populism," and the turn inward and away from security cooperation. A widespread dissatisfaction with political leadership, Bear thought, has made populism increasingly attractive throughout the West. People who hold positions of trust need to take that dissatisfaction seriously, he said, and work on their communication about security. Too much of the response to growing dissatisfaction has involved political leaders "tickling the id." We need to reflect and do better, and Ambassador Baer offered this as a suggestion for anyone who holds a position of public trust, not just politicians.