Publications

The late summer of 2017 could see one of the largest Russian military exercises in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Zapad 2017, a joint strategic exercise involving Russian and Belarusian military forces, is expected to take place in September 2017 in Russia’s western military district, the Kaliningrad exclave, and across Belarus. Rising tensions in Europe have created a heightened sense of instability and insecurity, making the plans for a large-scale military exercise much more than just a routine matter. This quick-guide provides a helpful overview of what Zapad 2017 is, why it matters, and what it might mean for Europe and the United States and NATO.
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NATO currently finds itself in an increasingly competitive international environment, with potential adversaries who field, among other things, progressively capable ballistic and cruise missile capabilities. This is particularly the case with Russia, which has proven itself capable of fielding conventional long- range strike capabilities that can reach far into NATO territory. Russia’s ballistic missiles, such as the Iskander system, represent a real threat not only to NATO members in the region, but also to potential forward basing locations needed for US and NATO reinforcements in a crisis.

 
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Ever since World War II, the United States and the United Kingdom have enjoyed a truly special relationship grounded in a shared commitment to a world order based on democracy, the rule of law, and free trade, among other commonalities. However, significant changes on both sides of the Atlantic–with Britain’s decision to exit the European Union and the election of Donald J. Trump as the president of the United States–have brought the partnership to a critical crossroads. Unfavorable domestic pressures faced by both leaders and diverging strategic outlooks are putting the US-UK “special relationship” to a test. In this issue brief, Dr. Foerster and Dr. Raymond outline the key elements of this unique relationship and provide their recommendations for strengthening the partnership that helps anchor the liberal international order.

 
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Since its takeover of Crimea in 2014, Russia has become increasingly emboldened, undertaking actions that, rather than propping up a failing regime, strike directly against the functioning of Western democracy. Employing a combination of "hybrid" actions–political, diplomatic, informational, cyber-, economic, covert and low-level force–the Kremlin has targeted countries not only on the fringes of its sphere of influence, but in the heart of Europe and even the United States. 

 


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A turbulent security environment in Europe and strong rhetoric from President Trump have brought renewed attention to NATO, its role in dealing with shared security challenges, and the future of the United States’ relationship with its allies. Front and center are legitimate questions about commitments to defense burden sharing, as well as NATO’s role in counterterrorism. This serves an opportunity to renew the transatlantic security relationship. As part of the Atlantic Council’s project ‘A New Deal for NATO,’ NATO and Trump: The Case for a New Transatlantic Bargain provides pivotal insight and recommendations on how the United States and European allies can move forward to renew the transatlantic security and defense agenda, and make progress on these crucial areas, with the goal of bolstering our shared security.

 
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The European security environment is at its most volatile since the Cold War, and much of the friction between NATO and a newly assertive Russia can be found in the maritime domain, particularly in the Baltic Sea region. This means that NATO must once again address the role of the maritime domain in collective defense and deterrence, and in particular NATO’s ability to conduct sea control and effect reinforcements across the sea. Germany, a key NATO ally in the Baltic Sea region, is currently rebalancing its navy toward the Baltic Sea, and to a lesser degree the North Atlantic, after more than two decades of tending to crisis management tasks. This presents a real opportunity to strengthen collective defense and deterrence in northern Europe and to help fill some of the capability and command and control gaps in the region. 

 
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This spring, the Swedish government is expected to bring back its military draft after seven years. In this, Sweden will join its neighbor Norway, which never abolished its military draft but did make it gender-neutral last year. A third European country, Lithuania, has also reinstated the draft after abolishing it a decade ago. “The Return of the Draft” by Elisabeth Braw, a nonresident senior fellow in the Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, takes a deeper look at how the draft is returning in a modernized fashion. The author outlines the key policy issues related to recruiting the best conscripts and how to maximize their benefit to the armed forces.

 
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Over the past decade and a half, Russia has placed an increased emphasis on nuclear weapons in its military strategy and doctrine. Moscow’s assertive “escalate-to-de-escalate” nuclear strategy poses a distinguishable threat to NATO nations, and requires greater strategic thinking about NATO’s nuclear posture. After a quarter century of reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons, NATO now lacks a credible deterrent for Russian “de-escalatory” nuclear strikes. To grapple with this possibility, NATO must consider the development of new, more flexible nuclear capabilities of its own.

 
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A permanent rotational presence of NATO troops in the Baltic States and Poland, the outcome from the recent NATO Warsaw Summit, will form an integral part of NATO’s increased deterrence measures against Russia in Europe’s east. One of NATO’s key challenges as it seeks to enhance its presence in the Baltic Sea region is the lack of modern military infrastructure, especially the kind that meets the needs of large Allied units. The Baltic states have not been unaware of their military infrastructure gaps, and all three countries have built their armed forces from the ground up, focusing on manning the force and equipment requirements. But if NATO troops cannot get their tanks and supply convoys to training ranges and bases far from the Baltic coastline, they will not be of much use. Additionally, improving military infrastructure is not just a matter of presenting a more palatable offer to NATO allies; it is also an issue of operational capabilities.

 
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The Baltic Sea region has emerged as a key friction zone between the West and Russia since the onset of the Ukraine crisis in 2014. Russia has built up its military presence and activity in the region, challenging the post-Cold War order in Europe and spurring new concerns in the United States, NATO, and its partners about the region’s security. The overriding US security priority in the Baltic Sea region is to provide deterrence against aggression toward the Baltic States and effective defense if that deterrence fails. The Baltic States are arguably NATO’s most vulnerable members, and their small geographical size and limited military resources mean that they cannot, by themselves, offer strategic depth to the United States and NATO during a crisis. However, the region also contains two of NATO’s most valuable partners—Sweden and Finland—along with the emerging leader of NATO’s east, Poland.

 


    

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