How Russia Could Divide NATO and Win a War
During the Cold War, U.S. defense planners identified similar tendencies in the Soviet Union, which was widely perceived as having conventional supremacy on the ground. It was in this context that the AirLand Battle warfighting doctrine was developed, which sought to offset Soviet land power advantages using NATO’s own strengths in mobility and air power. The nature of the challenge has changed, but the underlying principles have not. Countering provocations or pressure by adversary states like Russia should be formulated on Western strengths, and not dictated by the adversary.
What would this look like in practice? Exhaustively fortifying the Baltic States is likely a strategic nonstarter, as even a perfect defense would likely only invite Russian countermoves elsewhere. Instead, Western states might link Russian provocations with measured counter-escalations calibrated to wrest back the initiative and sow confusion in the Kremlin. These responses need not be military. One idea might be to create policy mechanisms that could shepherd embattled Western partners like Georgia and Ukraine into NATO; such a move would not guarantee accession, but would complicate Russia’s habits of cultivating separatist proxies to inoculate its neighbors against Euro-Atlantic integration. Or, Western attentions could be better organized in the Arctic to confound Russian plans to dominate that region’s increasingly viable sea lanes and mineral wealth.
Strategic symmetry has its place in the toolkit. After all, some challenges must be directly contested. But it is not the only option. An asymmetrical strategy could allow the West to respond from positions of relative strength, while depriving its adversaries the sensation of continuous success. Putting Russia on the back foot for a change can help restore a sense of balance, and hopefully pave the way for a more constructive, durable relationship.
Michael Hikari Cecire is an international relations analyst and a Fellow at New America’s International Security Program.