During a recent conference in Denmark on Northern European defense, a key focus was upon the return of the challenge of direct defense in the region.
The conference provided a detailed look at the presentations and the arguments made during the day. The seminar was opened by a presentation by the Danish Defense Minister, Claus Hjort Frederiksen, which framed the day and posed some of the initial questions to be considered.
In effect, the Danes like the other Nordics, are having to focus on direct defense as their core national mission, within an alliance context.
This will mean as well a shift common to other alliance members from a focus on out of area operations, such as in Afghanistan, back to the core challenge, namely, the defense of the homeland.
The Danes are raising their investment in defense and there is growing public support in Denmark for such a course of action.
Russian actions starting in Georgia in 2008 and then in the Crimea in 2014 have created a significant environment of uncertainty for European nations, one in which the refocus on direct defense is required.
Denmark is not only earmarking new funds for defense, but buying new capabilities as well, such as the F-35.
And they are reworking their national command systems as well as working with Nordic allies and other NATO partners on more effective ways to operate to augment defensive force capabilities in a crisis.
It was very clear from the day’s discussions that the return of direct defense is not really about a return to the Cold War and the Soviet-Western conflict.
Direct defense has changed as the tools available to the Russians have changed, notably with an ability to leverage cyber tools to leverage Western digital society to be able to achieve military and political objectives with means other than direct use of lethal force.
This is why the West needs to shape new approaches and evolve thinking about crisis management in the digital age.
It means that NATO countries need to work as hard at infrastructure defense in the digital age as they have been working on terrorism since September 11th.
A recent panel discussion by the Atlantic Council also highlighted the need for significant change to shape and operational and support infrastructure in the region to support the capabilities needed for deterrence.
“Together we can make a difference,” Svein Efjestad, policy director at Norway’s ministry of defense, added at the event, referring to the close security cooperation of the five Nordic countries and their increased ability to work together with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on mutual defense issues in the Baltic Sea. He also pointed to the countries’ “easy access” program to cut bureaucratic hurdles to landing forces, unloading cargo ships and moving equipment, materiel and forces across borders as a positive step in both deterring Moscow or coming to the defense of a nation attacked.
Nevertheless, despite the positive steps taken in the past four years, Rolf Tamnes, a professor at the Center for Norwegian and European Security at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies, said the size of the American Navy “leaves European navies with facing Russians [alone] in the early phase of conflict” in the Baltic or northern waters.
“There is a need for high-end maritime groups” in the Baltic and northern waters, he said. Tamnes added the alliance also needed to regain its anti-submarine warfare superiority over the Russians, whose Northern Fleet has become far more active since 2014, and invest in autonomous vessels for a variety of missions.
“What are the costs,” he asked rhetorically, of not spending in those areas.