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Russia, ISIS and the future of NATO - An interview with Dr Jamie Shea

29.12.2014 | 22:57
By Eleni Panayiotou

An interview that touches on the recent threats that the North Atlantic Organisation has been dealing with and which is called to face in the coming year.
On top of its Afghanistan mission ending and taking on a new identity in the coming year as Resolute Support, NATO has faced two challenges this year: Russia and ISIS. The interview with Dr Jamie Shea - NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges - looks at both these challenges in detail as well as what the future holds for NATO after ISAF leaves Afghanistan.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea was, to use William Boyd’s rather fitting term, a zemblanity for NATO! (For Boyd, in his 1998 book ‘Armadillo’ Zembla was “another world in the far north, barren icebound, cold, a world of flint and stone… zemblanity, the opposite of serendipity, the faculty of making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries by design, an unpleasant unsurprise.”) This calamitous zemblanity has left most of the world waiting with anticipation for the next move.

How NATO has been trying to deal with the Russian Bear knocking heavily at its door is explained thoroughly by Dr Jamie Shea:

In NATO we are responding to the crisis in three particular ways: The first way is freezing our practical co-operation with Russia until Russia resins the illegal annexation of Crimea and stops destabilising Ukraine. The second thing that we are doing is the Readiness Action Plan, which was one of our big decisions of the Summit in Wales, we are making sure that we have the forces, the infrastructure, the command and control to rapidly put forces into Eastern Europe. Poland the Baltic States and Romania to deal with any attempt by Russia to challenge the sovereignty or the security of a NATO country and the third element we are giving a lot of support to Ukraine, to Georgia, a big defence package to Georgia was announce at the Wales summit we are meeting.”

NATO is standing behind its Readiness Action Plan as the solution to Russia’s aggression and Shea highlights the fact that “Russia has to know that an attack on one NATO country is automatically an attack on 28 NATO countries”. Quite rightly one is allowed to wonder if a demonstration of solidarity is really enough to deter Russian aggression. According to Shea NATO is prepared if Putin decides to proceed with any further aggressive behaviour.

He gives two aspects of this:

“One is assurance through the sending of troops to the Eastern allies on a regular basis for exercise, for training and to demonstrate our solidarity. The second aspect is adaptation which will take place over a slightly longer time frame where we are going to look at our command structure, a prepositioning of equipment etc on the territory of new member states. Making sure that we can defend them against any form of aggression or attack whether it will be a conventional attack or the little green men as we call them, the hybrid type of scenarios, we saw being practiced by Russia in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.”

Protecting allies from “little green men” is of course high on the agenda and it does look like the Readiness Action Plan will be successful. Then again there is that matter of energy security. European countries and NATO allies have been made to believe that we are all dependant on Russia for our gas. Shea clarifies that this may not be the case

“The vast majority of Russia’s fossil fuels are not exported to Asia but are exported to Europe. For example Russia sends five times more gas to Europe than it does to China even after the terms of the latest agreement between Russia and China. Russia cannot afford to close the gas and the oil when it comes to the European market so that gives Europeans a certain negotiating power.”
The solution of course says Dr Shea is diversification “the longterm conclusion is to diversify… we have now far more liquified gas terminals being built, being opened, a new one called 'Independence' was opened in Lithuania”

He highlights the fact that despite Russia showing its teeth by cutting off coal supplies “coal is coming in from the United States and of course down the road American Shell Gas are diversifying to countries like Algeria, Nigeria, Norway.”

The question here is of course what is NATO doing when it comes to energy security. Can the defence mechanism protect members from a deep freeze if all goes wrong? According to Shea NATO does two things: The first thing is that it consults politically and very frequently on strategic transit energy and the second thing is that NATO works on critical infrastructure protection.

The energy security problem falls quite neatly in the area of the Eastern Mediterranean where Turkey has kept a less than friendly stance in Cyprus’ EEZ. The natural gas wealth in the area is recognized by NATO and Shea highlights “that this type of discoveries which are in the territorial waters of a number of different states should be an incentive not for confrontation but for co-operation.” If only this was the case. Indeed Turkey is the only reason why NATO might even consider getting involved in the Syria problem “we are not directly involved in the crisis and conflict of that region except for the very key job of protection our ally Turkey” states Shea.

The region has recently acquired another problem. Since its declaration of a caliphate in June 2014, ISIS has been spreading like wildfire throughout the Middle East. This declaration has had major geopolitical implications and organisations such us the European Union and the United Nations are on high alert.
NATO on the other hand has taken a stand-by role in defeating ISIS. Shea states that where ISIS is concerned NATOs role is “coordinating air assets or coordinating satellite intelligence surveillance reconnaissance assets” but highlights that this can only happen if NATO is asked and the Iraqis are looking actively at how NATO could provide Iraq with training since ISIS is a local problem.

Does NATO really have the time and resources to concern itself with ISIS when all its energy is focused on Russia? The answer to this is quite obviously given by the symbolic nature of the US Coalition meeting given at NATO HQ on the margins of the recent Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting. One does not need to delve too deeply into the pages of Saussure to be able to arrive at the conclusion that NATO is participating in the fight against ISIS albeit at a rather arbitrary level.
Of course this is not the official NATO rhetoric and this is made quite clear during the interview.

Combating the jihadist narrative goes beyond bloody battles in the 21st century as ISIS uses the internet to not only recruit but also promote itself. A crippling cyber attack on a national level is no longer science fiction. This is where NATOs recent cyber defence policy may leave its mark in the cyber battle ground. As is explained by Dr Jamie Shea “Cyber attacks could reach a threshold which could be considered by NATO as an Article 5 attack and aggression, launching a collective defense.”
This is a landmark decision that will almost certainly play a leading role in the future of NATO.

But what of the future and NATO now that ISAF is leaving Afghanistan? NATO is not really leaving Afghanistan, with Resolute Support involving about 12.500 NATO soldiers. NATO supports that this will not be a combat mission but can NATO be sure that Resolute Support is sufficient support for the Afghan Army? 2015 looks like a year that will keep NATO busy.


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