NATO wants to agree master plan to ward off growing Russian threat, diplomats say
* Prepares for simultaneous attacks such as nuclear and hacker attacks
* Officials and diplomats say no such attack is imminent
* Russia denies any war-like intentions
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, October 21 (Reuters) – NATO Defense Ministers will agree on a new master plan on Thursday to defend against any possible Russian attack on multiple fronts.
The confidential strategy goes beyond existing regional defense plans and aims to prepare for any simultaneous attack in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, possibly including nuclear weapons, hacking of computer networks or from space.
Officials and diplomats say no such attack is imminent. Russia denies any warlike intentions and says that it is NATO that with such preparations runs the risk of destabilizing Europe.
However, US officials, NATO diplomats and former officials say the “Euro-Atlantic Deterrent and Defense Concept” – and its strategic implementation plan – is needed as Russia develops advanced weapons systems and forces and equipment closer to Allied borders stationed.
“When you have such a major conflict, activity throughout the area of operations will be required,” said a senior US government official. “Different things can happen at the same time and that really requires holistic planning.”
In May, Russia gathered around 100,000 soldiers on its border with Ukraine, the highest number since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, Western officials said. In September Russia deployed new combat robots during major military exercises with its former Soviet ally Belarus, which alerted the Baltic allies.
While Russia is upgrading or replacing Soviet military space systems to potentially attack satellites in orbit and developing artificial intelligence-based technologies to disrupt Allied command systems, Moscow is also developing “super weapons”.
Introduced in 2018, they include hypersonic nuclear-powered cruise missiles that could bypass early warning systems.
Retired U.S. General Ben Hodges, who commanded U.S. forces in Europe from 2014 to 2017, told Reuters that he hoped the strategic plan would lead to more coherence in NATO’s collective defense, which means more resources for the Black Sea region.
“For me, this is the more likely focal point than the Baltic,” said Hodges, noting that less large allies like Britain and France have a strong presence in the Black Sea and Turkey is more focused on the conflict in Syria.
Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official now at the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels, said the plan could also help solidify a focus on Russia at a time when the United States, Britain and France are strategizing develop for the Indo-Pacific.
The Allies are trying to increase their presence in the Indo-Pacific and counter China’s growing military power by using more ships to maintain the open sea lanes.
“So far, Russia has been thought to be a nuisance, but it is not an immediate threat. But the Russians are doing some worrying things, they practice robotics and hypersonic cruise missiles could be very disruptive indeed,” Shea said. (Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Alison Williams)