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Jan 31 2023

deter and defend: readiness is the path to pEACE

By General Guglielmo Luigi Miglietta, Commander Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum

The Roman historian Vegetius once said, “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” he who desires peace should prepare for war. 

As an Italian who chose the military as his profession, these words from my Roman heritage have played a major role in my life. The philosophy is simple, and ageless. Even as children on the playground, bullies never picked on those who were clearly ready to fight. Instead, they targeted those who seemed unable to defend themselves. Military forces lived by this principle long before Vegetius made his famous quote in the 4th Century, and yet it remains equally valid today for the Allied military powers here in the Central European Theatre. (...)

The words 'Deter and, if necessary, Defend' have been central to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s vocabulary since the beginning of its existence. 

NATO’s first Strategic Concept, in 1950, established that the primary function of NATO was to deter aggression, and that NATO forces would only engage in hostilities if deterrence failed. (...) For more than 70 years, the Deter and Defend strategy evolved, and proved to be very effective. (...) Recent events have shown us just how important, and fragile, safety and security can be. 

The brutal and unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has returned the long shadow of war to Europe. It has triggered a major re-evaluation of the threat to Euro-Atlantic security, and the way NATO needs to Deter and Defend. 

In response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and in order to bolster Alliance security, NATO immediately activated its defence plans, deployed elements of the NATO Response Force, and nations significantly increased NATO’s force presence on the Eastern Flank of the Alliance. At the June 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, Alliance political leaders approved a new Strategic Concept designed to shape Western security posture for years to come. The new concept did many things – it recognised the Russian Federation as the most significant threat to Allied security, but also highlighted other threats: terrorism; instability in the Middle East and Africa; emerging disruptive technologies; the erosion of arms control; and climate change. Additionally, the Strategic Concept named China for the first time as a ‘strategic competitor’ to the Alliance. 

Hostilities between Russia and Ukraine are not new; after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO increased its forward presence in the East by establishing four Battlegroups: one each in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Representatives agreed at the 2022 Madrid Summit that four additional Battlegroups would be constituted in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, and that existing Battlegroups would increase in size by 50-100 percent. Allied nations also committed to maintain combat-ready, brigade-sized forces at readiness to deploy whenever and wherever they are needed. This is a renewed vision of the old forward strategy, redesigned to match today’s strategic landscape.

At the Madrid Summit, senior leaders also took a fresh look at the NATO Response Force (NRF), a group of up to 40,000 high-readiness troops who are ready for crisis response on short notice. By introducing a new NATO Force Model, NATO leaders agreed to develop an Allied Reaction Force that is even larger, and at higher readiness than the current NRF. 

All of the changes decided upon at the Madrid Summit represent a reinvigoration of the original Deter and Defend concept, by placing a deeper NATO presence in a wider geographical area than ever before.

By sending the message to our neighbours in the East that we are ready for battle, we give ourselves a much greater chance of keeping hostilities in Ukraine from spilling over into the Central European Theatre. (...)

Thus far, the credibility of NATO’s Article V, in terms of collective defence, is not at risk. The very existence of Article V, coupled with a strong NATO presence in the East, has offered sufficient deterrence and a renewed positive attitude toward the fundamentals of the Alliance. But deterrence only works if our adversary understands that we are ready to fight to defend our values, territory, and way of life. The threat is not over, and we need to stand united to deter and assure; and ultimately defend and fight, wherever and whenever needed.  

Remember: If you seek peace, prepare for war. We in NATO will always seek peace, but we understand this is only possible if we are completely prepared to fight against any threat to the safety and security of our people.

GEN Guglielmo Luigi Miglietta

Commander Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum

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