Many armed conflicts have started due to miscalculation when an aggressor has assessed that he has more to gain than to lose from using military force.
Since Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea, NATO and Allies have stepped up their efforts to deter further Russian aggression. Forces have been deployed to Allied nations bordering Russia. NATO members have started to spend more and better in order to modernize their forces and capabilities on the assumption that it is wiser to deter Russia while preserving peace than to face the consequences of a major war in Europe.
NATO’s deterrence is the sum of all efforts ranging from maintaining necessary nuclear and conventional military forces and capabilities to high-level strategic communication from the political and military leadership of Allies to various adversaries. The renewed dual-track approach agreed at the 2016 Warsaw Summit emphasises the need for both deterrence and dialogue with Russia. Dialogue with Russia strengthens Allies security only if it underpins deterrence. If intentional or unintentional signals sent from political leaders to Moscow contradict other efforts to deter armed aggression, the result could be confusion and misinterpretation. In a worst-case scenario, an adversary could take decisions based on such misinterpretation.
Last week’s news about The Pentagon’s plans to divert $3.6 billion from 127 military construction projects to fund President Donald Trump’s border wall received considerable attention internationally. Some of the construction projects are related to the European Deterrence Initiative. While several cuts will be made to projects in Germany which has rightfully been criticized for its low level of national defence spending, investments in Estonia and Poland, member states that already spend more than the agreed 2%-benchmark, now also seem to be postponed. In Estonia, investments amounting to $15.7 million designated for SOF training and operations are understood to be deferred. The corresponding figure for Poland is $130.4 million. The main effect of this diversion of funds is not related to the decrease of military capabilities in Europe but to the signals that it sends to Russia in combination with other high-level strategic communication stemming from the White House, for example regarding readmitting Russia to G7. It is against this wider context that the decision to decrease funding of the European Deterrence Initiative should be seen. How can anybody claim that the message sent to Russia is clear and unambiguous? What conclusions should the Kremlin make of such a mix of statements and action?