Pan-European network of former leaders publishes recommendations for de-escalating NATO-Russia military risks

7 December 2020

Against a backdrop of deteriorating NATO-Russia relations the European Leadership Network (ELN)—an independent, non-partisan, pan-European network of nearly 300 past, present and future European leaders working to provide better security for a wider Europe—has supported an extended series of detailed senior expert discussions led by ELN members Sergey Rogov and Alexey Gromyko on how NATO and Russia might reduce the risk of inadvertent conflict.

The expert group of some 30 people including retired diplomats and military officers from the United States, Russia and Europe produced the document, Recommendations of the Participants of the Expert Dialogue on NATO-Russia Military Risk Reduction in Europe. While members of the group differed over the root causes of the current crisis, they share a common concern that as tension builds between Russia and NATO, there is a growing danger of a real military confrontation. The recommendations are signed by 145 people from 20 countries, with the caveat that signatories agree with most but not necessarily all of them..

In addition to calling for immediate action to extend the NEW START Treaty for five years, the report calls on leaders in the US, Russia and Europe to demonstrate the political will necessary to take a number of urgent actions in order to reduce the risks of military conflict. These urgent actions include:

  1. Re-establishing practical dialogue between Russia and NATO, including direct contacts between the military commanders and experts of Russia and NATO member states.
  2. Developing common rules that will reduce the risk of unintended incidents on land, air and sea.
  3. Enhancing stability by increasing transparency, avoiding dangerous military activities, and providing dedicated communication channels that would avoid escalation of incidents that might occur.
  4. Utilizing (and possibly supplementing) the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act to codify restraint, transparency and confidence-building measures.
  5. Exploring possible limitations on NATO and Russian conventional force deployments in Europe to enhance transparency and stability.
  6. Establishing consultations between Russia and US/NATO on the topics of intermediate-range missiles and ballistic missile defence, in order to prevent a new nuclear missile race in Europe.
  7. Preserving the Open Skies Treaty.

Some of the ELN’s recommendations mirror, at least in principle, a few of those contained in the much more wide-ranging expert report commissioned by the NATO Secretary General, and published last week (see NATO Watch News Brief, 6 December). The main message of that report, however, was that NATO has to adapt itself for an era of strategic rivalry with Russia and China. While it argues for a continuation of the dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue with Russia, the overwhelming emphasis appears to be on the former rather than the latter. In terms of dialogue, it says that “NATO should remain open to discussing peaceful co-existence and to react positively to constructive changes in Russia's posture and attitude”, which seems to suggest that the onus lies on Russia to change the status quo. Nonetheless, the NATO report (like the ELN report) also calls on the alliance to “continue to develop de-confliction and confidence-building measures” with Russia. Overall, however, the tone and direction of the NATO report appears less neutral, for example, it seeks to evolve the dual-track strategy in order to “preserve cohesion within NATO while providing a prospect for breaking the stalemate with Russia on NATO’s terms”.