NATO defense ministers are set to discuss a so-called “master plan” to defend the alliance against any potential Russian attack following a showdown with Moscow that saw Kremlin envoys to the alliance stripped of accreditation.
The dispute isn’t on the agenda of the two-day meeting on October 21 in Brussels, but the ministers of the 30 allied countries are to discuss other top concerns, including shared deterrence and defense strategy, investment in new technologies, and the process of evaluating the “lessons learned” in Afghanistan.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg noted that the ministers will discuss stepping up collective defense and protecting the territory of member states.
“Allies are investing more, allies are providing more high-end capabilities, and not least we are also stepping up in new domains as cyber, hybrid, and also space,” he said at a briefing on October 20. “All of this matters for our security. It’s different from the threats and the challenges we faced during the Cold War.”
The Concept for Deterrence and Defense in the Euro-Atlantic Area, as the master plan is known, is confidential, but Reuters quoted unidentified officials and NATO diplomats as saying it goes beyond existing regional defense plans, aiming to prepare for any simultaneous attack in the Baltic and Black Sea regions.
The new plan is needed as Russia develops advanced weapon systems and deploys troops and equipment closer to the borders of NATO member states, the officials said.
Russia denies any warlike intentions and says NATO is the one that risks destabilizing Europe with such preparations.
In May, Russia amassed some 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, the highest number since Moscow forcibly annexed Crimea in 2014 and stoked conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to Western officials.
In September, Russia used new combat robots in large military drills with Belarus that have alarmed Baltic allies.
Russia is also upgrading or replacing Soviet military space systems to potentially attack satellites in orbit and is developing “super weapons” that include nuclear-capable hypersonic cruise missiles that could evade early warning systems.
NATO is also concerned over Russia’s aerial intrusions into NATO airspace and the buzzing of allied vessels by Russian fighter planes and warships.
Earlier this month, NATO decided to expel eight Russians accredited to the alliance, saying they had been secretly working for Russian intelligence. NATO also halved the number of accredited positions for Russia, lowing the number to 10.
Russia responded by suspending its mission at NATO and ordering the closure of the alliance’s office in Moscow and warned that NATO’s decision undermined “almost completely” any hope for improving relations.
“We regret the position we are in now,” Stoltenberg said at the briefing. “We strongly believe that, especially when tensions are high and things are difficult, [it] is important to have dialogue.”
“Therefore, we will continue to work for dialogue with Russia, including in the NATO-Russia Council. And the offer to meet in the NATO-Russia Council is still on the table,” he said.
The main forum for dialogue between the two sides — the NATO-Russia Council — has met only sporadically since 2014.
On Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said the ministers are still evaluation lessons leraned after the Taliban seized control of Kabul from the internationally recognized government in mid-August following a blitz offensive amid a hasty withdrawal of U.S.-led forces that put an end to the 20-year war.
The ministers will be looking at how the limited mission of fighting terrorism became “a quite big and ambitious nation-building effort,” the secretary-general said.
There are lessons to be learned on how ambition can gradually expand along with the risks and the challenges related to such a change of goals, he said.