The U.S. should step up its distribution of intelligence with all NATO members to weaken Russian influence attempts and to help unify the alliance, in the event Russia targeted an attack against a NATO ally, a new report says.
“Intelligence-sharing could be particularly critical in the early phases of a conflict with Russia, during which Russian efforts to obscure its activities could influence the perceived threat perception by NATO allies,” a RAND Corp. report released Aug. 29 said.
In light of resurrected concerns about a Russian attack against a NATO member following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the report says the U.S. needs to take several steps to better share intelligence on Russian military activities and other security topics with NATO allies.
Although there are multilateral and bilateral intelligence-sharing agreements in place already, the report argued institutions for sharing intelligence with all NATO allies are lacking.
Steps to allay this problem include setting up a process so U.S. intelligence agencies can quickly review and disseminate that information widely with all NATO allies. This would require allocating more U.S. resources to collecting and analyzing information on Russian activities, and rapidly developing and producing NATO-releasable products.
Speed is the key in intelligence-sharing initiatives — and RAND notes that intelligence analysts need time to write adapted reports that don’t include the most highly classified information regarding sources and methods.
According to NATO’s chief of intelligence Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven, sharing intelligence among NATO allies must happen more quickly.
“We are equipped, but must do better in the future,” he said, according to Canada’s CBC News in May 2018. “We must become faster."
Following these intelligence-sharing recommendations will help NATO members get on the same page about the seriousness of possible threats from Russia, how to respond to a potential Russian attack against another NATO member, and could enhance NATO allies’ ability to detect and combat Russian disinformation campaigns, the report claims.
Additionally, RAND suggested boosting financial support for NATO institutions like the Joint Intelligence and Security Divisions hybrid analysis branch, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which launched during the Cold War and is funded by the U.S. to provide news to countries where a free press is either banned or not fully mature.
But improving intelligence and information-sharing might not be enough.
According to the report, intermittent discussions among NATO members about cyber, hybrid, and other threats aren’t sufficient, and NATO allies would benefit from engaging in a “dedicated discussion on the nature of current security challenges posed by Russia.”
Some solutions the report cited include updating NATO’s Strategic Concept document, which was last updated in 2010 and is designed to prepare NATO for present security challenges.
The report warned that such a discussion could expose differences among allies, but argued it also could provide allies the chance to participate in transparent discussions about Russian activities and could facilitate unity.
“Engaging in regular dialogue, including through the processes to update allied threat assessments, might also help allies come close to a shared understanding of the threat Russia poses,” the report said.
Additionally, the U.S. should provide steady rhetoric about the significance of the NATO alliance and indicate its “unwavering commitment” to NATO’s Article 5 that stipulates NATO members must have a collective response if one member is attacked, according to the report.
“Clear and consistent U.S. messaging about alliance value would be particularly critical during a crisis, when Russian information campaigns would be likely to be most active,” the report said.
The U.S. should also lay out its expectations that allies should contribute to collective defense contingencies, and indicate that NATO members who fail to respond could jeopardize their bilateral relationships with the U.S.
“More controversially, the United States could state explicitly that its security guarantees are conditional upon an ally’s willingness to support an Article 5 contingency,” the report said.
RAND also singled out the “sometimes mixed signals” from the executive branch about the U.S.’s commitment to NATO, and said that means it’s especially important for lawmakers in Congress to express their commitment to the alliance.
The veiled critique of President Donald Trump comes after the president has made disparaging comments about the “obsolete” alliance. Media reports from Jan. 2019 also said Trump suggested withdrawing from NATO on multiple occasions in 2018.
In response, Trump said that the U.S. supported NATO “100 percent,” but simultaneously warned NATO allies that they need to “step up.” Trump has consistently urged for other NATO members to increase their defense spending.
The report also addressed factors that would impact how NATO members would respond to a potential conventional or unconventional attack from Russia.
Such factors include public opposition, which could prevent national leaders from becoming entangled in counter operations following an attack from Russia. Even so, pressure from elites and an electorally secure governing coalition could counter public sentiment, according to the report.
Meanwhile, states who do perceive that Russia is a threat and those that are most committed to NATO’s unity are more inclined to react with a military response in the event of an attack from Russia, the report said.
Tensions with Russia have escalated in recent weeks, after the U.S. formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on Aug. 2. The treaty, signed in 1987, barred missiles with ranges of 310 miles to 3,400 miles.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would “of course” produce missiles that were previously blocked due to the INF Treaty. However, he said Russia wouldn’t deploy the missiles unless the U.S. acted first. The comments were made at an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok, Reuters reports.