Lord Sedwill: a five-point plan for Nato’s Brussels summit

Former national security adviser sets out a roadmap for 1980s-style deterrence against Russia

US soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, part of the 6th Marine Regiment participate in the international military exercise Cold Response 22, at Sandstrand, North of in Norway, on March 21, 2022. Cold Response is a Norwegian-led winter exercise in which NATO and partner countries participate. AFP
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Britain’s former national security adviserhas set out measures that Nato could adopt to strengthen its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking before the bloc’s summit, which opens in Brussels on Thursday, Mark Sedwill said Moscow now had three options – reinforce, change tactics and reduce war aims. His assessment was that Russia’s war plan was “seriously off-track” from the quick, decisive operation that President Vladimir Putin expected.

But he told the Global Strategy Forum in London that despite Russian setbacks, it could not be assumed the conflict would stay within the bounds of Ukraine.

The former Nato ambassador to Afghanistan was Cabinet Secretary before stepping down in 2020.

He is rumoured to be a candidate for the Nato Secretary General post when it falls vacant this year, and laid out a five-point plan for the summit this week.

Arm Ukraine

“The first is that they should double down on what we’ve seen so far, which is essentially an updated version of the Reagan Doctrine, supplying really significant capability to maintain the fighting capability of the Ukrainian resistance.

Reinforce eastern Europe

“Second, I think Nato should deploy more troops up to the eastern borders. We currently have troops deployed called the enhanced forward presence but those are essentially a tripwire. They aren’t a capability that could really slow down a serious attack by the Russians, but they’re designed to reassure our eastern allies that British or German troops and other troops would be engaged with them if there were an incursion by Russia into their territory. We need to move from deterrence, which is essentially what that’s part of, to theatre defence.

Open up to refugees

“Third, Nato and other Nato nations need to demonstrate to the eastern European [members] a very generous and open approach to the refugee crisis. So you might think that isn’t a security issue. But if you’re an East European wondering about Article Five and just how solid Article Five is, then an important proxy for that, in the short term, is a demonstration that we will share the burden with them of the refugee crisis. As well as being the right thing to do on humanitarian grounds, it’s the right thing to do for security and the integrity of the Article Five commitment as well.

Signal consequences

“Fourth, and this is the one that may be controversial, whether it was wise or not to signal in advance that there would be no military intervention within Ukraine itself as a non-Nato member [and] that the response to the Russian invasion would be sanctions and not military involvement. There are different views about whether or not it is wise.

“Nato does need to determine what our response would be were chemical, let alone theatre nuclear weapons, used in Ukraine. Whatever the territorial issues, the use of weapons of mass destruction does cross a threshold. It seems to me that we do at least need to keep on the table the option of military intervention should that happen.

I think the key point is that the Nato leadership have worked out what their position is on that and how explicitly are they going to signal it to the Russians.

Spend more, spend better

“The fifth measure is Nato needs to show there is a programme to make real the various welcome commitments to increase defence expenditure, notably from Germany. We need to see a programme, not just a series of headline commitments, that mean within the next year we have real capability.”

Deterrence matters

“There is need to have the option of a real deterrence against the use of chemical and nuclear weapons within Ukraine. It would be better now to signal that through whatever means.

“We had the doctrine of a flexible response in the 1980s, where we didn’t say that any use of tactical nuclear weapons immediately meant going to strategic nuclear weapons. There was a sense there was a path of escalation, a very, very dangerous one. It gave some sense of our willingness to hold the line against the use of weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding all the obvious risks arising.

“I do think Nato leaders need to have that discussion.”

Updated: March 23, 2022, 8:51 AM