14 October 2019

The role of information exchange in keeping allies’ cohesion

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What is the connection between Joint Intelligence and Security Divisions, NATO’s intelligence structure, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Russian threat and Alliance’s decisions? There is at least one connection, if we consider RAND Corporation’s recommendation, according to which funds’ increase for to both entities, media and analytics, would be necessary to improve NATO’s decision-making process in case of an aggression of Russia on a member state.

Image source: Mediafax

National sovereignty principles, the necessity to get to a consensus and the requirement to protect information are still coordinated and the North Atlantic Alliance intelligence still must consider it, just like some decades ago. Although things have changed, although we are more openly discussing accountability and transparency today, even though the public opinion has met Edwards Snowden and Julien Assange, there is still that will of putting the information from each member on the same boat and correlating them to get to a coherent and unitary action within the Alliance.

Maybe Joint Intelligence and Security Divisions would accomplish an important objective if they would get to promote a common meaning for intelligence… the intelligence processes and the national significances of intelligence depending on histories, cultures and national administrations. The dialogue is useful, but the perspectives and practices exchange is more adequate (Bob de Graaff, security and intelligence studies professor, Urecht University).

What will make NATO allies react unitarily against a Russian attack?

A report of the non-profit organization RAND Corporation, called An Attack Against Them All?

Drivers of Decisions to Contribute to NATO Collective Defense, published at the end of August, claims that it offers an analytical framework to get to understand better allies’ availability to contribute to a military answer to Russian attacks over a member of the North Atlantic Organization Treaty.

Based on ideas on deterrence, alliance policies and foreign policy options, coming from the political sciences field, the report identifies 13 key factors which could affect each member state’s decision to take part to such an action.

These are grouped in 3 categories, as follows:

-factors targeting foreign policy (given that the public opinion could stop national leaders to be part of an operation for Russian aggression prevention, meanwhile other foreign elements, like elites’ consensus and a governing coalition, could simply ignore this opposition);

- factors referring to perspective about Russia (states that see Russia as ambitious, opportunist and threatening have more chances to join a common action, meanwhile those members favoring Moscow could be worried about the Russian economic or military retaliation);

-consequently, factors on political alliances (countries which are focusing on NATO’s continuity, for security reasons, are more likely to join an answer against Russia, and this participation can be influenced by a major ally’s attitude, especially US, whose juxtaposition to such actions could depend on how allies’ objectives are perceived, if these are divergent or not).

According to RAND, the factors that could influence the NATO answer to such a Russian action are: 1. Public Opinion About Military Responses and Alliance Commitments (effect’s size depends on the context); 2. Electoral Vulnerability of the Government; 3. Foreign Policy Decision-making Structure; 4. Perception of Russian Aims and Motivations; 5. Competing National Security Demands; 6. Vulnerability to Russian Military Retaliation; 7. Vulnerability to Russian Economic Retaliation; 8. Perception of Escalation Risk; 9. Participation of Other Allies; 10. Alignment of Goals Among Participants; 11. Ability to Restrain Coalition Members; 12. Consequences of Alliance Dissolution or Abandonment; 13. Punishment by Non-coalition Allies.

The report is concerned with identifying the area wherein allies’ decision-making process could be vulnerable to the Russian manipulation and propose measures to cool down the Russian influence attempts, but also to increase NATO’s unity in case of a… Russian attack.

How could the vulnerabilities in Alliance’s decisional process be reduced?

The American think-tank is suggesting that US should supplement vulnerable allies’ defensive capacities and reduce allies’ vulnerabilities on the economic constraint, continuing to support the European energy diversification and the initiation of a new strategic reserves NATO-European Union Program.

Also, it would be necessary for US to approach allies’ concerns on Russia waylaying (the possibility to get involved in a useless conflict), by supporting some renewed NATO commitments with Moscow and continue to encourage the Baltic States to constructively approach minorities’ complaints.

They could also propose a new approach for the emergent political elites in terms of Alliance’s value through some institutions like the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, but they could also develop political exercises to start discussions on NATO’s objectives in a Russian scenario and allies’ trust increase in making joint decisions.

The report also considers that Washington should regularly get involved, along with allies, in analyzing the Russian objectives and motivations, including through updating the NATO strategic concept and, not least, improve the information exchange on Russian activities by growing the resources dedicated to Russian behavior analysis and collection and the distribution of intelligence products to NATO member states governments.

To that end, it would be necessary also to increase public’s access to information about Russia, through supplementary financial support given to entities such as Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty and some NATO institutions, like Joint Intelligence and Security Divisions.

Both Joint Intelligence and Security Divisions and the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE), founded in 2017, could offer opportunities for the quick analysis and dissemination of trustable non-governmental and open-sources intelligence products.

The United States could allocate supplementary resources to declassify many information for the public- and the training of people involved in this process is mandatory-, but also the creation of a work group within the intelligence community, to focus on identifying and cleaning the information regarding the Russian activities, so that to be revealed for the public afterwards.

When allies are sharing a joint perspective on the different types of Russian malign activities, they can agree also on the fact that Russia could be a threat.

Improving the information exchange and the way these are correlated could be essential in reducing the existent ambiguities regarding this threat and creating allies’ agreement on a foregoing approach, but also one during a crisis.

The US could increase its information exchange with all NATO members to weaken the Russian influence attempts and Alliance’s consolidation, if Russia would target an attack against a NATO ally.

The RAND Corporation analysis shows that even if there are multilateral and bilateral agreements for this information exchange development, there is still a lack of institutions to take care of it.

An improvement of this process on gathering, analyzing and distributing the data, could help the NATO allies to have, for example, on the same analytical informative report page, both the elements on Russia’s possible threats importance and the best way to answer to a possible Russian attack on a member of the Alliance, which could also led to the common NATO ability to detect and combat the Russian disinformation.

The report has also warned that such an attitude could reveal the differences between allies, but, at the same time, it could offer them the chance to join transparent discussions on the Russian activities and could ease the common vision. Being part of a regular dialogue, including through the update processes on threats’ evaluation, could help allies get closer to a joint acknowledgement of the Russian threat.

Moreover, on the RAND document it is claimed that it would be better to define a process by which the US intelligence agencies to promptly integrate and disseminate the information with all NATO allies. It would mean that Washington should allocate some important resources to collect and analyze information on Russian activities and also develop, promptly, some analysis processes to mark NATO.

Promptly and accelerated seem to be the key words, and the information exchange speed is, according to RAND, essential, however, currently, the intelligence experts need, on one hand, enough time to write reports and, on the other hand, those material which were sent to allies do not have the most classified information.

Reducing the information transfer time is an idea also supported a year ago, according to CBC News, across the NATO Military Intelligence Committee[1] meeting, a closed-doors meeting held in Ottawa (one of committee’s two annual meetings), by Arndt Freytag con Lorighven, the chief of the NATO intelligence, according to which the sharing among friends is a key element, especially within an alliance. We are ready, but we must do better in the future. It is important to become quicker.

The RAND analysis wants to be a an analytical tool for planners and policymakers considering  the  likelihood  of  a  given  state’s  participation  in  a  military  response to Russian aggression, the factors likely to drive allies’ decision-making could vary substantially depending  on  whether  Russia  uses  conventional  or  unconventional  means.

RAND Corporation thinks that threats’ evaluation, developed by US, should guide the American political priorities to make allies’ contribution to collective defence bigger.

And, most likely, the conclusions of a non-profit analytical entity which, since its foundation, in 1948, calls itself a research organization which provides solutions to the public political challenges to help worldwide communities to be safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous should be considered.

And study’s conclusion, draws the line: in a conflict with Russia, which is much more militarily capable than recent adversaries, the United States and its NATO allies would rely more heavily on each other than in any conflict since the establishment of the alliance. The United States could face unprecedented challenges in finding the balance between ensuring its own freedom of action and leading the effort to rally allies to commit their forces.

Therefore, the recommendations of this report should help the US to finds its way among these challenges.

Translated by Andreea Soare









[1] Previously known as NATO Intelligence Board, since 2010, the Military Intelligence Committee is the main debate forum on military intelligence of all member states.