Esty: The threat Russia poses to NATO and our democracy
This September will mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It will also mark the anniversary of the only enactment of NATO’s Article 5, where all 30 members of the alliance pledged to fight alongside us in the Middle East.
Sons and daughters in our valley dutifully fought with NATO allies and sacrificed their lives to protect our democracy and defeat Al Qaeda. Now, as the final U.S and NATO troops leave the Middle East, NATO can focus on defending itself from its original enemy: Russia.
Russia’s recent troop buildup in Ukraine and its subsequent withdrawal this last month are indicative of the threat Russia can pose if left unchecked or ignored.
Foregoing conventional invasions, Vladimir Putin has turned to a new strategy, one which lets him gain power in less overt ways, through a new type of warfare: hybrid warfare. This has become Putin’s front for enacting change while simultaneously fostering division and weakening Western nations.
Through a series of cyber-attacks, misinformation campaigns, and election interferences, Putin has weakened the U.S and European nations’ faith in their democracies and has polarized their populations.
The best example of this occurred in 2016 with the interference in our elections, and it continued into the 2020 primaries. Russia’s efforts have succeeded in dividing Americans and have sowed doubt in our election security, making hybrid warfare the most persistent and damaging threat that NATO faces today.
Fortunately, this threat has been recognized by our leaders in NATO. Lt. General Douglas Lute, (the 21st U.S Ambassador to NATO under President Obama 2013-2017), emphasized in an interview how dangerous Hybrid Warfare was to NATO and suggested future actions that would mitigate its impact.
“The first thing is to develop resilience. This includes exposing to the public disinformation campaigns. This includes hardening our democratic processes against interference. It’s not conventional, it’s not about shifting to tanks and airplanes, but hardening our democratic processes.”
NATO needs to adapt to the changing security environment, one where cyberwarfare and interference by foreign entities takes the place of conventional warfare in damaging the national security of nations. Compromised elections impact the lives of every citizen in a country and addressing them must be our top priority.
While it unsettled many in the West, last month NATO worked as it was designed to and deterred a Russian invasion or further escalation. The bigger threat to NATO lies in the misinformation campaigns and election interference that makes up Russian hybrid warfare efforts. NATO is important because it can fight hybrid warfare through freedom of speech and multiple sources of information that can discredit Russian news stories and disinformation campaigns.
The division among our populations and the distrust in our democracies have affected the entire Western world, including here in Vail, and just as NATO fought the threat of terrorism 20 years ago, it can now help us develop the resilience we need to the hybrid warfare attacks that weaken our nation.
Tucker Esty is a Vail Mountain School graduate of the Class of 2021 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.