Skip to content
Policy brief | 8 February 2016

Towards a New Equilibrium: Minimising the risks of NATO and Russia’s new military posture

Image of Lukasz Kulesa

Lukasz Kulesa |Deputy Head of Research, Polish Institute of International Affairs

Defence Deterrence NATO Russia Russia-West Relations Security Euro-Atlantic Security

Since the Russian takeover of Crimea in March 2014, the military postures of Russia and NATO in Europe have been significantly altered through doctrinal changes, more frequent and intensive exercising, as well as the deployment of forces and equipment closer to the common border area.

The ELN report describes how, in the coming months and years, new points of contention between Russia and NATO are likely to emerge over specific decisions on deployments and exercises. If unchecked, this action-reaction dynamic could lead to further deterioration of the security situation. There would also be a higher risk of unintended escalation following an incident involving the armed forces of NATO countries and Russia.

As an alternative to the prolongation of tensions, the report suggests establishing a new set of practical ‘rules of the game’ for managing the NATO-Russia confrontation at lower political and financial costs and with reduced chances of military escalation.

By adjusting the deployment and exercising policy and introducing relatively straightforward confidence-building mechanisms, a new political-military equilibrium between NATO and Russia could be established. Such an equilibrium can be sustained through:

  • Introduction of measures increasing the predictability of military exercises
  • Dialogue on military doctrines
  • Restraint in forward conventional military deployments of Russian and NATO forces
  • Refraining from introducing nuclear weapons as more central tools of the confrontation
  • Mutual understanding on a sequence of steps leading to the establishment of new ‘rules of the game’, including the decisions made at the NATO Summit in Warsaw.

The emergence of a new equilibrium would decrease the friction between NATO and Russia, limit the possibilities of military adventurism, reduce the chances of one side misreading the actions of the other side as preparation for aggression, and provide opportunities for contacts between the politicians and militaries of both sides.

With the tensions between NATO and Russia under control, diplomatic space may emerge for charting the way out of the wider Russia-West crisis over Ukraine, and for addressing more effectively common challenges such like terrorism.

download report datasets


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.