NATO is poorly equipped to defend members against aggression, and uncertainty over its unity under U.S. President Donald Trump could allow Russia to exploit vulnerabilities, a Dutch advisory council warned Friday.
“It is becoming doubtful whether NATO will act responsibly and unanimously when it comes to it. There is internal division in an increasing number of areas,” said Joris Voorhoeve, chairman of the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV).
“Uncertainty about the political leadership of the United States under President Trump is accompanied by concerns about the alliance’s unity,” he added.
The warning comes in a report issued Friday by the body which advises the Dutch foreign ministry and the government on policy.
“NATO is insufficiently equipped for its core task: protecting members against aggression via a credible deterrent and collective defence,” the AIV said in a statement.
The report calls on NATO’s 29 members to strengthen internal cohesion and work to improve transatlantic relations as “the United States remains indispensable for Europe’s security.”
From the founding of the alliance the United States has been its “political and military backbone,” but since Trump took office in January there was been “a lack of leadership” by the Americans. Europe’s safety is under threat from “destabilising actions by Russia” and from the current instability in the Middle East, the report. concludes.
Regions such as the Baltics are currently not well protected, and Russia could seek to exploit such vulnerabilities, the report warned.
It recommends that military units on the alliance’s eastern flank in countries such as Lithuania and Poland “should be significantly strengthened” and NATO should consider deploying some kind of rotating brigade.
It also calls for the lifting of bureaucratic obstacles to allow military units and equipment to move more rapidly across borders if needed, by establishing what it called a “military Schengen” – a reference to the borderless system used by 26 European nations.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that at least 20 countries in the European Union will sign a new defense pact next week to fund and develop joint military hardware, and to look at joint training of military officers and a network of logistics hubs for the”military Schengen.”
Concerns have grown about the threat to the alliance’s eastern region since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
NATO is currently upgrading capabilities to combat a resurgent Russia, as part of the alliance’s biggest shakeup since the Cold War, with defence ministers on Wednesday backing the creation of two new command centres to help protect Europe. In October, the alliance launched a new multinational force in Romania to counter Russia in southeast Europe and on the Black Sea.
Member states also agreed at a meeting in Brussels to increase the use of cyber weaponry and tactics during military operations. A NATO offical told The Defense Post in October that troops stationed in the Baltic states and Poland face sophisticated attacks and hybrid challenges designed to undermine them, following reports that Russia carried out an operation targeting the personal smartphones of soldiers deployed to the region.
On Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is to deploy 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to help “break the stalemate” in the country.
With reporting from AFP