Meelis Kiili: To discourage, or to deter?

Maj. Gen. Meelis Kiili.
Maj. Gen. Meelis Kiili. Source: Defense League

Deterrence is not a discrete, static activity, but rather a methodical development of national defense and security in concert with allies, writes Major General Meelis Kiili of the Estonian Defense League (Kaitseliit).

Has the world changed?  It certainly has; many changes going on around us are evolutionary, and go by largely unnoticed, while others are sudden, radically transforming established practices and the social order.

Is the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 one such historical event, one which will change the security architecture and vectors of global power?

Notwithstanding the violent nature of the event, this does not represent revolutionary change, but rather developments which have been deliberately orchestrated by the Kremlin since 2008. 

It is true that the decision this time was based on a miscalculation, which has had a primary impact on the global security architecture, and the position of the Russian Federation within that. 

We are probably on the way to a new world order, in which the Russian Federation's decision-making power is remote, and dependent on Chinese norms and guidelines.

This situation will not emerge overnight.  The Kremlin elite will remain a threat for some time to come, so we must assess the situation soberly and prudently and manage the threat with the appropriate security policy actions and measures.

A threat can be defined as a combination of an opponent's intentions, abilities, and the opportunities which are presented to them.

The Kremlin regime has shown that it is prepared to use force against a sovereign state, in violation of international law and norms. So far, this has been done under the guise of other players, but this time the invasion has been public. However, this is not the question with Ukraine.

In an ultimatum issued to the transatlantic community at the end of last year, they essentially demanded the liquidation of NATO; Ukraine was not covered in that petition. With this, the intention and strategic goal is clear.

It is also clear that there is not enough capacity to achieve the aforementioned ambition.

 It is true that the short-sighted energy policy of the West continues to fuel the enemy's war machine, but this source of income is also disappearing. The nuclear drum continues to be beaten, but if considered soberly, the use of nuclear weapons is unlikely. 

First, this rhetoric is used too often. 

Second, is the society which has reached palaces out of the misery of the communal apartment shared with parents, while robbing the people and the state of money, willing to risk losing everything?

Probably not; it is not a society that engages in collective suicide or despises luxury.

As a result, limited resources are available, which hinders the achievement of the ambition set.

The Kremlin suffered the greatest setbacks as its opportunities narrowed.

Previously, the neighboring country [to Estonia] was able to manipulate the international community to a tee.  Asymmetric activities were efficient, and inexpensive. 

 However, the intensification of hostilities in Ukraine has forced the transatlantic community towards unity and solidarity: NATO is expanding, and the allies are increasing defense spending. 

Russia is isolated and its leeway for diplomacy is narrow.

Based on the above, it can be assumed that the clarity of the situation and the nature of the threat are understandable.

This provides a basis for the development of both collective and independent security activities; preventive and deterrent activities.

 However, a debate has been created in society concerning deterrence. 

Some opinion leaders say deterrence has failed, because it failed to prevent hostilities in Ukraine; some no longer believe in deterrence, while others have renewed belief

There is probably the time and the need to clarify the nature of deterrence.

NATO's deterrence did not really prevent fighting in Ukraine, just as it did not prevent war in Syria, Libya or in Georgia in the past. 

NATO's deterrence is not intended to guarantee global peace, but rather it is intended to guarantee the allied states' people, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The challenge was to NATO, but the ambition was in the attack on Ukraine.

Can we ask rhetorically whether the deterrence worked or not? 

Most likely, it worked somewhat, because no NATO member state's independence has been violated, cyberspace aside.

It is quite apposite to assume that Finland and Sweden's applications to join NATO are motivated by a desire to promote deterrence of their own. 

The current model of neutrality / non-military affiliation is no longer sufficient, as one of the two basic conditions for neutrality does not have convincing backing. 

The basic conditions for neutrality are, first, that it is the privilege of the wealthy, since in order to be neutral, a state must have a strong, modern and well-armed military. Second, neighbors and potential enemies must recognize that neutrality. 

Since the Kremlin's words and deeds are inversely proportional, their affirmations cannot be believed, but a country's own security must be enforced and proved convincingly, and forcefully, in a language which the enemy understands.

We can draw a parallel from ancient Greece, when Philip II of Macedon X threatened the Spartan king: "It is wise for Sparta to surrender immediately, for if I bring my army to your lands, I will destroy your households, kill people and destroy the city."

The Spartans' response was a laconic "if".

Neither Phillip, nor his son Alexander the Great, attacked Sparta. 

This makes deterrence not a modern invention, but rather a rule of acting which has stood the test of time.

What is deterrence?  Is it a separate association or a regular activity? 

Did the Spartans engage in deterrence, or was it their state organization and defensive activities that kept Macedonia at bay?

One official who still holds high public office has said: "What matters is not who we are, but what our image is." 

But this is not deterrence; this is self-deception. 

Our image is exactly what we are, both in the eyes of the allies and of the enemy. 

Creating an illusion for oneself can lead to miscalculations, wonky developments, a loss of faith, and insecurity in leadership. 

Believing or not believing in deterrence actually amounts to believing or not believing in oneself, one's own preparation, experience, skills and maturity. 

As a result, we may isolate ourselves from out allies and tempt our adversaries.

Deterrence is not a separate, static activity. It is a methodical development of national defense and security, in line with the allies. 

It cannot be said that we are no longer dealing with deterrence, we are now preparing for war. Deterrence is a dynamic activity, and development which is in line with the security situation.

The ancient Romans captured and formulated the idea of ​​deterrence simply and concisely - Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum  ("If you want peace, prepare for war").

 NATO's Commander-in-Chief, General Wolters, has emphasized that our method is to generate peace via intellectual and moral superiority, sound resource-backed plans, and a commitment to security for all allies, protecting the integrity of the customs of all.

Thus, deterrence has a much larger dimension than that of our own immediate surroundings. 

In order to ensure one's own deterrence, it is important to understand and adduce the broader environment, and to hold the relevant knowledge and experience. 

Deterrence is a strategic art which requires spatial thinking and has a range and depth greater than the range of small arms. 

Panoramas cannot be created by peeking through a keyhole.

Heinz Guderian once said: "There are no desperate situations, there are desperate people". 

Our situation is stable, rather good in fact, but it requires action. That gives no reason to despair or lose faith. 

If we carry out deterrence as a normal activity, via the development of methodical and adequate national defense, it will be a success.  Even if the party being deterred has decided not to be discouraged any more, has decided to act with fatal misconceptions and is attacking NATO's sovereignty, there can be no question of deterrence failing. 

 At that point we can talk about adequate national defense designed to repel, neutralize and destroy the threat and apply it to the adversary on preferential terms. 

This creates a situation similar to the situation before the Battle of Thermopylae, when King Xerxes of Persia demanded that Leonidas, the king of Sparta, surrender his weapons, and the latter responded with a historical phrase - "Molon labe" ("Come and take them").

It is therefore necessary to continue to use discouragement in the higher manifestation of Sun Tzu's strategic leadership, where war is won without fighting, in a sober, prudent manner in cooperation with the allies and the development of the adversary


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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