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Jenny Yang’s interview with Dr. Robin Niblett (Director of Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs)

Below is the transcript of the interview conducted by Jenny Yang on September 02, 2014 with Dr. Robin Niblett (Director of Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs) at a ‘NATO after the Wales Summit’ conference hosted by Cardiff University in conjunction with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division. 

Robin Niblett
Dr Robin Niblett became the director of Chatham House in January 2007.

The programme of the conference can be found here:



Q1: What measures can be taken by NATO to defend against non-linear warfare, in which asymmetric strategies fall below NATO’s response threshold?

A1: I think the specific areas where NATO can play a practical role, not to say a role of projecting defence, projecting security, but a role where they can actually do something, I think is in stronger intelligence, reconnaissance, ISR, our most important aspects of the ambiguous, hybrid warfare that’s been carried out in Ukraine. [For instance], the sudden emergence of pockets of people moving around the country, being able to take buildings, border incursions. It’s not a big column of tanks moving across. So, having situational awareness, intelligence, being able to share it quickly is incredibly important. So number one is ISR. Number two is command and control. So with that information, a country can respond quickly and think out what would be its ability to respond to the emergence of a protest in one place, or a protest happens in another part. You’ve got to be able to coordinate the forces to be able to go and reply. [The third factor is] border control, so that can actually be stronger border bases, etc. becomes important as well. [Another important factor would be] cybersecurity, making sure that you’re not going to be suddenly blinded just as an ambiguous type of attack starts to take place, and governments can coordinate and respond effectively. These are the areas that come immediately to mind. And NATO, obviously, NATO’s specific role is making sure that a given member state or a partner state, like Ukraine, has strong capabilities in each of those areas — and is therefore able to coordinate a response or simply respond effectively by itself.


Q2: In a recent [Chatham House] publication, there was mention of the Gerasimov doctrine.

 A2: “The Russians, they’ve been planning for some time, remember, they did the 2008 incursion into Georgia, simply preceded by cyber activities, the whole way of getting the Georgians sucked into the war was part of an ambiguous, hybrid, attack. They feinted having various tanks and so on off the border…The point I’m making is that the Russians have been past and long masters of disinformation, dissimulation, Spetsnaz forces would have been the first wave in the Cold War period if they had ever got into a hot war with NATO. So there’s nothing new here, this is just them carrying out these types of dissimulated operations.


Q3: In a July 2014 publication, the NATO Defence College claimed: “A new NATO Russia strategy is needed that credibly emphasizes a carrot and stick approach to Moscow.” Do you think that’s necessarily the correct approach, given how everyone is saying how we should turn away from cooperative defence?

A3: Look, I think it’s not possible to have a cooperative defence relationship in Europe with Russia right now. Beating it with a stick needs to be done very thoughtfully. As I said in my remarks today, I think the graduated, quite thoughtful way in which the sanctions have been developed, is the right approach. Because you don’t want to go into a ‘stick-only’ approach. You don’t want to use a great big plank. You want to inflict pain in a clever and intelligent way, which is what I think the US and EU sanctions have done.

 In terms of carrots though, I don’t think there’s any carrot that we could offer to Russia right now to make it think about doing what it’s doing in Ukraine differently. I think ultimately, this is more about what we do for Ukraine rather than what we do to Russia. Russia should bear a cost for the actions it’s taken. If we’re going to take a cost, they’re going to take a cost. But it’s not because it’s going to change their behaviour immediately. It’s more to give us leverage. Later on, we can then perhaps have a stronger hand in a negotiation once Putin is ready to negotiate over Ukraine. Until he’s ready to negotiate over Ukraine, no amount of hitting with a stick is going to make him want to negotiate faster. My sense is the most important stick we have right now isn’t the stick that we beat Russia with. It’s the stick that helps support Ukraine, the government in Kiev: that’s the most important thing right now.


Q4: In 2008, public opinion research found that, should a similar attack have taken place on a Baltic State, less than 50% of the populations in the US, UK, Spain, Germany, and France would have supported a defence. How can NATO create a narrative of credible collective defence in the face of internal opposition? 

A4: Obviously, as I said today, part of the problem is that we enlarged NATO without thinking about how we would live up to our Alliance’s commitments should some kind of security risk come. And this Summit is partly about trying to catch up, get public opinion to start thinking seriously about the commitments that have been undertaken, through the enlargement of NATO. And to think about really what it would mean, in an practical sense, to defend these countries.

Public opinion can move very quickly. Public opinion in Germany vis-à-vis Russia has turned quite negative in the last three-four months following how the MH-17 was shot down. Public opinion in the UK against Russia has hardened and polling is 23 points worse than last year. And in the end, governments can lead on security even when they don’t have big public support. And when they go and get involved in a military operation, public support suddenly rises very quickly. You’ve then got to handle the military operation effectively. I would be very cautious about being led by public opinion and polls on these types of questions.


Q5: Do you think, the world, as some claim, is sliding back into Realpolitik?

A5: Oh yeah, the world, is in Realpolitik. But we’ve got to remember, in the West, Realpolitik is not the value by which we govern ourselves. We’d like the world not to be Realpolitik. But with new rising powers and a changing balance economic and political power around the world with the rise of China, Russia feeling more vulnerable, etc. We are in a world of Realpolitik, and Europeans, and NATO need to wake up to that.

Jenny Yang
Jenny Yang graduated with an MPhil from the University of Cambridge, and a BAH in Political Studies from Queen's University. Her research interests include security tensions in the Asia-Pacific; peacekeeping and multilateralism; and the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. She currently works at Interpol's headquarters in Lyon France in the Strategic Planning Directorate. She was invited by the Atlantic Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina to attend the 2014 NATO Summer School in the Balkans and has also studied at the Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon on the Ontario Rhone-Alpes Scholarship. She has worked as an advisor at an internship for the Embassy of Canada to the Netherlands, in which she provided support to the Canadian Permanent Representation for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).