Exploring the Long-Term Implications of Russia’s War in Ukraine: Perspectives from the United Kingdom

27 April 2022

President Vladimir Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine has united NATO Allies, generating a strong transatlantic commitment to support Ukraine in its efforts to resist Russia’s aggression. The invasion and NATO’s response was a key theme of a four-day mission to the United Kingdom of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Technology Trends and Security (STCTTS) and the Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Economic Relations (ESCTER). Members also discussed energy and climate security, the links between corruption, resilience and security, the development of emerging and disruptive technologies, and challenges to non-proliferation regimes.

Over the course of the visit, participants discussed the current state of Euro-Atlantic security in the wake of the war. They were also briefed on how the British government has had to adapt its own strategy, roughly a year after issuing its own “Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.” British government officials and parliamentarians underscored strong bipartisan support both for NATO and Ukraine. There was broad agreement that the return of a full-blown conventional war on the European continent marks a turning point in European history and challenges all governments to take full stock of the implications. 

Mark Galeotti, a Russia and Eurasia expert and Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told the delegation that Russian President Vladimir Putin had incorrectly assumed that his war in Ukraine would be an “easy, light, […] almost police-like operation.” Russia’s army, however, has confronted fierce Ukrainian resistance which has compelled the Kremlin to shrink its strategic objectives to the point where it is now objectively a “politically, economically and strategically pointless” operation. That said, the situation remains exceptionally dangerous and the potential for prolonged bloodshed and possible escalation remains high. 

Regarding Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDTs), officials underlined the need to develop and adopt more nimble innovation and acquisition systems. As the private sector is increasingly driving technological progress, it will be crucial for governments to harness the potential of both start-ups and academia. NATO’s Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA), currently being set up in London and Estonia, will play a crucial role in this process. Russia’s war in Ukraine has revealed new development priorities including the critical role of small, smart, high-tech, high-precision munitions and drones. 

In Portsmouth, BAE Systems Executives briefed the members on the challenges of developing such new systems. One of the key challenges militaries confront will be managing and exploiting ever greater data flows while ensuring strong cyber defences. According to RUSI’s Justin Bronk, developing and incorporating EDTs does not mean that mass will be a less important factor in determining military success. Despite unprecedented advances in military technology, future conventional conflicts will still demand large stocks of weapons and significant logistical support systems, something NATO allies should not underestimate. Representatives of BAE Systems also shared their outlook on challenges related to emerging and disruptive technologies in the naval domain.

Several speakers suggested that green technology should play a key role in addressing both energy security risks, and the broader challenge of climate change. Militaries around the world will increasingly feel the impact of climate change on their operations and should be committed to facilitating a push to net-zero emissions. The British Naval Base in Portsmouth is the largest consumer of energy in the UK, delegates were informed. Implementing green technology is thus critical both to climate security and national security. Soaring energy prices also suggest that this is also a fundamental economic security challenge. 

The dislocation of supply chains first because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine constituted another theme of the delegation visit. Several speakers urged members to consider sanctions as a critical tool both to undercut Russia’s war machine and to lower critical dependencies on strategic rivals like China. Europe’s uncomfortable dependence on Russian oil and gas has been instructive in this regard. 

Yet economic risks are not all external. Allies also need to look inward to root out dangerous vulnerabilities like corruption – the topic of the Economics and Security Committee’s general report for 2022. The Russian-Ukrainian war, once again, has been a catalyst in this regard. Chatham House’s Creon Butler and RUSI’s Tom Keatinge pointed to the threat corruption poses to democratic institutions and recognised that it has become a means for strategic rivals to conduct hybrid warfare. Yet they also highlighted the broader risk of corruption undermining long-term global efforts to tackle climate change. Massive public funding of critical infrastructure  needed to transition away from carbon could be squandered  if these resources are not shielded from corrupt misappropriation. Fighting corruption thus offers a critical means to bolster resilience in the face of climate change and emerging strategic threats. 

Finally, members explored prospects for the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Here too, Russia’s war against Ukraine is shaping the discussion. Nuclear talks with Russia will become exceedingly difficult if not impossible because of tensions arising out of the current conflict. These tensions are already spilling over into other arms control discussions including efforts to revivify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Iran. 

The joint STC-ESC visit to the United Kingdom included meetings at the UK Parliament and at HM Naval Base in Portsmouth. Philippe Michel-Kleisbauer (France) and Ivans Klementjevs (Latvia) led the delegation of 29 members from 15 NATO member states. In addition to meeting with UK officials and political leaders to discuss current UK security and foreign policy priorities, members were briefed by a range of leading experts from academia, think tanks and NGOs. 

A summary report of the visit will be available on the NATO PA website in the coming weeks.