The Black Sea and NATO in the Age of Access-Denial

By Francis, Taylor; Manea, Octavian | Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review, July 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Black Sea and NATO in the Age of Access-Denial


Francis, Taylor, Manea, Octavian, Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review


The world in which the North Atlantic Alliance exists has fundamentally changed since the 1990s or even early 2000s. The Crimean annexation by Russia in 2014 marked not only the return of traditional geopolitical competition, but also the rise of a new operational and security ecosystem. This article aims to explore the implications of the rise of antiaccess/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities for NATO's Eastern Flank and especially for the broader Black Sea region.

The two core strategic documents of the Trump Administration, the National Security Strategy (NSS, presented at the end of 2017) and the National Defense Strategy (NDS, launched in early 2018), provide a realistic diagnosis of the contemporary security environment. Understanding this reality is of utmost importance for Europe because, at the end of the day, it is the setting in which NATO ultimately is operating. From the NSS perspective the world has once again become a place shaped by great power rivalries and competitions "across political, economic and military arenas" with the purpose of shifting "regional balances power in their favor."1 At the core it remains fundamentally a contest between revisionist and status quo powers, between repressive systems and free societies, between the powers that favor a rules-based international order and the ones for which power rules. For the Pentagon the stakes of the reemerged long-term inter-state strategic competition are about the nature and character of the international order for which the contemporary revisionist powers have other plans, especially in their near-abroads: "China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model - gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions."2But the most important feature is that this broader contestation and weakening of the postWWII and post-Cold War orders happens at a very specific moment in time - when the traditional ways to provide security and reassure allies, especially the ones that have underwritten NATO deterrence for decades, are in crisis. As the NSS points out, the revisionist powers are developing the antidotes to the socalled American Way of War (one that also largely shapes the NATO operational profile) by "fielding military capabilities designed to deny America access in times of crisis and to contest our ability to operate freely in critical commercial zones during peacetime."3 In its major planning and strategic guiding documents, the Pentagon is recognizing a shifting global environment where traditional US military advantages are contested:

"for decades the United States has enjoyed uncontested or dominant superiority in every operating domain. We could generally deploy our forces when we wanted, assemble them where we wanted, and operate how we wanted. Today, every domain is contested-air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace."4

While the United States and its allies were deeply engaged in the post-9/11 stabilization campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, powers like China and Russia invested in developing alternative recipes (new capabilities, systems and ways of fighting) to the American traditional competitive advantages, especially the ability to project its power in key strategic theaters like the Eastern Flank of NATO or the Indo-Pacific.5 This new ecosystem is at the forefront of what Russia has been doing over the past few years in the immediate proximity of NATO territory, particularly in Kaliningrad and Crimea - developing concepts of operations, especially the A2/AD component, that challenge NATO's way of reassuring and deterring particularly in the frontline regions.

From the perspective of the international relations field, this article operates broadly within the principled realism framework at the core of both the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy. This principled realism provides an overarching framework that should guide most of the policies of the Trump Administration. …

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