General Leonardo Tricarico is a Former Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force, former military advisor to Italy’s President of the Council of Ministers (1999-2004), former commander of NATO’s Fifth Tactical Air Force and Deputy-Commander of the multinational force in the Kosovo war (1999). He has been awarded the US Legion of Merit, the German Great Cross, the French Legion d’Honneur (which he later sent back after a dispute with then-President Nicolas Sarkozy). He is now a retired general, president of the ICSA foundation.
General Leonardo Tricarico: “Unfortunately, the real problems affecting not only NATO countries, but more or less the entire Western world and some others, will probably not figure prominently in Warsaw [for the NATO Heads of Government meeting, July 8-9]. “There are points which have been constantly raised over the past thirty years by NATO’s southern countries and these will probably be discussed only marginally.
“Today’s problems, if we can summarise them in a quite simple way, are: migration, terrorism and cybersecurity. Around these three big problems, a defence strategy should be constructed. When I talk about NATO’s southern flank, I’m talking about migration and terrorism. But I don’t have the impression that there’s a desire to address these priorities”.
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: Do you see an imbalance on the Eastern front, right now?
General Leonardo Tricarico: “There always has been. Unfortunately, instead of correcting this imbalance and assuming that we were right in saying ‘the world will change from the south’, there’s actually an opposite trend, a recycling of the old logic, old habits, seeing an East-West confrontation as NATO’s main mission.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: It was [current NATO Secretary-General, Jens] Stoltenberg himself who mentioned the Cold War, in Brussels, saying: “We’re putting in place the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the Cold War.” It was a reference to history, but…
General Leonardo Tricarico: “You listen to Stoltenberg, and you hear Obama. Or vice versa. I have the impression that Stoltenberg is a mouthpiece for US influence on NATO’s behaviour in general.
“Instead of taking their foot off the gas towards a vision modeled on the US perspective, there is a clear accelleration in this direction, which allows me to observe that the US’s influence over NATO has increased to a level which is unacceptable.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: In this scenario of cybersecurity: what are the concrete consequences you could imagine after the Brussels declaration?
General Leonardo Tricarico: “It’s put the cat among the pigeons. First you should consider the argument in depth; consult the member countries, develop a strategy and after having established a strategy to fight against cyber attacks you then need to define the rules of engagement, which obviously should be coherent with the founding principles of our alliance. Instead of doing this, they just jumped to the conclusion that a cyber attack on a member country could justify an armed response against the culprit.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: You’re talking about Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which has been evoked by Mr Stoltenberg. But how do you establish the responsibility of a country or other organisation behind a cyber attack?
General Leonardo Tricarico: “That’s unclear: there is no solid basis on which to develop a rule. The main characteristic of a cyber attacks is the fact that its author is concealed and has a good chance of never being found. Today, we are saying ‘we can respond to attacks’, without saying how we identify the attacker.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: Let’s imagine a DoS, a Denial of Service attack: you can see at least the outline of the attack, which network is predominently used. Then, to prove the responsibility of a particular state, or a lack of control is not easy, but…
General Leonardo Tricarico: “Let’s take a recent example: the Russian plane shot down by the Turks along their border. Even in that example, a comprehensive conclusion of what happened has not been reached, even with all the tools to assess this type of event: today we have radar or geo-localization.
“Imagine if it was a cyber attack: today this kind of problem cannot be escalated before having been discussed with the member countries, through some kind of technical task force, what is the nature of the attack, and then defining also the correct response. Then you could set out the rules, an operational concept, exactly like you would for conventional forces.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: So, before Article 5, you would refer to Article 4?
General Leonardo Tricarico: “No doubt. It says that when a NATO member feels its security is under threat, this is the correct route. The process should be followed. I don’t think this consultation on the danger from cyber space has ever taken place. Article 4 also logically comes before Article 5. But all these advances forward can be seen in the context of positioning [Russian President Vladimir] Putin as an enemy, because obviously this this issue that has been raised because they think that the Russians are very aggressive in the cyber sector.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: The first NATO cyber defence centre is in Tallinn, as well.
General Leonardo Tricarico: “Exactly. But anyway this topic, cyber security, and not just its position in the NATO framework, has to be studied more in depth, there’s still so much confusion. There’s still a long path, the only thing upon which we can agree is that it is a concern, and even on this the agreement only reaches a certain point.
“This concern, instead of creating a short circuit with just a build up of capacity, should prompt a consultation, the development of rules and then responses.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: There’s an aspect of preventive defence. In general, when you go to war, you don’t say that you’re attacking someone, but that you’re defending yourself from a potential threat. This relatively new protocol could be used more loosely in that context. In case of potential abuse, could it become an offensive device within what was originally a defensive alliance?
General Leonardo Tricarico: “To an extent this is already the case. We should not deny that today some parties are already performing raids in someone else’s cyber world. But let’s say we are witnessing the first skirmishes, and regarding these we should study the problem carefully and structure our defensive capacities, and maybe also the offensive ones.
But we should not jump steps in the process. Primarily because it would be very serious if this came from an Atlantic Alliance which should be something completely different.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: Until now, this problem was mainly managed through legal channels. When the involvement of a foreign state was suspected in a cyber attack, you could take legal or diplomatic action. Is this new development a clear militarisation of the area?
General Leonardo Tricarico: “Even the diplomatic route should start from a basis that is not present today. If I complain, I have to lay out the reasons behind my complaint and be able to justify them. This basis is not available today. We may have suspicions, indications, but nothing more. And a diplomatic protest founded on conjecture loses all its strength, and can have no other outcome than irritating, which is exactly what’s happening now with Russia.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: So, could the decision to upgrade the topic to a military level exacerbate this effect?
General Leonardo Tricarico: “Well, for now it’s just an idea. I see it as one of the many, perhaps too many provocations towards Putin. They decided to include this because Putin – like everyone else, without exception – is preparing to face, and even have offensive capacity in the cyber sector. But nothing more than this.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: Well, the annexation of Crimea is a fact, let’s say a simple military fact, and the suggestions around Russian military activity in Ukraine, apparently supported by some evidence, are the main arguments which NATO is using to justify the reinforcement of its eastern front.
General Leonardo Tricarico: “Neither Russia nor Ukraine are NATO members, so I don’t understand why NATO should react like this.”
Diego Malcangi, Euronews: On the basis of the fears expressed by the Baltic countries, they’re also mentioning troop build-ups…
General Leonardo Tricarico: “The Baltic countries have this reaction, which is largely understandable, and that’s why they’re speaking to the gut instincts of these countries. They’re former members [of the Soviet Union] or countries which always saw Russia as a danger, and in this case they’re the useful idiots – not in the offensive meaning – they’re just the instruments used by the United States, or at least the US are encouraging their fears, in order to justify this danger represented by the Russian bear. But that’s not the reality of the situation.
“What I see as the biggest failure in the Alliance is that it’s not preparing to face the real dangers which are hanging over its member countries.
“NATO is not preparing to face terrorism. Right now, we should consider a new philosophy, a new doctrine of force against terrorism. NATO is not doing this.
“The strength of NATO was its structure as an organisation capable of tackling the dangers faced by its member countries. That’s not the case any more. The real strength of NATO has been lost.
“Today NATO is not thinking about a new philosophy about using its capabilities, it’s instead exhuming scenarios of symmetric confrontation.
“This is exactly what happened with last autum’s training at Trident Juncture, where huge forces were mobilized for a symmetric kind of confrontation.
“If you take a look at the document structuring this training, you’ll see that terrorism is considered just as a residual threat, almost non-existant.
Is it possible to put in place a training with 37,000 personnel, under the scenario that terrorism doesn’t exist? This is the best example of how NATO is turning away from the real problems.”