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Panel: NATO Needs More Capability to Effectively Deter Russia

Estonian soldiers wade ashore during a combined U.S. and Estonia amphibious assault training exercise during Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2010. US Navy Photo

Estonian soldiers wade ashore during a combined U.S. and Estonia amphibious assault training exercise during Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2010. US Navy Photo

NATO’s challenge in deterring Russian aggression goes well beyond standing up four multinational battalions in the Baltic nations and Poland; it needs to have the capability to move reinforcements across a contested North Atlantic and Europe, three experts said in assessing the alliance’s recent Warsaw summit.

Speaking Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think-tank, Jorge Benitez of the Atlantic Council said the positioning of the 4,000-soldiers “has to be backed up with other forces” to provide true deterrence. In addition to Moscow’s movement of an additional 30,000 soldiers into its Western Military District, the alliance can no longer assume, as it did in the Cold War, that the sea crossing and air space over the continent and land movements would not be contested.

He added that even with that backdrop this was “the first time [NATO] is deploying in former Warsaw Pact nations.”

Pointing to contested sea lanes, Benitez cited “greater activity of Russian subs,” noting “they are harder to find” as Moscow continues to modernize its military. The stepped-up patrols are not simply training exercises, but are “to demonstrate a capability.”

A needed counter to this been to reopen an air base in Iceland to monitor Russian submarine activity with Boeing P-8A Poseidons.

Luke Coffey of Heritage said the alliance “needs to get back to [exercising] maneuver warfare” that includes large-scale movements similar to the Return of Forces to Germany [REFORGER] exercises of the Cold War, but this time to the Baltic nations.

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“We should get European nations serious” about the growing Russian threat, Marius Laurinavicius of the Hudson Institute added. “The lack of understanding in Europe” is much greater than in the United States, although the threat from Russia was not mentioned in the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday.

Passing resolutions saying something is going to be done is not enough. Implementation is the key to deterrence, he said.

Laurinavicius also called for a re-examination of where NATO and American forces are stationed in the alliance to ensure they can be effective in carrying out their missions.

The alliance also needs “to figure out where [Sweden and Finland] are” in this changed security environment between Moscow and NATO, Coffey said. Both countries are partners—not members—of the alliance.

Russian has not reacted publicly to the announcement of the movement of the battalions into Poland and the Baltic, Laurinavicius said, but has busied itself meddling in the U.S. election by hacking the Democratic National Committee, watching events unfold in Turkey and coming elections in Germany and France.

“Everything is going well for them” without making military threats against the Baltic nations. He added Russia’s goal remains destroying NATO and views the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union as a positive step in realizing that goal.

Benitez cited a number of positive steps taken by the alliance at its Warsaw meeting: increased emphasis on cyber and creating a position to oversee it as a domain; assigning NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control [AWACS} to the coalition fight against the Islamic State; making a long-term commitment to Afghanistan; and the Netherlands’ and Germany’s accepting the need to modernize or replace dual-use aircraft [F-16s] to meet nuclear missions.

  • Ron Snyder

    Europe does, not the US. We have carried Europe for over 70 years- that is too long. Either Europe takes up its own defense or it dies.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      This December the European commission will present a preliminary outline of a pan-continental army to EU leaders at their quarterly summit.

      We could be going in the direction you describe.

      • Ron Snyder

        An EU army will be about as effective as the U.N’s.

  • Curtis Conway

    “…it needs to have the capability to move reinforcements across a contested North Atlantic and Europe…” We have C-5A Galaxys in the desert that have not been converted to C-5M. One C-5A was converted to prove the concept has merit, and it is possible to harvest many more hours from these very valuable aircraft. Moving massive amounts of material across long distances may come at a premium in the not to distant future.

  • AncientSubHunter

    “Speaking Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation…Jorge Benitez…said…the alliance can no longer assume, as it did in the Cold War, that the sea crossing…would not be contested…Pointing to contested sea lanes, Benitez cited ‘greater activity of Russian subs…’ ”

    Am I reading this correctly? The alliance assumed that the North Atlantic crossing “would not” be contested by the Soviets?

    This has to be a misquote or misunderstanding by Mr. Grady of what Benitez was saying because that is precisely what the long established strategy of the Cold War was (and what we trained for), to ensure that the US could get fast convoys to Europe soon after an outbreak of war across contested waters. And there was a reason for all the effort made to ensure the GIUK gap was effective in keeping Soviet subs and SAGs from making it into the Atlantic.

    In fact, Normal Polmar’s explains in his latest book “Hunters and Killers” how we got that strategy wrong:

    “The CIA was tasked to undertake an in-depth study of Soviet planning and capabilities for interdicting NATO sea-lanes. Based on the special intelligence sources, it became obvious that the Soviet Navy…was not planning to fight a Third Battle of the Atlantic.”

    (Maybe this is what Benitez was referring to?

    And “greater activity” by today’s Russian subs…compared to the relatively great numbers they had and were intentionally sending out to challenge the US fleet in the final years of the Cold War?

    Perhaps someone can help me to understand any of this?

    • Marcd30319

      The reason there was no Third Battle of the Atlantic during the Cold War was that primary role of the Soviet Navy was the protection of its ballistic missile submarine fleet as a bargaining chip in a post-war negotiations with the US. Both The Third Battle by Owen R. Cote, Jr., for the U.S. Naval War College and The Admiral’s Advantage by Christopher Ford and David Rosenberg through the Naval Institute Press are great sources as well as Norman Polmar and K.J. Moore’s Cold War Submarines. That said, to assume Soviet submarines would not play any role in the north Atlantic during a conflict seemed wishful thinking. After all, we would have been sending reinforcements (REFORGER) to support NATO’s Central Front in Europe. What the U.S. Navy did to take the pressure off NATO’s Central Front was using naval forces to strike Soviet forces along its flanks, specifically off Norway. Carrier task groups would operate on mined fjord to send deep air strikes against the Soviet military targets in Kola peninsula while U.S. Marines would land in Norway, join up with its pre-positioned materiel there, and secure NATO air bases from Soviet attack. This was shown in such NATO exercises Ocean Safari and Northern Wedding. Basing P-8 ASW aircraft in Iceland makes sense and repeating NATO naval exercises like Ocean Safari and Northern Wedding may serve as a reminder to the Russian bear of what the USA can do when needed.

      • AncientSubHunter

        Great response. Thank you very much. I have Polmar’s “Cold War Submarines,” but thanks to you I’ll get both “The Third Battle” and “The Admiral’s Advantage.”

        I was flying off of Theodore Roosevelt for Teamwork ’88 in Vestfjord, so I get the strategy, it was just the wording of Grady’s comment that I’m having trouble with because the plan of that time was to challenge the contesting of those waters because we were certain the Soviets had built all those subs to contest those waters.

        It was only later, as Polmar describes, that we learned that the Soviets weren’t interested in that but were far more interested in protecting their SSBNs.

        Thanks for your time.

        • Marcd30319

          Actually, a consensus was growing within the intelligence community and at the Center of Naval Analysis (CNA) during the very late 1970s. The U.S. Navy high command was initially skeptical but both the Navy U.S. intelligence community had concluded this new so-called bastion strategy. As is recall in early 1983 the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was issued outlining this shift in Soviet naval strategy. In any case, the Navy and the entire intelligence community were well aware of this development. No surprises here.

          • AncientSubHunter

            How odd that it didn’t get to the crew level…but, we were always the last to know (me not knowing until reading Polmar’s book in 2016).

          • Marcd30319

            National Intelligence Estimate are highly restricted and that level of intelligence was limited to the high command. It formed the basis for the tactic employed.

  • Rick Bennett

    Sounds like we are stuck on symmetry. Yes, it would be nice to know that any Russian thrust would be blunted and the lives of Western Europeans remain undisturbed. But let us not confuse the ability to threaten the Russian regime (and thus deter) with the need to plan this type of defense.

  • Ed L

    4 battalions? What’s that a brigade? Should it not be 4 brigades or even divisions? Most of the EU countries have put most of there armor up in storage. Let them loosen those purse strings and if they want us pay for us

    • Old Coasty

      No, three to four Battalions would be a Regiment, and two to three Regiments would be a Brigade, two to three Brigades would be a Division. It all depends on how they are organized (heavy or light) and what kind of threat they are to face. Not all of the organizational names are used but the Command Staff and Personnel are still there.

      Example: Start of WW2 all Armored Divisions had Two Brigades of Tanks and a mixed Brigade of Armored Infantry and Mobile Artillery.

      In the middle of the war all except 1st and 2nd Armored Division changed from Brigade Commands to “Combat Command A, B, and R” from the staff of the three Brigades. This was done so that the make up and use of the Battalions could be fluid. They could now be heavy in Armor, a balanced force, or be heavy in Armored Infantry, or even be heavy in Mobile Artillery if they wanted.

      Hope this helps.

      • Ed L

        My son and daughter both us army. that it’s company battalion brigade. He said brigade and Regiment where roughly the same size. But there are very few regiments left. Both of mine where in the 3rd ID but different brigades at different forts Hey what the deal with Russia practicing mass evacuations from Moscow??

  • John B. Morgen

    The United States should fortify the Baltic states with having American bases, and we must [NEVER] back-ground from challenge from President Putin. Be firm, and start saying [NO] to the Russians.