Obama and NATO Respond to Russia
Will NATO make the same mistake that the Allies did 70 years ago?
The convergences of a NATO summit meeting in Wales and renewed hostilities between Russia and the Ukraine have forced both Obama and NATO to address the deteriorating security situation in Eastern Europe and Russia’s aggressive preventive defense posture. It has also forced both Obama and Cameron to face the growing issue of ISIS, although no specific action was mentioned.
The week of action began for Obama on Wednesday when he arrived in Estonia to talk to the leaders of the three Baltic nations, who are all members of NATO. In a speech delivered there, he pledged additional military aircraft to patrol the Baltic region in addition to more frequent stationing of American troops on the ground.
“The defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London,” Obama said, invoking the founding principle of collective defense that undergirds NATO. “An attack on one is an attack on all, and so if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, ‘Who’ll come to help?’ you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America.”
“We’ll be here for Estonia. We’ll be here for Latvia. We’ll be here for Lithuania,” Obama said. “You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.”
Obama also addressed the situation in the Ukraine. “It is a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent European nation,” Obama said. “It challenges that most basic of principles of our international system — that borders cannot be redrawn at the barrel of a gun; that nations have the right to determine their own future.”
The US also announced a military exercise, Rapid Trident, to take place in the next few weeks as a show of support for Eastern NATO nations and the Ukraine. The annual exercise takes place in Poland, near its border with the Ukraine. The United States European Command (EUCOM) says the exercise will involve about 200 U.S. personnel as well as 1,100 others from Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Britain, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania and Spain. It will focus on peacekeeping missions and will include command post drills, patrolling, and dealing with improvised explosive devices.
In addition to Rapid Trident, the United States is moving tanks and 600 troops to Poland and the Baltic states for joint maneuvers in October, replacing a more lightly armed force of paratroopers.
This wasn’t the only action to support beleaguered NATO nations in the east. Several NATO nations declared that they would send forces to Eastern Europe to deter any Russian aggression. France also announced that it was suspending delivery of two helicopter carriers to Russia. The first one, the Vladivostok, was due to be delivered next month. Although the helicopter carriers aren’t much of a threat to the Ukraine, they would be a problem to NATO nations with coastlines on the Black and Baltic seas.
However, the most important news that will come out of the NATO meeting will be the formation of a brigade sized rapid reaction force that can move into an area within 48 hours. Stockpiles of heavy equipment will be stored in Eastern Europe for the reaction force to mate up with.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO Secretary-General, said on Monday: “This is a time of multiple crises on several fronts. To the east, Russia is intervening overtly in Ukraine; to the south we see growing instability, with fragile states, the rise [of] extremism, and sectarian strife. These crises can erupt with little warning, move at great speed and they all affect our security in different ways. “We will develop a spearhead within our response force. This will require reception facilities in NATO territory, pre-positioned equipment and supplies, command and control and logistics experts. So this force can travel light, but strike hard if needed.”
NATO’s current rapid reaction force would take 5 days to arrive on scene and be able to remain on scene for up to 30 days without resupply. The NATO Response Force has only been used 6 times (The 2004 Olympic Games, the Iraqi Elections, the 2011 Libyan civil war, humanitarian relief to Afghanistan, humanitarian relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and humanitarian relief in the earthquake disaster in Pakistan).
One of the criticisms of the force is that it fields very small land contingent. In its first deployment for the Athens Olympics in 2004, of the 9,500 personnel, about 8,500 were airmen and sailors, and only 1,000 were ground troops. Its land component included a French paratroop battalion, a Greek airmobile company, and a Belgian commando company.
Another criticism of the rapid reaction force is that its divergent nationalities make it hard to smoothly coordinate.
So, the question is if the new, proposed NATO rapid reaction force will be a credible deterrent to Russia?
Ironically, the answer may lie in history and NATO ministers may want to look at events that happened 70 years ago this month in Belgium and Holland. Operation Market Garden (September 17 – 25,, 1944) represented the largest use of airborne forces – the rapid reaction forces of World War II. The result was the near destruction of the British First Airborne Division at Arnhem.
Rapid reaction forces traditionally have limited capabilities, as Allied commanders discovered in Operation Market Garden. They are light infantry – usually delivered by air – that have to rely upon light weapons and have little mobility. Their advantage lies in the training and quality of the airborne troops, which are traditionally higher than the average soldier. Their immobility makes them a target for heavier units
Excellent examples of such a force are the American 82nd Airborne Division and the 75th Ranger Regiment – both of whom would undoubtedly be allocated to such a NATO force at some time. Both units have the mission of having combat troops “Wheels Up” (en route by aircraft) within 18 hours of an order to move. Both units have the capability of “Forced Entry” into a territory to seize and secure key terrain, e.g. Drop Zone (DZ), airfield or airport, to accommodate follow on forces. A good example of this was Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. The Rangers were at the staging base in Barbados in less than 18 hours from notification followed by the 82nd Airborne Division.
But, is speed enough? What would such a unit bring to a combat situation in Eastern Europe?
Although heavy equipment will be prepositioned in Eastern Europe, It’s very likely that these depots will be hit be Russian strikes before they can be mobilized. In that case, NATO will have to rely upon what the force brings to the battlefield.
A situation in Eastern Europe may very well rely upon a forced entry into hostile or contested territory. This is something the 82nd Division can do, but with limited ability to project power beyond a limited range. The 82nd Division can land 2,000 paratroopers, armored vehicles, and 155mm howitzers over a three mile drop zone to seize and defend an airfield in order to allow reinforcements, including air mobile Stryker armored units, to land and fight their way to the objective. However, the ability of the attack to reach its objective relies upon the reinforcements and the air superiority to allow them to land.
An example of this was seen by the 82nd Airborne in Operation Market Garden in 1944. They had been assigned the mission of capturing the Nijmegen Bridge, but were stopped by a light German armored unit. They didn’t achieve their objective until days later – then with the support of armored units from the ground units of the 30th Corps. Even then, they took heavy casualties in a daylight assault across the Waal River in order to capture the northern end of the bridge.
Event proved worse for the British 1st Airborne Division. They reached their objective, but lost their landing zone. The result was that they ran out of ammunition and supplies and those who weren’t captured by the Germans were forced to retreat. The story of Operation Market Garden was made into a movie titled, “A Bridge Too Far.”
So, what does this history lesson mean to a modern day NATO quick reaction force? Rapid reaction forces are highly skilled, highly trained light infantry that may be very mobile going into battle, but are largely immobile once they land. Man per man, they can outfight any unit, but they don’t have the logistics tail or heavy equipment to continue fighting for long, especially in heavy combat.
Operation Market Garden also highlighted the communication problems between units of different nationalities, even though the majority of the Market Garden forces were all English speaking British and Americans. A poly-lingual NATO rapid reaction force will have even greater problems.
The success of such a rapid reaction unit will depend on how quickly it gets to the potential theater of operations. A rapid reaction force that can move in days before any combat and link up with heavy equipment and a logistics chain can be a deterrent as its combat ability exceeds its numbers.
Should that force not enter the area of operations until just before combat, its ability is seriously degraded. The ability of the unit to fight against superior numbers depends on supply support that probably will not be there. Consequently, the unit may stop a Russian advance for a few days before running out of ammunition and supplies.
Should the rapid reaction force try to force an entry into hostile territory without adequate air cover, the lives of the 4,000 men would be wasted.
In reality, a NATO rapid reaction force is more of a political response than a sound military one. Deterring Russian expansionism would be better served by permanently stationing smaller numbers of ground forces in Eastern Europe – forces that would have all their equipment and an established supply infrastructure.
Undoubtedly, Putin is aware of this. While the uncertainty of a NATO force will cause him to pause, it will not stop him if he decides to act.
2014 NATO Summit: Understanding the Key Issues
By Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis
September 3, 2014
Issue Brief #4271
The 2014 NATO summit will be held this week in Wales. The last time the United Kingdom hosted the NATO summit was in 1990, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the Cold War was coming to a close, and the alliance was questioning its future role in the world. Today’s situation is not dissimilar. This will be the last summit before NATO ends its combat operations in Afghanistan and the first since Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula and brought instability to eastern Ukraine. The U.S. should use this opportunity to refocus the alliance on the core tenets of the original 1949 North Atlantic Treaty: collective security and territorial defense. In advance of the summit, The Heritage Foundation has published six Issue Briefs touching on important policy issues that President Obama and his NATO counterparts should address.
Washington Should Stop Praising Military Tyranny in Egypt
By Doug Bandow
September 2, 2014
Egypt’s capital is crowded, busy, confused, and messy. Security isn’t obvious, until you get close to a sensitive site, such as the Interior Ministry. The military has taken firm control, elevating its leader, Abdel Fata al-Sisi, to the presidency. The army permitted dictator Hosni al-Mubarak’s ouster by street protests in 2011 because he planned to turn military rule into a family dynasty. If ousted president Mohamed al-Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood been defeated in a future election, they would have been discredited peacefully. However, the coup turned the movement’s members into angry victims. In Cairo they took over Rab’a al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Squares, just as the anti-Mubarak and anti-Morsi crowds had done in Tahir Square. The military government responded with a campaign of premeditated murder. In a new report Human Rights Watch detailed the junta’s crimes. From the beginning the military used deadly force with no concern for casualties. In fact, the army began using live ammunition against protestors just two days after the coup.
The U.S. Strategic Vacuum in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 2, 2014
Strategy does not consist of concepts, good intentions, or public statements that will not be implemented in any meaningful form. It consists of the policies and actions that are already in place and practical plans that can – and are – actually implemented. Today, the US lacks a real world strategy for dealing with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. It has an unworkable and under-resourced Transition plan for Afghanistan, no meaningful public strategy for Pakistan, and little more than statements of good intentions for Central Asia as it withdraws the forces that supported the war in Afghanistan. This “strategy” of good intentions is not a strategy. Yes, it would be nice to resolve the tensions and risk of conflict between India and Pakistan. It would be nice to see Afghanistan emerge as a unified, peaceful, developing democracy. It would be nice to seek Pakistan put on the same path. It would be nice to see Central Asia develop as a region, and do so in ways that are peaceful, and involve the same progress towards democracy.
Winning the Campaign Against the Islamic State: Key Strategic and Tactical Challenges
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 29, 2014
The United States does not have good or quick options in dealing with the Islamic State, in part because it faces serious challenges in Iraq and Syria that cannot be separated from any efforts to weaken and destroy the Islamic State. This, however, is not a reason to stand and wait for better options that do not exist. The situation will not get better because the United States continues to dither. The United States already has the elements of the strategy it needs and has begun to act in important ways, and if this action is taken more decisively, in an integrated form, and over enough time to be effective it may well be capable of both imploding the Islamic State and serving U.S. interests in both Iraq and Syria.
Backdrop to an Intervention: Sources of Egyptian-Libyan Border Tension
By Frederic Wehrey, David Bishop, and Ala’ Alrababa’h
August 27, 2014
The airstrikes that Emirati forces with Egyptian support conducted against militia positions in Libya in late August 2014 were sparked by an anti-Islamist military campaign in eastern Libya. The campaign, led by retired General Khalifa Hifter and a breakaway faction of the Libyan military, has profoundly altered Egyptian-Libyan relations. But the roots of Egyptian meddling in Libya run deeper than Hifter’s current operation. Among Libya’s many afflictions, none is more threatening to Egypt than the two states’ nearly 700-mile-long shared border. Border policing in Libya has always been weak and ill-defined—even under Muammar Qaddafi—but it has suffered a catastrophic decline following the dictator’s overthrow in 2011. Oversight of borders has devolved to a constellation of eastern militias that are only tenuously connected to the government and that, in many cases, are colluding in the very smuggling they are meant to combat. The border is now North Africa’s eastern thoroughfare for weapons, fighters, illegal migrants, and illicit goods flowing into the Levant, with profoundly destabilizing effects on the Sinai, Gaza, and Syria.
Will ISIS Strike America’s Achilles Heel?
By Frank Gaffney
Center for Security Policy
September 3, 2014
According to the indispensable government watchdog group Judicial Watch, the U.S. government has evidence that the jihadist Islamic State (IS) is present in Juarez, Mexico – across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Worse yet, the Texas Department of Public Safety believes there is evidence that IS plans an imminent attack in this country. In light of the latest murderous attack by this organization against an American journalist, Steven Sotloff, among other atrocities, such threats must be taken with the utmost seriousness. Among the targets national security professionals fear may now be in the jihadis’ crosshairs is America’s exceedingly vulnerable electric grid. A panel discussion being held at the National Press Club in Washington Wednesday afternoon will show how a spate of recent attacks involving sabotage and destruction of property at various electric substations here and elsewhere could be leading indicators of the next 9/11 – one potentially vastly more destructive than the original which occurred thirteen years ago next week.
ISIS’s Offensive in Syria Shows that U.S. Airstrikes Have Not Blunted Momentum
By Isabel Nassief and Jennifer Cafarella
Institute for the Study of War
August 28, 2014
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters that U.S. airstrikes “have stalled ISIL’s momentum” after two weeks of bombarding ISIS positions in Northern Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has not stalled under U.S. pressure. Rather, since the fall of Mosul and despite U.S. airstrikes, the insurgent army has continued a successful and spectacular offensive in Syria. Their gains nearly equal in scale the seizure of northern Iraq in June. The insurgent army’s latest triumph is the capture of Assad’s Tabqa air base in Eastern Syria. ISIS is one armed force fighting on multiple fronts in two theaters of operation, Iraq and Syria, across a border that the group does not recognize. It aims to establish and consolidate a cross-border Caliphate and has sought to fuse its lines of communication across the border region, while also seizing control of populated urban areas in both countries. ISIS has sought to expel armed forces of both states from positions within ISIS’s desired “borders” in order to preserve the Caliphate’s territorial integrity.
Lebanon and the ISIS Threat
By David Daoud
August 28, 2014
The advance of the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham (ISIS), currently known as the Islamic State, has focused the international spotlight on Syria and Iraq, as ISIS has taken control over huge swaths of the two countries. Although Lebanon has managed to stay off the international radar, instability and sectarianism leave the country equally vulnerable to this growing threat in the region. The lack of national unity has been disastrous for Lebanon. The country has yet to overcome the damaging consequences of its bloody civil war (1975-1990), during which regional actors capitalized on Lebanon’s sectarian divides for their own political interests. For example, the Syrian army entered Lebanon under the initial pretext of aiding the Christian Maronites, and Iran took advantage of the disenfranchisement of Shiites and the Israeli occupation to create the Shiite militia Hezbollah. ISIS is very likely to exploit the Lebanese state’s failure to resolve the deep sectarian divides just like it did in Iraq and Syria.
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
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