NATO Exercise Trident Juncture Signals New Cold War with Russia
For decades, NATO forces in the Mediterranean would carry out major exercises every six months that were a show of force against the USSR. In the 1990s, as the Soviet Union fell apart, these military evolutions were reduced in frequency and size, as well as scope. In this new era, NATO exercises were more likely directed against terrorists or humanitarian evacuations.
That changed this week as NATO began the largest NATO operation in 13 years – Trident Juncture. The exercise mobilizes over 36,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen from more than 30 countries to test the alliance’s ability to respond to new security threats.
And, like the NATO exercises of old, the target was Russia. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow told the opening ceremony Monday that the geopolitical situation is considerably more unstable than the last time such large-scale exercises were held during the Cold War, citing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, support of eastern Ukrainian separatists and attacks against moderate rebels in Syria, as well as the spread of terror groups into Libya and Syria.
During the opening program, guests were able to walk through a static display featuring aircrafts from 16 NATO Allies and 3 NATO Partner nations (Finland, Sweden and Ukraine). Visitors were also able to enjoy an air demonstration conducting Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) or a fly-by simulating a Personnel Recovery, Search and Rescue mission.
The exercise envisions a fictitious invasion by a large country of a small alliance member, creating a crisis with religious and ethnic dimensions, threatening energy supplies and navigational freedom with risks of terrorism.
According to the training scenario, not only will western troops be confronting a regular army and guerilla fighters, but will also encounter “food insecurity,” “massive population displacements,” “cyber-attacks,” “chemical warfare,” and “information warfare.”
The exercise is a direct response to the growing political and military challenges in the region. Russian airplanes and warships are aggressively confronting U.S. and NATO forces after invading parts of eastern Ukraine a year ago. And ISIS is spreading chaos into more regions of North Africa. These threats have the US Navy’s commanders in Europe raising alarms.
“When you look at the security situation writ-large, at all the threats, there are significantly more as we exit 2015 and roll into 2016 at all points of the compass,” said Vice Adm. James Foggo, head of the American 6th Fleet, which directs the operations of ships, submarines and aircraft in Europe and swathes of Africa.
To the south, the so-called Islamic militants have overrun a swath of Libya and are threatening to plunge the failed state into further turmoil. In the north, Russia is creating bases in the Arctic and threatening NATO allies in the Baltic like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. To the east, Russia has continued to support the civil war in Ukraine and has moved high-tech forces into the Black Sea, including a new attack submarine.
“What we are seeing is a much more confident, assertive and expeditionary Russian navy,” Royal Navy Vice Adm. Peter Hudson, the outgoing head of NATO Maritime Command said in a Sept. 29 phone interview with the Navy times. “And Operational activities in places like the Baltic and the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean, heading out across the Indian Ocean … gives an indication of the emphasis that Russia is putting on its military forces.”
In 2015, NATO increased its maritime exercises by 35 percent, Hudson said, and those have focused on the skills allied navies will need to face an advanced opponent like Russia.
“Just two weeks ago we did an [anti-submarine warfare] training exercise in the central Mediterranean, and seven submarines, including a U.S. [attack submarine] and a great bunch of surface ships and [maritime patrol aircraft] doing complex submarine-on-submarine, surface ship-on-submarine and MPA-on-submarine undersea warfare exercises,” he said. “So we’re upping the ante, and I think that’s welcomed by all the allies.”
The Trident Juncture exercise “is really about showing that NATO is still apt and capable to deploy a major military force to deter an attack,” said Bruno Lete of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank frequently mentioned in the Monitor.
One of the biggest questions is what particular threat the operation is directed against. Many have noted that being in the Mediterranean, it may very well directed towards the Russian operation in Syria or even a potential need to place NATO forces in a unstable area like Libya.
However, a close look at the exercise indicates that it may be designed to counter Russian moves in the Baltic. U.S. Marines and other NATO troops staged a mock amphibious assault on Portugal’s coastline Tuesday. Huge U.S. Navy hovercraft came from the USS Arlington around 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Portuguese capital Lisbon, delivered U.S. and Portuguese Marines and armored vehicles to the beach while U.S. Navy helicopters provided overhead air support.
The NATO exercise Tuesday was not without mishaps. The beach was too steep for the hovercraft to land at their first attempt, requiring them to go back out to sea and try again, and the first two armored vehicles onto the beach got stuck in the sand.
In addition to American and Portuguese forces, other nations were involved. The Estonian Army’s Scouts Battalion practiced storming buildings outside the town of Voru. An elite fighting force of the Royal Marines used boats, helicopters and amphibious vehicles to storm a beach. The German Frigate Hamburg practiced being under attack by multiple threats. And Eurofighter Typhoon pilots practiced air to air refueling with a large tanker aircraft.
The location of the amphibious landing and the forces involved give an inkling of the potential target – the Baltic shores of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The North Atlantic shores of Portugal are more like the Baltic shoreline than most of the Mediterranean shoreline. In addition, both the Royal Marines and Germans would be more involved in amphibious operation in the Baltic.
230 units, from 28 NATO countries and Finland, Sweden, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Australia are involved. Also taking part is Ukraine which for years has been interested in joining NATO. The operation also mobilizes 140 aircraft and 60 ships.
Just as telling was the presence of Swedish, Finnish, and Ukrainian military units – three countries that have become closer to NATO as Russia has taken on a more aggressive stance. Russia’s assertive behavior is driving Sweden and Finland — two countries that have never been part of NATO — closer to the alliance.
Sweden is providing staff, air force, and amphibious units to Trident Juncture. The Ukraine sent transport aircraft and other defense units. Finnish Defense Forces sent a fighter detachment (6 F-18s) and Special Forces with combined strength of 160 persons to take part in the exercise. The Finnish Special Forces were from Utti Jaeger Regiment and the Navy’s Coastal Brigade. They were involved in the amphibious operations on the Portuguese coast.
For months, Scandinavian countries have accused Russian military planes and ships of slipping into their waters without permission. It’s made many Nordic governments wary of the Kremlin’s intentions in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean.
Since the end of the Cold War, Sweden and Finland have sought closer ties with western European countries and both have joined the European Union. In the early 1990s, Sweden participated with Denmark and Norway in Balkans peacekeeping missions. All Scandinavian countries have contributed troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Recently, a hunt for an alleged Russian submarine in October 2014 off the coast of Sweden raised tensions — in no small part due to Russia’s aggressive stance in Ukraine. The Swedes did eventually find a Russian sub in July 2015, but that one turned out to be of WWI vintage.
Now with Russia actively involved in the Syrian civil war and beefing up its Arctic military presence, Finland and Sweden are likely to become closer with NATO with each passing day, even if they’re not willing to join.
What Trident Juncture Means to the Middle East
Although the exercises seem to be tailored to countering a Russian threat in the Baltic, the forces also indicate potential capabilities for NATO in the Middle East.
The exercise will also certify the NATO Response Force headquarters and the functions of the new high readiness Spearhead Force. The force has 5,000 soldiers in five battalions supported by air, maritime, and special forces. It is designed to react within 48 hours.
Although the exercise had been planned a year ago, the event had been recently modified to include testing the Spearhead Force.
This is not the first exercise for the Spearhead Force. ‘Noble Jump’ took place in April in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic and was an exercise focused on rapid reaction around airports. In June, Noble Jump Part II had German, Dutch, Czech, Norwegian, and other troops deploy in western Poland and respond to an unfolding crisis.
It is this NATO force that will be expected to react to any crisis in the Middle East in the future. In addition to any potential amphibious operation, the unit can be expected to be involved in civilian evacuations and even the mass migration of refugees to Europe.
The exercise also impacts the US 5th fleet in the Arabian Sea. The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) entered the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations Oct. 13, 2015 and was involved in the landings in Portugal this week. They will continue to be involved in Trident Juncture operations until early November.
The ARG/MEU, comprised of the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), the amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24) and embarked Marines from the 26th MEU.
After Trident Juncture is over, the amphibious group will transit the Suez Canal and become part of the US 5th Fleet. There, they will support US, NATO, and GCC operations and provide an American guarantee that Iran will not attack the GCC.
Trident Juncture is also an anti-submarine exercise
“The Russians have always fully funded their submarine capabilities and as they’ve evolved, they’ve become better,” Vice Admiral James Foggo, Commander of the US 6th Fleet said. “They’ve become quieter and more capable adversaries. So we need to watch that more carefully and we need to watch our presence in the undersea domain.”
Currently four American destroyers, the main anti-submarine ship class, are deployed in the Mediterranean. “It’s a fantastic capability because we can keep two of those guys comfortably out to sea at any one time,” Foggo said of the new destroyers. “I can send one up north, I can send one to the Eastern Med — I can be in hotspots in a matter of hours, not days, because we are in the theater.”
Despite the confident nature of Foggo’s statement, the US faces serious material shortages in its attempt to counter Russian moves in the region. Due to budget cuts and shifting threats, the US has been forced to borrow equipment from other NATO members – including British helicopters for the Trident Juncture exercise.
“We don’t have enough helicopters to do what we need to do,” Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commander of the US Army in Europe, told the New York Times, saying it was “essential” for US forces to train using UK aircraft.
However, while Trident Juncture may display the equipment shortages of the US, it does show that NATO and other “Partner” nations are more than willing to work together to meet the growing Russian threat.
Assad Visits Moscow
Assad traveled to Moscow in what the media says is his first foreign visit since the start of the civil war. At a meeting with Putin, the two leaders discussed the “political process” and reviewed the progress in the fight against “international terrorists.”
According to a transcript released by Russia’s government, Putin said “there have been some major positive results in this fight” against the “international terrorists” battling government forces.
As Syrian forces and its allies have made major ground gains in Western Syria, thanks to Russia air support, the meeting was a clear sign by Russia that they think the tide has turned and that they and Assad are in control of future events.
They also signaled what they are envisioning for the future. Ending the crisis requires “a political process with the participation of all political forces, ethnic and religious groups,” Putin said in comments shown on Russian state television on Wednesday. Assad, thanking Russia for its assistance, said the fight against “terrorism” is the “obstacle against any true political steps that could be taken on the ground.”
The message was clear to Washington, NATO countries, and GCC nations – Russia and Assad will dictate the terms for ending the war. Russia isn’t going to risk the lives of her troops and spend hundreds of millions of dollars only to have the West dictate the terms of any political “transition” which may or may not take place once the smoke has cleared.
Given the lack of will by the Obama Administration, it looks like Washington and its regional allies will be allowed to participate in a discussion with Putin and Assad, but that’s as far as it goes. Russia will decide Syria’s political future in consultation with Iran and given the strategic importance for Tehran of ensuring that there’s a “friendly” government operating in Damascus, chances are that whatever the solution ends up being, Washington, Riyadh, and others hoping for the ouster of Assad will not like it.
Bringing Pakistan into the Counterterrorism, not Nuclear, Mainstream
By Lisa Curtis
October 20, 2015
Issue Brief #4473
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will pay a visit to Washington this week, which will include a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday. President Obama must focus the meeting on gaining full Pakistani cooperation with the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, rather than on striking a civil nuclear deal—the terms of which Pakistan would be unlikely to honor in any case. Discussing civil nuclear cooperation with the Pakistani government before it has begun to crack down on terrorist groups that are undermining the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and that fuel Indo–Pakistani tensions would compromise vital U.S. national security interests in the region. Rewarding a country that is responsible for the most significant nuclear proliferation disaster in history (the A. Q. Khan affair) and which has continually rebuffed U.S. appeals to crack down on terrorists (such as the Haqqani network) would undermine U.S. credibility and contribute to regional instability.
The Challenge for the Next President: Reversing the Decline in U.S. Power
By James Jay Carafano, Walter Lohman, Steven P. Bucci, and Nile Gardiner
October 20, 2015
The man or woman who takes office as President of the United States in January 2017 must be aware that a top priority will be the ability to demonstrate the strength and confidence to protect the nation’s vital interests at home and abroad. These vital interests are: (1) defense of the homeland, (2) prevention or successful conclusion of a major war, and (3) preservation of freedom of movement within the global commons. Covering the gap between the current economic and security situation and where the nation needs to be at the end of the first four years of the next presidency will require a “gap strategy.” The gap strategy identifies singular and critical priorities for the next Administration—strengthening enduring alliances, rebuilding defense, and repositioning the economy in order to protect and guarantee vital interests both at home and abroad.
The Arab-U.S. Strategic Partnership and the Changing Security Balance in the Gulf
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 19, 2015
The ongoing confrontation with Iran, the war against ISIL, the instability in Iraq, the civil war in Syria, and the conflict in Yemen have all caused major changes in the security situation in the Persian Gulf and in the regional military balance. The strategic partnership between Arab Gulf states, and with the United States and other outside states, must now evolve to deal with conventional military threats and a range of new threats, including ideological extremists, non-state actors and their state sponsors, and a growing range of forces designed to fight asymmetric wars.
Market for Jihad: Radicalization in Tunisia
By Georges Fahmi and Hamza Meddeb
October 15, 2015
While Tunisia is the only Arab country undergoing a successful democratic transition as of 2015, it has also been home to a growing Salafi-jihadi movement since the fall of former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. Ben Ali’s monopolization of the religious sphere and neglect of socioeconomic issues opened the door to radicalization, and these factors, combined with the disillusionment of the youth and the mishandling of Salafists after the revolution, have resulted in escalating violence in Tunisia and the export of jihadists to Syria, Iraq, and Libya.
Putin’s Syria Gambit Aims at Something Bigger Than Syria
By Dmitri Trenin
October 13, 2015
A quarter-century after its withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia is again at war in a Muslim country outside of the perimeter of its historical empire. Moscow’s intervention in Syria, however, is very different from its past uses of military power, marked by overland invasions and occupations. It is also happening in a regional environment which is new: a Middle East where outside powers, including the United States, are playing a much less dominant role than ever in the last 100 years; and non-state actors like IS are threatening to upend the system of states created after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Syria has become, at least for now, Russia’s first U.S.-style war. Russian military aircraft are bombing the enemy from high above, plus the Russian navy is launching cruise missiles from a thousand miles away. The enemy, again at least for now, has no chance to hit back at the Russians on the battlefield. The division of labor within the Moscow-led coalition provides for the ground troops in Syria to be furnished by Damascus, Tehran, and Hezbollah. Russian military personnel in Syria—other than advisers or technicians—have the mission of supporting and if need be protecting the Russian Air Force contingent and the naval facility in Tartus. Conceivably, Russia may employ Special Forces (Spetsnaz), airborne or marine units for securing, capturing or rescuing critical assets. However, Putin is adamant that full-scale involvement in the Syrian war is to be avoided, and regular Russian ground forces—or Chechen forces—do not appear to be part of the plan.
Jordan’s Energy Supply Options: The Prospect of Gas Imports from Israel
By Simon Henderson
German Marshall Fund
October 12, 2015
Jordan depends on imports for most of its energy requirements and has had to develop close relations with its suppliers. Nonetheless, its energy supplies have been subject to repeated disruption. In response, the Jordanian authorities hope to develop the country’s own energy sources: renewables like solar and wind, as well as shale and nuclear. At the same time, a new source of energy is opening up: imports of natural gas from Israeli offshore fields in the Mediterranean Sea. This is an attractive option for the country’s political authorities but is contested, at the street level, by Jordanians who are resentful of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank.
Dividing Jerusalem? Repercussions of the Latest Violence
By David Makovsky
October 21, 2015
Amid the wave of stabbing attacks largely emanating from Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities have set up checkpoints at the entry to many of those districts. They have also erected concrete dividers along the border of the southern neighborhoods of Jabal Mukaber and Zur Bacher, which abut the Jewish district of East Talpiot. Additionally, there are plans to erect a barrier between Isawiyah and the French Hill neighborhood. The question is whether these dividers will be removed once the crisis abates, or whether they are a precursor to Israel moving its security barrier away from the municipal boundary dividing East Jerusalem from the West Bank, rerouting it through certain eastern neighborhoods.
Transforming Israel’s Security Establishment
By Alon Paz
Policy Focus 140
Israel’s security landscape has shifted dramatically in recent years. In addition to the familiar threats posed by its Arab neighbors, the country is particularly challenged by nonstate actors, sometimes backed by antagonistic states. However, Israel’s security doctrine has not changed with the times: it remains focused on a state-centered model of conflict that emphasizes strength over strategy. The consequences have included reduced effectiveness, as evidenced in several recent indecisive military outcomes, and eroding military superiority, as measured by the ability of nonstate groups to elude traditional IDF strengths. Such trends call for more than slight adjustments: indeed, a reevaluation and remaking of Israel’s entire security doctrine is required. A central element of such an endeavor must be integration of military power with five other lines of effort: diplomacy, information, economy, law, and the home front. In this groundbreaking Institute study, Col. Alon Paz, IDF, offers his recommendations for an overhaul of Israeli security strategy. Guiding his study is the notion that guile — a military principle exemplified by the Old Testament heroes David and Gideon — must supplant brute force as the nation’s operating security principle.