NATO needs bases on eastern border to counter Russia: experts

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Russia’s war in Ukraine will lead NATO to radically overhaul its long-term security capabilities in Eastern Europe, defense analysts say.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is likely to establish permanent bases on its eastern flank and dramatically increase spending, experts predict.

The United States will continue to play a key role in the region, but European members will be pressured to increase spending to deal with the heightened threat from Russia, they say.

William Alberque. (Photo courtesy of William Alberque)(Kyodo)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in March that the Russian invasion represented the “most serious security crisis in a generation” and that there was a need to “reset” defense and deterrence.

The 30-member Euro-Atlantic collective defense body was formed in 1949 in part because of the threat posed by the Soviet Union.

But the end of the Cold War in 1991 led Europe to spend less on defense and over the years NATO ventured outside the continent in order to deal with the terrorist threat.

However, since Russia’s capture of Crimea in 2014, NATO has strengthened its presence in the eastern part of the alliance, deploying battalion-sized battlegroups in Poland and the Baltic states.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, more units and troops were sent along the eastern flank of the alliance. There are now some 40,000 troops under NATO command on its eastern border and around 100,000 US troops in Europe.

But the NATO battalions in the area are currently non-permanent and rotate regularly, acting as a kind of crisis trigger that would trigger reinforcements, and there are no permanent NATO bases. That is likely to change, a move that will inevitably stoke anger and mistrust in Moscow, experts say.

William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “Hopefully at the NATO summit in June they will discuss setting up permanent bases in some of the countries along NATO’s border with Russia and Belarus. really improve long-term peace and stability in this region. »

Jamie Shea, who spent 38 years as a NATO official and is now an associate member of the Chatham House think tank, said having permanent troops and bases means greater familiarity with conditions local and better training against Russian opponents. It will also allow military equipment to be easily accessible and avoid long supply chains.

“The status quo (of rotating battalions) is no longer viable. The shock to the system (from the invasion of Russia) has been so great that there will now be overwhelming pressure to strengthen the posture of the NATO east from deterrence to more combat strength,” Shea said.

Jamie Shea. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Shea)(Kyodo)

Traditionally, the United States has provided much of the heavy lifting in NATO and has long argued, particularly under former US President Donald Trump, that Europe should pay far more.

Germany has said it will increase defense spending to 2% of its gross domestic product, meeting the target NATO members are supposed to reach.

“There will be a debate about burden sharing. The Americans will want to be part of it, but they won’t let the Europeans entirely off the hook. The US Congress will become suspicious, especially the Republicans, if they see funding additional NATO at the cost of dealing with China and having a position in the Indo-Pacific,” Shea said.

Christoph Bluth, professor of international relations and security at the University of Bradford, agrees that recent events have “fundamentally changed the view of security in Europe” and that a further build-up of NATO forces is “very likely “.

But he adds that the “catastrophic performance” of the Russian military means that Moscow lacks the capacity to wage a wider conventional war on the continent.

In order to strengthen NATO’s capabilities, Finland and Sweden are moving closer to the military alliance.

Throughout its history, NATO members have often been divided on how to act in the face of various crises. And critics say the alliance should have offered greater assistance to Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Some hawks believe NATO should have been more robust after the February invasion, particularly by creating a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Western countries feared that this would lead to an escalation and limited themselves to providing defensive equipment while increasing the number of troops on the eastern border of the alliance.

“When Russia invaded Ukraine for the second time and launched its nuclear threats to the West…I think that really galvanized the alliance saying, ‘Our approach to deterring Russia has been insufficient and we have to do things differently and better,” said Alberque of the IISS.

“The response is now much better than expected. The alliance has really coalesced,” and countries like Turkey and Hungary, which are traditionally more sympathetic to Russia, have not blocked the response of NATO to Russian aggression, he said. “I just wish NATO had come up with this resolution sooner.”

Shea said that while NATO nations should prepare for conventional strikes, they should also prepare for hybrid attacks in the form of sabotage, cyber warfare or limited chemical attack, for example.

Some defense experts see a lot of merit in the idea of ​​Indo-Pacific states forming their own NATO-style military alliance to deter Chinese aggression, though they doubt the will. policy to replace the current patchwork of defense alliances in the region linked to the United States.

“I feel like the Indo-Pacific countries are much more hesitant when it comes to China than the Eastern Europeans are with Russia. They have big trade deals with China.” , Shea said.

Alberque said he would like to see a multilateral military alliance in the region, but reconciliation between Japan and South Korea, who have been at odds over the history of the war, is essential before a credible alliance and effective can be formed.

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