NATO Strategic Considerations Part I

The current crisis in Ukraine has revealed glaring holes in NATO’s readiness and strategic planning, especially with regards to its Eastern Flank. If anything, the events of the last two months should serve as a catalyst for renewed efforts to prepare the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria to be the vanguard against future Russian designs on Eastern Europe. The growing importance of the Eastern Flank is not up for debate. The bone of contention is in the lack of commitment to build the infrastructure for a sizeable and permanent military presence on the Eastern Flank.

Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the alliance realized how exposed it truly was in the east. Plans for a permanent military presence in Poland, the Baltics and Romania were drawn up. The United States developed Atlantic Resolve, a series of military activities aimed at enhancing NATO military capabilities in Europe. NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence was also developed along similar lines and guaranteed a semi-permanent alliance military presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Unfortunately, as time went on, the importance initially attached to the Eastern Flank missions waned. Ukraine cooled down to an extent and Russia’s Crimean Anschluss was tacitly accepted. Although Atlantic Resolve and Enhanced Forward Presence continued on through the years, NATO’s attention turned to other areas. 

I believe it is imperative for NATO to begin thinking about what it will take to establish a large and permanent military presence on its Eastern Flank for an extended period of time. During the Cold War, the Inner-German Border served as both the physical and psychological frontier between East and West. Central Europe became an armed camp with hundreds of thousands of troops stationed on either side of the border. When the Cold War ended, there was no need for NATO to sustain such a large force. The Soviet threat was gone and governments from Bonn to Washington were eager to reap the benefits of the peace dividends. Now, NATO finds itself needing to make up for lost time, so to speak. The Eastern Flank now requires the necessary military command structure and framework to sustain a multi-division force on the ground. A structure similar to what NATO had in West Germany through much of the Cold War. Specifically, an army group set up along the lines of NORTHAG and CENTAG back in the 1980s.

This morning, I began writing the first of what will be a series of posts on the strategic considerations NATO is now forced to look at carefully in light of what’s happening in eastern Ukraine. After the events earlier today, I planned to set it aside, but decided to post at least the first entry. Provided things quiet down a bit in Ukraine through the rest of the week, I’ll post the second one around Friday. Between now and then, the focus will be on Russia and Ukraine.

4 thoughts on “NATO Strategic Considerations Part I

  1. Just bumping this. Seems Nato has activated its Ready Force. Not really sure the who what and where component? Theoretically its 30×3. 30 Battalions, 30 Ships and 30 squadrons under the current French/German Corp.
    A lot has changed in the 4 to 5 days just wondering your thoughts specifically NATO force posture, Finland Sweden. New German commitment?

    • Hi Rich. You’re right, its the 30×3 concept. The big question is whether all of those assets can be assembled within 30 days. Not sure about the how the force posture would be but they wouldn’t be placed under the French/German corps. That’s EuroCorps.
      Finland and Sweden’s military forces could be included in that, if the situation became that dire. There are contingencies for just that kind of path

  2. They actually have HQ capabilities already established, in various states of readiness. See JFC Naples, Brunsamnn, Norfolk; roughly equivalent to AFSouth, AFCentral, and a scaled down SACLANT. Also 9 land Corp level commands, plus EU corp.
    In the Maritime environment, I believe there are 4 battlegroup commands(HQs only) + STRIKEFORNATO, and 4 Standing Maritime groups (approx 5 ship flottillas).
    Never been able to find much on standing Air HQs, but the Air component is usually much more flexibly organized any way.

    • Afternoon, Rich. I think you’ve pointed out one of the biggest problems NATO is facing now. The HQ and field command structure is top heavy and lacking direction in some instances. The JFCs replaced those former commands in name, but not in mission. Partly because the mission…defending Europe and the Atlantic from Soviet aggression….disappeared and a new threat failed to materialize back in the 90s or 00s. I think NATO would be better off by designating an AFEAST command for Allied Forces Eastern Europe and establish it along the lines of a Cold War era theater command.

      I’ll see if I can find some info on Air HQs for you. Allied Air Command replaced Allied Air Forces Central Europe at the end of the Cold War and is basically just a bunch of HQs right now, set up to accept and integrate an influx of assets. I think the Eastern Flank would do better with a theater air command with permanent squadrons and wings reporting to it.

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