NATO has announced that it will send 4000 troops to the Baltic region to deter Russian aggression and provocations. The force will involve troops from Germany, Britain and the U.S and be organized into four battalions from The troops will join a 4,500 man strong U.S armored Brigade already set to rotate into the region.
Operations like this run between the extremes of signaling and deterrence. This deployment is a combination of both. The Multilateral nature of the force sends a clear signal; NATO has the resolve to to defend it’s territory. The size indicates some significant capability. More importantly, it sends a message to NATO’s eastern members that they are still protected.
The deterrence picture is more mixed. The often cited Rand war game suggested the need for more armor in the region, going as far as saying that invading Russian forces could reach the capitals of Estonia and Latvia in less than 60 hours if troops were kept at 2015 levels. The report concluded that seven more brigades, including three heavy armor brigades, were necessary to deter the Russian threat to the Baltic states. This would be a force roughly equivalent to the one stationed in South Korea in terms of manpower and firepower
This deployment doesn’t come close to meeting that. If you include the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which can be rushed into combat as a rapid reaction force, the U.S will have the equivalent of roughly three brigades in the Baltics by the end of next year. This will include one armored brigade, equipped with heavy tanks and Bradley IFVs.
Not Done Yet
In an exclusive interview with Foreign Policy, Gen. Joseph Dunford, posited that the U.S wasn’t “done in that regard.”Meaning, the U.S is very likely considering more troops in 2018.
The time frame of these deployments is up in the air and dependent on Congress to supply the funding. Budget cuts following the official end of the war in Iraq and expensive acquisition programs like the F-35 have put immense pressure on the Pentagon’s budget. The effects have been seen most recently in Marine Corps aviation and the shrinking size of the army. There simply is not money in the budget to surge troops into Eastern Europe. Barring a major economic and political improvement in there is no way that America can station another armored brigade in the Baltics and Poland.
Another issue is the state of our ally’s military forces. Since the Cold War ended the British and German militaries have been cut to the bone. Germany has just 320 operational main battle tanks and only 80 working fighter aircraft. Britain’s cuts have left the British Army is shrinking at an alarming rate and the Royal Navy has no functioning jet aircraft carriers.
This cost cutting means that the Germans and Brits probably won’t be able to send any more troops. Other allies like Italy and France will need to join in the force. They will need to send heavy armor and warplanes, as well as logistical troops and artillery.
Such a deployment is necessary to secure American and alliance interests in Europe. Given the current state of of Eastern Europe abandoning our allies and the world order in favor of deescalation is not an option. Putin must be outmaneuvered and put in position where he must end his aggressive actions.
Even though we are not actively fighting a war, the nature of war still applies to the situation . It is still a dual, and because it is a dual, Russia with attempt to respond to our actions on it’s frontiers. Buzzing American assets near their territory, nuclear saber rattling and aggression in the Donbas are all options.
In fact, Russia has already responded to this deployment by announcing 30,000 troops will be deployed to the border next to Ukraine and Belarus by the end of this year.An asymmetrical counter, but a counter nonetheless.
NATO must be prepared to respond to this aggression with escalation of it’s own. You cannot pretend that Russia is going to stand still with NATO slowly rotates more armored brigades to it’s border. Russia will respond and NATO has to be ready.