The book excerpt published in Defense News’ April print edition, “Can NATO defend Europe? Can Europe defend Europe?,” fails to focus on the reality and urgency to reestablish credible collective security in Europe and maintain global stability. Hopefully the forthcoming book — “Future War and the Defence of Europe” by John R. Allen, Frederick Bed Hodges and Julian Lindley-French — does better.
First, believe this: NATO is no more. The singular, powerful deterrent to Soviet aggression in the ’70s, ’80s and through the first decade of 2000 is factually gone. Clearly, the name is there. Thirty nations subscribe and meet regularly in Brussels, but their collective security — the very purpose of the alliance — was guaranteed by U.S. military power and U.S. military power alone. To believe otherwise is to believe fiction. That crucial underpinning is now gone.
In Europe, troop strengths under the Obama administration declined by 85 percent since the height of the Cold War, withdrawing combat-ready armor and infantry divisions poised instantly to battle Soviet forces. Anti-armor attack and assault helicopters were removed, to include U.S. Air Force A-10 attack aircraft embedded to counter the ever-increasing tank forces of Soviet armies.
Of equal importance, the key to rapid reinforcement of NATO was strategic airlift capable of inserting troops and weapons systems in a sequence, indisputably bolstering forward-based U.S. combat units. C-5 cargo aircraft, essential to that reinforcement, were halved in operational numbers, and some key C-17 units providing strategic airlift had been inactivated.
Even if we had necessary forces to deploy for NATO’s reinforcement, we now could not get them in sufficient strength to join the battle, were Russian President Vladimir Putin to move quickly.
Reinforcement of NATO by the United States is now — to the European on the street — a credibility issue, hurled to the front burner by Putin’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula; his threatening invasion of Ukraine; his $400 billion rearmament program; the demonstrated rapid deployment of tactical forces to counter NATO exercises; aircraft overflights challenging NATO nations’ airspace; and sightings of Russian submarines loitering off Helsinki, Finland.
Today, our “real world” deployable ground force for reinforcing NATO consists of very limited combat-ready brigades, perhaps a single division, leaving Putin in a position to threaten Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Poland at will and with total impunity, just as he did when annexing two Georgian provinces in 2009 and Crimea in 2014.
Worth adding is that at one point in time, U.S. military power in Europe could be rapidly deployed to the Middle East and proved a realistic deterrent to Russian maneuvering in that theater and on the African continent. No more, America.
If one were counting on successful diplomatic interaction among NATO nations and Russia, think again. To believe that successful diplomacy in Europe can ever be conducted unless buttressed by overwhelming military power, with the full understanding by all participants that force will be used if diplomacy fails, would also be fiction. In this context, U.S. diplomacy addressing military issues today has no teeth — little more than a fable, and worthless versus Russian counterparts backed by powerful Russian forces. NATO, emasculated by the absence of U.S. military power poses no great threat to Vladimir Putin.
Further to the matter, European and global stability was maintained before the Obama administration by a well-known national capability: that the United States could conduct multiple wars simultaneously with assurance of defeating the enemy in each. This made U.S. diplomacy possible and successful.
Our withdrawal of forces from NATO has far greater global diplomatic implications, since it brought focus to the Obama administration’s strategic “Pivot to Asia,” factually an empty monologue, as forces to be used to back U.S. diplomatic efforts in Asia were as unimpressive as those at one time designated to reinforce NATO.
To this point, only restoration of previous American military power to NATO will avert future Russian aggression and restore our diplomatic credibility in Europe and worldwide. Reality is setting in, albeit far too late, that the “elephant in the room” is now Vladimir Putin and Russia; and the United States, with few arrows left in its quiver — military or diplomatic — has far less impact on historical outcomes in these regions than in earlier years.
This in summation, then, is what is lacking in the book excerpt. Specifically missing is the clear and urgent sense that NATO today can not defend Europe, nor can Europe defend Europe, unless major changes are made reflecting U.S. recommitment to the alliance in terms of imbedding brute military power counterbalancing Russia along her western borders, and restoring a diplomatic corps mirroring U.S. national interests opposing Putin’s.
Matthew R. Kambrod is a former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Army for aviation research, development and acquisition. He is also the author of “Lobbying for Defense” and served as a war plans staff officer for U.S. European Command.