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Defense or Delusion? The Hidden Motives Behind NATO's East European Buildup

The upcoming NATO summit in July in Warsaw is certain to approve the deployment of an additional contingent of elite NATO troops in Eastern Europe. However, everyone seems to understand perfectly well that NATO's high readiness force is nothing more than a symbolic 'soap bubble' unit that would pop immediately after the outbreak of hostilities.

In 2014 at its Wales summit, members of the North Atlantic Alliance agreed on the creation of a 'spearhead' Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, a five-battalion-strong rapid reaction unit capable of moving out in the space of a few hours to deploy in defense of an ally in the event of attack. 

A royal Marine from 539 Assault Squadron performing a beach assault from a Landing craft Air Cushioned (LCAC) Hovercraft in Harstad, Norway. - Sputnik International
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The idea behind this unit, Vzglyad journalist Yegveny Krutikov recalls, "is aimed at eliminating the fears of some countries in the region that are concerned about potential 'Russian aggression', and in part to legitimize the presence of the US's new high-tech missile defense system."

However, even Western military experts seem to have admitted the futility of these forces, the journalist notes, because "the units of this 'ultra-rapid response force' are by definition untenable, incapable of 'super-fast deployment', and unable to ensure anyone's security."

"This military group is the continuation of the old concept of 'defense through threat', based on the notion that a few American soldiers can, by their presence, stop the 'horde of barbarians' (at one time these were communist barbarians, now they're simply Russian ones). But NATO really does seem to believe that stretching a contingent of 5,000 troops (which would include 1,000 US troops) along a front stretching nearly 2,000 km would be an effective instrument for a rapid response."

For his part, Polish Brigadier General Krzysztof Krol seems to be more frank and honest about the troops' real purpose, "stipulating that the group will be formed primarily to fight against 'internal strife', in accordance with Article 4 of the NATO Charter; in other words, [they will be used] in cases when internal unrest degenerates into a dangerous conflict."

US Deputy Secretary of Defence Bob Work (C), Polish Minister of Defence Antoni Macierewicz (3rdR), Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Witold Waszczykowski (2ndR) and other officials take part in ground breaking ceremony of the northern section of defence anti-missile shield in Redzikowo military base in northern Poland - Sputnik International
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The present, Krutikov notes, is an interesting moment for the NATO alliance when, "for the first time in its history, the alliance's upper echelons have come to be dominated by representatives from Eastern Europe."

"Brigadier General Krol's direct superior is General Petr Pavel, a former Soviet-educated Czechoslovak special forces soldier who served as the commander of subversion forces in Czechoslovakia and then in the Czech Republic, and led a very dangerous mission in Croatia [in the 1990s], where he personally commanded an operation to rescue 50 French soldiers trapped between Serbs and Croats with no chance of survival."

"But Pavel's personal qualities, as well as those of Krzysztof Krol, do not offer any guarantees regarding the survival of the newly created military forces so actively lobbied for by Eastern European governments." 

The problem, Krutikov explains, stems in part from the alliance's extreme bureaucratization, with the two operational level commands, located in Brunssum, the Netherlands, and Naples, Italy, requiring the NATO Response Force to undergo months of exercises aimed at integration and harmonization, and the conducting of numerous mini- and micro-exercises among the country's small members (and its partner states, such as Georgia).

Ultimately, the journalist suggests, the commands at Brunssum and Naples "either seriously believe that these kinds of 'five-days-a-week' training drills will increase the combat readiness of a hundred Georgian 'rangers'  and fifty Estonian villagers, or they are simply fulfilling a bureaucratic action plan extremely reminiscent of the Soviet army in its late period, when it was commanded by Marshal Sergei Sokolov."

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"The trick," he adds, "lies in the fact that the US is simply not ready for the deployment of additional troops to Europe – it simply does not have the manpower necessary for doing so." This, the journalist suggests, "is evidenced by the growing use of private military contractors in recent decades."

And while "the Pentagon has faced a real war of ideas between supporters of physically increasing the number of ground troops and advocates of the army's technological modernization…the main point is that at the moment, the US Army is simply not prepared to attract new forces to create a functioning, relatively speedy rapid response unit in eastern and southern Europe."

"Right now, it's necessary to get 30,000 personnel from somewhere for this operational contingent (when accounting not just for infantry, but everything, including navy and air force personnel); but they simply do not exist. The Americans aren't helping – they're trying to maintain their garrisons in Iraq. The British could, or might like to, but Germany will not allow the recreation of a British Army on the Rhine in any form. At the same time, from these 30,000 it's necessary to allocate 5,000 'untouchables' for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, capable of deploying within a few days."

Blowing Soap Bubbles

US servicemen walk past US M1A2 Abrams tanks as they arrive for the joint US-Georgian exercise Noble Partner 2016 in Vaziani, Georgia, May 5, 2016 - Sputnik International
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In the final analysis, Krutikov notes, "there's no time like the present to think about Georgia and Estonia. Georgia is not a NATO member and never will be, but its 100 soldiers could be sent to Iraq, or be used to threaten the main enemy – Russia. Yes, it's necessary to stop playing word games and to understand with crystal clarity that this whole system is directed solely against Moscow, because other potential adversaries to NATO in Europe simply do not exist, and cannot exist."

"Thus, after the June NATO summit in Warsaw, these five battalions should, if not contain the Russian army in a conventional conflict, at least 'send a very clear signal' about their ability to deploy in two-three days, while the flight time of an Iskander missile is 15 minutes, and that of our bombers – 20 minutes. There's nothing surprising that the US, always concerned with potential losses, want to shift the honorable task of manning these forces onto the shoulders of the Balts, the Poles and the Romanians."

At the same time, in the interests of servicing the new battalions, "NATO has contrived to set up a huge bureaucratic management structure in a short time. Specifically, the VJTF's deployment will be supported by local command and control facilities dedicated to NATO Force Integration Units (NFIU). Initially, NFIUs are being created in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, and will work on a rotational basis and in conjunction with the host countries to identify logistical networks, transport hubs and infrastructure to enable the VJTF to deploy to areas as quickly as possible."

"Factually," Krutikov notes, "a soap bubble consisting of numerous small staffs, unable to effectively defend a territory for more than two hours, has been created to calm the restless minds of Eastern European leaders. Only two years ago, the idea was not even about providing for the rapid deployment of troops, but for the creation of [local] headquarters where English-speaking officers could quickly transmit orders to local troops. Whether these officers were Estonians or Bulgarians did not matter, but it all seemed reasonable, since it reduced the time for decision making at the local level. Now, the system has become infinitely more complex, leading only to puzzled questions."

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"The participation of a few American soldiers and officers in these units seems to be not just a symbolic gesture, but one reminiscent of a caricature. The famous five tanks for Estonia is material for satirical sketches, not a functioning military unit. And this should give the Balts, who seem to believe in the myth of a Russian threat, some room for serious reflection. Because while the boys from Nebraska are not ready to die for Tallinn's Kadriorg Palace, classifying the countries of Eastern Europe as bait is a tactic that is very American. The role of the cheese in a mousetrap is not so honorable, especially given that whatever happens next, the cheese will still get eaten…"

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