NATO will establish Command Centers in Baltics, CEE. But not in Slovakia, Hungary

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. What you think about this idea, how helpful or maybe helpful do you find this re current tensions with Russia?

2. No Command Centers in Slovakia and Hungary. How do you read this?

Answers:

John R. Deni*, Research Professor of National Security Studies, Strategic Studies Institute

1. My sense of the NATO Force Integration Units (NFIU) is that they are necessary for two reasons. First, the NFIUs are necessary for efficient and effective coordination between national forces and NATO’s VJTF, which will conduct numerous exercises and other training events across many of the Eastern allies. That type of and level of activity requires detailed planning and coordination, and this is probably best handled by a NATO cell dedicated to this purpose and resident in the relevant countries.

Second, I believe the NFIUs will help to increase integration of national forces in the relevant countries with the forces of other NATO (mostly western) allies. One of the greatest challenges facing the alliance post-2014 is how to maintain the operational and tactical interoperability built up over the course of the many years in ISAF, while simultaneously renewing the alliance’s ability to conduct a whole range of military operations (not simply counterterrorism or counterinsurgency). Hence, I believe the NFIUs should help to facilitate increased interoperability.

Do the NFIUs help to further assure Eastern allies? To some degree they may, insofar as they signal that the rest of the alliance understands and appreciates the nervousness of the Eastern allies over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its most recent escalation. However, in practical terms, they will likely add only a limited amount of additional deterrent capability — planners, liaisons, and coordinators are necessary for any multinational military operation, but they are not sufficient in and of themselves to deter.

Will the NFIUs worsen the security situation with regard to Russia? In other words, are they escalatory? In my view, they clearly are not — again, we’re talking about only 50 personnel in each of the six countries mentioned so far, and they will be personnel without significant military equipment or maneuver warfare capabilities. However, the Russian government and its many allies in the Russian press have proven willing and able to spin any defensive moves by NATO as catastrophic, escalatory, destabilizing, intimidating, and so forth — I have full confidence in the Russian government/press’s ability and willingness to do this once again. Indeed I would be shocked if there were NOT some sort of Russian media and social media campaign organized to demonize whatever emerges from next week’s NATO Defence Ministerial.

2. With regard to the allies involved, it’s not at all surprising to me that the NFIUs will be located in the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. These are what we might think of as the states most affected — in terms of both perception and reality — by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. Obviously Slovakia and Hungary border Ukraine as well, but the politicians in these states evidently do not perceive an enhanced sense of security threat. For Poland and the Baltics, they perceive an almost existential threat from Russia. For Romania and Bulgaria, their concerns appear to center on the great potential for increased Russian presence and influence in the Black Sea.

* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.

Igor Merheim-Eyre, PhD Candidate in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg delivered his Annual Report, referring to 2014 as a ‘black year’ for European security, and announcing a number of measure that are to make the Alliance more secure.

NATO Command Centres in the Baltic and Central Eastern Europe are a result of a compromise between NATO, particularly between those most concerned about Russia’s actions and those seeking dialogue with Moscow rather than further confrontation. Poland, for example, months ago called for a full NATO military base on the ‘eastern front’, although this was rejected by Germany and some other states.

Choice of the six countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria) is not surprising at all. Nevertheless, there are two distinct reasons for this. Firstly, these members of the Alliance are generally calling for greater NATO presence in the region. The Baltic States traditionally feel insecure about Russia, and the Baltic Air Policing Mission is already ten years old, and the size of the mission has been tripled. But this strengthening of NATO’s eastern capacity is not about increasing military presence, but rather greater preparedness for a potential Russian threat in the east by creating infrastructure to accommodate any troop deployment in the future. In a way, this compromise move is echoed in the frustration of former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, who was caught in leaked tapes calling NATO alliance worthless, and creating a false sense of security.

However, it would be unfair to say that NATO has done nothing to address the concerns of those eastern members who feel increasingly insecure. In fact, the creation of these six Command Centres is also in line with a wider NATO forward planning and increased number of joint military exercises. For example, US Army Europe is currently surveying locations in these six countries for placing equipment storage facilities to support a heavy rotating battalion. According to US Army Europe chief, Lt. Gen Ben Hodges, as well as the creation of the Very Rapid Reactionary Force, the aim is to eventually expand US capabilities to brigade level, therefore, not only increasing the number but also the capacity to hold a larger number of US or NATO troops throughout Central Eastern Europe for training or mission purposes.

On one hand, this is a clear tactical move as it helps to cover both the northern and south-eastern flank of NATO’s ‘eastern front’. It means that NATO is able to have reachable presence throughout the region. Nevertheless, the ‘gap’ in Central Europe is also striking, especially when it comes to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. These countries did not show enthusiasm for greater NATO presence on their territory, which was echoed by Prime Minister Fico’s famous remark comparing the presence of NATO troops to August 1968 invasion – words for domestic consumption that have, however, reached the walls of Brussels and Mons.

This also highlights the political stance of the three countries in the European Council when it comes to dealing with Russia. Not only critical of sanctions against Russia, they have also argued for greater engagement with Moscow and generally see the presence of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe as contradictory to this aim.

This may be true, because it is hard to imagine that Kremlin will respond positively to any moves. Nevertheless, Kremlin’s increasingly hysterical stance against NATO means that even the most limited of moves will provoke a reaction. Yet, it is unrealistic to expect NATO to leave its eastern front uncovered, especially in light of increasingly destructive war in Ukraine and Russian troop movements. There is an increasing feeling of insecurity in Europe and NATO has a primary role in containing this. To expect NATO to do otherwise is essentially to accept Sikorski’s pessimistic view of European security guarantees. Of course, nobody wants to feel threated – but then, nobody likes to feel insecure either. This is a major dilemma, and it is a dilemma that has existed in international relations for millennia.

Konrad MuzykaEurope and CIS Armed Forces Analyst, IHS Jane’s

1. There are two main reasons behind NATO troop deployments to the Baltic and CEE region. Firstly, the Alliance needs to calm those countries down, which feel threatened to Russian assertiveness. This is especially evident in Poland and the Baltic states, where the threat perception has skyrocketed in the last 12 months. The second reason is deterrent. By establishing such centers and deploying troops to the region, NATO wants to show Russia that it will defend its members. Naturally, such centers will improve readiness of combat forces deployed to the region.

2. Why would deploy troops to a country that does not wish to have it? There might be some operational reasons why NATO decided to set up CCs in those countries, but the  fact that Hungary is not included might mean that Budapest’s rhetoric since the onset of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis has been too conciliatory and explanatory.

Manuel Muñiz, DPhil in International Relations Candidate, Oxford University

My read is that this move has an internal and an external dimension. Internally it is aimed at reassuring some of NATO’s members of the Alliance’s commitment to their security (the strength of Article 5 etc etc). Those members happen to be the ones right next to Russia which makes sense in the current climate (so I do not think that leaving Hungary and Slovakia out has much meaning here beyond the fact that they are further away from potential conflict).

The external dimension is of course related to Russia. NATO is reacting to events in Ukraine and Russian aggression. In essence it is saying that the game stops when NATO membership begins.

A more negative view of the whole thing is that what we are witnessing is the undoing of the post Cold War order. NATO is simply getting ready for a protracted period of tensions with Russia. I did not give this thesis credence in the beginning but it seems to me to be quite true now. We are witnessing the collapse of Europe-Russia relations and this is not happening in an isolated way but rather in a serie of connected developments (which probably begin with NATO’s intervention in Bosnia, then Kosovo, then Russian aggression in Georgia, then Alliance’s intervention in Libya, and now the events in Ukraine). This long chain of misunderstandings, coupled with the growing popularity of NATO in Eastern Europe (and its long-held open door policy), has led to the current situation. The solution would probably be for NATO to refuse further expansion, or for Russia to accept being surrounded by NATO members. Both possibilities are highly unlikely. I fear we are in this for the long haul.

Paal Hilde, Associate Professor, Centre for Norwegian and European Security, Institute for Defence Studies/Norwegian Defence University College

1. The NATO Force Integration Units are part of the Readiness Action Plan and most likely a compromise solution that gives a certain NATO presence on the territory of eastern Allies, yet a small one that in no way challenges the NATO-Russia Founding Act. (The Act states that NATO “in the current and foreseeable security environment” does not need “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces”, implicitly in new member states.) The political significance of the NFIU seems to greatly outweigh the military significance. The small command and control nodes may of course be useful for planning, helping prepare and stage exercises and for communicating between national forces and NATO forces. All these tasks could, however, have been conducted by a national headquarter (since there is one NFIU per country). Militarily, particularly the establishment of one such node in each of the Baltic States seems to make limited sense (small territories, small militaries – why not one centre to integrate them?). This points to a political rather than military rationale.

The NFIU’s main purpose is assurance; they serve to highlight NATO’s solidarity with, and preparedness to actively support the Eastern Allies. The presence of allied soldiers at the NFIUs may serve to deter aggression against these states, as any military attack would risk killing soldiers from several NATO countries – thus drawing them into the conflict. This is the rationale behind light, rapidly deployable forces – like the NATO Allied Mobile Force Land during the Cold War, and the VJTF Spearhead force now.

What will the establishment of the NFIU do for relations with Russia? Russian authorities will probably make a political point of presenting them as a further sign of NATO’s aggressive intentions. They can surely come up with arguments why these command and control nodes will make NATO aggression more likely, or easier. Even if the NFIU turn out further to worsen relations with Russia, their role in assuring allies seemingly is, and should be, more important for NATO. Several of NATO’s eastern allies argue they face heightened insecurity and an increased potential for Russian aggression. NATO must show solidarity with these members. That’s what the NFIU are for…

2. Hungary and Slovakia could have made a good argument for why they needed one, but probably didn’t. This would be in line with their overall policy on the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s role in it, which differs quite substantially from at least the three Baltic States, Poland and Romania.

Sean KayProfessor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

These kind of command centers are within the limits of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which is an important matter for many NATO allies. The numbers involved are very small which makes them symbolic – but militarily this kind of planning is the bread and butter of what NATO can do well. These are appropriate elements of the general package of symbolic reassurance for the NATO allies in eastern Europe. They are not likely to satisfy Poland as they are more a trigger presence than an automatic guarantee. Nonetheless given the relative power advantages overwhelmingly favor the west, this is the appropriate calibration of NATO’s role. Much more disconcerting is increasing talk of providing military assistance to Ukraine – which would risk an unraveling of consensus in NATO going forward – tragically something Putin likely wishes to see happen.

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One Response

  1. […] più pro-Russia all’interno della Nato e dell’Ue per molte ragioni». Evidentemente, risponde il 31 gennaio John R. Deni dello Strategic Studies Institute a specifica domanda, «i politici in questi stati […]

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