Defense Statecraft

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A European Union Military?

There have recently been calls for a more robust EU joint defense, to go so far as to have an EU military. The EU does not have a joint military- a military that is staffed and run on a supranational level.

Currently the EU member states cooperate between themselves and with outside alliances. Cooperation within the EU takes places under the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) which entered into force with the Treaty of Lisbon.In addition, 22 of 28 EU member states are part of NATO.

This creates a difficult security environment, one that does not have many successes (ex: the Balkans, many African cases, almost anywhere the EU has wanted to interfere).   Many states are against the idea of an supranational EU military, but others are for it. With the problems of Germany's military to the lack of 2% of GDP to their military that many NATO states don't contribute, an EU military is an alternative.

On March 8, 2015 the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker called for an EU military to help the world take the EU seriously. Further he advocated that “A common army among the Europeans would convey to Russia that we are serious about defending the values of the European Union.” His arguments also included that it would be more efficient to have a common military than each state paying to maintain it separately.

There was immediate backlash from the UK. Both the opposition and ruling party voiced their immediate displeasure with David Cameron (British Prime Minister) going so far as to say “it isn’t right for the European Union to have capabilities, armies, air forces and all the rest of it”. The next day Finland said that an EU army is "unrealistic," however the Foreign Minister said that an army composed of joint military units would be more possible. In addition, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia insist upon utilizing NATO rather than an EU military.

This is compared to Germany, whose defense minister stated that  “our future as Europeans will one day be a European army." France has also expressed support for the idea.

Javier Solana (former NATO secretary general) and Steven Blockmans (professor at University of Amsterdam) have pointed out that the EU's treaties allow for a common military. They argue that there are political, military, and economic benefits to creating a single EU military: "Member states could achieve much more value for money than the €190 billion that they spend to keep up 28 national armies."

Where John Schindler (former National Security Agency official), argues against creating an EU army because Europe already mismanages it military forces, so pooling them is a really bad idea. Further, he argues, many defense projects are already coordinated and European-wide projects so duplicating these things is not needed.

The Bigger Picture

However, this debate is not just about having an EU military or not having one. Rather it is on the future of the EU as a Union of European States or a Union of European States. If the 28 member states of the European Union want to create a full supranational union that has political, economic, and military power they will need to move forward on creating a single European military rather than simply coordinating their military.  If they want to stay as they are, with some cooperation in all areas but no real full integration, then an EU military is not needed.

As Solana and Blockmans pointed out, the EU has always been forged in crisis and the EU is facing a crisis now (think of them essentially being surrounded by conflict).

Whatever decision the EU makes on creating a military, and it is looking increasingly less and less likely, it will be a step down a road that precludes the other option (at least until another crisis or a widespread change of national governments).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

“May You Live in Interesting Times”: The Decline of the CCP, the Pakistan Plan and the Russian Model

China scholar David Shambaugh’s article in the Wall Street Journal has not only been on my mind, but also in the thoughts of news outlets and analysis firms ranging from The National Interest to STATFOR. The discussion of a possible decline in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) power is certainly interesting and concerning when considered through the lens of international economics, but the issue of a politically unstable, nuclear armed China has not entered the debate (as far as I know).

If the CCP’s long slide into the woodchip heap of irrelevance has begun, then the status of a China’s nuclear arsenal, post-CCP, must be considered. There are two broad possibilities. One is that the CCP, through a peaceful transition or a tense downfall, leaves the Chinese national political stage and is replaced by singular power (maybe democratic) which inherits the CCP’s monopoly on force. In this case, the status of China’s nuclear weapons may not be a cause of much anxiety for the nations of the world. That possibility would make this a short blog entry. Let’s consider the disintegration of the Chinese state into multiple factions (as has happened many times in China’s long history), which may be at war with each other.


In this scenario, the issue of “loose nukes” would be of great concern for Washington. In order to frame the magnitude of the issue, a short consideration of a situation considered more plausible by the US defense establishment and international relations scholars is necessary. North Korea and Pakistan are often considered to be the two states that are the most likely to collapse and present the international community with a high stakes game of hide and seek. The size of the Pakistani arsenal (100-120 nuclear warheads), and the close proximity of non-state groups that wish the US harm, makes its case particularly alarming and interesting to game a US response to.

In Andrew F. Krepinievich’s 2009 book 7 Deadly Scenarios, he considers the difficulties, for Washington and its allies, of rounding up or destroying nuclear weapons in the case of a collapse of Pakistan. Krepinievich believed, in 2009, that the US military lacks the capabilities to simultaneously snatch and grab all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event of a collapse. At most, Special Operations forces may be able to carry out 3 simultaneous raids at a time, and this is if they are forward deployed in Afghanistan and India with the proper transport.

 In order to carry out the raids, the military must first know where the nuclear weapons are. This will be the biggest obstacle to recovery and destruction operations in a fractured Pakistan. Even if the US intelligence community is able to utilize existing relationships within the ISI and Pakistani army, and form new one’s on an ad hoc basis, the ability of US aircraft to carry out strikes on hardened weapons locations will be hampered by a lack of ordinance (outside of nuclear tipped varieties) able to eliminate all positions. In addition to the scramble to destroy what weapons could be located and eliminated, Krepinievich estimates that stability operations in Pakistan would require “three to four times the size” of the peak US forces deployed to Afghanistan and Pakistan and “some $200 to $400 billion” dollars a year, based on calculations related to the costs of propping up Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, take these issues and apply them to similar operations in a destabilized China. The US would be contending with a modernized military as a significant barrier to its access to secure nuclear weapons. Although, this problem could vary in its intensity based on the coherence of a post-CCP People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Add in the complex (and not fully cooperative) relationship between the PLA and US military. Then, consider the size of China itself, which has 9,326,410 sq km of land to Pakistan’s 770,875 sq km. Even removing the swathes of land that would be unable to host nuclear forces (mobile or otherwise), the level of accurate intelligence required to comb 9.3 million sq km of land for around 250 nuclear warheads is intimidating. Even in the event of perfect intelligence, the ability to deploy Special Operation Forces and Aircraft would be heavily affected by the ability of the US military to move those forces into positions were they could do their jobs. This would be undoubtedly complicated by the nature of US deployments in the region at the time of a collapse. If the event was sudden and unexpected, this would significantly magnify the issue.

In any case, the situation in China is very different from a terrorism perspective. The closest thing to an Islamist threat within China would be in Xian Jing. Even in this particular instance, the ethnic Uighurs are probably more concerned with political autonomy than global jihad, and those that are interested in extremist ideologies would probably be far removed from obtaining Chinese nukes, unless an enterprising PLA General sold it to them. This is what makes the China scenario more similar to the nuclear peculiarities of the USSR’s collapse than Pakistan’s.

This is where the dark sci-fi ends and hope glimmers through the curtains of this thought exercise. The collapse of the USSR was relatively sudden, and left about 3,200 strategic nuclear weapons, and 14,000 tactical nuclear weapons (the ones more easily movable and useful to small states and terrorists) outside of Russia. Many of the weapons were quickly returned to Russia, and the Russian stockpile, over the course of 13 years and $ 20 billion dollars, has decreased significantly. If politically stable, independent states emerge out of a break-up of the People's Republic of China, then the US might be able to reemploy the Russian model.



In the case of a civil war (which may be the more likely outcome, by any measure of Chinese history), the US would be forced to consider other options. Outside of overt military intervention, the US could consider political balancing, and diplomatic initiatives that would be aimed at removing nuclear weapons from contested territories (a la the somewhat successful Syrian chemical weapons model). Alternatively, per Michael O’Hanlon’s suggestions for Pakistan, the US and its allies could attempt to develop a “mobile’ border screening capability”. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deploys around 20,000 personnel to secure the American border and check incoming material. O’Hanlon suggests that tens of thousands of similarly trained people would be required to secure Pakistan’s border during a crisis. A very crude calculation (based on the total length of China’s border, compared to Pakistan’s) would place the number of trained and equipped border guards to check for nuclear materials leaving China at around 7.5 times the number required for Pakistan. Ultimately, a crisis of that magnitude would require global cooperation and test the limits of international and regional organizations, as well as the power projection of the United States. Hopefully, it remains in the realm of science fiction and hyperbolic speculation.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Natural Resources amid Territorial Disputes

With the American shift towards the Pacific region, much focus has been placed on the perceived containment strategy against China, implemented by Washington, through mutual defense agreements and economic partnerships such as Trans-Pacific Partnership. At the same time, Beijing has been forcefully pushing territorial claims in the South China Sea, creating an atmosphere of worry and fear among its weaker neighbors. With outrageous claims such as the 9 dash line, which completely ignore previously agreed upon norms such as the UNCLOS, tension between China and neighboring countries has simmered, at some points boiling over in near armed conflict.
            Vietnam, long thought of as a beneficiary country of the Chinese or one that is more ideologically similar, has been one of the nations to bear the brunt of these overreaching claims in the South China Sea.  When looking at the relations between the two historically, both parties have been known to clash. In 1979, the Chinese military entered northern Vietnam as a response to the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia. In 1988, there was a brief naval conflict between the two nations over the long held issue of territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Johnson South Reef Skirmish, where both nations sent naval vessels to consolidate their claims over the Spratly Islands, where more than 60 Vietnamese soldiers were killed by Chinese forces.
            Why is it then that the nations in the region are so insistent on their claims in areas where there are few landmasses, but rather open seas? In the near future, when resources become scarcer, nations will be forced to compete more with one another. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the South China Sea is thought to have more than 11 billion barrels of oil. The Administration continues to state, “The South China Sea is a critical world trade route and a potential source of hydrocarbons, particularly natural gas, with competing claims of ownership over the sea and its resources.”(USEIA) In the attached graphic, one can see the amount of explorative measures that oil companies have already taken part in off the coast of Vietnam and why both nations are key to gain sovereignty over the area.

           (Wall Street Journal)
                                                                                                                      

There exists several options for Vietnam, a much smaller country in terms of population and economic power, to be able to counter such an overwhelming power such as China. The first option would be an approach in relations with China in the hopes that siding with the major power in the region would bring a possible compromise in terms territory gained or lost. However, after looking at the large amount of territory China has claimed and the aggressive measures taken to consolidate these claims, (see Senkaku Islands), this choice would be limited in benefits.
            The other major option for Vietnam is to seek a power balancing mechanism, As seen in ASEAN. While alone, the countries in this group may be limited in their success when dealing with the Chinese, if they are able to show a unified position and increase their bargaining power through a larger overall military and economic power. Vietnam also has begun to increase defense cooperation with the United States, leaving open the possibility of increased cooperation as a deterrent towards China.
            The second option seems to be the most plausible for the Vietnamese government. There is no guarantee that cooperation with Beijing would lead to concessions on the Chinese side. The Chinese behavior towards other countries in the region regarding the same territorial claims highlights the fact that a mutual agreement is highly unlikely. The best way to deter Chinese aggression towards Vietnam is to increase the cost of such aggression through power balancing, thus furthering the damage that China may face economically and militarily if it were to attempt to force its will upon its neighbors.



Friday, March 06, 2015

Judging From Afar: Airpower and American Foreign Policy

Source

It would be difficult to dispute that the application of American airpower has had profound effects on the formulation and realization of US military and political goals. The debut of high tech targeting systems and guided munitions during Operation Desert Storm, the protective use of NATO airpower during operations in the former Yugoslavia, the collaborative system of the Afghan Model and the “Shock and Awe” of the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom continued the ascent of the modern American way of war into the wild blue yonder, giving a bird’s eye view of strategic and political objectives.

This perspective, the privilege of a country wealthy, developed, and technologically invested enough to maintain a competent and advanced air force, may also distort the realities of warfighting. This same debate surrounds the utility of Special Forces. Do US capabilities make it easier for political leaders to consider coercive force as a part of the foreign policy spectrum?

This question is far more salient when one considers the use of force against or in weak or failed states, than against mid-to-high level powers. Although, it is important because it requires a thought process that runs across the objectives of American military might, especially when related to changing unamenable political situations in countries we are reluctant to invade with conventional ground forces.

While military-strategic objectives are often effectively and expediently carried out by forces that correctly interpret the theoretical implications of airpower’s operational utility, the political objectives are often half-baked when they are lost in the awe of winning the air war or annihilating the enemy on the ground. The fantastic effects of airpower make this fallacy far more likely to envelope post-operation analysis of victory conditions.

Source
Consider the example invoked into banality, the premature George W. Bush exaltation on the USS Abraham Lincoln, complete with F/A-18s in the background . As the celebration of the shattering of the Iraqi government and army kicked off, the fragments were gearing up to tie down American ground troops for the next 8 years. The war had been won, in large part, by the advantages bestowed upon American combat forces by the use of airpower. Unfortunately, it would be the tough job of ground troops to try to turn the quick defeat and dissolution of the Iraqi conventional military into some kind of political dividend. The same narrative could be used to describe the initial successes in Afghanistan, and then the long slog to create a functioning government to administer the peace, in the face of determined resistance by the Taliban.

An alternative case might be the NATO missions in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Airpower was used in concert with diplomatic openings and the consolidation of political gains, through peacekeeping troops, to bring about an end to the violence that was the impetus of the intervention.

In each of these cases though, airpower achieved its immediate military objectives against its targets with overwhelming success. While airpower might be a highly successful tool in its sphere of effectiveness, it cannot substitute for diplomacy and direct application of ground forces in highly complex politically situations where control is required to carry out American foreign policy. As seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, even with a commitment of ground forces the outcome is variable.

Why then do we see the application of American airpower without the follow-through of diplomacy and consolidation of gains with the deployment of ground forces? Unfortunately, it often appears to be that case that airpower is more politically valuable for what it does not do, rather than what it is truly capable of achieving. This is why Colin S. Gray warns of measuring the effectiveness of airpower against the development of unrealistic expectations of mission success.

The situation on the ground in Libya is a case in point about how limiting American strategic involvement to air strikes is a gamble on the political outcome. The increasingly sectarian nature of the fight against ISIS might also reveal the uglier side of over-reliance on airpower to achieve political objectives. If the overwhelmingly Shiite Iraqi Army (along with Shiite militias and Iranian military advisors), sweep through Sunni enclaves, like Tikrit, carrying out retributive mass murder, the success of American airpower, in weakening ISIS’s position, will form the basis of the regional narrative about the massacre. It’s likely that this will be the case on the ground even if the US is not directly involved in the operations against Tikrit. In that case, the military defeat of ISIS will not net out a positive, regional political solution. The violence will feed on itself, reverberating off the walls of history.

Of course, this is not to say that the solution is to escalate to the use of ground forces in all circumstances where the United States feels its interests threatened. To do so would create an infinite and expensive war. But, the underdeveloped deployment of US airpower without a full appreciation for its costs and effects, outside of the dearth of US casualties and the ability to reach out and touch an adversary, creates a more chaotic threat environment in which the US is at a major disadvantage in shaping events on the ground, and the overall narrative.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Continued Drones Over Yemen?

With the U.S., U.K. and France pulling out of Yemen, what is the U.S.'s continued authorization for drone strikes in Yemen? If Yemen has no government, how does the U.S. have authorization from the government for drone strikes? 

It is generally accepted that the drone strikes in Yemen are part of the CIA operated drone strikes rather than the military led ones (both are controversial). On March 25, 2010, Harold Koh, State Department Legal Advisor, stated that "it is the considered view of this Administration . . . that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war." (1) This is based upon the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). That AUMF is not the one that Obama has recently asked to be repealed

As of Friday Feb 6, 2015,  the site The Long War Journal showed the following graph charting drone strikes in Yemen, charting 110 strikes since 2002.


The U.S. claims that they have the support of the Yemni government to help achieve their goal of eliminating Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. However, with the recent change in power/coup, who has given them that authorization?

On Jan 22, the Houthis seized control of the presidential palace and placed the President under house arrest. The President and his Cabinet soon tendered their resignations. While the negotiation is on going, both sides have walked out on different parts. The government that resigned is stating that the Houthis are threatening them with force if they do not agree to their specific plan to re-form the government. The U.S. is continuing to use drone strikes in this power vacuum.

How is this applicable to the U.S.? 

Well, as the U.S.'s current legal justification rests upon the consent of the now defunct government, is it business as usual until they are notified otherwise? How will they notify the U.S. if they no longer want the strikes to continue, if there are no U.S. personnel in the country? 

CNN is reporting that the Houthis took all U.S. Embassy vehicles parked at the airport and wouldn't let departing marines take their weapons. However, in the next non sensational paragraph, they state "a senior U.S. military official told CNN the Marines disabled their weapons and gave them to a Yemeni security detail, which had escorted them to the airport, because the Marines were flying commercial." 

Further in the CNN article, they state that U.S. officials had not yet engaged in talks with the Houthis as of last month. It is often difficult for the U.S. to "engage in talks" with opposition parties. The government often has problems with the U.S. talking with the "enemy" since the U.S. has a history of "regime change" in many of these countries.

As I wrote this article, The Washington Post published an article about the closure of the U.S. Embassy effecting the CIA operatives in the country (who often are stationed at U.S. Embassies and under diplomatic cover). Further, "a former senior U.S. official said that the embassy had served as the primary base in Yemen for U.S. intelligence operations." 

So not only is the lack of clear legal authority an issue, this closure will now effect the targeting of militants. 

Future of Cooperation?

While one member of the Houhis' political bureau has called U.S. drone strikes as a violation of Yemeni sovereignty, the Houthis do NOT like AQAP. In fact, they might hate AQAP than they dislike the U.S. This could work in the U.S.'s favor as eliminating a possible political threat to their new "all inclusive government" would coincide with the U.S.'s goal of eliminating AQAP. 

However, until a new government is formed, and an official statement released or communicated to the proper U.S. authorities, these questions will remained unanswered. 

For more interactive information, I suggest you head over to International Security to take a look at when and where strikes occurs as well as who was targeted or killed.


Sources not linked above are listed here: (1) Milena Sterio, "The United States' Use of Drones in the War on Terror: The (Il)legality of Targeted Killings Under International Law," Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, vol 45, 2012, p 199

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Consider the PLAGF: "People's War", the RMA, and Military Power

Given the high stakes of war, the study of its mechanics and the inputs that garner battle victories are second to none in their importance to international relations. This is reflected in the narratives of political and economic histories, and the justifications for defense budgets. This understanding is also ever-present in the observance of the continuing development of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) various branches of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The most recent reveal of further details surrounding China’s construction of a second aircraft carrier has illustrated, once again, the importance of China’s military composition in the assessment of global futures and the anxiety that accompanies that development. While the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAFF) and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) receive much of the attention, for obvious and salient strategic reasons pertaining to the nature of warfare in the Pacific, the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) is often overlooked. Far less consideration is given (in the popular realm) to the strategic doctrines that inform its systems of operation.

Reading Stephen Biddle’s Military Power raises interesting questions about how Mao’s "People’s War"(the spiritual impetus of the PLA) relates to the modern system of force employment. If technology and preponderance of force, the two aspects of military composition that are so often highlighted in summary analyses of China’s military power, are marginalized by the centrality of force employment, then this is one of the most important considerations of a U.S.-China security competition, and one that is unfortunately overlooked by the common comparative perspective.


"People’s War", Mao’s military philosophy that expanded out of the Chinese Communist Party’s experience fighting the Japanese Army and then the Kuomintang, is aimed at creating a workable and effective force out of massive disadvantages. It spans political, strategic, operational, and tactical considerations of warfighting and heavily relies on an abundance of manpower, space, time, and ideological zeal as substitutes for technology and training.

Conventional "People’s War" evolved in the 1980s, following skirmishes with the Soviet Red Army and China’s short war with Vietnam. Deng Xiaoping introduced the concept of “people’s war under modern conditions”, following the study and critique of China’s performance in the Sino-Vietnam “punitive war” at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). According to Chieh-Cheng Huang, “Deng replaced Mao’s tactics of ‘luring the enemy deep’ and ‘preparing for total war’ with ‘extended defense in depth’ and ‘local war in China’s periphery”. After the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) made its case for the effectiveness of modern military equipment and communications, in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq in 1991, the PLA once again updated People’s War in order to mirror the increasingly technologically complex nature of warfare. This process is often identified as Jiang Zemin’s shift to “high tech doctrine”.

So, today the shift to “high tech doctrine” dominates the comparative analysis of China’s military to its future adversaries. It’s interesting that this is the case. Focused through the lens of Biddle’s analysis, it was Deng’s doctrinal modernization of the military that will have the greatest impact on the PLA’s future war-fighting capabilities in relation to militaries that operate within the contexts of the modern system, with a particular emphasis on the PLAGF for our purpose.


That is what should be considered in analyzing how the PLA factors into any threat that the PRC would present, especially when the unlikely (but still possible) contingency of general war is introduced. With this in mind, the short-term versus long-term effectiveness of the PLA is measured against the scale and nature of the conflict itself, with operationally competent and well-equipped troops concentrated in "pockets of technological excellence" in order to affect the odds at the margins and in the places that the PLA deems to be the most important for strategic success. Outside of immediate political objectives, and if the war widens in scope, then the conventional aspects of "People’s War" will re-enter, and the question of outcome will once again be at the mercy of time, space, preponderance, and morale.




Friday, May 09, 2014

Are All of China's "Secret Weapons" Just as Fragile as they Seem?


This week, CNN reported that the People’s Liberation Army in China has been using trained macaques as part of its defensive strategy.

These clever primates guard the safety of Chinese Pilots by warding off swarms of birds that threaten planes in mid-flight. The birds could be sucked into plane engines, destroying life and (very expensive) property. The macaques climb up trees where the birds nest, scaring them off, and leave behind a scent that discourages them from returning. 

 "The monkeys are loyal bodyguards who defend the safety of our comrades."

"The monkeys are loyal bodyguards who defend the safety of our comrades," a Chinese news source reported a PLA officer as saying.

The clever primates are being trained and used at air force base in northern China whose location was not disclosed, but which happens to sit along a major migratory route for birds heading south from the Gobi Desert. PLA officers have been joking that they have a new “secret weapon,” controllable with a whistle. 

CNN reports that, in the past, the PLA have employed several different strategies to remove the nests including shooting them out of the treetops, using long bamboo poles to knock them out of trees, and having soldiers climb the trees to remove them. None of these options have been very humanitarian, or very effective due to the birds’ tendency to return and the time-consuming task of removing them. However, when the task is carried out by monkeys, the birds do not return.

 When the nests of birds are discovered on tree tops, the monkey army is deployed to remove them.

But the real story here has much larger implications. If unpredictable swarms birds are all it takes to endanger Chinese military technology, and trained macaques are all it takes to bring down those birds, is this not exposing certain technological weaknesses in Chinese military capability? Why not use swarms of birds to take out China’s air forces on the battlefield? Perhaps the suggestion is ridiculous, but the rabbit hole could go much deeper. Just how strong are those turbine engines? We shouldn’t rule anything out when dealing with China. They certainly haven’t, as evidenced by their using little furry friends to fix this problem.

From the Baltic to the Black - “We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water, and more readiness on the land”



Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin said “We will choke them all.  What are you afraid of?” during a RIA Novosti interview when questioned about the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.  

 Choke is an interesting verb in this case because it highlights the need for a reassessment of basing and troop levels in EUCOM and the role of strategic ground power in the European theater.  To choke requires the use of hands, or possibly feet and legs if you have a black belt in Judo – like President Putin.  Ground power does what air and sea power have been unable to do, and that is the ability to contain by providing a physical barrier through existence instead of a threat of violence.  Air and sea power require a decision on the part of the coercer to follow through with their threat of violent reprisal.  Ground power, on the other hand, leaves no question of violent action because to violate the boundaries established by ground power requires physically moving the deterring force off the piece of land it occupies.  The United States should vigorously pursue new basing opportunities in Eastern Europe to strengthen NATO resolve against Russian territorial expansionism in the former Soviet sphere.




Since the beginning of February, 2014, NATO has maintained a naval force in the Black, Aegean, and Baltic Seas.  Initially the Black Sea forces were stationed to provide additional security for the Winter Olympics at Sochi, and since then have conducted a series of naval war game exercises.  The presence of missile destroyers and frigates did not halt Russian aggression.  Similarly, several wings of NATO aircraft have been forward deployed to former Warsaw Pact countries.  These aircraft have conducted combat air patrols over the Baltic States, along with AWACS missions over Polish and Romanian airspace to monitor the situation as it develops in the east.  In response the Russian air forces have brazenly defied allied posturing by buzzing US warships, and even going so far as to fly two TU-95 Bears over Dutch airspace.  Though it is not uncommon for Russian aircraft to occasionally enter NATO member countries’ airspace, during such heightened tensions it seems rather suspect.

With the crisis in Ukraine continuing to unravel, many in the West are worried of further Russian backed aggression against the governments of other former Soviet states in Eastern Europe, especially in the weaker Baltic States.  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all have sizable ethnic Russian populations.  The Russian delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission expressed concern in March that ethnic Russians were being persecuted.  This type of rhetoric when viewed in light of Russian actions in Crimea and Ukraine should be taken with serious concern.  Fortunately for the Baltic States and Poland, their membership in NATO provides them with a security umbrella Ukraine was never afforded.  NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen pledged to step air patrols and boost its military presence along the alliance’s eastern border in Europe, citing Russia’s alleged involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.
 
The United States has taken the lead in deploying ground forces in the Eastern European theater by sending several airborne infantry units and some special operations forces there as well to conduct joint training exercises with the Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian armed forces.  Some 600 soldiers from the 173rd are deployed to the region train NATO forces, along with approximately 140 special operations forces from the 10th Special Forces Group according to the Pentagon.  While these troops are expected to be rotated out and replaced throughout the year, a more permanent solution to the problem of Russian aggression would be to base American troops in the Baltic, Polish, and possibly Romanian territories.  These decisions would of course be incumbent upon a desire on the part of host nations, and for now it the best course of action is to continue and increase the number and level of military training exercises in the NATO member states of Eastern Europe.  When asked if sending the airborne troops were simply symbolic, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said “Any time you put troops on the ground and doing exercises, in this case for a month at a time, it’s more than symbology,” he said. “The kind of work that we’re going to be doing is real infantry training. And that’s not insignificant.”