NATO’s problem in Europe is mobilization

Staff Columnist

“What good is buying more tanks without the bridges and rail lines to get them to a flashpoint?”

By Jeffrey Rathke in OPINION, The Wall Street Journal Thursday, January 11, 2018

“Donald Trump has consistently called on America’s fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to shoulder more of the alliance’s defense burden.  He often  portrays other countries as freeloaders  enjoying America’s costly protection.  This description of the alliance is incomplete, damaging and counterproductive – especially since there are significant areas where the Trump administration could push for change.

Well before Mr. Trump entered the Oval Office, every NATO country committed to spend 2% of its gross domestic product  on defense by 2024.  Most of America’s allies have increased spending, but the president is right that they should spend more.  The gap between underfunded NATO allies budgets today and the agreed target is about $116 billion a year according to NATO data.  But military spending alone will not solve NATO’s problems.

The  alliance’s most pressing challenge is to spend new resources wisely – in ways that generally improve trans Atlantic security and specifically make NATO’s deterrence of Russia more effective.  The Trump administration is overlooking other substantial contributions Europe could make.”

Rathke continues:  “Start with rapid military mobilization and deployment.  Since 2013, NATO has watched Russia conduct multiple large military exercises in and around Europe.  These training missions demonstrate Moscow’s ability to move its forces rapidly to the frontier with NATO and the European Union.  At the same time, Russia has employed  disruptive tactics below the threshold that would provoke a NATO military response.

To counter Russia’s attempts at coercion in Europe, NATO allies agreed in 2014 to position ‘tripwire’ forces in the Baltic and Poland.  The alliance has also deployed multinational forces in the black Sea region.  But these forces are relatively small. They are meaningful only if, during a crisis, NATO is able to reinforce them promptly with larger forces.  That is a crucial weakness in NATO’s strategy: Since the end of the Cold War, the alliance has failed to ensure that large-scale reinforcement can happen quickly and efficiently.”

More: “The U.S. needs a two-pronged strategy to address shortcomings and make deterrence in Europe credible and effective.  But border-crossing bureaucracy is not the biggest obstacle.  The more crucial shortcoming is Europe’s logistical capacity to move heavy military equipment and troops at scale. This requires adequate rail connections, rolling stock, ports, reinforced bridges and other infrastructure meeting the technical requirements for military transport..  Military commanders and defense ministers are unable to fix this problem.  Improving infrastructure is the responsibility of national transportation authorities, the EU and private companies across NATO nations.”

The Political Side, Rathke:  “As NATO approaches a summit meeting in July, Washington should engage with Europe to rebuild the Continent’s logistics infrastructure. This means addressing the EU effectively and seriously as a partner on political and security initiatives, something the Trump administration has seemed unwilling to do.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, after December meetings in Brussels with his EU and NATO colleagues, had little to say publically about this crucial civilian burden-sharing.

Currently, the EU’s central budget devotes some $19 billion a year on key transportation corridors across Europe.  Meanwhile the national governments of EU member states invest  more than $120billion annually, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation  and Development data.  The U. S should  (might) explore a formula under which European countries can count towards their 2% spending target a portion of dual-use infrastructure spending.

Mr. Trump has made clear he wants America’s allies to shoulder more of the defense burden, and he has won that argument.  Now he should (might) find meaningful ways for these allies to meet their commitments.  By focusing on mobilization and rapid deployment, and not only on spending numbers, NATO would strengthen its collective defense.”

Mr. Rathke is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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