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NATO Looks East

Recently, NATO’s secretary-general announced that, to counter fears of Russian aggression against the alliance’s eastern members, extra forces will be sent to Poland and the three Baltic states. In theory this is to deter any moves by Vladimir Putin’s own forces. In practice it’s mostly a political gesture that reveals how hollow and fragile NATO has actually become.

In total this new troop move involves just four battalions, one to each of the threatened nations. Worse, they’re not even proper formed units; they’re multinational battalions. This makes some political sense – in an echo of the old ACE Mobile Force, troops from several NATO members will become casualties very soon after a Russian attack, hopefully spurring lethargic politicians into action – it is, in military terms, a sick joke. A multinational battalion group, however “robust” secretary-general Stoltenberg describes it as being, has nothing like the combat power of a real battalion that’s worked and trained together for years.

NATO FlagA battalion is a ridiculously small force, no more than a token reinforcement, and what they’re reinforcing isn’t all that impressive to begin with. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia can only muster tiny forces. Of course Poland has a well-trained and reasonably well equipped army that’s proven itself repeatedly on NATO operations, and can put three divisions into the field, but even that isn’t really much. 25 years of peacekeeping and brushfire wars have taught us to think of a division as a major force, but I remember when my own army had four divisions – three armored and one infantry – in NATO’s NORTHAG alone. Now there are two divisions, neither of them armored, in the whole British Army. The US Army used to have five divisions, two of them armored, committed to CENTAG. Germany deployed no less than 12 divisions on NATO’s Central Front – now, like the UK, it has two. In total, NATO had a force of 33 divisions forward deployed to meet any Soviet attack into West Germany. Now, if the blow falls, there will be at most three divisions to meet it.

NATO’s defense line is a lot thinner today, but isn’t the Russian force facing it much smaller too? Well, yes – and at the same time, no. It’s true that, after the breakup of the USSR, the Russians ruthlessly downsized their bloated military. But the divisions they disbanded were mostly low-readiness ones, manned by reservists and equipped with out of date weaponry. The high-readiness forces, the old Category A divisions that used to haunt the dreams of NATO analysts, mostly survived the reductions. Maybe the swarms of T-55s with their middle-aged crews aren’t there to provide wave after wave of follow-on forces, but the head of the Russian axe can strike as powerful a blow as ever – and NATO’s technological edge has narrowed alarmingly over the past five years.

Is Putin likely to invade Poland? I don’t think so. But it’s no longer as impossible a thought as it was less than a decade ago, and if he does decide to roll the dice we’re going to have a very hard time stopping him.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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