There are a lot of topics in this NATO news update – Russia reinforces western border, Exercise Sea Breeze 2018, Helsinki summit, UK defense review, Russia social media, Black Sea military competition, defense of the Baltic States, Russian hybrid warfare, the admin part of moving troops and equipment in response to a crisis, new Russian airborne tank, and more.
The dust has settled over the tumultuous Brussels Summit and follow-on Helsinki conference (Putin and Trump). So now it is back to business as usual for the western defense alliance. Supposedly the member nations are working through plans to meet the 2024 target of 2% of GNP towards their defense budget. Iraq will see a renewed effort for training assistance (Canada playing a major role). Afghanistan is still a major effort for NATO as well – financial support of the ANDSF and troop commitments will continue until 2024. North and West Africa with its constant instability has the attention of Italy, France, and others. The migration issue – movement of people from MENA – is a major problem that still needs to be addressed. And, of course, the big Russian bear to the east has prompted some organizational changes as well as a number of exercises for Eastern Europe and Northern Europe – hopefully Poland, the Baltic States, and others are feeling the love.
Russia continues to dominate the news about NATO. Although NATO is actively involved in the migration from the Middle East and North Africa, defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan – it is Russia that seems to provide the most content for the SOF NATO News Update.
Russian Troop Buildup. The North Atlantic Treat Organization has forward deployed troops and aircraft to buttress the defense of the Baltic States as well as Poland and other eastern European countries. Russia has not let this gone unanswered and its military has sent thousands of new units and weapons to its western border in response (or is it the other way around?). (Newsweek, July 24, 2018).
Hybrid Warfare – Works Both Ways. There are many news accounts and reports about the use of hybrid warfare by the Russians (Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Baltic States come to mind). However, little is reported about how the Russians would plan to defend itself or control territory it occupies if threatened with adversaries that employ hybrid warfare. But the Russians have given it some thought. Read “Russia to Use Irregular Forces Against ‘Hybrid Threats’: The Case of Kaliningrad”, Eurasia Daily Monitor – The Jamestown Foundation, July 24, 2018.
New Russian Airborne Tank. A new tank that is air drop capable called the Sprut SDM 1 is now coming on-line that will give Russian paratroopers an anti-tank capability. Evidently the crew can be inside the SDM 1 when in is under canopy. Hmmmm! Read more in “Russia Testing New Tank That Lands From the Sky”, National Interest, July 25, 2018.
NATO’s Relationship with Russia. So what is the ‘official’ word how how NATO and its potential enemy get along? NATO says it wants a constructive relationship with Russia but – it’s complicated. Read “Relations with Russia”, NATO, July 26, 2018.
More on the Helsinki Summit
A NATO news update would not be complete without a mention of President Trump! The fallout from the disastrous Helsinki meeting (on many levels) between President Trump and President Putin is continuing – although the U.S. news cycle is quickly moving on to other topics. The concrete results of the ‘agreements’ from the meeting have yet to materialize. One thing is for certain – Trump’s attacks on NATO the previous week has likely damaged (to what degree is unknown) the alliance. The verbal assault may possibly encourage Russia to take a more belligerent stance with its bordering nations – Latvia, Ukraine, Estonia, etc.
Chaos Theory. Matthew Blood, an independent political and security analyst, provides his perspective in “Chaos Theory: Confusing Diplomatic Means and Ends in Helsinki”, Small Wars Journal, July 20, 2018.
More on the Brussels Summit
Moving Troops & Equipment – Not so Easy. While the media focused on the circus act of the leader of one of the more prominent member nations of NATO during a recent meeting of the western defense alliance – the Brussels Summit – a lot of constructive work was done behind the scenes. Recent NATO exercises revealed that moving troops and equipment across borders is more difficult than thought – from an administrative standpoint. Learn about the efforts that NATO is now involved in to mitigate the challenges presented by legal and administration rules and regulations posed by different countries in “Exploring the allied decisions on military mobility in Europe”, Defense News, July 27, 2018.
Exercise BREEZE 18. The Bulgarian Navy hosted several other nations for an exercise that trained participants in various fields of maritime warfare. Ships from Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, and Germany took part in a high variety of tasks to include seamanship drills, countering maritime threats, and communication drills. See “NATO Ships Trained at Exercise BREEZE”, NATO Media Centre, July 23, 2018.
Sea Breeze 2018. The U.S. recently participated in a multi-national maritime exercise held in Ukraine. The exercise (land and sea) involved land, air, and sea units in the Black Sea region and was held in July 2018. The Russians took exception – describing the training as tension-provoking and potentially destabilizing. Read “Russia threatens ‘negative consequences’ over Marine exercise with Ukraine in the Black Sea”, Marine Corps Times, July 20, 2018.
USAF in Poland. Read about how US airmen and soldiers were deployed to Krzensiny Air Base to test their ability to rapidly set up facilities. (U.S. Embassy & Consulate in Poland, July 2018).
UK Defence Review. Malcom Chalmers, the Deputy Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), writes about the review of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) currently underway in the UK. (RUSI, July 20, 2018).
NATO Still Matters. Dalibor Rohac, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), provides his perspective on the Brussels Summit, Helsinki conference, and President Trump in “Counterpoint: Does NATO Still Matter? Yes!”, AEI Inside Sources, July 23, 2018.
Defending the Baltic Nations. According a 2016 RAND Corporation report the Russian military could overrun the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in 60 hours. In fact, during a September 2017 military exercise called Zapad – the scenario of using hybrid and conventional warfare to overrun a Baltic nation was rehearsed. A NATO news update would not be complete without one or two articles about the Baltic region! Read more in “Baltic Peace Through NATO Strength”, Real Clear Defense, July 26, 2018.
Black Sea – Politics and Military Competition. With the demise of the Cold War U.S. interest in the Black Sea region diminished significantly. That is – until Russian aggression in recent years in Crimea, Georgia, and Ukraine sparked the interest of the United States once again. Read more in “Black Sea’s Back, Alright? A New Special Series”, War on the Rocks, July 26, 2018.
Turkey – a NATO Ally? There are a number of issues that provide sources of tension in the relationship between the United States and Turkey. These include the growth of authoritarianism under Erdogan, drift to Russia by Turkey, U.S. support of the Kurds, and Turkish secret support of jihadist groups in Syria. However the U.S. needs to use “. . . an incremental and interest-based approach focused on clear areas of strategic convergence in order to protect its long-term alliance with a post-Erdogan Turkey”. Hmmmm. Or a least that is what a writer for the Institute for the Study of War seems to think. Read “Navigating the U.S. – Turkey Relationship Beyond the Quagmire”, ISW, July 25, 2018.
Understanding NATO. Stephen Walt tells us about five misunderstood facts about the Western defense alliance in “NATO Isn’t What You Think It Is”, Foreign Policy, July 26, 2018.
Russian Social Media. A recent study examines Russian-language content on social media and how Russia uses propaganda to threaten the countries of Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania, and Belarus. The Russians are attempting to drive a wedge between the ethnic populations of the target countries and also to discredit the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In addition, it aims to sow confusion and mistrust among the Western nations and erode their democratic institutions. Read the 149-page report in Russian Social Media Influence: Understanding Russian Propaganda in Eastern Europe, RAND Corporation, 2018.
Russian Strategy. Dr. John R. Deni et al provide a 56 page report entitled Current Russia Military Affairs: Assessing and Countering Russian Strategy, Operational Planning, and Modernization, Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) U.S. Army War College, July 2018.
More Russian Strategy. Alexander Moens and Cornel Turdeanu have penned a 25 page report entitled Fear and Dread: Russia’s Strategy to Dismantle North Atlantic and European Security Cooperation, Macdonald Laurier Institute, July 2018.
Rapid Deployment. In the event of an international crisis involving a NATO member the alliance has to be able to respond rapidly with the movement of troops, equipment, air, and naval forces. In order to be able to do this NATO conducts a wide range of exercises across Europe each year. Learn more in How NATO Rapidly Deploys Troops, NATO, July 10, 2018, 1-min.
Photo: German frogmen training. Photo by Bundeswehr, August 4, 2017.