The Russian Threat: NATO Struggles to Recover after Years of Budget Cuts (excerpt)
(Source: Spiegel Online; published May 24, 2016)

By Konstantin von Hammerstein
A recent study set off widespread concern about NATO's readiness to confront Russian aggression. Now, alliance member states are ratcheting up defense spending -- but the numbers still don't add up.

RAND Corporation simulations aren't for the faint of heart. The think tank in Santa Monica, California is a progeny of the Cold War and the 1960 study conducted by legendary systems theorist Herman Kahn -- which examined the consequences of nuclear war -- has not been forgotten.

He believed the aftermath could be managed. Following a nuclear conflict, Kahn proposed, contaminated food should be reserved for the elderly since they would likely die before contracting cancer as a result of radiation. The researcher thus became one of the inspirations for Stanley Kubrick's film satire "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

Several weeks ago, the California-based game theorists released another study that received a fair amount of attention. Financed by the Pentagon, they created a series of simulations for a hypothetical Russian invasion of the two Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia.

"The outcome was, bluntly, a disaster for NATO," the RAND researchers wrote in their report. In each simulation, the Russians were able to either circumvent the outnumbered NATO units, or even worse, destroy them. Between 36 and 60 hours after the beginning of hostilities, Russian troops stood before the gates of Riga or Tallinn -- or both.

The RAND simulation triggered heated debate. In an article headlined "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO's Crushing Defeat by Russia," American military expert Michael Kofman questioned strategic parameters used in the simulations. "No one can intelligently articulate the benefits of such potential actions for the Russians," he wrote.

But the game theorists from Santa Monica aren't the only ones simulating grim scenarios these days. The Russians are conducting giant military exercises to practice for a war with the West. At the same time, they are reinforcing military units stationed in the exclave of Kaliningrad, located between Poland and Lithuania.

NATO in turn intends to station rotating battalions to the Baltic States as a signal to Moscow that the alliance takes its commitment to mutual assistance seriously. Security experts and generals, though, are complaining that such moves are not enough and are pushing for the stationing of larger and -- especially -- more permanent units on the alliance's eastern flank.

It has been several months in coming, but the Ukraine crisis has now led to a renaissance of Cold War-era military thinking. In the 1980s, Western military leaders spoke about the strategic vulnerability of the Fulda Gap. Today, it is Poland's Suwalki Gap that is giving them sleepless nights.

Trust Gives Way to Deterrence

At the NATO summit in Warsaw in early July, leaders of NATO member states will discard their policy of "trust" and recommit to a policy of "deterrence." Just like before.

The change will have wide-ranging consequences. Because no matter how many units are ultimately stationed in the east, one thing is clear: It will be expensive. The peace dividend has been exhausted. For a quarter of a century, NATO states were able to shrink their military forces: It made sense and saved money. The German military, the Bundeswehr, alone shrank from half-a-million soldiers to 177,000 over the course of 25 years.

Now it has become clear that force reduction went too far. Lots of European armed forces are operating at the limits of their operational capacity, with too few soldiers and old, worn-out equipment. Over the years, a strong need for investment has accrued. Some Bundeswehr units today are so ill equipped that they need to trade scarce equipment among each -- a process referred to as "dynamic availability management."

The Americans in particular are putting pressure on the Europeans to once again invest more significantly in their own defense. In March, US President Barack Obama complained about the European "free riders" who are profiting from American protection while refusing to take on their "fair share." (end of excerpt)


Click here for the full story, on the Spiegel website.

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