With the recent completion of the NATO Sea Shield exercise and NATO defense ministers’ approval of an enhanced force presence in the Black Sea, as Russian aircraft fly close to U.S. vessels operating there, this commentary focuses on the strategic implications of NATO’s military presence in the Black Sea.
NATO has long described the Black Sea region as “important for Euro-Atlantic security,” but it was not until the July 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw that NATO leaders pledged to increase alliance presence in the region through the creation of the Tailored Forward Presence (TFP).
The February 15–16 NATO Defense Ministerial Meeting approved a maritime coordination function between NATO Standing Naval Forces and NATO allies in the Black Sea region to enhance cooperation and bolster NATO’s presence in the Black Sea region “on land, at sea and in the air.”
The announcement was designed to “demonstrate transatlantic unity” and “send a clear message to any potential aggressor,” and it closely aligns with the U.S. decision to send an additional 500 forces to the Romanian Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) forward operating base.
These announcements reinforced the timing of NATO’s Black Sea exercise, Sea Shield 2017, which involved eight ships from Romania, two from Turkey, and one each from Canada, Bulgaria, Spain, and the United States. Russian officials recently have stated that they were examining all necessary actions to counter NATO’s buildup, describing NATO’s recent military exercises as “threaten[ing] its interest and security.”
Some analysts suggest that the flyby of the USS Porter by two Russian Su-24 aircraft on February 10 in the Black Sea was seen as a possible response to these reinforcements.
Known as NATO’s Tailored Forward Presence, NATO’s presence in the Black Sea region encompasses the three domains of air, land, and sea. The land component is based in Craiova, Romania (Romania’s sixth-largest city), and involves a brigade-size multinational NATO force. The maritime component would consist of allied visits to Romanian and Bulgarian ports, enhanced training, conventional exercises of a limited scale, and situational awareness. The air component structure was first expected to be equally symbolic, but the United Kingdom recently announced it would deploy four Typhoon aircraft to Mihail Kogalniceanu in 2017, which was symbolic in its own right as the United Kingdom renews its commitment to NATO following the UK referendum to leave the European Union.
The Black Sea region is also the location for one of NATO’s major missile defense elements. Romania is home to the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense site in Deveselu, which became operational in August 2016 (3 SM3 Block IB, 24 missiles). While the site is designed to counter ballistic missile threats emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic area (which unambiguously excludes Russia), it is an important U.S. contribution to NATO missile defense, which is perceived by Moscow as challenging its strategic interests.
Because Russia recognizes that the Deveselu site will shape the U.S. military presence in the region for the long term, it has repeatedly stated the site was a legitimate target, which in turn fuels calls to protect the site, exactly the military build-up dynamic that Russia seeks to avoid. (end of excerpt)
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