NATO intensifies war preparations as the date of summit in Cardiff slated for September 4-5 is drawing near.
Climate-controlled caves in Norway now house a new stock of Marine military gear and vehicles. On August 10, USS Dewayne T. Williams, a maritime prepositioning force ship, dropped anchor in Namdalseid, Norway’s Trøndelag region, to unload some 400 vehicles and 350 containers of equipment to be stored in Norwegian caves. The US Marine Corps has stashed weapons and equipment in the Norwegian countryside since the 1980s. Now the US military is updating its stockpile with M1A1 main battle tanks, tank retrievers, armored breaching vehicles, amphibious assault vehicles, expanded capacity vehicle gun trucks, and a few variants of 7½ ton trucks.
This is the first time main battle tanks and Assault Breacher Vehicles, heavily armored tracks designed to blow up minefields and push through other obstacles, are to be stored in the bunkers.
The US military expects to finish moving the new materiel under the mountains by the end of the month. The military storehouses in Norway will have all basic equipment to enable a US Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) to join the fray upon landing. A MEB is 14,000 to 18,000 men strong and includes tanks, helicopters and fighter jets. As the new equipment is added, some of the older gear will head back to CONUS. The operation gave Marines and Norwegian allies a chance to test a newly constructed pier built to guarantee rapid and smoothly running offload. The pre-positioning allows saving money by not having to keep a large force in Norway year-round and say that formally there is no permanent presence in the country and there is no violation of Russia-NATO Founding Act of 1997.
Gen. Philip Breedlove told CNNTürk and the Hürriyet Daily News during a visit to U.S. troops based in Gaziantep on August 4 that the alliance was looking into a broad set of measures to counter Russia. In particular he stressed the importance of setting headquarters to coordinate anti-Russia activities, «It may be that we may need HQ in the north, in the center and in the south, these will all be looked at. But the most important thing is we will all look into measures to make NATO more responsive to crisis such as the ones in Crimea, in Ukraine, et cetera». NATO’s headquarters in Szczecin, Poland — which was established only in 1999 — is likely to be expanded as part of war preparatory effort.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron put the NATO’s relationship with Russia at the top of the agenda for the summit. He sent a letter to the leaders of NATO countries to outline proposals for military exercises, an improved joint response force and the stationing of equipment and supplies in Eastern Europe. «Six months into the Russia-Ukraine crisis we must agree on long-term measures to strengthen our ability to respond quickly to any threat, to reassure those allies who fear for their own country’s security and to deter any Russian aggression», Cameron wrote.
The PM also backed Mr. Breedlove’s call for reinvigorating the NATO Response Force, a several thousand strong crisis response unit. Announced in 2002, it has conducted training exercises and peacekeeping missions, but has not functioned as a true emergency force.
What is important – the PM said the Russia-NATO Founding Act should be effective, «All NATO allies have already contributed to the alliance's response to this crisis and we should agree how we can sustain a robust presence in Eastern Europe, consistent with the NATO Russia Founding Act, to make clear to Russia that neither NATO nor its members will be intimidated», the letter added. Here is the trick. NATO will have boots on the ground as a result of never ending exercises and the pre-positioned stockpiling formally adhering to the agreement which prevents «destabilizing eastward shift in NATO's military capabilities». New HQ, large-scale round the clock exercises and stockpiles in Norway are added by the request of Poland urging NATO to base troops on its territory permanently.
There is more to it. The Obama administration has notified Congress of its plans to train and arm the Ukrainian National Guard next year. «The Defense Department and State Department have notified Congress of our intent to use $19 million in global security contingency fund authority to train and equip four companies and one tactical headquarters of the Ukrainian national guard as part of their efforts to build their capacity for internal defense», Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters. The training, which requires congressional approval, would occur at a location within Ukraine that hosts multilateral exercises. The trainers would be provided by U.S. Army Europe and by the California National Guard. (2) Sending instructors is a start of US military presence in Ukraine, a Russia neighboring state. The need to protect the lives of US advisors in Kurdistan served as a justification for striking the Islamic State in Iraq.
NATO has also reinforced air patrol of the Baltic States, with radar-equipped planes making regular flights over the territory of Poland and Romania.
Some NATO members, however, are already raising objections. With one eye on its energy ties with Russia, Italy has voiced concern that the permanent forward-basing of NATO troops would be seen as a provocation and run counter to the Founding Act of the NATO-Russia Council. Turkey and other Mediterranean states argue that resources should not be deployed in the east at the expense of NATO's southern flank.
Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern over Western pressure. Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of Russia’s Security Council on July 22 that Russia must complete boosting its defense capabilities timely and in full amid the increased NATO military presence near Russian borders, «In fact, NATO is demonstratively reinforcing its grouping on the territory of East European states, including in the areas of the Black and Baltic Seas».
Currently Russia is implementing an ambitious $640 billion rearmament program planned to run up until 2020. The program will see the share of modern weaponry in Russia’s armed forces reach 30 percent by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020. The Russian military is to assign an additional three air assault brigades to the Airborne Forces in order to boost its rapid reaction capability in future conflicts. At present the service numbers about 35,000 men deployed in four divisions and a brigade. Despite their elite status, less than 30 percent are currently professionals. It is planned to have about 80 percent professional soldiers and only 20 percent conscripts in its ranks by 2015. The airborne troops inventory is going to receive several advanced BMD-4M airborne fighting vehicles and Rakushka armored personnel carriers for testing in field conditions by 2015.
Besides the peril of military stand-off there is an economic aspect of the matter. Evidently a confrontation with Russia would prove far too costly.
According to Economist, the euro-zone's feeble recovery since the spring of 2013 came to a halt in the second quarter of 2014, when GDP stagnated. The euro area was held back by poor performances in its three biggest economies. GDP fell in Germany, the biggest, and Italy, the third largest, by 0.2%; France, the second largest economy, stagnated. The weakness in the euro zone is arousing fears that the 18-country currency club may fall into deflation. Inflation fell to just 0.4% in July, well below the European Central Bank's target of almost 2 %.
The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) feels rather gloomy about the U.S economic outlook in 2014. The CBO expects the U.S. economy in 2014 to remain moribund and for unemployment to remain near eight percent. The extra dollars pumped into the economy were supposed to spur economic growth. It had the reverse effect, shrinking the buying power of each dollar, the driving force of inflation. As the U.S. dollar continues to decline in value against other world currencies, goods imported into the U.S. become more expensive. Unemployment rates in the US rose in 30 states in July last month, even as employers in two-thirds of the states stepped up hiring.
Russia hit back in response to West’s sanctions. The Russian retaliatory measures, combined with other import bans imposed earlier this year, cover Western imports that were worth $8.7 billion in 2013, according to Russian customs data. Among the main victims are Dutch cheese, Norwegian salmon, and Spanish fruit and vegetables. Besides Europe, the Russian ban also covers produce from the U.S., Canada and Australia, which have all imposed sanctions on Moscow. Switzerland was spared, having indicated this week that it won't follow other Western nations in imposing economic sanctions.
Russia already banned the main agricultural import from the U.S., poultry, early this year. But the U.S. also sold $231 million of fruit to Russia last year, which will now be embargoed along with Canadian seafood and Australian beef.
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Perhaps the situation demands quite a different approach. According to Dimitri K. Simes, President of the Center for the National Interest and publisher of the National Interest magazine «Efforts to isolate and punish Moscow will push it into seeking closer ties with China. Supplying Ukraine or the Baltics with a blank check would only encourage the kind of behavior that may cost them dearly if Russia disregards NATO’s red lines. The appropriate response to Russia is to consider how we can convince it to choose restraint and, when possible, cooperation. Such an approach must be based on an analytical assessment of how Russia defines its interests and objectives rather than the way American policy makers would define them in Moscow’s shoes».
It’s a good thing that there are voices within NATO calling for efforts to reach mutual understanding and start a constructive negotiation process instead of sabre rattling and economic warfare. There is also a hope for better days to come.