For the first time since the end of the Cold War, NATO is expanding its command structure. A plan to establish two new military headquarters designed to improve the movement of troops across the Atlantic and within Europe to counter Russia was endorsed at the November 8-9 meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. One of the planned new NATO command centers will be tasked with ensuring the security of "sea lines of communication" between North America and Europe. The other command will "improve the movement of military forces across Europe" and strengthen logistical functions across NATO. Military commanders would "flesh out the details" and present them to defense ministers in February 2018.
"This is not only about commands," said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. According to him, it is vital that European roads, bridges and rail networks are able to carry tanks and heavy military equipment. "We are now much more focused on moving heavy equipment across Europe," he explained.
The locations are due to be chosen next year. Germany has expressed interest in hosting the logistics base. Portugal, Spain, France, and the United States could be potential hosts for the new Atlantic command. The ministers also agreed on the creation of a new Cyberoperations Center to strengthen cyberdefenses and help integrate cybercapabilities into NATO planning and operations at all levels.
NATO nations deployed about 4,000 troops this year across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and Poland – the alliance members which share borders with Russia.
The NATO event coincided in time with the United States House and Senate Armed Services Committees’ approval (Nov.8) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018. The NDAA supports a topline of $692 billion for national defense—a $26 billion increase above the President’s combined initial and amended budget requests. The NDAA also authorizes $4.6 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) to boost military capability to counter Russia, including accelerating procurement of Army prepositioned equipment and munitions stocks in Europe. The bill limits military-to-military cooperation with Moscow.
The legislation authorizes $350 million to provide security assistance to Ukraine, including defensive lethal weapons. $100 million will be spent on military aid to the Baltic States.
The bill includes the allocation of $58 million to counter Russia’s alleged non-compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, including a research and development program on a ground-launched intermediate-range missile, “which would not place the United States in violation of the treaty.” Section 1635 of NDAA allows the Pentagon to establish “a research and development program for a dual-capable road-mobile ground-launched missile system with a maximum range of 5,500 kilometers.” This is the first step to jettison the treaty. True, the development of a ground-based mid-range missile is not yet a violation but rather a demonstration of intent to do so. But once allocated, money cannot be wasted.
The deployment of NATO ground-based nuclear-tipped intermediate forces in the Old Continent is a European problem as NATO allies will become targets for Russia’s retaliatory strikes. Then why should the US tackle it if Europeans don’t ask it to do so? After all, the pretext for development of the missile is the need to defend European allies but no European NATO member has asked the US for protection. Why should the US take the initiative into its hands without European nuclear powers, such as the UK and France, participating in the program? Perhaps, the situation when Europeans fully depend on the US to protect them from “Russia’s nuclear threat” serves the American interests boosting Washington’s influence over European affairs.
With the INF Treaty effective no more, Moscow will be free to deploy intermediate-range missiles without restriction. No European NATO member has given consent to have the weapons on its territory. The decision to develop a ground-based mid-range missile may spark a backlash from European allies. The deployment of US intermediate-range weapons on the Old Continent will hit them in the same way the extension of American sanctions on European energy companies runs counter to their economic interests.
The fact that the NDAA authorizes the development of the weapon banned by the treaty will inevitably impact Russia’s military planning.
True, Russia and the US have problems with the INF Treaty. Each side accuses the other of non-compliance at the time the general state of the bilateral relations hinders the attempts to find common language on any issue. Expanding the European Deterrence Initiative is also not the best way to ease tensions with Russia.
Despite that, opportunities offered by the Special Verification Commission (SVC) envisioned by the INF Treaty are far from being exhausted. The parties could use the SVC venue to consider additional confidence-building measures and information exchanges. Contemporary technical means of verification make violations impossible to conceal. Evidence can be presented and differences can be ironed out. But, if signed by President as it is, the NDAA will include first practical steps to tear up the INF Treaty.
The violation of the treaty will negatively affect the prospects for strategic offensive forces (SOF) control. The INF and New START are the only two remaining nuclear arms control treaties in force. The capability of the US to knock out elements of command and control structure as well as at least some ground-based Russian strategic nuclear assets from Europe without using its intercontinental capability will influence the balance of SOF. One thing will lead to another eroding the entire nuclear arms control regime. Looks like the views of Heritage Foundation calling for withdrawal from the treaty prevail in the US Congress.
The NATO defense chiefs and US lawmakers have just taken new steps on the way to making the probability of war an uncomfortably real prospect.