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Ukraine: Wake-up call for NATO

In the long history of war and peace, numbers matter.

If Ukraine is annexed or dominated by Moscow, Russia will again directly confront NATO in central Europe.  New NATO members Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland are no match for Russia.  Nor are traditional NATO members in Western Europe what they were during the Cold War.  They are no match for the modernized Russian Army.

{mosads}Collectively, the armed forces of NATO’s 27 members (excluding the United States) seem impressive at about 1.7 million active duty, although this is only about half their Cold War strength of 3.3 million.  European NATO (including Turkey) collectively has 6,000 tanks and 2,000 fighter aircraft among 27 member nations.

However, NATO’s European members have very little power projection capability–their armed forces are largely incapable of traveling far beyond their national territories.  Only the United Kingdom has significant power projection, estimated capable of sending 30,000 troops overseas.

France, after the U.K. estimated to have the greatest power projection capabilities in Europe, had great difficulty projecting even a small force numbering 2,000 Foreign Legionnaires to Mali in January 2013.  France needed help with aerial refueling and logistical support from the U.S., Canada, and Britain. 

When European NATO led the bombing campaign against Libya in March 2011, they quickly exhausted their ammunition.  They needed resupply from the United States.       

European NATO was hard pressed to conduct military operations against Libya–a helpless adversary.

Russian armed forces comprise 1.4 million active duty troops, 3,300 modern main battle tanks (18,000 more tanks in reserve), and 2,750 military aircraft.       

Russian power projection is superior to European NATO’s capabilities to reinforce Eastern Europe.  In September 2013, Russia’s exercise ZAPAD-13 (“WEST-13”) simulated an invasion of Poland and the Baltic states, projecting in a few days to NATO’s frontline 22,000 troops–more than the collective active duty forces of the Baltics. 

NATO responded in November 2013 with STEADFAST-JAZZ deploying 6,000 troops (fewer than one-third Russia’s ZAPAD-13 deployment) to Poland and the Baltics to simulate repelling a “hypothetical” invader.

Earlier, in July 2013, Russia’s largest military exercise since the Cold War projected 160,000 troops and 1,000 tanks across the vastness of Siberia.  Russia’s recent “exercise,” really a threatened invasion, in a few days deployed 150,000 soldiers to Ukraine’s border, more than the 90,000 active duty personnel in Ukraine’s entire armed forces..  

Arrayed opposite Russia in NATO’s frontline are the Baltic states–Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia–with about 20,000 active duty in their collective armed forces, no main battle tanks, and one fighter aircraft. 

If the Cold War returns to Europe, the other NATO frontline states are in little better shape than the Baltics.  Among the frontline states Poland is the strongest, with 120,000 active duty and 991 tanks.  Collectively, all the East European NATO states–Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania–have 214 fighter aircraft.

Overshadowing all these numbers, Russia enjoys a virtual monopoly in tactical nuclear weapons, having an estimated 3,000-8,000. 

Unlike the Cold War, when NATO planned to fight defensively in Germany, today’s plans require rescuing Eastern Europe.  

Never during the Cold War did Moscow enjoy such an advantage against NATO’s frontline states in conventional and nuclear forces as it does today.

When Russia has military preponderance against NATO’s frontline, cries to expand NATO further eastward are unwise.  NATO is hard pressed to defend existing frontiers against Russia.  Nor is the “soft power” threat of economic sanctions an effective deterrent against Moscow, as dictators and authoritarian states respect only the “hard power” of military strength.                                                            

What is to be done?      

U.S. and NATO military planning must again regard Russia as a potential adversary and develop credible contingency plans against Russian aggression.  Stop and reverse the free fall of the U.S. defense posture.  Strengthen NATO’s frontline militaries.

Most potent of all–revive the Strategic Defense Initiative and make real President Reagan’s dream of rendering nuclear missiles obsolete.  In Russian military doctrine “escalation dominance” in ultimate weapons–their decisive advantage in nuclear missiles–is a green light for aggression. 

SDI would cancel Moscow’s nuclear advantage and strategically defeat Russia, as SDI defeated the USSR during the Cold War.  And the derided “Star Wars” is the only realistic way of possibly achieving “Global Zero”–President Obama’s dream of a world without nuclear weapons.       

Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a Congressional Advisory Board, and served in the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA. 


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