05.10.2022

Can NATO increase its alertness in Europe?

According to NATO plans, by 2020, European alliance members should be able to bring about 15,000 troops to full combat readiness within a month. How realistic is this? On July 11-12, a NATO summit will be held in Brussels. On the eve of the European Union’s foreign ministers and the Alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a discussion about the creation of military transport corridors designed to ensure the free movement of NATO forces throughout the EU has flared up with renewed vigor.

At the same time, this issue is by no means the most difficult, given the goals of the new NATO initiative, dubbed “four by 30.” It provides that by 2020, the alliance should have 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 warships, which could be put on full alert within 30 days or faster.

Bureaucratic Barriers and Narrow Roads to NATO

The project was developed and prepared by Washington and agreed at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in early June. In today’s increasingly unpredictable world, high alert is becoming an important task for NATO, Jens Stoltenberg said then. At the same time, he emphasized that “it is not a question of creating or deploying new forces, but of increasing the readiness of existing ones.” The Secretary General of the Alliance also expressed confidence that NATO members will be able to implement a new initiative in a timely manner.

Stoltenberg’s optimism, however, is far from shared. The deployment of 30 battalions, the number of which varies depending on the country, in essence, means that more than 15,000 troops should be promptly deployed to the conflict zone. However, while there is no appropriate transport infrastructure for this: the military may not have time to reach their destination on time due to bureaucratic barriers within Europe, narrow roads and insufficiently strong bridges.

The expert of the British non-governmental research center European Leadership Network (ELN) Alice Billon-Galland is very skeptical. “Without even considering how difficult it would be to move troops across Europe, the question arises of what exactly they want to move. It makes no sense to build a bridge that can support the weight of the tank if you don’t have tankers who could control it, ”the expert notes. Today, most armies are in no condition to ensure the effective implementation of collective defense, Billon-Galland explains.

30 alliance battalions in 30 days – an impossible task?

In an article on whether British, French and German troops are capable of forming and holding armored brigades in the Baltic countries, if necessary, political analyst at the American non-governmental research center RAND Michael Shurkin outlined the main weaknesses of the alliance, which could completely nullify the new initiative.

While a brigade usually includes three to six battalions, NATO’s plan is to bring 5 to 10 brigades to combat readiness within a month. In Shurkin’s view, not one of the aforementioned countries will be able to provide such a number of troops in such a short time.

At the same time, the UK is best prepared: in all likelihood, London would be able to provide a fully equipped brigade for a period of 30 to 90 days and constantly maintain its combat readiness. In turn, the possibilities of France are extremely limited. Although Paris, perhaps, could have formed one brigade in a few weeks, this would require very great efforts from the French authorities. “The soldiers may not be ready to fight with Russia,” the expert notes.

As for Germany, according to Shurkin, Berlin could provide only two modernly equipped battalions capable of confronting Russia. Although they could have been brought into combat readiness during the week, equipment would have to be partially borrowed from other units, thereby limiting their ability to simultaneously conduct other operations.

NATO’s new initiative is a risky move

In turn, Alice Billon-Galland asks why Washington just launched this initiative, taking a promise from the European members of the alliance to implement it in such a short time. In the White House’s desire to push Europeans to more active actions in terms of deploying rapid reaction forces, there is nothing unusual in general: this problem needs to be somehow solved, the expert notes.

At the same time, this initiative of NATO seems to her extremely risky. “If, by 2020, NATO will be able to bring only 10 battalions into combat readiness in 45 days, this will look ridiculous and will not put the alliance in the best light,” says Bill Galland.

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