Do you remember the headlines about the occupation of Kosovo? The Russians (206 paratroopers in light AFVs) hurried up and reached their objective (Pristina airport) faster than Western ground troops. This became one of the ingredients of the "8x8 AFV" and "air deployable" fashion of 1999 till about 2004.
To get into a favourable position early and quick has also kept NATO busy during the 90's. The NATO strategy for a great war in the post-Cold War 90's was counter-concentration, the deployment of reinforcements in a crisis region. Many formations were selected for such early deployments in many European nations.
That may include a kind of vicious circle mobilization dynamic as it was important in the final days before the First World War, but it was adopted nevertheless. Oh, well, and its chance of actually deploy combat-ready forces in time despite the initiative advantage of whoever wants to launch an aggression is debatable.
These and other examples reveal a great interest in the first phase of a hot conflict; get your troops into the place in question ASAP. An alternative would be to exploit an aggressor's culminating point and prepare for a counter-offensive only as happened in the Libyan desert in 1940 and in Korea 1950/51, but that's apparently not something you can sell to politicians.
The interest shifted away from the early (deployment, stop aggressor's advance) phases of war to the final one - occupation - due to the course of the recent mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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I think it's about time to allocate attention again to the first one or two phases of war.
Nobody wants protracted war, especially not amongst great or even nuclear powers. The outbreak of an armed conflict of this kind (most likely on a proxy's or allies' terrain) is nevertheless possible. What would be the obvious political conclusion? You should end the war ASAP, preferably by making sure ASAP that the aggressor accepts that his plan failed and by offering a draw.
Let's take the Baltic example; the Baltic is known in NATO to be quite indefensible, at least without predeployment of forces. We could do something about this weak spot (like subsidizing them into copies of Israel at least in regard to their armies), of course.
A quite difficult scenario would include a Russian coup de main in a matter of days and the occupation of the three Baltic countries with Russian internal ministry forces (~Chechnya) behind a screen of military forces.
Russia could then annex all three (NATO member) Baltic countries and simply state that any attempt to reconquer or continue the hot conflict would lead to tactical and operational nuclear strikes.
I bet we wouldn't risk that and instead go through the predictable procedure of a UN-guarded ceasefire and UN talks. Exiled Baltic governments would probably partially save our face by asking us not to risk a nuclear war in their homeland.
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There are more such examples of wars that could be decided in a matter of days because a continuation of the conflict after fait accompli would be a too terrible alternative. The South Georgia conflict in 2008 fits quite well.
Then again, air-deployable forces probably lack the punch and even the steadfastness in the defence for the job. Air-deployable forces are limited in their vehicle size, weight and quantity as well as their quantity of supplies. They tend to rest much combat power on infantry, anti-tank missiles and rather basic indirect fires.
Positional defence is - and always has been - unsatisfactory in warfare. You always depend on at least local counter-attacks to succeed in the defence (even during the Trench War 1915-1918!).
The "air deployable" fashion seems to be an unsatisfactory answer for the problem of few-days-wars to me.
Pre-deployment isn't satisfactory either. Take the Baltic example; it would take about six to twelve brigades in the theatre to deter or stop a competently planned invasion cold. These troops could be misunderstood as a threat, the deployment would cost much and it's an impossible approach for many other conflict hot spots. We couldn't use pre-deployed troops to deter a Russian intervention in Ukrainian domestic conflicts, for example.
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Well, what should we do about this?
First of all, I'm only pro "wars of necessity". This cuts down the range of potential scenarios because it excludes many possible follies.
We agreed to protect the Baltic when we welcomed the in NATO and this means that we should be prepared to defend their sovereignty with violence - successful violence. This ranks higher than all stupid adventures that our politicians have embarked Western troops on since '91. Adults recognize that the world isn't a playing field and life includes unpleasant obligations.
I personally like my idea (quel surprise!) of a "Grenzer" kind of defence for the Baltic. They could be subsidized to build up forces way beyond their own capabilities. The Baltic would become militarized like Israel, probably the least unlikely method for having enough defenders in place.
I called this "Grenzer"; the Austrian-Hungarian empire had almost perpetual troubles with the Turks (Ottomans), which had proficient light cavalry capable of devastating raids even in peacetime. Their answer was to exclude the border regions from taxation and to require that the inhabitants and colonists in these regions be prepared to defend themselves in return. The model was kept for many generations; it seems to have worked. The Grenzer model allowed the empire to cut its regular army free from the Southern Border.
This model adapted to the Baltic would replace the tax exemption with subsidies (quite the same effect if you think about it; the border regions get the economic ability to sustain sufficient military power by themselves). NATO manoeuvre armies could be held back, would not need to deploy and especially not to garrison the Baltic in peacetime.
An improvement of land traffic infrastructure is highly advisable as a preparation for this and other possible peripheral conflicts. There's only one real road that connects the Baltic states and Poland, for example. Such a bottleneck is unacceptable.
It would also be worth a try to have some full brigade deployment exercises. The German, French and Polish Secretaries of Defence should phone some colleagues and get the right to deploy a brigade for the purpose of exercising (and as an experiment) sometime in the future. Then, months or years later, they should suddenly during a Saturday night decide on their own that one of their brigades should deploy ASAP.
That would become an interesting spectacle. I wouldn't expect Western or Central European Brigade to become 80% combat-ready (with supplies) in Lithuania in less than two weeks. Units with many tracked vehicles would probably take much more. An invasion on the other hand would likely be complete after a few days.
We should really go back to old habits and stress the look at the early phases of armed conflict and the prevention of conflicts. That is when you can still keep the war from taking a bloody, expensive and protracted course. The occupation phase does by comparison not even exist in many armed conflicts!
There's much to do in regard to the early phases of conflict. NATO's "counter concentration" and "multinational rapid reaction forces" approach doesn't cut it in my opinion.