Article 3In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.
I'm idealist and pragmatist enough to believe the military should be meant for national security - specifically defence, or collective defence against paramilitary or military attack.
Thus I take the alliance defence thing seriously and actually wasted some thoughts on it. In fact, I even looked at some maps.
NATO members in Europe
|European NATO members (c) Marco Kaiser|
|EU members (+ Croatia in July 2013) (c) ssolbergj|
North America is safe from a geography point of view. The main benefit of NATO to the U.S. is that some Europeans get motivated to debase themselves by providing auxiliary troops for U.S. great power gaming and that NATO keeps Europe and the U.S. from becoming rivals, sabotaging each others' foreign policy.
The Western and Northwestern frontier of Europe is the North Atlantic, and all that really counts there is the protection of maritime trade. I suppose that's simply not going to be satisfactory. It took mobilisations and the construction of hundreds of escort ships to secure the North Atlantic shipping lanes in both World Wars. I don't expect NATO to be able to maintain a large-enough and correctly designed force to actually secure North Atlantic shipping in a major conflict right away. This is thus more a challenge of maintaining and developing basic competences and of maintaining a large enough industrial base (which Europe probably still has, but the U.S. hasn't). Let's face it, almost all shipbuilding is now in East Asia:
This extreme outcome is new, for we had a much less extreme one till a few years ago (with another metric):
I suppose whatever North Atlantic shipping defences we could build in wartime could not rest mainly on newly-built hulls. We could reconfigure existing civilian ships for operation of naval helicopters, towing sensors and decoys, launching decoys and launching munitions from containers instead. It is about time we pay more attention to this, and the existing containerisation of much naval equipment in the MEKO concept could be a starting point just as the Arapaho concept. I suppose this is more important than the question whether a new destroyer can mount a super-heavy radar for ballistic missile intercepts.
The offensive defence of North Atlantic shipping lanes (offensive minelaying, air attack on hostile naval bases, sealing off the Strait of Gibraltar) would also be relevant.
One thing which I miss in collective defence efforts is a more serious preparation for high seas ("blue water") shipping lane defences. The big Western navies have become too obsessed with meddling and bullying in distant places, and some of the smaller ones are still too distracted by embargo and anti-piracy patrols.
Naval bureaucracies want many impressive ship hulls, many jobs for officers and much money. The relatively cheap preparations for a mobilisation of five hundred ASW/AAW armed merchantmen (precursor) within six months is not in their bureaucratic self-interest.
The Southern frontier of Europe is basically the Mediterranean. The Southern neighbours lack the military capacity to be dangerous or to become dangerous in the medium term. I suppose security policy here would first and foremost be about maintaining and progressing competency in naval warfare. Again, this is not about ships. The only warships that are required for defence in the Med are mine countermeasures (MCM) ships, and even they could largely be replaced by a concept with remote-controlled and semi-autonomous drones with control centres on land. Much of NATO's MCM capability isn't in its Med countries; maybe this should change. Again, there's a sexiness and bureaucratic self-interest problem; MCM is not sexy and provides few officer jobs.
Most naval action in / over the Med could easily be done by air power.
I don't believe that it would make sense to escalate a Southern conflict into a land war, so no amphibious capability of large scale would be necessary.
The Southeastern frontier of Europe is Turkey. It's the joint to the Caucasus region, Iran and the Arab world. It's the joint between Black Sea and Med and between Europe and Asia.
To secure this frontier is first and foremost a question of remaining allied or at least friendly with Turkey. The Turkish terrain is hugely problematic for land campaigns, as it is quite easily defensible. Air warfare in the region is mostly challenged by the question of airbase capacity. The Gulf region powers can maintain some semi-credible air power, but European air power could easily keep it in check by itself. I suppose that's going to be true for many years to come unless the Arab air forces become much better and Europeans hesitate too much with adopting new air warfare technology (the PAK-FA is a bit concerning).
Finally, the Eastern frontier of Europe (EU and NATO Europe, that is). I admit, it takes some conscious effort for me to not write "Eastern front". No, just kidding. Still, to me it's the only frontier with a huge land warfare potential. Much bigger land warfare is possible if not likely in the Far East (/= defence for Europeans), but THE land warfare scenarios Europeans should prepare for are mostly about the EU's and NATO's Eastern Front. I mean frontier.
This is a case where division of tasks within NATO and EU makes a lot of sense. I think of the following groups:
Frontier countries unable to resist invasion, but able to delay it:
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
Frontier countries which would (in darker times) be required to be first day responders to a crisis:
Norway, Finland, Poland, Romania
Countries which would be first week responders to a crisis:
Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria
Countries which would be limited first week responders to a crisis with air power and airlifted/airborne troops only (and other forces much later):
France, UK, U.S., Italy
Countries which would have niche roles or no important roles in a crisis:
Iceland (= only a base), Luxembourg (lends its flag to AWACS aircraft), Malta, Cyprus
Finally, all else, most of which would struggle to field a corps and more than a wing or two of combat aircraft unless there had been some extended arms race prior to the crisis.
I recall discussions about whether for example the Baltic countries should specialise their military on some niche competence for providing auxiliary troops to distant great power games. Obviously, I still think of actual collective defence instead of such crap.
The grouping of member countries above could - if anyone cared about it - inform force structure reforms.
The first day responders would need especially survivable military basing concepts, near-paranoid alarm exercises (such as 80+% of army manoeuvre and recce forces ready to go within three hours 24/7, for example).
The first week responder countries would need to have very road-mobile forces, which can deploy a thousand or more kilometres within days. I personally don't think there are enough tank transport trailers in these countries to pull this off well. These countries would also not need to pay much attention to transport aviation of intercontinental range. These countries would also host lots of consumables and pre-positioned heavy weapon system depots.
The limited first week responders would need to think a lot about air deployment, and especially about the capabilities of their airborne brigades in face of heavy troops. More important would be their ability to deploy 'heavy' or 'medium' troops to the frontier within weeks, though.
The "all else" category could - except the very far Southern countries which would look southward first - reduce their ground forces to forces of very long-serving part-time troops, for example. A readiness for deployment within 60 days could suffice. These forces could be the bulk of forces for a strategic counter-offensive.
In fact, the threat of this wave of reinforcements arriving after about 60-80 days on the battlefield could help politicians to turn off the war before this stage of escalation.
This small exercise for my brain cells shows that very different approaches to NATO (and EU) defence than the 'bureaucratic autopilot + great power games by pols' scheme are imaginable - and probably better.
We are safe and don't need more collective military power, but by orientating it better our collective military power could become much more efficient, allowing us to save much military spending and allocate it at improving the sustainability and growth paths of our economies.
Furthermore, it's a good idea to spend enough for deterrence, but it's wasteful to spend so much on defence that conventional threats can justifiably get laughed off right away.