NATO is Now on the Clock: Reshaping the Battlespace


2014-09-03 by Ed Timperlake and Robbin Laird

“We will develop what I would call a spearhead within our Response Force — a very high-readiness force able to deploy at very short notice,” Secretary General Rasmussen told reporters at the Residence Palace in Brussels, where NATO is headquartered.

“This spearhead would be provided by Allies in rotation and could include several thousand troops ready to respond where needed with air, sea and Special Forces support.”

The North Atlantic Treaty creating NATO was signed on April 4th 1949. Consequently having stood the test of helping defeat the Soviet Union and that victory was reflected by the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. Since that time, reacting to dynamic world events, NATO military units have had to focus more toward the threats from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen answers questions on Monday Sept. 1, 2014, in Brussels. NATO
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen answers questions on Monday Sept. 1, 2014, in Brussels.

Now sadly the alliance has to once again address a growing threat to Europe from Russia and to forge direct defense in the 21st century. And make no mistake the 21st century is different, and world within which rapid insertion forces – air dominant and air-enabled ground forces — able to destroy the forces of an enemy are required along with an ability to be prepared to fight in the second nuclear age.

It is not about shaping a large ground force preparing for an assault from the East; it is about deflecting, shaping and prevailing against the information war, non-kinetic and kinetic attacks from a skillful shaper of 21st century warfare.

Make no mistake President Putin is as skilled an adversary as the West ever faced during those nasty Cold War days. In fact Putin understands, much better than his predecessors the never ending back and force shift between Information War and Kinetic engagements. He does not have to bang his shoe at the UN to be taken seriously.

He forged his credentials in a key conflict zone of both IW and preparation for kinetic war, namely the Euromissile crisis.

The prelude to the Fall of the Berlin Wall was a massive IW battle over the legitimacy for NATO to deploy weapons in response to the Soviet SS-20s and the significant nuclear arsenal in the Warsaw Pact.

As Russian tanks roll into Ukraine, Crimea falls and an innocent commercial aircraft was shot down NATO is responding now with the creation of Response Force “Spearhead.”

Current reporting states it is the most significant issue to be discussed at the coming 28 nation NATO meeting on 4th and 5th September 2014.

Asked what he meant by saying the force could deploy on very short notice, Rasmussen said such “military technical details would be worked out after the summit.

I can assure you that it will be very, very short notice,” he said.  So we are speaking about a very few days.”

The NATO Secretary General Andre Rasmussen with vision and courage has just committed NATO to a round of Information War against Russian aggression.

The test will first be in the creation and execution of the plan for a rapid reaction “Spearhead. It is a real test in a dangerous and dynamically shifting world.

If after well over six decades of constant military planning and exercises NATO military planners cannot identify the components of the “Spearhead” within days of the agreement to constitute such a force it will be seen as a signal of bureaucratic dithering by a very capable hard eyed opponent.

In fact as Risk Intelligence’s Hans Tino Hansen has underscored:

“This is old wine in new bottles – the old AMF was exactly this type of force and should never have been disbanded!”

For those who may have forgotten, the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force (AMF) was established in 1960 and “the impetus behind the AMF’s creation in 1960 had been prompted by concerns related to deterrence in ACE’s northern and southern regions, the Berlin crisis of 1961 refocused NATO’s attention on defense of the Central Region.”

It will take time to practice together to forge an effective fighting force –“you fight like you train” but identifying the units committed should be very simple.

If NATO countries and military components get bogged down in a roles and missons fight over the type and nature of the force it will be a significant signal of politics vice combat effectiveness.

Just like no plan ever survives the first round going down range the first stand up of such a Spearhead will have issues and problems. But trying to get it perfect the old Cold War Russian saying comes into play “best is the enemy of the good.”

The good news is that a Dane is in charge with a Norwegian on the way.

Northern Europeans have no illusions about the Russians nor the need to re-shape Baltic defense and to prepare for Arctic defense.

As the head of the  integrated Danish military colleges, Admiral Wang, has put it:

I think that the Ukraine crisis has drawn attention to the fact that the three Baltic states took a very bold decision ten years ago.  They applied for a NATO membership, and NATO accepted them.

That is a commitment that goes both ways, and when you have a scenario like the one that we are experiencing right now with Russia and their intervention in Ukraine, I think it’s very, very important for NATO to send a message that the three Baltic states are NATO members and we are prepared to defend them in a clear manner.

That is why Denmark is deploying F-16s to the Baltic states, and the reason why we can deploy F-16s to the Baltic states without any problem as a routine operation, is basically because we have made it the entire Danish defense force, including our fighter air craft deployable over the last ten, fifteen years.

Having a significant and lethal insertion force ready to deploy at a moments notice is crucial to any credible NATO 21st century defense capability.

It is not about COIN; it is not about massive territorial defense; it is an ability to insert forces — air dominant and rapidly mobile ground forces — which can rapidly create a positive result.

Whether against Russian forces in Ukraine, Poland, or the Baltics the rapid destruction of Russian forces is required much as with the case of the ISIS forces in Iraq.

NATO’s experience in Afghanistan clearly can be drawn upon which NATO forces have worked together over significant distances and have operated air enabled ground forces for some time, and where innovations such as the ROVER system was introduced.

These battle tested troops remain to be properly organized to let Putin now he does not have a free ride and may well find it together to deal with battle hardened Western troops than invading a country not prepared for war.

But make no mistake, NATO has announced it will do something significant; Putin is not waiting around for NATO to act and is already preparing his response, and if the Euromissile, his training ground, is anything to go by, significant intelligence and IW efforts will be directed to divide and conquer within the alliance.

Putin will count on the self-vetoing qualities of Alliance politics to ensure that he will have a manageable challenge.