Alphen, Netherlands. 30 July. Back in the Cold War there used to be an annual military exercise named REFORGER. Return of US Forces to Germany was meant to reassure NATO allies and deter the formidable Group of Soviet Forces Germany by demonstrating the capacity of the US armed forces to rapidly reinforce its allies from continental North America with a large combat force. It was a moot point for those of us around at the time that in the event of an invasion the six Soviet tank, shock and air armies stationed just over the then inner-German border could be held at the ‘killing zone’ in and around the Fulda Gap. Many members of the British Army of the Rhine had their doubts. Thankfully, those days are gone but the need to reassure America’s European allies and to develop allied forces into strong partners of the American armed forces has not. Both requirements pre-suppose a permanently-visible strong American military presence in Europe. Why?
It is necessary to see the European theatre as part of the biggest of America’s big grand strategic pictures. Like it or not Europe for the moment remains at the juncture of emerging global struggles in which American leadership is vital. NATO Strategic Direction East sees a Russia that is retreating ever deeper into political cynicism, militarism and a very narrow view of its national interest. NATO Strategic Direction South sees the collapse of much of the Levant and with it the rise of Islamic State, a terror organisation with the wealth and ambitions of a state that threatens to destabilise not just much of the Middle East and North Africa but Europe as well. Add to that heady mix of disturbance and destruction state conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa, criminality with strategic implications and the spread of destructive technologies and the need to stabilise the region in which most of America’s democratic allies reside is a paramount American national interest.
In other words, not only does Europe remain a vital strategic space for the security and defence of the United States now is the tipping point between European and by extension American power or weakness, security or insecurity, deterrence or defencelessness, influence or irrelevance. That is why last month’s decision by the British to maintain defence spending at 2% GDP is so important. It provides the chance (but only if Whitehall and the British defence chiefs do not blow the opportunity) to create the kind of long-reach, deep joint future force America will need at least it major allies to possess. In other words, Britain must lead an American example.
There is however another reason why the US needs to retain a strong military relationship with its European allies. Read carefully the 2015 US Military Strategy and America’s new strategic military reality becomes apparent – armed forces that have a lot of everything but no enough of anything everywhere. To remain strong the world over the US needs strong, capable regional allies on both its western and eastern strategic flanks. Whilst there is much in the Obama Administration’s world-view with which I disagree the 2014 European Reassurance Initiative and the commitment of $1bn for training and temporary rotations of US forces through Europe made real strategic sense as a down-payment on such a vision.
Furthermore, for the American military strategy to work the US needs a world-wide web of like-minded and interoperable military partners. Steps are being taken to that end. In May US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter initiated Operation Atlantic Resolve, which mirrors similar efforts in the Asia-Pacific region designed to enhance military interoperability with allies. In June the US Army reversed the long-trend of downsizing by moving to build-up military equipment levels in Central and Eastern Europe that echoed the pre-positioning strategy of the post-Cold War era.
However, as I suggest in my new book NATO: The Enduring Alliance 2015 (Routledge: London), far more needs to be done and much greater strategic ambition generated on both sides of the Atlantic. Clunky though it may sound I would reinvent REFORGER in the guise of REINFORCEALL – an annual major US reinforcement of Alliance forces that is seen as part of a US-friendly development programme for NATO Forces.
Such an ‘exercise’ would not simply involve large and expensive bits of metal charging around at various velocities and going bang at various rates. It would also involve a series of conferences and workshops designed to consider and further military innovation and creativity, with a clear emphasis on value-for-money solutions. Ideas would then be worked up ‘scientifically’, with scenarios developed for exercises which really test structures, responses, capabilities and capacities. A really awkward squad (Red Team) would need to be embedded at the heart of the entire process to prevent the ‘keep the commander happy group think’ towards which all military headquarters gravitate and which I have seen at first hand all too often.
The output/outcome of EXERCISE REINFORCEALL would be enhanced interoperability standards for Alliance forces to better enable allies to operate to affect the world over with those of the United States.
Allied Strong – REINFORCEALL. Just an idea.