Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability

Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability

Military exercises are often viewed as geopolitical tools used to boost stability and enhance deterrence. However, they can sometimes have the exact opposite effect: increasing instability and contributing to dangerous levels of escalation. Nowhere is this…

Policy Roundtable: Trump and the Future of NATO

Policy Roundtable: Trump and the Future of NATO

This roundtable, chaired by James Goldgeier, features essays on the future of NATO from three different European perspectives.

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Those people — the map people, the logistics people, the intelligence people — have always been accused, by operational commanders, of thinking more than is good for them, but this time they’ve got it right.”

– Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows

  In 2018, both the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted their largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. The role of such maneuvers in the larger geostrategic context has been brought to the fore by these activities and President Donald Trump’s decision, announced at his summit in Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, to suspend the U.S.-South Korea Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise.[1] Official statements about these military exercises typically stress their specified purpose of improving training, readiness, and interoperability among services and multinational forces.[2] But military exercises also convey powerful geopolitical messages intended to demonstrate how the capabilities on display enhance regional stability, deter aggression, and reinforce foreign policy goals.[3] However, I argue in this essay that they can instead do the opposite, in the sense of the classic security dilemma, as real or potentially adversarial states ratchet up the size and scope of their exercises and push exercise venues into militarily problematic areas. In other words, the risk of geopolitical instability that such exercises imply may not bring a corresponding deterrence reward. This is especially true across the increasingly tense NATO-Russia divide in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, which is the focus of this paper. The elusive line between deterrence and provoking aggression has been explored in depth in analyses of tabletop war games or simulations in the German kriegsspiel style. The most notable are those conducted by the RAND Corporation involving a hypothetical Russian invasion of the NATO-member Baltic states. The results provided the impetus for a more robust alliance military presence in that region and in Poland.[4] Michael Kofman has discussed at length whether this shift from “reassurance” to “deterrence” makes sense and, importantly, posits that a critical variable in this calculation is the perception of the Russian threat. He also questioned whether “conventional deterrence by denial is possible on NATO’s eastern flank.”[5] Through my experience as an intelligence officer at the tactical and national levels, I became — and remain — acutely aware of the role that the threat, or at least the United States military’s assessment of the threat, plays in both planning and executing military operations. That includes exercises, a number of which I participated in. Later, as an academic researcher in geopolitics, I came to appreciate the influence of what Gerard Toal refers to as “thick geopolitics,” a concept that “strives to describe the geopolitical forces, networks, and interactions that configure places and states.”[6] Combining these two perspectives, in this paper I examine the strategic implications of NATO’s ongoing efforts to extend its reach eastward and, in some cases, northward,[7] by shifting its military exercise venues forward and including non-NATO “partners” in the alliance’s military operations and exercise agenda. The symbolism of these highly visible activities — which precede the Crimean crisis — is difficult to ignore, especially as they contribute to Russia’s geopolitical angst as regards its immediate neighborhood. Certainly, as Toal avers, the many multi-layered influences of location, distance, and place come into play here, especially given that some of these NATO-sponsored and member-state exercises take place along the Russian land frontier or its adjacent maritime zone and airspace. The reverse is also true, as Russia conducts large-scale exercises and other military demonstrations — what Mark Galeotti terms “heavy metal diplomacy”[8] — in that same contact zone. These exercises are viewed as threatening by many NATO states, some of which harbor unhappy memories of when this “thick geopolitical” landscape was dominated by Russia in its imperial or Soviet form.

Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging

Military exercises do not take place on tabletops. Instead, warships, troops, aircraft, armored vehicles, and logistical and engineer support units maneuver across land, sea, and airspace overseen by headquarters staffs practicing command, control, and communications. A combination of live firing of weapons; cyber activities; collection, processing, and dissemination of target information and intelligence data; and after-action assessments all make for a complex and demanding undertaking, often at considerable expense and some element of danger to the participants. These exercises also involve considerable fanfare in the host countries and, especially, strong visualization elements. As Roland Bleiker notes, “Images shape international events and our understanding of them.”[9] Certainly, images of warships, tanks, and live firing make for dramatic coverage, especially as they have become more incorporated in and widely disseminated via social media. These messages and images complement official foreign and security policy narratives and those of nongovernmental groups (e.g., think tanks and human rights organizations), and they should be seen as part and parcel of the larger geopolitical discourse. The Exercise Is the Message The annual Foal Eagle joint and combined forces maneuvers,[10] conducted by the United States and the Republic of Korea, are an excellent example of how military exercises can be used to message strategic posture. In addition to the complexity and scope of these maneuvers, conducting them on and around the Korean Peninsula has become a highly contentious element in relations between these two allies and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.[11] In its press release announcing the 2017 iteration, the Defense Department stated that Foal Eagle “is designed to increase readiness to defend South Korea, to protect the region, and to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.”[12] This is the template for the manner in which militaries typically describe their exercises and signal their import. And that language is understood to mean that readiness involves training, that protecting the region implies a specific geographical focus, and that stability (or, frequently, deterrence) is a desired strategic outcome. Geopolitical messaging is conveyed via military exercises through several means by the exercise planners and their superiors. First, is the decision of whether to hold exercises. That means that starting, suspending, or terminating them is a foreign policy and security policy statement in and of itself. This is certainly true in long-standing military relationships such as that between the United States and the Republic of Korea, wherein the form and scale of exercises have evolved since their inception shortly after the end of the Korean War. In fact, the major U.S.-South Korea exercise, Team Spirit, was canceled four times in the 1990s to facilitate negotiations to limit North Korea’s nuclear program.[13] Notably, the Bright Star exercises co-sponsored by the United States and Egypt since 1980 were suspended by President Barack Obama in 2013 in the wake of the military takeover of the elected Egyptian government. They have, however, since been reinstated.[14] The U.S. Central Command press release for Bright Star 2017 made no mention of the hiatus.[15] The Malabar naval exercises initiated by the United States and India in 1992 (and joined by Japan in 2015) presaged increased American interest in the Indian Ocean and Indian concerns regarding China’s growing presence in South Asia. Although these exercises have recently expanded significantly, they were suspended for a period after India tested nuclear weapons.[16] [quote id="1"] The same cyclical pattern of scaling down and ramping up military exercises as political circumstances change is evident in the U.S.-Philippines Balikatan exercise, which recently concluded its 34th iteration.[17] Disinviting the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the U.S.-sponsored 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise was intended to signal U.S. displeasure at China’s increasing militarization of islands in the South China Sea. (The Chinese navy had participated in RIMPAC in 2014 and 2016.)[18] Meanwhile, Russia and China announced that their two navies would conduct a second round of joint exercises in the Yellow Sea, and the huge Vostok 2018 exercises involved Chinese troops for the first time as part of a long-term plan of greater military cooperation between the two countries.[19] Once it has been decided that exercises are to take place, geopolitical messaging is conveyed in several ways in their actual execution: Where the exercises are conducted, how many personnel are involved, what countries they are drawn from, and the types of weaponry employed are all key elements in strategic positioning or, one might say, posturing. Further complicating matters, the number, size, and scope of military exercises are growing — in some regions dramatically so — and at a time of heightened stress in the international system.[20]

The NATO-Russia Military Exercise Dynamic

Nowhere is this expansion of military exercises more evident and potentially de-stabilizing than in the NATO-Russia arena. Since Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014, tensions have risen steadily between Moscow and the West, with economic sanctions, mutual expulsions of diplomats and the closure of legations, and a barrage of mutual recriminations not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War. Russia’s interference in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, including the insertion of regular units of the Russian army into the fighting there,[21] and at least one major cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid, banks, and government agencies, has exacerbated what was already a full-blown international crisis and catalyzed fears in the West — warranted or not — of a new and more capable Russian threat. Russia, meanwhile, harbors long-standing grievances concerning NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet states (the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact in Central and Eastern Europe, which acceded to NATO from 1990 to 2004. Actions by NATO in the Balkan conflicts, especially the bombing campaign against Serbia, also invoked Russian fears of Western encroachment into what Moscow considers its sphere of influence. [22] These increasingly contentious relations have resulted in a significant expansion of military operations on both sides. Russian forces continuously operate close to NATO forces in and around Europe as well as in the Middle East, especially Syria. Partly, this is because the NATO alliance now adjoins Russia along a longer frontier. Four of the newer NATO member states have land borders with Russia proper (Estonia and Latvia) or its Kaliningrad Oblast exclave (Poland and Lithuania), whereas previously only Norway directly bordered Russia, and that was in the very remote far north. All of these new eastern frontiers have become increasingly militarized. For example, almost from the moment of their accession to NATO, the three Baltic countries — with no combat aircraft of their own — received air defense cover from their NATO allies, a continuing mission that involves frequent intercepts of Russian military aircraft transiting Baltic Sea airspace.[23] The alliance also agreed at its Warsaw summit in 2016 to rotate “battalion-sized battlegroups” into Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in what it termed an “enhanced forward presence.”[24] Samuel Charap argues that Russia has likewise raised the ante in its standoff with NATO by using “its military beyond its borders with unprecedented frequency since the invasion of Crimea in February 2014,” referring to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and by its “brinksmanship in the skies and sea with NATO and other Western militaries.”[25] Finally, Russia’s extensive buildup of forces in Kaliningrad has significantly altered the military landscape in the Baltic Sea region.[26] As Dmitry Gorenburg has noted, the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its Crimea bases have been significantly upgraded, with more resources expected in the coming years. [27] Closing the Exercise Gap The upshot of this heightened military activity is that deconfliction and avoidance of the kinds of catastrophic accident that could lead to hostilities has become an increasingly serious matter. As will be discussed below, military exercises involving these forward-deployed units are an inevitable consequence of their placement.[28] That is to say, if one forward-deploys or bases forces in a given region, exercising them in these locations is imperative — and the chances of miscalculation or accidents rise commensurately. These exercises have generated considerable attention in both the mainstream media and in the national security and geopolitics commentariat. The Russian Federation and its allies have undertaken a number of large-scale military maneuvers designed to test their troops and weapons, demonstrate their ability to defend the homeland, and convey a message of resoluteness in so doing. Russia’s large Zapad (“West”) 2017 maneuvers generated unprecedented coverage in Western media, think tank analyses, and official sources. They provided a prime example of how these events shape the national security discourse between Moscow and NATO.[29] In keeping with the universal exercise rationale template, the Russian Ministry of Defense described Zapad 2017 as “a final stage of joint training of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces [involving] interoperability of staffs [in the defense of] territories of the Republic of Belarus and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation [to prevent] their destabilization.”[30] Both in terms of its regional scope (the Baltic Sea region, western Russia, and Belarus) and the number of personnel and different weapons systems involved, Zapad 2017 certainly deserved the attention it received. But the ensuing frenzy, including concern that the exercise was intended to mask an actual invasion of the Baltics and Poland, exacerbated tensions throughout Europe even though that exercise occurs every four years.[31] Even before Zapad 2017, at least one American national security think tank raised the specter of an “exercise gap” between Russia and NATO, arguing that the former enjoyed a significant advantage.[32] Vostok (“East”) 2018, another quadrennial Russian capstone military exercise, has likewise received extensive coverage in Russia and in Western media, mainly, but not exclusively, because the numbers of troops and equipment engaged may have exceeded Zapad 2017 (there is some dispute about the numbers directly involved[33]), which would make it the largest since the end of the Cold War. But it also involved an “interstate-conflict scenario” with coalition adversaries,[34] closely resembling what Russia would face should it wind up in a fight with NATO, though the maneuvers took place at a far remove from NATO territory. As such, the geopolitical message conveyed by the exercises, in particular the added element of participation by Chinese military units, was more subtle, involving what could be characterized as an in-house assessment of how well Russian armed forces could generate and manage a large-scale conflict from the command-and-control perspective. [quote id="2"] Not to be outdone, NATO and its member states and partners likewise sponsor an expanding series of large and complex military exercises in close proximity to Russia’s western border and its adjacent seas and airspace.[35] Not surprisingly, this has provoked a negative reaction from Moscow. Indeed, since the annexation of Crimea, the schedule of military training events involving NATO and its member states, as well as non-NATO partners, has become increasingly ambitious.[36] As a consequence, the “exercise gap” has narrowed.[37] This was underscored by the alliance’s top leadership at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014,[38] reemphasized at the Warsaw summit in 2016,[39] and reaffirmed at the 2018 Brussels summit: “We continue to ensure the Alliance’s political and military responsiveness, including through more regular exercises.”[40] As is true in general of military exercises, these recent NATO exercises are intended to act as both training events and indicators of security policy and posture. That is, they signal the alliance’s determination to defend its member states. Thus, several major exercises were conducted in 2017 with the aim of “assuring” NATO states bordering or near Russia (especially strategically vulnerable Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) and thereby “deterring” Russian aggression. The evolution of the annual Saber Strike exercise series is a good example. Initially, from 2011, this exercise involved about 2,000 personnel, with a focus on training troops from the Baltic countries to NATO standards as a means of integrating them into the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.[41] By 2018, Saber Strike had grown to 18,000 participants, with a clear focus on “validating our [NATO’s] collective capability to rapidly respond to and reinforce Allies in a time of crisis.”[42] From whence that crisis might emerge is not stated, but reference is made to the fact that the exercise is “not a provocation of Russia,” leaving one to imagine another major external threat to the alliance. In the same vein, the biannual Anakonda exercises organized by Poland have grown enormously since their inception in 2006. The 2016 edition numbered 31,000 troops from 23 countries with the intent “to check the ability of NATO to defend the territory of the eastern flank of the Alliance.”[43] Again, absent an attack from Belarus or Ukraine, the obvious aggressor state would be Russia. But the clearest message yet that NATO intends to push the geopolitical envelope by means of military exercises came via Trident Juncture 2018, the alliance’s premier format. Not only is this the largest post-Cold War NATO exercise, with some 50,000 participants, but the venue, mainly in Norway, further extends the field of play. Hitherto, Norway, a founding NATO member state, had been careful to avoid antagonizing Moscow by allowing maneuvers in its far northern region, but, as Azita Raji notes, the mood in Oslo has clearly shifted toward taking a much stronger stance against what is perceived as an increasingly serious Russian threat.[44] Thus, Trident Juncture 2018 sends three geopolitical messages: that Norway takes its NATO commitment very seriously, that it will push back hard against Russian pressure, and that the alliance supports both of those positions. [45]

Can Anybody Play?

Significantly, over the past decade NATO has sought to integrate some non-NATO partners into operations and exercises, and in certain cases it has conducted large-scale NATO-, U.S.-, or European-sponsored events (including live-fire practice) on the territory of those non-member states, with resultant geopolitical implications. In the Nordic region, for example, Swedish and Finnish forces have participated in exercises with NATO, and NATO ground forces and aircraft have operated in Sweden and Finland proper in the two countries’ respective maneuvers.[46] Finnish and Swedish ground, naval, and air-force units participated in Trident Juncture 2018, with some NATO events taking place in both countries.[47] Such exercises and other steps that the two countries have taken to bolster their militaries have significantly altered the strategic situation in NATO’s favor vis-à-vis Russia in the Baltic Sea area while, predictably, provoking a negative response from Moscow.[48] Likewise, NATO has dramatically strengthened its military relationship with the Republic of Georgia through training assistance programs and major exercises. The highlight of these is the Noble Partner series, wherein U.S. Army forces (including tanks and other armored vehicles) recently deployed to Georgia from bases in Germany. Through participation in such exercises, some units of the Georgian army have met NATO operational standards and are included in NATO’s Response Force, a readily available and deployable contingency command for insertion in emerging-crisis situations.[49] Previously, Georgian troops had been involved in a number of NATO operations. With 32 of its soldiers killed in support of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, Georgia’s casualty rate in that conflict is higher than that of any NATO country.[50] In the Black Sea region, the U.S. Navy has bolstered its presence both in exercises with Ukraine and NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria and through freedom-of-navigation visits. This was particularly evident in the Sea Breeze 2017 exercise, during which two advanced U.S. warships participated and also conducted a port call in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa. Russian news sources have featured prominent coverage of these NATO-Ukraine military maneuvers in the Black Sea. For example, Sea Breeze 2017 was not covered in the mainstream U.S. media (although it did appear in defense-related news outlets and on social media), whereas both Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) had features on the maneuvers. Sputnik posted eight features on another U.S.-Ukraine exercise, Rapid Trident 2017, including articles in its German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Moldovan outlets. One can reasonably conclude that the signaling of military partnership, if not treaty obligation, is being received by Russia, and not favorably.

(In)stability: One Is Easy; the Other, Not So Much

If geopolitical “stability” is a stated goal of most military exercises, a working description of how such stability might be measured in the NATO-Russia context is necessary. Although there is no universally accepted definition to reference, the specifics of where the exercise takes place, how many personnel are engaged, which countries participate, and how certain types of weapons are involved can be used to make at least a rough assessment of the extent to which these events might be de-stabilizing. Using military exercises to advance the forward deployment of troops, naval vessels, and aircraft has been a feature of both NATO and Russian military planning and posturing since the Crimean crisis unfolded, and it show no signs of abating.  Incorporating more advanced weaponry in maneuvers in forward areas is especially destabilizing as it alters the military status quo ante. For example, NATO used the Tobruk Legacy exercise in July 2017 to deploy the Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile system to Lithuania, the first time that such an advanced system had been positioned in the Baltic region.[51] Not surprisingly, Russia viewed that move as provocative.[52] The missiles were withdrawn after the exercise concluded, but the idea of permanently basing them in the region remains very much alive. During a state visit to the White House on April 3, 2018, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid advocated placing Patriots in her country.[53] On the other hand, since 2014, Russia has periodically moved its Iskander tactical ballistic missiles forward to Kaliningrad during exercises, prompting a warning from NATO that this presented a serious threat to the alliance and constituted a “pattern of continuing behavior to coerce [Russia’s] neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe.”[54] As it developed, these exercise deployments were, in fact, the prelude to the permanent basing of an Iskander brigade in Kaliningrad, a move that the chairman of the Russian Duma’s defense committee called “the answer to the deployment of military assets in neighboring territories.”[55] U.S. Navy vessels equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System have participated in the Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea to which, according to one U.S. Defense Department official, “the Russians are particularly sensitive.” That same official stated that the Russians must be “desensitized.”[56] For years, Russia has expressed this “sensitivity” by conducting low-level passes over NATO warships operating on the Black Sea, often dangerously close to the vessels, and by intercepting and approaching NATO maritime patrol and intelligence collection aircraft. Obviously, these incidents carry a very high risk of collision or might provoke hostilities. On April 19, 2018, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the chief of the Russian general staff held a rare face-to-face meeting to discuss “issues related to military posture and exercises … to foster predictability and transparency.”[57] Yet, despite previous such meetings, these encounters continued. Fight Where You Train? By pushing military exercise venues further forward, is NATO signaling that it is prepared to fight early in a conflict with Russia in exposed regions such as the Baltic countries? The viability of changing the NATO/U.S. imperative from “reassurance to deterrence” in that context has been extensively critiqued as problematic at best.[58] Yet, this has not forestalled the view among exercise planners and think tank analysts that it makes good sense to demonstrate at least some capability to engage the threat far forward (e.g., Saber Strike) despite the realities of military geography.[59] As I have written apropos the challenges of a high-end fight with Russia from an airpower perspective, conducting military exercises close to Russia’s heavily defended territory where NATO forces are at a serious disadvantage is a singularly bad idea: Airfields are static targets, and most of those closest to the eastern borders of NATO countries do not possess facilities hardened to withstand the inevitable attacks against them. They are also within easy range of any number of Russian offensive threats.[60] Moreover, because Russia has put in place the much-discussed anti-access/area-denial “bubbles” of sophisticated defenses around its western perimeter and extending well into NATO’s eastern flank, the alliance must confront a difficult question:[61] Is the geopolitical message that these exercises send essentially a bluff easily recognized by Russia as such and, therefore, unnecessarily provocative? Along these same lines, what is the point of conducting military exercises with non-NATO countries if the alliance is not treaty-bound to assist them in the event that they are attacked by Russia? One could argue that the increasingly tight bonds between NATO and Sweden and Finland bolster the alliance’s Baltic Sea flank and that both of those countries have capable militaries and long-standing cultural, political, and economic ties with many NATO states by virtue of their membership in the European Union.[62] To some extent, Russia facilitates this drawing together for common defense by sending mixed military-exercise messages of its own: In the Zapad 2013 exercise, Russian aircraft simulated what appeared to be an attack on military targets in Sweden, a charge denied by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. More recently, a Russian special forces operation on an island 24 miles from the Finnish coast signaled to Moscow’s neighbor that the threat is close by, a point about which the Finns hardly need to be reminded. [quote id="3"] Ukraine and Georgia present an altogether different geopolitical and strategic agenda that NATO and the United States seem determined to advance by, among other means, carrying out increasingly more complex military exercises in those countries. Certainly, the exercises and the official statements made about them also form an integral part of the messaging from NATO and its member states to Russia. NATO places a high premium on supporting these two partner states and is determined to assist them in deterring Russian aggression. The exercise messaging would suggest that the maneuvers are for training (especially interoperability), defense, and promoting stability. But is that how it is interpreted in Moscow? Do the exercises in Ukraine and Georgia suggest that NATO or the United States is prepared to fight there? Does that make any sense from a military perspective? Finally, does conducting such exercises promote regional stability? Interoperability between NATO and non-NATO members (in this case, Ukraine and Georgia) is a consistent element of messaging, appearing in the mission statement for Sea Breeze, Rapid Trident, Noble Partner, and other exercises conducted in the Black Sea region. Promoting interoperability with partner militaries such as those of Ukraine and Georgia makes a significant statement that the alliance is extending its remit and creating, de facto, an expanded military frontier into an unstable area with thick geopolitics. Simply put, why work toward greater interoperability unless the intent is to interoperate? The suggestion that these partners already operate with NATO outside the area and therefore should be able to operate by NATO standards makes sense. But when exercises are conducted in areas bordering Russia, that distinction will not be appreciated in Moscow. Among other things, such exercises involve actual combat units of participating NATO countries, bringing with them heavy and sophisticated weaponry. Sea Breeze 2017, for example, included a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, among the most powerful warships afloat. These provided an opportunity for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to visit (and be photographed on) one of the ships at port in Odesa, where he could “emphasize … that this joint training is our response to ideologists, organizers and sponsors of hybrid wars” and that the “Head of State [Poroshenko] is confident that the training will become another resolute step towards achieving stability in the region.”[63] The parties fomenting hybrid wars and instability were not named, but, from where Poroshenko stood, the air distance to the Russian naval base at Sevastopol is only about 200 miles and is easily within the Crimean anti-access/area-denial zone that the Russians have since put in place.[64] Again, citing Dmitry Gorenburg, Russia is “mak[ing] it clear that the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet and the concurrent strengthening of Russian military presence in the Black Sea region [is] a priority to counter the threat it sees emanating from NATO and its partners in the region, including Ukraine.”[65] In a similar fashion, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence noted during the opening ceremony of Noble Partner 2017 in Georgia that “The strategic partnership between the United States and Georgia is stronger now than ever, and this joint exercise is a tangible sign of our commitment to each other to make it stronger still.”[66] Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili used the occasion of the Noble Partner 2018 kickoff to denounce Moscow for its role in the 2008 conflict that resulted in the secession of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying that the participating troops “are standing on the territory of a country, 20 percent of which is absolutely occupied by our neighbor Russia.”[67] After Noble Partner began, perhaps responding to Margvelashvili’s statement (although he did not refer specifically to the exercise), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that admitting Georgia to NATO could trigger a “terrible conflict,” suggesting, at the least, that the presence of combat troops, including tanks and other armored vehicles from NATO countries, in a “frozen conflict” zone is viewed by Moscow as unacceptable and highly destabilizing.[68]

Conclusion: Is Exercise Always Good?

Despite the vast increase in the number and scope of NATO and associated exercises, in Western think tanks some still advocate “more big exercises.”[69] There is a strong contingent of exercise advocates within the U.S. national security establishment and among many allied governments.[70] Yet, as Michael O’Hanlon suggested in regard to the Korean theater, cutting back or even eliminating large-scale exercises can be offset by conducting more frequent training at the tactical level, using “state-of-the-art simulations,” or by conducting exercises outside the immediate vicinity, including in the United States.[71] The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag exercises in Nevada and Alaska, which usually include units from other countries, are a good example of the latter. Although the lower visibility involved in small-scale exercises or those remote from geopolitically fraught regions reduces the demonstration effect in deterring an aggressor, they are also much less de-stabilizing, precisely because they lack the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding highly publicized exercises such as Zapad 2017 and Trident Juncture 2018. Military exercises in Europe since early 2014 have frequently involved bringing troops, naval vessels, and aircraft from opposing sides within increasingly closer proximity to one another, and have introduced newer and more capable weaponry as part of the fielded forces. The official messaging behind these maneuvers usually makes reference to the need to train in real-world conditions and ensure that units from different militaries can operate efficiently with one another. Moreover, the defensive nature of the exercise is stressed, often with the claim that greater capability will promote geopolitical stability and deter aggression. But by incorporating non-member militaries in its exercises and other missions, NATO has ratcheted up the operational tempo of its forces in areas that Russia views as buffer zones and that are too close for its strategic comfort. Not surprisingly, Russia responds in kind and raises anxiety levels among NATO members and key non-NATO partners and, in some cases, increases the likelihood of inadvertent actions that could escalate into hostilities. Explaining the Russian rationale behind the huge Vostok 2018 exercise and other Russian maneuvers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly toward us, is absolutely justified and has no alternative.”[72] Not surprisingly, U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Foggo, who commanded NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018, said that the rationale from his perspective is much the same: “NATO is a defensive Alliance. We’re not looking for a fight, but we are committed to defense and deterrence. That’s what this exercise is all about: training to defend, and providing a deterrent effect, ready to respond to any threat from any direction at any time.”[73] Certainly, both NATO and Russia have legitimate interests in maintaining readiness, exercising command and control of complex military operations, and assuring both their citizens and allies that they are capable of defending against external aggression. But the danger here is that the two sides are caught in an increasingly complex and dynamic upward spiral of military brinkmanship that will be difficult to manage if present trends continue. If there is a way out of this dangerous course of events it might lie within the framework of the Vienna Document 2011, the latest version of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreement to which the United States, other NATO countries, and Russia (among others) are signatories. The document is “composed of politically binding confidence and security-building measures designed to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted inside the OSCE's zone of application,”[74] which is essentially all of Europe (including Russia as far east as the Ural Mountains). It requires all participating states to notify other parties of military events above a certain threshold and to invite observers to these events. The central problem here, as articulated by Olivier Schmitt, is that the heightened level of geopolitical tension in Europe effectively precludes the necessary updates and modifications to the OSCE document that would make it a more effective instrument for containing, among other things, the unbridled growth of military exercises.[75] In Europe, a region with very thick geopolitics, the messaging incorporated into both NATO and Russian military exercises “risk[s] inducing a self-righteous bubble of understanding that is too far removed from the ground-level actualities in [the] post-Soviet space.”[76] NATO, in response to the entreaties of its eastern allied states and even non-member states, and at times because of ill-advised moves by Russia, has leveraged itself into territory that it would be hard-pressed to defend against a large, conventional Russian attack. Using their military exercises to message their interest in bolstering defenses in this inherently unstable geopolitical zone is a risky proposition, at best, for both NATO and Russia.   Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Gerard Toal for reading an earlier version of this paper, and Ryan Evans and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on the draft. Megan Oprea and Autumn Brewington provided much-needed editorial advice. Any shortcomings remaining are solely the author’s responsibility.   Ralph Clem is emeritus professor of geography and senior fellow at the Steven J. Green School of Public and International Affairs at Florida International University. He also served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, retiring as a major general.   Image: North Carolina National Guard [post_title] => Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => military-exercises-as-geopolitical-messaging-in-the-nato-russia-dynamic-reassurance-deterrence-and-instability [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-14 08:51:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-14 13:51:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=763 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Military exercises are often viewed as geopolitical tools used to boost stability and enhance deterrence. However, they can sometimes have the exact opposite effect: increasing instability and contributing to dangerous levels of escalation. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of NATO and Russia. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Once it has been decided that exercises are to take place, geopolitical messaging is conveyed in several ways in their actual execution. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => [S]ince the annexation of Crimea, the schedule of military training events involving NATO and its member states, as well as non-NATO partners, has become increasingly ambitious. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [W]hat is the point of conducting military exercises with non-NATO countries if the alliance is not treaty-bound to assist them in the event that they are attacked by Russia? ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 223 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] This decision seemed to catch the Pentagon and Seoul off guard. See: Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, “Trump’s Promises to Kim Jong-un Leave U.S. and Allies Scrambling,” New York Times, June 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/15/world/asia/us-trump-north-korea-credible-military-exercises.html. [2] For an excellent overview, see: Beatrice Heuser, “Reflections on the Purposes, Benefits and Pitfalls of Military Exercises,” in Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, ed. Beatrice Heuser, Tormod Heier, and Guillaume Lasconjarias (Rome: NATO Defense College Forum Paper 26, February 2018), 9–25. [3] This paper concerns only major scheduled military exercises. Most militaries also conduct tactical training exercises and “snap” or “operational readiness” inspections, but these are difficult to enumerate and even more difficult to analyze. In the case of Russia, for example, see: Alexander Golts, “Rehearsals for War,” European Council on Foreign Relations, July 5, 2016,  https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_rehearsals_for_war. [4] David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson, “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics,” RAND Corp., 2016, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html. For a broader discussion of war gaming, see: Jeffrey Appleget, Jeffrey Kline, and James J. Wirtz, “Do Wargames Impact Deterrence?” in Heuser, Heier, and Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 27–44. As war games relate to escalation dynamics, see: Jacquelyn G. Schneider, “What War Games Tell Us About the Use of Cyber Weapons in a Crisis,” Defense One, June 22, 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/06/what-war-games-tell-us-about-use-cyber-weapons-crisis/149206/. [5] Michael Kofman, “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO’s Crushing Defeat by Russia,” War on the Rocks, May 12, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/05/fixing-nato-deterrence-in-the-east-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-natos-crushing-defeat-by-russia/. [6] Gerard Toal, Near Abroad: Putin, the West, and the Contest Over Ukraine and the Caucasus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). [7] As this involves Norway’s decision to push its defense perimeter farther north, see: Tormod Heier, “Towards a New Robust Defence? Norway’s Exercises on NATO’s Northern Flank, 2008–2017,” in Heuser, Heier, and Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 163–85. [8] Mark Galeotti, “Heavy Metal Diplomacy: Russia’s Political Use of Its Military in Europe Since 2014,” European Council on Foreign Relations Policy Brief, Dec. 19, 2016, https://www.ecfr.eu/page/-/Heavy_Metal_Diplomacy_Final_2.pdf. [9] Roland Bleiker, “Mapping Visual Global Politics,” in Visual Global Politics, ed. Roland Bleiker (New York: Routledge, 2018), 1. [10] Joint exercises involve two or more service components (air, ground, or naval), and combined exercises involve forces from two or more countries. Herb Lin, “The U.S. and South Korea Should Conditionally End Large Joint Military Exercises,” Lawfare, Aug. 30, 2017, https://lawfareblog.com/us-and-south-korea-should-conditionally-end-large-joint-military-exercises; Helene Cooper and Choe Sang-Hun, “U.S. and South Korea to Resume Joint Military Exercises,” New York Times, March 19, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/us/politics/us-south-korea-joint-military-exercises.html. [12] Emphasis added in excerpt from “U.S., South Korea Launch Annual Foal Eagle Exercise,” Department of Defense News, March 3, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1102331/us-south-korea-launch-annual-foal-eagle-exercise/. [13] Robert Collins, “A Brief History of the US-ROK Combined Military Exercises,” 38 North, Feb. 26, 2014, https://www.38north.org/2014/02/rcollins022714/. [14] Michael R. Gordon and Declan Walsh, “General Says U.S. Wants to Resume Major Military Exercise With Egypt,” New York Times, Feb. 26, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/26/world/middleeast/trump-al-sisi-egypt-military-exercise.html. [15] “U.S., Egypt Kick Off Exercise Bright Star 2017,” U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs, Sept. 13, 2017, http://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/1308877/us-egypt-kick-off-exercise-bright-star-2017/. [16] Adarsha Verma, “The Malabar Exercises: An Appraisal,” Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, July 18, 2017, https://idsa.in/idsacomments/the-malabar-exercises_averma_180717. [17] Prashanth Parameswaran, “What Does a Bigger 2018 Balikatan Military Exercise Say About US-Philippines Alliance Under Duterte?” Diplomat, May 8, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/what-does-a-bigger-2018-balikatan-military-exercise-say-about-us-philippines-alliance-under-duterte/. [18] Megan Eckstein, “China Disinvited from Participating in 2018 RIMPAC Exercise,” USNI News, May 23, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2018/05/23/china-disinvited-participating-2018-rimpac-exercise. [19] Tom O’Connor, “Russia and China Will Hold War Games in Asia, Checking U.S. Military Power in Pacific,” Newsweek, April 26, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/russia-china-hold-war-games-asia-taking-us-military-power-pacfic-903251. [20] Michael J. Mazarr and Michael Kofman, “Rediscovering Statecraft in a Changing Post-War Order,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 3 (May 2018), http://hdl.handle.net/2152/65634. [21] Ralph S. Clem, “Clearing the Fog of War: Public Versus Official Sources and Geopolitical Storylines in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict,” Eurasian Geography and Economics 58, no. 6 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/15387216.2018.1424006. [22] There is a vast literature on this subject. For an overview, see: Andrew Monaghan, “The Ukraine Crisis and NATO-Russia Relations,” NATO Review (2014), https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2014/russia-ukraine-nato-crisis/Ukraine-crisis-NATO-Russia-relations/EN/index.htm; Kimberly Marten, “Reconsidering NATO Expansion: A Counterfactual Analysis of Russia and the West in the 1990s,” European Journal of International Security 3, no. 2 (June 2018), https://doi.org/10.1017/eis.2017.16; Michael McFaul, “Russia As It Is: A Grand Strategy for Confronting Putin,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 4 (July/August 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2018-06-14/russia-it. [23] The Baltic Air Policing mission involves heel-to-toe rotations of fighter aircraft to bases in Lithuania and Estonia. See: “NATO Air Policing,” Allied Air Command, accessed Oct. 30, 2018, https://ac.nato.int/page5931922/-nato-air-policing. [24] “Boosting NATO’s presence in the east and southeast,” NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), Aug. 14, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_136388.htm. [25] Samuel Charap, “Russia’s Use of Military Force as a Foreign Policy Tool: Is There a Logic?” PONARS Policy Memo 443, October 2016, http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/russias-use-military-force-foreign-policy-tool-there-logic. [26] Fredrik Westerlund, “Russia’s Military Strategy and Force Structure in Kaliningrad,” Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), FOI Memo 6060, May 2017, https://www.foi.se/download/18.bc6b81b15be852194d71d/1494413062692/RUFS Briefing No 40 Kaliningrad by Fredrik Westerlund.pdf. [27] Dmitry Gorenburg, “Is a New Russian Black Sea Fleet Coming? Or Is It Here?” War on the Rocks, July 31, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/07/is-a-new-russian-black-sea-fleet-coming-or-is-it-here/. [28] Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, November 2014, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Dangerous-Brinkmanship.pdf. [29] Keir Giles, “Russia Hit Multiple Targets With Zapad-2017,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Jan. 25, 2018, http://carnegieendowment.org/2018/01/25/russia-hit-multiple-targets-with-zapad-2017-pub-75278. [30] Emphasis added to this undated Russian Ministry of Defense press release on the Zapad 2017 Joint Strategic Exercisehttp://eng.mil.ru/en/mission/practice/more.htm?id=12140115@egNews. [31] Andrew Higgins, “Russia’s War Games with Fake Enemies Cause Real Alarm,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/world/europe/russia-baltics-belarus.html. [32] Ian J. Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis, “The NATO-Russia Exercise Gap,” Atlantic Council’s NATOSource, Feb. 23, 2015, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/the-nato-russia-exercise-gap. [33] Michael Kofman questions the manner in which the much larger numbers were generated, but the publicity from the Russian Ministry of Defense stresses the record size. See his article “Assessing Vostok-2018,” Changing Character of War Centre, Russia Brief no. 3, September 2018, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55faab67e4b0914105347194/t/5bae3876ec212d07ae601d68/1538144376047/Russia+Brief+3.pdf. [34] Dmitry Gorenburg, “5 Things to Know About Russia’s Vostok-2018 Military Exercises,” Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog, Sept. 13, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/09/13/5-things-to-know-about-russias-vostok-2018-military-exercises/. [35] NATO sponsors a set of exercises annually, and some of its member states or groupings of members do likewise. For an in-depth look at a NATO exercise and a Russian exercise, see: Thomas Frear, Ian Kearns, and Łukasz Kulesa, “Preparing for the Worst: Are Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe More Likely?” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, August 2015, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Preparing-for-the-Worst.pdf. [36] Ralph S. Clem, “NATO’s Expanding Military Exercises Are Sending Risky Mixed Messages,” War on the Rocks, Oct. 10, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/10/natos-expanding-military-exercises-are-sending-risky-mixed-messages/. [37] Ian Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis, “The NATO-Russia Exercise Gap: Then, Now, and 2017,” Atlantic Council’s NATOSource, Oct. 25, 2016, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/the-nato-russia-exercise-gap-then-now-2017. [38] NATO, “Wales Summit Declaration,” news release (2014) 120, Sept. 5, 2014, https://www.nato.int/cps/ic/natohq/official_texts_112964.htm - top. [39] NATO, “Warsaw Summit Communiqué,” news release (2016) 100, July 9, 2016, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_133169.htm. [40] Emphasis added to official alliance statement on the Brussels summit. See: NATO, “Brussels Summit Declaration,” news release (2018) 74, July 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm. [41] “During Saber Strike, Baltic Countries Train with U.S., U.K., Canada,” Army News Service, June 13, 2012, https://www.army.mil/article/81683/during_saber_strike_baltic_countries_train_with_us_uk_canada. [42] Undated U.S. Army (Europe) webpage on “Saber Strike 2018” exercise, http://www.eur.army.mil/SaberStrike/. [43] “The Anaconda-16 Exercises Begin,” Polish Ministry of National Defence, June 7, 2016, http://en.mon.gov.pl/news/article/important/the-anaconda-16-exercises-begin-n2016-06-07/. [44] Azita Raji, “The Perils of Playing Footsie in Military Boots: Trident Juncture and NATO’s Nordic Front,” War on the Rocks, Aug. 20, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/the-perils-of-playing-footsie-in-military-boots-trident-juncture-and-natos-nordic-front/. See also: Heier, “Towards a New Robust Defence?” [45] Ralph Clem, “Today, NATO Begins a Huge Military Exercise. Here’s What You Need to Know,” Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog, October 25, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/10/25/today-nato-begins-a-huge-military-exercise-heres-what-you-need-to-know/?utm_term=.aa2fb879a091 [46] Richard Milne, “Sweden Gears Up for Biggest Military Exercise in Decades,” Financial Times, Sept. 7, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/11e9a55c-93b3-11e7-a9e6-11d2f0ebb7f0; Brad Lendon and Zachary Cohen, “U.S. Air Force to Send F-15 Jets to Finland,” CNN.com, Feb. 15, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/15/politics/u-s-f-15-finland-training-exercise/index.html. [47] Finnish Defence Forces, “Trident Juncture 2018 to Be Organized in October-November in Norway, Sweden and Finland,” news release, April 27, 2018, https://puolustusvoimat.fi/en/article/-/asset_publisher/trident-juncture-2018-harjoitus-jarjestetaan-loka-marraskuussa-norjassa-ruotsissa-ja-suomessa; Undated Swedish Armed Forces webpage on “Trident Juncture 2018,” https://www.forsvarsmakten.se/en/activities/exercises/trident-juncture-18/. [48] Sweden brought back military conscription in 2017 and is set to make major increases in its defense spending that will add significant troop strength, aircraft, and enhanced cyber capabilities. See: Gerard O’Dwyer, “New Swedish Government Advocates for Greater Defense Spending,” Defense News, Sept. 12, 2018. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2018/09/12/new-swedish-government-advocates-for-greater-defense-spending/. Finland, which already has compulsory service, likewise plans to increase its defense spending and add manpower. See: “Finland to Increase Troop Levels, Defence Spending Amid Heightened Tensions,” Reuters, Feb. 16, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-finland-government-military/finland-to-increase-troop-levels-defence-spending-amid-heightened-tensions-idUKKBN15V25C. [49] “NATO Response Force,” NATO website, Jan. 16, 2017, https://www.nato.int/cps/ua/natohq/topics_49755.htm. [50] Denmark has the highest casualty rate of any NATO member state. [51] “U.S. Deploys Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles in Baltics for First Time,” Reuters, July 10, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-baltics-patriot/u-s-deploys-advanced-anti-aircraft-missiles-in-baltics-for-first-time-idUSKBN19V28A. [52] “US Moves Patriot Missiles near Russian Border in 1st Baltic Deployment,” RT, July 11, 2017, https://www.rt.com/news/396028-us-patriot-missiles-baltics/. [53] “Estonia Calls for Deployment of US Troops, Patriot Missiles,” Euractiv, April 5, 2018, https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/news/estonia-calls-for-deployment-of-us-troops-patriot-missiles/. [54] Vladimir Isachenkov, “Russia Is Putting State-of-the-Art Missile in Its Westernmost Baltic Exclave,” Business Insider, March 18, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-placing-state-of-the-art-missiles-in-kaliningrad-2015-3. [55] Richard Milne and Kathrin Hille, “Baltic Concern Rises at Russian Missiles in Kaliningrad,” Financial Times, Feb. 5, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/ef93af1e-0a8d-11e8-8eb7-42f857ea9f09. [56] Victoria Leoni, “Navy Sends Destroyers to Black Sea to ‘Desensitize’ Russia,” Navy Times, Feb. 20, 2018, https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2018/02/20/navy-sends-destroyers-to-black-sea-to-desensitize-russia/. [57] “NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Meets with Russian Chief of General Staff,” Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe Public Affairs Office, April 19, 2018, https://shape.nato.int/news-archive/2018/nato-supreme-allied-commander-europe--general-scaparrotti-meets-with-russian-chief-of-general-staff--general-gerasimov. [58] Kofman, “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East”; Ulrich Kühn, Preventing Escalation in the Baltics: A NATO Playbook (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2018), https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/03/28/preventing-escalation-in-baltics-nato-playbook-pub-75878. [59] Clem, “NATO’s Expanding Military Exercises Are Sending Risky Mixed Messages.” [60] Ralph S. Clem, “Forward Basing NATO Airpower in the Baltics Is a Bad Idea,” War on the Rocks, April 18, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/04/forward-basing-nato-airpower-in-the-baltics-is-a-bad-idea/; Ralph S. Clem, “Geopolitics and Planning for a High-End Fight: NATO and the Baltic Region,” Air and Space Power Journal 30, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 74–85, https://www.airuniversity.af.mil/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-30_Issue-1/V-Clem.pdf. For a contrary view, see: Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis, “Time for the Baltic Air Policing Mission to Become the Baltic Air Defense Mission,” Heritage Foundation, Oct. 2, 2017, https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/time-the-baltic-air-policing-mission-become-the-baltic-air-defense-mission. [61] Luis Simon, “Demystifying the A2/AD Buzz,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 4, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/demystifying-the-a2ad-buzz/. [62] Coffey and Kochis, “Time for the Baltic Air Policing Mission to Become the Baltic Air Defense Mission.” [63] Petro Poroshenko, “President on Sea Breeze 2017 Training,” July 17, 2017, https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/prezident-pro-navchannya-sea-breeze-2017-ce-nasha-vidpovid-i-42442. [64] Loic Burton, “Bubble Trouble: Russia’s A2/AD Capabilities,” Foreign Policy Association, Oct. 25, 2016, https://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2016/10/25/bubble-trouble-russia-a2-ad/. [65] Gorenburg, “Is a New Russian Black Sea Fleet Coming? Or Is It Here?” [66] Author’s emphasis added to the statement. “Remarks by the Vice President to Noble Partner Participants,” U.S. Embassy in Georgia, Aug. 1, 2017, https://ge.usembassy.gov/remarks-vp-noble-partner-participants/. [67] “Georgia Slams Russia ‘Occupation’ Ahead of NATO War Games,” DW.com, Aug. 1, 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/georgia-slams-russia-occupation-ahead-of-nato-war-games/a-44916562. [68] Andrew Osborn, “Russian PM Warns NATO Admission of Georgia Could Trigger ‘Terrible Conflict,’” Reuters, Aug. 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-nato-georgia/russian-pm-warns-nato-admission-of-georgia-could-trigger-terrible-conflict-idUSKBN1KR1UQ. [69] Elisabeth Braw, “NATO Needs More Big Exercises, Too,” Defense One, June 14, 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/06/nato-needs-more-big-exercises-too/148980/. [70] Lara Seligman, “Experts Question Wisdom of Canceling U.S. Exercises with South Korea, as Mattis Makes It Official,” Foreign Policy, June 26, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/26/experts-question-wisdom-of-canceling-u-s-exercises-with-south-korea-as-mattis-makes-it-official/. [71] Michael E. O’Hanlon, “It’s Finally Time to Deal With North Korea,” New York Times, July 5, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/opinion/north-korea-military-sanctions.html. [72] Andrew Higgins, “300,000 Troops and 900 Tanks: Russia’s Biggest Military Drills Since Cold War,” New York Times, Aug, 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/world/europe/russia-military-drills.html. Jack Watling correctly points out that the exercise also serves a domestic political purpose: highlighting Russia’s growing military might as a distraction from the country’s social and economic problems. “Russia’s Vostok-2018 Exercise Is About a Lot More Than War With NATO,” RUSI Commentary, Sept. 7, 2018, https://rusi.org/commentary/russia’s-vostok-2018-exercise-about-lot-more-war-nato. [73] NATO, “Exercise Trident Juncture 18 to Demonstrate NATO’s ability to Defend Itself,” news release, June 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_155866.htm. [74] State Department, “Overview of Vienna Document 2011,”   https://www.state.gov/t/avc/cca/c43837.htm. [75] Olivier Schmitt, “The Vienna Document and the Russian Challenge to the European Security Architecture,” in Heuser, Heier, Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 269–84. [76] Toal, Near Abroad, 298. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 728 [post_author] => 209 [post_date] => 2018-09-25 04:00:44 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-25 08:00:44 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: Trump and NATO — Disruption or Distraction?

By James Goldgeier U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive disdain for America’s NATO allies has left many wondering whether the U.S. commitment to the alliance, and particularly its Article V collective security provision, has weakened since he took office. He is not the first president to complain about insufficient asturopean defense spending, but he is the first to tie the defense spending levels of allies to a willingness to defend them if they are attacked. Strangely, he also appears to believe that allies pay the United States directly, as if NATO collected membership dues rather than members contributing to their own national defense as part of their alliance obligations. As Thomas Wright has observed, Trump’s belief that allies have taken advantage of American largesse to get rich while Uncle Sam pays to defend them is one of his most deeply held views.[1] Meanwhile, Trump has gone out of his way to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin, who authorized the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, resulting in the imposition of sanctions on Russia by the West and an increase in activities to bolster NATO’s eastern members. At the same time as Trump derides America’s allies, NATO continues to enjoy strong support in the United States from members of Congress, with the Senate reaffirming its support for the alliance through a non-binding resolution that passed 97-2 on the eve of Trump’s departure for Europe in July. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison have issued strong public statements backing NATO. The United States has continued to support efforts to reassure NATO’s eastern members in the face of Russian aggression by deploying troops as part of the European Deterrence Initiative and joining military exercises. And despite Trump’s disruptive public statements before and during the July 2018 NATO summit in Brussels, the communiqué issued by the heads of state and government was quite strong and comprehensive.[2] So, is Trump destroying NATO or is he merely a distraction as the alliance hums along? The Texas National Security Review has put together an outstanding group of European experts to consider NATO’s future from the Continent’s perspective. Dr. Ulrike Franke of the European Council on Foreign Relations possesses deep expertise on European defense and security, particularly in the area of new technologies and the future of warfare. Ambassador Imants Liegis is a career diplomat who has served previously as Latvia’s ambassador to NATO and as minister of defense. Professor Sten Rynning, of the University of Southern Denmark, has written widely on NATO operations and organization. Franke is rightly concerned that NATO is getting caught up in partisan U.S. domestic politics as views among conservative and liberal voters regarding support for NATO are beginning to diverge, and the alliance “could become a casualty of partisan fighting.” She also notes quite pointedly that “Europeans are starting to perceive the United States as just another geopolitical player,” no longer seen as defender of the West. Franke lays out the European initiatives being undertaken in response — it will be important to watch in the coming years how serious these efforts become. The United States reluctantly entered the European security space a century ago. It decided, after two world wars, to stay militarily engaged on the continent and reaffirmed its commitment after the Cold War ended. But now America has a president who talks about leaving Europe. It is completely reasonable for Europeans to try to pursue their own defense strategy, but how realistic that goal is will depend, in part, on their ability to overcome the diverse opinions and ambitions that exist among E.U. members, particularly as concerns Russia, as Franke notes. Liegis argues that this summer’s Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki was “not as bad as it could have been” for the Baltic nations, a sentiment shared by the other two authors regarding NATO more generally. After all, many observers were concerned prior to Trump’s visits to Brussels and Helsinki that he might do what he did after his Singapore meeting with Kim Jong Un and propose the cancelation of military exercises in Europe as he did regarding U.S. joint exercises with South Korea. “It was no mean feat that NATO emerged from the [Brussels] summit well intact,” writes Liegis. Liegis’ contribution makes two other important points. First, that European defense and security initiatives outside of NATO benefit rather than weaken the alliance. The United States has gone back and forth over the past two decades with respect to its attitudes toward Europe’s own foreign and defense policy. Liegis is right: Washington should welcome anything the Europeans can do to enhance their defense capacity. The second point is in reference to Canadian troops deployed in Latvia, offering a helpful reminder that transatlantic relations are not solely about the United States and Europe. If Liegis is arguing that NATO is basically moving along as before and has even strengthened despite Trump, Rynning is much more pessimistic. He argues that we are witnessing a fundamental change in the international order and, if that is the case, asks whether the alliance is prepared for it. For Rynning, Trump’s major disruption is bringing Germany back in as a major power, and he fears that differences could soon emerge between Western and Eastern Europe. He argues that the European powers are eager to retain the status quo and therefore have accommodated U.S. interests, because their primary interest is in continuing to see NATO play its longtime role in containing German power. If the United States leaves, writes Rynning, the Eastern European question will reemerge, and he believes a NATO without the United States cannot protect the Baltics. Questions abound regarding Trump’s personal imprint on American foreign policy. This excellent trio of authors helps guide us through the key issues when it comes to his self-professed desire to disrupt U.S.-European relations. James Goldgeier is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a professor at American University’s School of International Service, and the 2018–19 Library of Congress Chair in U.S.-Russia Relations at the John W. Kluge Center.  

2. Now What? Lessons for Europe from the NATO Summit

By Ulrike Franke It is time for Europe to start considering a future in which the transatlantic relationship is no longer the bedrock of European security and the guide for European international policy. Such is the realization in many European capitals these days. “The Atlantic has widened politically,” writes Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a recent op-ed published simultaneously in German and English, in which he explains that he is “making plans for a new world order.”[3] The NATO summit in July in Brussels served as a reminder that this new world order is quickly becoming a reality, despite assurances from some to the contrary. I was in Brussels during the summit, participating in the outreach conference, “NATO Engages.” One of the most striking moments of the conference was during the panel on U.S.-NATO relations — the number one topic of this summit. Two U.S. senators, Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), spent an hour reassuring the audience that there was “broad public support for NATO in the United States’ public and in the U.S. Congress.” They pointed to the motion that the Senate had passed with an overwhelming majority the day before, reaffirming the ironclad American commitment under NATO’s Article 5.[4] However, they had trouble convincing the skeptical audience, and, some 45 minutes into the debate, the feel-good session was disrupted by the news that President Donald Trump was allegedly threatening to withdraw the United States from NATO if allies did not agree to increase their defense spending.[5] In the moment, one could not help being carried away by the commotion. But, in the end, Trump’s tantrum did not have any substantial impact on the summit’s outcome. Several commentators considered the 23-page summit communiqué that was signed to be one of the more substantial declarations in recent years, including a new Iraq mission and an invitation to Macedonia to join the alliance.[6] While Trump claimed victory as Europeans agreed to increase their defense spending, the reality is that this has been the trend for several years, predating the current U.S. president’s term. It seems likely that any other American president would have gone home with exactly the same results. It is tempting to take solace in the fact that NATO continues with business as usual, but Europe must not fall into the trap of complacency. And there are signs indicating that Europe is indeed beginning to come to terms with the new international realities. America as a “Normal” Geopolitical Actor Although polling suggests that NATO remains popular in the United States,[7] such opinions could change if the president continues to tell his voters that NATO is robbing the United States. Contrary to the bipartisan elite consensus presented by Shaheen and Tillis, there are significant differences in opinion between conservative and liberal voters when it comes to NATO. In the United States, support for the alliance is turning into a topic of partisan politics, and could become a casualty of partisan fighting. More importantly, Europe and the United States are gradually drifting apart.[8] By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, and unilaterally imposing tariffs, Trump has called into question Europeans’ formerly unshakeable faith in diplomacy as a way to resolve disagreements. Rather than basing America’s commitment to NATO on shared values and interests, Trump views it in a transactional way. The longer he remains president, the more alien to Europe the United States becomes as a country. But these changes extend beyond Trump. As Maas writes, “I am skeptical when some ardent trans-Atlanticist simply advises us to sit this presidency out.” In other words, for Europe, the United States is becoming normalized. Rather than being seen as special, with global or, at a minimum, Western interests in mind, Europeans are starting to perceive the United States as just another geopolitical player. This shift can be seen most strikingly in the results of a recent study done by the European Council on Foreign Relations (where I am a fellow), based on work by researchers in all 28 E.U. member states.[9] According to this study, five E.U. countries have begun to see the United States as “somehow a threat” or even “a moderate threat.” Asked about how the United States was viewed ten years ago, there was agreement among the researchers that no E.U. country would have considered the United States as a threat at that time. Even more concerning, when asked about how U.S.-E.U. relations might develop over the next ten years, the number of countries expected to consider the United States as some kind of a threat in the future rose to eight. These results indicate that this deterioration in relations is expected to continue beyond Trump’s presidency. Europe Responds It will be up to Europe to build up its own capabilities and get ready to face the threats Europeans are most concerned about, rather than relying primarily on the United States. Europe needs to face the fact that NATO is unbalanced and will not be able to continue indefinitely in its current form. Acknowledging this fact is not about placing blame on particular countries — there is a historical reason for these imbalances. But if NATO members want to preserve the alliance, they need to prepare it for the future, both with regard to the alliance’s capabilities as well as with regard to burden-sharing. Unfortunately, it is this strategic debate that has become a casualty of Trump’s tantrums, as everyone at NATO is distracted defending the alliance from Trump’s ad hominem attacks. While Europe has already been looking into strengthening common European capabilities — like increasing defense budgets — the Trump presidency, in combination with concerns over Russia and Brexit, has given European, and particularly E.U., initiatives a new impetus. The Permanent Structured Cooperation, known as PESCO, was signed in November 2017, and today encompasses a range of projects, from a European Medical Command and sharing platforms for cyber attacks, to the development of a European Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle.[10] French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for a European Intervention Initiative aims at slowly creating a shared European strategic culture, an approach driven by the wish to create European “strategic autonomy.”[11] Even before Trump’s election, the concept was prominent in the 2016 European Global Strategy,[12] but Trump has given the idea a new boost as well as a new sense of urgency. None of these initiatives are contradictory to NATO, but they suggest that it might be in these fora where the forward-looking projects will be pursued, rather than in NATO which is bogged down in a fight to justify its existence toward the United States. Although the mechanisms for strengthening European capabilities are still taking shape, there is widespread agreement throughout the European Union that security threats are on the rise: Respondents in the abovementioned study judged that the threats their countries faced intensified between 2008 and 2018, and will intensify further in the next decade.[13] The most important threats that Europe needs to prepare for are, in descending order, cyber-attacks, state collapse or civil war in Europe’s neighborhood, external meddling in domestic politics, uncontrolled migration into the country; and the deterioration of the international institutional order.[14] Respondents expect the order of importance of these threats to remain largely the same over the next ten years (with terrorist attacks joining the deterioration of the international order in fifth place), and each threat to grow more intense. With regard to the international actors Europeans perceive to be most threatening, jihadists top the list, with Russia and international criminal groups sharing second place, and North Korea coming in third. Some of these threats are easier for Europe to take on than others. While increasing and better cooperation with regard to cyber threats should be an achievable goal, Russia is the elephant in the European room. Indeed, it was the shared view among the experts present at the NATO summit in Brussels that the summit would only be truly over, and Europe’s NATO members able to breathe freely again, once the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki was finished — and did not end with Trump handing Putin Crimea, or promising NATO or U.S. troop withdrawals. In this regard, the Helsinki summit turned out better than feared. While the bizarre Trump-Putin press conference caused major debate in the United States, in Europe, the view was generally that it could have gone worse.[15] Nevertheless, the strangely close relationship between the American and Russian presidents is particularly worrisome for Europe, as Russia remains a topic of contention within the European Union. Although there is broad agreement among E.U. member states on most threats and actors, it is on Russia that the most problematic divisions exist.[16] Seven countries — Estonia, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom — regard Russia as the most important threat to their security, and six others consider it a significant threat. However, five predominantly southern countries — Greece, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, and Cyprus — view Russia as no threat at all. The only way that the European Union can deal with these differences in opinion is by focusing on the areas of vulnerability rather than on the potential perpetrator of a given attack — for example, strengthening all E.U. member states against external meddling or cyber attacks in general. Nevertheless, the European Union is walking a tightrope with regard to its Russia policy. And an American president who is so unpredictable in his policy toward Russia, and who actively seeks to divide the European Union, introduces significant instability into the situation. It is in this context that Trump’s attacks against Germany’s policy on gas imports from Russia at the NATO summit are so problematic. While the Nord Stream II pipeline, over which Trump attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel, is highly controversial throughout Europe and even within the German political establishment, Germany has been one of the most important advocates of Russian sanctions. Furthermore, accusing Germany of being too close to Russia, while simultaneously nourishing a highly unusual relationship with the Russian president appears dishonest. Europe has to bring its own house in order if it wants to guarantee its security and keep NATO as the backbone of European defense. And it needs to prepare for a future in which that might no longer be possible. Ulrike Franke is a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) where she focuses on European defense and security.  

3. It Is Premature to Announce the Demise of NATO

By Imants Liegis Despite the brouhaha surrounding this summer’s NATO summit in Brussels and subsequent Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki, the game is far from over for NATO. Given the inextricable link between the NATO summit and the Helsinki meeting, it is worth reflecting on the outcome of both. Helsinki: Better than Bad In Moscow, France may have won the World Cup, but President Vladimir Putin was victorious in terms of public relations: He held a tête-à-tête with President Donald Trump the day after the final. Passing the ball firmly into the hands and court of the U.S. president, both physically and metaphorically, allowed Putin to return from Helsinki well-pleased. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented about the Trump-Putin meeting, “Better than super.”[17] Lavrov’s spin and Putin’s smiles, however, should not detract from the fact that, on substance, Russia may have come away from Helsinki with very little. For his part, arriving back in Washington, Trump had to deal with his “own goal” about Russian interference in U.S. elections, by explaining his slips of the tongue.[18] But for the Baltics, including my home country of Latvia, the result of the Trump-Putin encounter was better than bad, or at least not as bad as it could have been. And there are no reasons for concluding that the Putin-Trump meeting was necessarily bad for NATO either. Although it will remain difficult to obtain a precise readout of the one-on-one discussion held by the two presidents in Helsinki, there appear to have been no surprise decisions, such as those taken by Trump at his meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un relating to the cancellation of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.[19] Excessive damage to the alliance seems to have been averted and the briefing at NATO immediately after the Helsinki meeting by the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman, helped to alleviate concerns. NATO’s approach to Russia has been based on a two-track policy of engaging in dialogue with Russia while simultaneously strengthening the defense and deterrence posture of the alliance. Trump’s meeting in Helsinki was entirely consistent with this approach. After all, a few days earlier he signed up to the declaration adopted by heads of state and government at the NATO Summit. The declaration reaffirmed the strong condemnation of Russia’s destructive behavior during the last few years with updated references to this year’s attack in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent. NATO: Better on Substance than Style Looking more broadly at the results of the Brussels summit, Latvia came away with a sense of relief and satisfaction. For all the drama, it was a good summit on substance. Unity of the alliance was retained. Regional security was further bolstered. And relations with Russia still depend on a positive change of behavior by Latvia’s neighbor. Given the disruption that has been witnessed to the international order over the last few years, it was no mean feat that NATO emerged from the summit well-intact. Various nightmare scenarios were prevalent in the lead-up to the summit.[20] These were partially based on events surrounding the G7 meeting in Canada, after which Trump decided to annul the declaration signed by him and the other G7 leaders.[21] According to the analysis in France’s leading daily newspaper, Le Monde, the prospect of a U.S. exit from NATO at the Brussels summit remained at the level of a threat. It was perceived more as a lever Trump was using to obtain an increase in allies’ defense expenditure.[22] Thus, it was a positive outcome that NATO was able to retain unity, overcome differences of opinion, and emphasize, yet again, basic principles of the alliance. Defense and deterrence issues were highlighted in the final agreed text, along with the core principle of collective defense.[23] The NATO summit also witnessed further strengthening of regional security on the eastern flank, specifically the Baltics and Poland, without losing sight of broader challenges faced by NATO in southern Europe. It should be recalled that NATO’s refocus on territorial defense was prompted, in particular, by Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent and ongoing military intervention in eastern Ukraine. As a result, NATO decided, at meetings in Wales (2014) and Warsaw (2016), to re-assure countries on the eastern flank by establishing an “Enhanced Forward Presence” of four battalions from numerous allied partner-countries in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This has been a commensurate and measured reaction to Russia’s aggression during the past few years, aggression which has encompassed speed of military action, rapid decision-making, unpredictability, and an increasing array of threats posed by hybrid war elements. On the latter point, it is important to note that the “Summit Declaration” once again links hybrid warfare to a possible invocation of Article Five of the Washington Treaty and even mentions disinformation as being a distinct part of hybrid actions. What’s New? So what else was new at the Brussels summit? First, decisions were taken to improve NATO’s readiness and ability to act. Latvia’s offer to set up a Multinational Divisional Headquarters at its military base some 20 kilometers from the capital Rīga, was accepted. These headquarters will improve NATO’s capabilities in defense-planning and will enhance the performance of practical defense tasks in the region. It will be an integral part of NATO’s force structure, allowing easier command of troops stationed in the Baltic states. The NATO Readiness Initiative will, in turn, improve the rapid response capability by providing “an additional 30 major naval combatants, 30 heavy or medium maneuver battalions, and 30 kinetic air squadrons, with enabling forces, at 30 days’ readiness or less.”[24] This was a proposal launched earlier in the year by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Second, the question of military mobility was addressed.[25] This is of paramount importance in the Baltic region vis-à-vis a potential need for additional allied forces to cross borders speedily by land, air, or sea. It ties in with coordinated efforts also being made in this regard through the European Union. A pre-summit joint declaration by E.U. and NATO leaders on coordination measures was likewise perceived in a positive light by Latvia. Military mobility goes hand-in-hand with the earlier-mentioned issue of readiness and ability to act. Third, sharpening the focus on defense spending and European burden-sharing is producing results. As Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pointed out at the start of the summit, “[A]fter decades where Allies were cutting defense budgets by hundreds of billions of dollars and euros we are seeing now that they are adding billions of euros to their defense budgets.”[26] He pointed out that European allies and Canada have pledged a further $266 billion to their defense budgets by 2024. The three Baltic countries have all ensured spending 2 percent of GDP on defense this year, although Estonia has been doing so already for a number of years. Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine in 2014 was the catalyst for this approach. Cutting a deal by suggesting an increase to 4 percent of GDP may not have been the best way for Trump to address this issue in Brussels. At the same time, it should be recalled that the U.S. financial commitments to Europe’s defense currently remain solid. Washington’s European Deterrence Initiative funding has, after all, continued to grow from $789 million in 2016 to a proposed $6.5 billion next year.[27] The realization that European countries need to do more for their own security is a positive outcome of the Brussels summit, on the basis that more European strategic autonomy does not contradict NATO’s collective defense commitments. Indeed, there are a number of European initiatives that act as an important supplement to measures already being taken by the alliance as a whole. For example, together with eight other northern European countries, Latvia recently signed up to the Joint Expeditionary Force initiated by the United Kingdom. France has also promoted the European Intervention Initiative, with a total of nine European countries — including the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, and Estonia — having signed an agreement in June to work more closely together.[28] None of these initiatives should, in any way, weaken NATO, but, on the contrary, help to strengthen the alliance. Maintaining the Transatlantic Link The fundamental concern of Latvia and its two Baltic neighbors is to maintain a strong transatlantic link with the United States, keeping it firmly engaged in Europe. U.S. allies should do their utmost to preserve that link by focusing more on substance and less on cacophony. U.S. engagement and commitment was emphasized during the meeting between Trump and his three counterparts from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the spring. Likewise, U.S. relations with Poland, including Trump’s visit to Warsaw last year, indicate mutual understanding about threats to Europe’s security. As Europe moves to mark the centenary of the end of World War I in November, the lessons of the last century illustrate how Europe’s fate has been inextricably linked to U.S. engagement. Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Point Plan in 1918 and the D-Day landings in 1944 both paved the way for subsequent peace. So the decision by Trump to join other heads of state in Paris on November 11th to remember the day the Great War came to a close in Western Europe can be welcomed.[29] Prevailing uncertainties surrounding Russia’s actions, Brexit, and the European Union, as well as a slightly Orwellian situation evolving in the United States, mean that preservation of the transatlantic link remains crucial. Canada has certainly stepped forward as a staunch upholder of that link. Canadian troops lead the enhanced NATO presence in Latvia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a visit to Latvia on his way to the NATO summit in Brussels and committed to Canada’s troops staying in Latvia for a further four years beyond 2019. This steadfast expression of solidarity by our Transatlantic NATO ally was highly appreciated in Latvia. Conclusion: 70 Years and Counting Next year, NATO will celebrate its 70th anniversary at a time when the rationale for the alliance’s existence still remains as relevant as it was in 1949, albeit facing a totally different array of security threats. Latvia will mark 15 years of being a member of NATO. The alliance initially brought an unprecedented sense of security, never felt since the establishment of the nation in 1918. However, it was subsequently unsettled, first by Russia’s actions in Georgia in 2008, and then even more so after the attack on Ukraine in 2014. No group of 29 democratic nations can exist without differences of opinion that can sometimes threaten the very foundations of the organization. The Brussels summit passed the test of overcoming these differences. NATO made decisions that ultimately strengthen the security of Latvia and its neighborhood. At the ripe age of 70, next year will bear witness to NATO’s ongoing relevance, not just to Latvia’s security, but to the security and well-being of the people living in the length and breadth of the alliance’s territory. Despite the vagaries of the main protagonist, the NATO show rolls on. Imants Liegis is Latvia’s ambassador to France. He previously served as Latvia’s minister of defense. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Latvia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

4. The Return of European Geopolitics

By Sten Rynning When asked about President Donald Trump’s July 2018 visit to Europe, Henry Kissinger presciently noted, “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.”[30] In other words, for all the uproar surrounding the president’s personality, something bigger is going on, and Trump has come to personify it. Perhaps the biggest challenge is, therefore, to put words to this shifting ground and imagine its potential consequences. In this short essay, I argue that NATO is actually witnessing a return of European geopolitics that runs in parallel to the questioning of geopolitical priorities occurring in the United States. European allies clearly prefer continuity when it comes to NATO, but are also coming to realize that as power shifts, so too must institutions. If the big shift comes and the United States leaves NATO, Western Europe may scrape by, but Eastern Europe will pay the price with the loss of sovereignty. Averting this major shift requires a stronger Europe within NATO, not only in terms of budgets but also political influence. Yet it is not clear that the Atlantic allies are ready to recast their bargain and stick to it. The German Question Geopolitical malaise accompanied Trump at every stage of his European visit. His disdain for NATO allies was remarkable — at the NATO summit, he threatened that the United States might “go it alone” and later questioned whether he would come to the defense of Montenegro, a NATO ally[31] — as was his disregard for British Prime Minister Theresa May’s need for a functioning special relationship with the United States, and his camaraderie with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Geopolitically speaking, it is appropriate that Trump should give much attention, first to Germany, and then two of its neighboring powers, Britain and Russia, but Trump’s German policy (and policy might be too strong a word) is both contradictory and incomplete. The contradiction relates to the interpretation of whether or not Germany is masterfully in control of events. On the one hand, Trump indicates it is when he portrays Germany as a savvy mercantilist nation that out-trades its partners to run up outsized trade surpluses. This is not “fair and reciprocal,” he argues, but rather a critical national security threat to industries in the United States. This explains why the president can designate the European Union a “foe” of the United States ahead of traditional geopolitical rivals such as China and Russia.[32] On the other hand, Trump argues that Germany has essentially lost its geopolitical free will and has become hostage to Russia on account of energy imports: “Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” is how he framed it at an opening event of the NATO summit in July.[33] Ruthless mastermind or Russian subject? These contradictory narratives about Germany may simply be tools of convenience for a president determined to disrupt relations and gain bargaining advantages, but they also reveal an incomplete understanding of Germany’s role in European and transatlantic geopolitics. Germany is the quintessential power in the middle that either gets to define the geopolitical order by East-West “flank” diplomacy, or which is brought into a wider order by one of its flanks — East or West. NATO is the face of a Western order that, as Lord Hastings Ismay, NATO’s first secretary-general, famously put it, serves to keep the United States in, Germany down, and Russia out. By questioning the U.S. security guarantee in NATO, and by disrupting the Atlantic horizon that has defined the focal point for German foreign policy since the founding of the Federal Republic (post-1945), Trump is effectively inviting the return of European flank diplomacy. He has never addressed this issue and shows no sign of understanding its implications, and therefore there is no way of knowing how he feels about it. European diplomats clearly understand the drift, and abhor the prospect. To the extent that they will be successful in containing the scope of change, they must grapple with the intricacies of enlarging the European footprint inside NATO — Europeanizing the alliance — while simultaneously satisfying both American and European interests. If they cannot do this, they face the prospect of Atlantic disconnect and a fuller return to European geopolitics that might allow for continued collective defense in Western Europe but, tragically, a type of appeasement policy for Eastern Europe. The Strategy of Choice The strategy of choice of European leaders is to contain the possibility of full-scale Europeanization of security and defense issues. It implies NATO continuity, meaning a continued U.S. commitment to temper the geopolitical impulses of the European continent. To achieve this, allies are willing to let Trump claim (exaggerated) credit for raising allied defense budgets: According to my sources, on day two of the NATO summit when Trump, quite unprecedentedly, derailed a partnership meeting with renewed criticism of allied defense spending, allied heads of state urged him to claim credit for budgetary increases they knew full well had been set in motion before the Trump presidency.[34] More than this, they have invested in the range of policy issues that align with mainstream U.S. security interests — force readiness and conventional deterrence, counter-terrorism, cyber defense, enhanced support for Afghan security force training and North Korean diplomacy, and addressing Iran’s military capabilities — all of which featured in the NATO summit declaration.[35] It is effectively a message that European allies continue to support the infrastructure — NATO — that not only stabilizes Europe but also offers the United States both a staging ground for Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African engagements and early warning systems for the defense, not of allies, but of the continental United States.[36] The strategy of choice is, thus, to push for a greater European footprint inside NATO, where European allies invest in shared, but also, notably, U.S. security priorities in return for NATO’s continued containment of flank diplomacy in Europe. It is not a strategy that resonates with Trump, but it does resonate with the U.S. defense establishment led by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, as well as the vast majority of the U.S. Congress. Thus, to align with the latter and steer clear of presidential tantrums, some allied and NATO officials have toyed with the idea of changing the format of NATO summitry to privilege defense business over political grandstanding — a possible change of pace for the alliance’s 70th anniversary summit in 2019. Even if this attempt at containing both Trump and full Atlantic disconnect is successful, the allies will still face the challenge of change — of shifting more of the burden to Europe and creating a more equal partnership. How Europe (and Canada) can gain a voice in an alliance traditionally shaped around U.S. leadership is a key question. The United States has historically opposed a European caucus inside NATO, and Europeans are not going to settle for a division of labor whereby they do light development work and leave serious defense business to U.S.-led coalitions. At a minimum, therefore, in this new era exposed by Trump’s presidency, the allies must take on the challenging task of shifting burdens to Europe but also offering Europe greater influence in alliance affairs — something that conflicts with Trump’s preference for bilateral negotiations. How a more European but still Atlantic NATO could work out is really anybody’s guess. NATO has a treaty provision, Article 4, guaranteeing “consultations” on issues of major importance to allied nations, but the format for such consultations has historically been contested and varied.[37] For as long as the U.S. commitment to NATO seemed rock solid, the European allies were generally content to shape U.S. policy by various, indirect formats of European cooperation — sometimes in improvised format (such as European Political Cooperation), sometimes via low-level initiatives in NATO (such as the Eurogroup), sometimes by reviving dormant frameworks of consultations (such as the Western European Union), and sometimes by exploiting the security dimension of the European Union. Now, in this new era, as Kissinger labels it, the challenge is one of moving Europeanization to the highest political level inside the alliance itself to satisfy desires in the United States for burden-sharing and in Europe for influence in a continued alliance. Western Europe Versus Eastern Europe There are many obvious risks involved in the current strategy of choice, and Trump’s inclinations and behavior are not the only ones. American impatience with allied efforts could become systemic in the U.S. body politic and inside the defense establishment, or Europeans could come to demand too many diplomatic concessions of the United States. If either comes to pass, the dreaded prospect of full Europeanization presents itself. It will not be without costs for the United States, which would lose its staging area along with a significant number of operational and political partners, and would have to engage an emboldened Russia. Still, it is a prospect that cannot be written off. The challenge for Europeans is then to contain flank diplomacy within a European framework of institutionalized cooperation, which is going to be difficult under the best of circumstances. It will involve France and Britain cooperating with Germany to maintain the collective institutions that are the precondition of Germany’s current restrained foreign policy. France will be the partner of choice in the European Union, while Britain will have a lead role to play in a fully Europeanized NATO — in effect taking over the offshore role from the United States. But neither institution will have much muscle power on the eastern flank. Getting such a Western European construct to function would not be impossible, although it would be difficult. Britain seems particularly unprepared for the task as it has exited the European Union and become engulfed in a crisis of national identity. The political forces behind Brexit offer various dubious visions of global or transatlantic engagement that consistently depict Europe as being in contradiction to the interests and ideas of a mythic Anglosphere. For the foreseeable future, Britain will be preoccupied with its divorce settlement with the European Union. After that, it will have to start afresh in articulating its long-term interest in engaging a German and French-led European Union, on the one hand, and Russia on the other. Britain’s troubled relationship with Russia might seem to presage a leadership role in a Europeanized NATO, but the political strength of such a recast NATO presupposes Britain’s reconciliation with France and Germany. France, meanwhile, seems as unprepared as Germany and other E.U. partners to contemplate the idea of extending French nuclear deterrence as a bulwark of continued E.U. integration, particularly in the domain of defense and hard security where the European Union hitherto has thrived in the shadow of a transatlantic NATO. Should the strategy of choice — Europeanization within NATO — fail, France and Germany will have to tackle this delicate topic.[38] It will likely take the shape of a grand bargain involving financial integration (in addition to monetary integration) and security and defense policy integration. It is unthinkable that France will engage this in a European Union of 28 or more members. Remaining in line with both its historical and current policy, it will demand the “deepening” of institutions along with the “widening” of common competences, with deepening being a code word for a multi-tiered E.U. structure built around a core of Franco-German cooperation. The European Union would thus undergo a transformation, gaining political depth by returning to its point of origins — the geopolitics of Rhineland cooperation — and once again questioning the place and role of Eastern Europe in the European security order.[39] Eastern Europe is, then, where one most vividly encounters flank diplomacy. Most of Eastern Europe has made it into the two big Western institutions — NATO and the European Union — but as the West diminishes, the Eastern European question reappears. The central issue is whether Western Europe can reorganize itself and extend security eastwards. In terms of collective defense guarantees capable of effectively deterring Russia, it seems implausible. European diplomats will be aware of the history of the 1925 Locarno Pact through which the Western powers and Germany, by settling the western flank, de facto exposed the eastern flank to the expansionary policy of Germany. By 1939, Eastern European questions led the world into renewed world war. At Locarno, the issue was one of defense credibility: Western powers could offer credible assurances in regards to their own western borders but not those in Eastern Europe. Thus, Locarno became a de facto invitation for the revisionist power, Germany, to orient its appetite for aggrandizement eastwards. In the post-Cold War world, transatlantic NATO has prevented such sacrificing of Eastern Europe. However, if the United States leaves NATO, the question is how a revisionist Russia will be inhibited from acting similarly. Russia is not Germany in the 1930s, for sure, but Putin’s repeatedly expressed regret over the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, stoking of eastern Ukrainian “insurrections,” and engagement in hybrid war more generally signal a return to this type of geopolitical question.[40] Russia’s fortune is that the coordination of U.S. and Western European détente policies is likely to remain difficult for the foreseeable future. The United States, if it leaves NATO to the Europeans, could be expected to focus its Russia dialogue on China and the wider Middle East: This is already the subtext read into Trump’s personal diplomacy with Putin by some observers (in effect, a reverse Nixon, opening Russia to contain China).[41] Meanwhile, Western Europe would primarily seek a settlement — an accord — for the continent. They might bring in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to provide cover, but this really would be a de facto movement of the East-West frontier westwards, opening a wider space for dual or mixed influence. Naturally, Eastern European countries would not silently submit to this process, but they would have few options with U.S. priorities moving from NATO to containing China, and Western Europe struggling to cohere, and thus contain western flank diplomacy. Geopolitically speaking, in such a new European order, countries in proximity to Germany, notably Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, and perhaps Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia would have a fair chance of resisting Russian influence by adhering to the core E.U. powers — if that is their desire. However, political currents in both Poland and Hungary indicate it may not be.[42] The litmus test would be the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: Would Russia respect their sovereignty, or would its appetite for influence grow as NATO’s role diminishes?[43] Perhaps Western Europe and the United States could manage to coordinate their détente policies toward Russia to the point where Russia would become convinced of making gains elsewhere (e.g., central Asia and the Middle East), if it were to go easy on Eastern Europe. It is an uncomfortable hope for Eastern European nations, however, and the prospect for such hopeful thinking would, again, be easiest to detect in the Baltics. The underlying fact remains that, if the United States were to leave NATO, the power underpinning NATO enlargement would be gone and geopolitical adjustments in Eastern Europe would be necessary. Conclusion NATO is unraveling and world crisis is upon us, writes Robert Kagan in response to the 2018 NATO summit.[44] Kagan thus starkly depicts the worst-case scenario outlined in this essay. If Trump embodies a fatigue in the U.S. political system with enduring alliances, and if Russia becomes a U.S. partner of choice in tipping the scales of Eurasian land power against China, then NATO as a transatlantic alliance would indeed unravel, and Europe’s peace would be in question. Still, even in this bleak scenario, it is unlikely that NATO would go away. Rather, Britain is likely to step in as continental Europe’s offshore power, though, of course, with diminished capabilities compared to those of the United States. A Europeanized NATO would tie Britain to the continent and perhaps become part of the answer to the troubled British-E.U. relationship. The European Union would not be able to stand still in the face of such a security transformation. France and Germany would likely seek to rescue their institutional project by accelerating the construction of a core that would allow France to extend security guarantees to Germany in return for French access to German financial governance, and which would create an E.U. periphery, notably in Eastern Europe, alongside countries such as Ukraine and Belarus. It is probable that Western Europe could rescue its commitment to collective institutions, including collective defense, but it is unlikely that it could extend security guarantees far eastwards, as NATO today is able to. A revised bargain with Russia will then become necessary, one in which the sovereignty of Eastern European countries will be questioned. Naturally, this is not the current strategy of choice. Rather, NATO diplomats are hoping to wait out Trump while simultaneously acting to secure Europe’s greater input into, and say within, NATO. The hope is that, by Europeanizing NATO sufficiently, the allies can continue the transatlantic bargain that contains the geopolitical impulses of the European continent — keeping Russia at bay and keeping Germany embedded within a solid collective institution. However, even if Trump were to go, such a renewed bargain raises difficult questions of how Europe can take on more burdens and gain a greater voice in an alliance to which the United States remains committed. In this regard, Trump has done the allies the service of exposing the scope of NATO’s geopolitical challenge. Perhaps enhanced political awareness thereof will make the strategy of choice — of continued transatlantic cooperation — more likely to endure, but there is no going back to “your daddy’s NATO,” to paraphrase former NATO secretary-general Lord George Robertson. Geopolitical adjustment will take place. The question is whether Western leaders will remain in control. Sten Rynning is professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Southern Denmark, where he also heads the Center for War Studies. He researches NATO and modern war.   [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: Trump and the Future of NATO [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-trump-and-the-future-of-nato [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-04 15:33:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-04 19:33:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=728 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => This roundtable, chaired by James Goldgeier, features essays on the future of NATO from three different European perspectives. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 209 [1] => 215 [2] => 214 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Thomas Wright, “Trump’s 19th Century Foreign Policy,” Politico, Jan. 20, 2016, at https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/donald-trump-foreign-policy-213546. [2] "Brussels Summit Declaration," NATO, July 11, 2018, at https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm. [3] Heiko Maas, “Making plans for a new world order,” Handelsblatt, Aug. 22, 2018, https://www.handelsblatt.com/today/opinion/heiko-maas-making-plans-for-a-new-world-order/22940622.html?ticket=ST-5205142-xEbVl6PKam40poKWJaqj-ap3. [4] “Senate Passes Reed Motion to Strongly Reaffirm U.S. Commitment to NATO Alliance,” July 10, 2018, http://lprnoticias.com/2018/07/10/senate-passes-reed-motion-strongly-reaffirm-u-s-commitment-nato-alliance/. [5] Anna Palmer, Jake Sherman, and Daniel Lippman, “POLITICO Playbook: Trump causes chaos at NATO summit,” Politico, July 12, 2018, https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2018/07/12/trump-nato-withdraw-threat-285401. [6] “Brussels Summit Declaration. Issued by the Heads of State and Government Participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels 11-12 July 2018,” NATO, July 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm; David Wemer, “Here's What NATO Achieved at Its Brussels Summit,” Atlantic Council, July 12, 2018, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/here-s-what-nato-achieved-at-its-brussels-summit. [7] Bruce Stokes, “NATO’s Image Improves on Both Sides of Atlantic: European Faith in American Military Support Largely Unchanged,” Pew Global, May 23, 2017, http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/05/23/natos-image-improves-on-both-sides-of-atlantic/. [8] Ulrike Franke, “Watching for signs of NATO’s end of times,” War on the Rocks, July 10, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/07/watching-for-signs-of-natos-end-of-times/. [9] Susi Dennison, Ulrike Esther Franke, and Paweł Zerka, “The Nightmare of the Dark: The Security Fears that Keep Europeans Awake at Night,” European Council on Foreign Relations (July 2018), https://www.ecfr.eu/specials/scorecard/the_nightmare_of_the_dark_the_security_fears_that_keep_europeans_awake_at_n. [10] “Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) first collaborative PESCO projects – Overview” https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/32079/pesco-overview-of-first-collaborative-of-projects-for-press.pdf. [11] Nick Witney, “Macron and the European Intervention Initiative: Erasmus for soldiers?” European Council on Foreign Relations, May 22, 2018, https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_macron_and_the_european_intervention_initiative_erasmus_for_sold. [12] “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe,” European Union, June 2016, https://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/top_stories/pdf/eugs_review_web.pdf. Also see Nick Witney, “Brexit, defence, and the EU’s quest for ‘strategic autonomy,’” European Council on Foreign Relations, June 25, 2018, https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_brexit_defence_and_the_eus_quest_for_strategic_autonomy. [13] Dennison, Franke, and Zerka, “The Nightmare of the Dark.” [14] Dennison, Franke, and Zerka, “The Nightmare of the Dark.” [15] Marcin Goclowski, “Trump-Putin Meeting Could Have Been Worse, Poland Says,” Reuters, July 17, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-nato-morawiecki/trump-putin-meeting-could-have-been-worse-poland-says-idUSKBN1K71GT. [16] Dennison, Franke, and Zerka, “The Nightmare of the Dark.” [17] Damien Sharkov, “Trump and Putin’s Meeting Was not just “Super,” It was “Fabulous,” Says Russia,” Newsweek, July 16, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/trump-and-putins-meeting-was-not-just-super-it-was-fabulous-says-russia-1026727. [18] “Trump Putin: US President Reverses Remark on Russia Meddlin,” BBC, July 18, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44864739. [19] Steve Holland, Soyoung Kim, and Jack Kim, “In Surprise Summit Concession, Trump Says He Will Halt Korea War Games,” Reuters, June 11, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-usa/in-surprise-summit-concession-trump-says-he-will-halt-korea-war-games-idUSKBN1J72PM. [20] Tomas Valasek,“Will Trump Make NATO Obsolete?” Politico, July 11, 2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/donald-trump-nato-defense-make-nato-obsolete/; Jacques Hubert-Rodier, “L’alliance Atlantique résiste aux humeurs de Trump [NATO Resists Trump’s Mood],” Les Echos, July 12, 2018, https://www.lesechos.fr/monde/enjeux-internationaux/0301967525050-lalliance-atlantique-resiste-aux-humeurs-de-trump-2191826.php; Demetri Sevastopulo, “Trump Hits Out at Germany Ahead of NATO Summit,” Financial Times, July 9, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/0c4837e0-837b-11e8-96dd-fa565ec55929. [21] Clare Foran, “Trump Criticizes Justin Trudeau, Says US Won’t Endorse G7 Statement,” CNN, June 10, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/09/politics/trump-justin-trudeau-g7-communique/index.html. [22] Le Monde, July 17, 2018, print edition, 17. [23] “Brussels Summit Declaration,” NATO, July 11, 2018, para. 1, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm). [24] “The NATO Readiness Initiative,” para. 14 of the “Brussels Summit Declaration.” [25] “Brussels Summit Declaration,” paras. 16–18. [26] Jens Stoltenberg, “Doorstep Statement,” NATO Summit in Brussels, July 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_156730.htm. [27] Frederico Bartels and Daniel Kochis, “Congress Should Transform the European Deterrence Initiative into an Enduring Commitment,” Heritage Foundation, May 29, 2018, https://www.heritage.org/europe/report/congress-should-transform-the-european-deterrence-initiative-enduring-commitment. [28] A good description of these and other European defence initiatives is offered in Elisabeth Braw, “Europe’s Little Alliances Can Help Bolster NATO,” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/europes-little-alliances-can-help-bolster-nato-1531263637 . [29] Erin Kelly, “Donald Trump to Mark 100th Anniversary of World War I Armistice in Paris,” USA Today, Aug. 31, 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/08/31/donald-trump-mark-100th-anniversary-wwi-armistice-paris/1160552002/. [30] Edward Luce, “Henry Kissinger: ‘We Are in a Very, Very Grave Period,’” Financial Times, July 20, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/926a66b0-8b49-11e8-bf9e-8771d5404543. [31] Robin Emmott, Jeff Mason, and Alissa de Carbonnel, “Trump Claims NATO Victory After Ultimatum to Go It Alone,” Reuters, July 12, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-summit/trump-claims-nato-victory-after-ultimatum-to-go-it-alone-idUSKBN1K135H; Krishnadev Calamur, “Trump Goes After Montenegro, a ‘Tiny Country’ with ‘Aggressive People,’” Atlantic, July 18, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/07/trump-montenegro/565475/. [32] Andrew Roth, “Trump Calls EU a ‘Foe’—Ahead of China and Russia,” Guardian, July 15, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jul/15/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-helsinki-russia-indictments; see also the op-ed by Trump’s assistant for trade and manufacturing policy, Peter Navarro, “The Era of American Complacency on Trade is Over,” New York Times, June 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/08/opinion/trump-trade-g7-russia-putin-navarro.html. [33] David M. Herszenhorn, “Trump rips into Germany at NATO chief breakfast,” Politico, July 11, 2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/donald-trump-nato-summit-rips-into-germany/. [34] Author’s interview with two NATO summit participants, July 12, 2018. [35] NATO, Brussels Summit Declaration, July 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm. [36] Carl Bildt, “The End of NATO?,” Project Syndicate, July 18, 2018, https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-nato-russian-aggression-by-carl-bildt-2018-07. [37] Sten Rynning, “The Divide: France, Germany, and Political NATO,” International Affairs 93, no. 2 (March 2017), https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiw060. [38] A review commissioned by the German Parliament concluded in May 2017 that Germany could legally finance French or British nuclear weapons in exchange for their protection. Max Fisher, “European Nuclear Weapons Program Would Be Legal, German Review Finds,” New York Times, July 5, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/world/europe/germany-nuclear-weapons.html. At the fringe of this debate a few lone voices call for an independent German nuclear force: see Christian Hacke, “Why Germany Should Get the Bomb,” National Interest, Aug. 12, 2018, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-germany-should-get-bomb-28377. [39] The dividing line between east and central Europe is up for debate. For the sake of clarity here, I refer to Germany as Europe’s central power and the countries between Germany and Russia as Eastern Europe. [40] Reuters staff, “Putin, Before Vote, Says He’d Reverse Soviet Collapse if He Could,” Reuters, March 2, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-election-putin/putin-before-vote-says-hed-reverse-soviet-collapse-if-he-could-agencies-idUSKCN1GE2TF. [41] Simon Tisdall, “Donald Trump Trying to Play Nixon’s ‘China card’ in Reverse,” Guardian, Dec. 12, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/12/donald-trump-us-china-relations-taiwan-nixon; John Pomfret, “45 years ago, Kissinger Envisioned a ‘Pivot’ to Russia. Will Trump Make it Happen?” Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2016/12/14/45-years-ago-kissinger-envisioned-a-pivot-to-russia-will-trump-make-it-happen/?utm_term=.d5135490527e. [42] Poland might change course as it is even more critical of Russia than of E.U. governance. [43] See Carl Bildt, “The Baltic Litmus Test: Revealing Russia’s True Colors,” Foreign Affairs 73/5 (September/October 1994), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/baltics/1994-09-01/baltic-litmus-test-revealing-russias-true-colors. [44] Robert Kagan, “Things Will not Be Ok,” Washington Post, July 12, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/everything-will-not-be-okay/2018/07/12/c5900550-85e9-11e8-9e80-403a221946a7_story.html?utm_term=.3523e69af209. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Roundtable Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction: Trump and NATO — Disruption or Distraction? by James Goldgeier 2. Now What? Lessons for Europe from the NATO Summit, by Ulrike Franke 3. It Is Premature to Announce the Demise of NATO, by Imants Liegis 4. The Return of European Geopolitics, by Sten Rynning ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 721 [post_author] => 209 [post_date] => 2018-09-13 12:55:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-13 16:55:10 [post_content] => Editor's Note: This essay is from a forthcoming TNSR roundtable on NATO. It was selected to be published as a roundtable feature in Vol 1, Iss 4.  It is time for Europe to start considering a future in which the transatlantic relationship is no longer the bedrock of European security and the guide for European international policy. Such is the realization in many European capitals these days. “The Atlantic has widened politically,” writes Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a recent op-ed published simultaneously in German and English, in which he explains that he is “making plans for a new world order.”[1] The NATO summit in July in Brussels served as a reminder that this new world order is quickly becoming a reality, despite assurances from some to the contrary. I was in Brussels during the summit, participating in the outreach conference, “NATO Engages.” One of the most striking moments of the conference was during the panel on U.S.-NATO relations — the number one topic of this summit. Two U.S. senators, Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), spent an hour reassuring the audience that there was “broad public support for NATO in the United States’ public and in the U.S. Congress.” They pointed to the motion that the Senate had passed with an overwhelming majority the day before, reaffirming the ironclad American commitment under NATO’s Article 5.[2] However, they had trouble convincing the skeptical audience, and, some 45 minutes into the debate, the feel-good session was disrupted by the news that President Donald Trump was allegedly threatening to withdraw the United States from NATO if allies did not agree to increase their defense spending.[3] In the moment, one could not help being carried away by the commotion. But, in the end, Trump’s tantrum did not have any substantial impact on the summit’s outcome. Several commentators considered the 23-page summit communiqué that was signed to be one of the more substantial declarations in recent years, including a new Iraq mission and an invitation to Macedonia to join the alliance.[4] While Trump claimed victory as Europeans agreed to increase their defense spending, the reality is that this has been the trend for several years, predating the current U.S. president’s term. It seems likely that any other American president would have gone home with exactly the same results. It is tempting to take solace in the fact that NATO continues with business as usual, but Europe must not fall into the trap of complacency. And there are signs indicating that Europe is indeed beginning to come to terms with the new international realities. America as a “Normal” Geopolitical Actor Although polling suggests that NATO remains popular in the United States,[5] such opinions could change if the president continues to tell his voters that NATO is robbing the United States. Contrary to the bipartisan elite consensus presented by Shaheen and Tillis, there are significant differences in opinion between conservative and liberal voters when it comes to NATO. In the United States, support for the alliance is turning into a topic of partisan politics, and could become a casualty of partisan fighting. More importantly, Europe and the United States are gradually drifting apart.[6] By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, and unilaterally imposing tariffs, Trump has called into question Europeans’ formerly unshakeable faith in diplomacy as a way to resolve disagreements. Rather than basing America’s commitment to NATO on shared values and interests, Trump views it in a transactional way. The longer he remains president, the more alien to Europe the United States becomes as a country. But these changes extend beyond Trump. As Maas writes, “I am skeptical when some ardent trans-Atlanticist simply advises us to sit this presidency out.” In other words, for Europe, the United States is becoming normalized. Rather than being seen as special, with global or, at a minimum, Western interests in mind, Europeans are starting to perceive the United States as just another geopolitical player. This shift can be seen most strikingly in the results of a recent study done by the European Council on Foreign Relations (where I am a fellow), based on work by researchers in all 28 E.U. member states.[7] According to this study, five E.U. countries have begun to see the United States as “somehow a threat” or even “a moderate threat.” Asked about how the United States was viewed ten years ago, there was agreement among the researchers that no E.U. country would have considered the United States as a threat at that time. Even more concerning, when asked about how U.S.-E.U. relations might develop over the next ten years, the number of countries expected to consider the United States as some kind of a threat in the future rose to eight. These results indicate that this deterioration in relations is expected to continue beyond Trump’s presidency. Europe Responds It will be up to Europe to build up its own capabilities and get ready to face the threats Europeans are most concerned about, rather than relying primarily on the United States. Europe needs to face the fact that NATO is unbalanced and will not be able to continue indefinitely in its current form. Acknowledging this fact is not about placing blame on particular countries — there is a historical reason for these imbalances. But if NATO members want to preserve the alliance, they need to prepare it for the future, both with regard to the alliance’s capabilities as well as with regard to burden-sharing. Unfortunately, it is this strategic debate that has become a casualty of Trump’s tantrums, as everyone at NATO is distracted defending the alliance from Trump’s ad hominem attacks. While Europe has already been looking into strengthening common European capabilities — like increasing defense budgets — the Trump presidency, in combination with concerns over Russia and Brexit, has given European, and particularly E.U., initiatives a new impetus. The Permanent Structured Cooperation, known as PESCO, was signed in November 2017, and today encompasses a range of projects, from a European Medical Command and sharing platforms for cyber attacks, to the development of a European Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle.[8] French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for a European Intervention Initiative aims at slowly creating a shared European strategic culture, an approach driven by the wish to create European “strategic autonomy.”[9] Even before Trump’s election, the concept was prominent in the 2016 European Global Strategy,[10] but Trump has given the idea a new boost as well as a new sense of urgency. None of these initiatives are contradictory to NATO, but they suggest that it might be in these fora where the forward-looking projects will be pursued, rather than in NATO which is bogged down in a fight to justify its existence toward the United States. Although the mechanisms for strengthening European capabilities are still taking shape, there is widespread agreement throughout the European Union that security threats are on the rise: Respondents in the abovementioned study judged that the threats their countries faced intensified between 2008 and 2018, and will intensify further in the next decade.[11] The most important threats that Europe needs to prepare for are, in descending order, cyber-attacks, state collapse or civil war in Europe’s neighborhood, external meddling in domestic politics, uncontrolled migration into the country; and the deterioration of the international institutional order.[12] Respondents expect the order of importance of these threats to remain largely the same over the next ten years (with terrorist attacks joining the deterioration of the international order in fifth place), and each threat to grow more intense. With regard to the international actors Europeans perceive to be most threatening, jihadists top the list, with Russia and international criminal groups sharing second place, and North Korea coming in third. Some of these threats are easier for Europe to take on than others. While increasing and better cooperation with regard to cyber threats should be an achievable goal, Russia is the elephant in the European room. Indeed, it was the shared view among the experts present at the NATO summit in Brussels that the summit would only be truly over, and Europe’s NATO members able to breathe freely again, once the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki was finished — and did not end with Trump handing Putin Crimea, or promising NATO or U.S. troop withdrawals. In this regard, the Helsinki summit turned out better than feared. While the bizarre Trump-Putin press conference caused major debate in the United States, in Europe, the view was generally that it could have gone worse.[13] Nevertheless, the strangely close relationship between the American and Russian presidents is particularly worrisome for Europe, as Russia remains a topic of contention within the European Union. Although there is broad agreement among E.U. member states on most threats and actors, it is on Russia that the most problematic divisions exist.[14] Seven countries — Estonia, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom — regard Russia as the most important threat to their security, and six others consider it a significant threat. However, five predominantly southern countries — Greece, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, and Cyprus — view Russia as no threat at all. The only way that the European Union can deal with these differences in opinion is by focusing on the areas of vulnerability rather than on the potential perpetrator of a given attack — for example, strengthening all E.U. member states against external meddling or cyber attacks in general. Nevertheless, the European Union is walking a tightrope with regard to its Russia policy. And an American president who is so unpredictable in his policy toward Russia, and who actively seeks to divide the European Union, introduces significant instability into the situation. It is in this context that Trump’s attacks against Germany’s policy on gas imports from Russia at the NATO summit are so problematic. While the Nord Stream II pipeline, over which Trump attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel, is highly controversial throughout Europe and even within the German political establishment, Germany has been one of the most important advocates of Russian sanctions. Furthermore, accusing Germany of being too close to Russia, while simultaneously nourishing a highly unusual relationship with the Russian president appears dishonest. Europe has to bring its own house in order if it wants to guarantee its security and keep NATO as the backbone of European defense. And it needs to prepare for a future in which that might no longer be possible. Ulrike Franke is a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) where she focuses on European defense and security. Image: State Department [post_title] => Roundtable Feature: Now What? Lessons for Europe from the NATO Summit [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => roundtable-feature-now-what-lessons-for-europe-from-the-nato-summit [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-28 10:14:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-28 14:14:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=721 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => In this roundtable feature, Ulrike Franke urges Europe to get its house in order. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 209 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Heiko Maas, “Making plans for a new world order,” Handelsblatt, Aug. 22, 2018, https://www.handelsblatt.com/today/opinion/heiko-maas-making-plans-for-a-new-world-order/22940622.html?ticket=ST-5205142-xEbVl6PKam40poKWJaqj-ap3. [2] “Senate Passes Reed Motion to Strongly Reaffirm U.S. Commitment to NATO Alliance,” July 10, 2018, http://lprnoticias.com/2018/07/10/senate-passes-reed-motion-strongly-reaffirm-u-s-commitment-nato-alliance/. [3] Anna Palmer, Jake Sherman, and Daniel Lippman, “POLITICO Playbook: Trump causes chaos at NATO summit,” Politico, July 12, 2018, https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2018/07/12/trump-nato-withdraw-threat-285401. [4] “Brussels Summit Declaration. Issued by the Heads of State and Government Participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels 11-12 July 2018,” NATO, July 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm; David Wemer, “Here's What NATO Achieved at Its Brussels Summit,” Atlantic Council, July 12, 2018, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/here-s-what-nato-achieved-at-its-brussels-summit. [5] Bruce Stokes, “NATO’s Image Improves on Both Sides of Atlantic: European Faith in American Military Support Largely Unchanged,” Pew Global, May 23, 2017, http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/05/23/natos-image-improves-on-both-sides-of-atlantic/. [6] Ulrike Franke, “Watching for signs of NATO’s end of times,” War on the Rocks, July 10, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/07/watching-for-signs-of-natos-end-of-times/. [7] Susi Dennison, Ulrike Esther Franke, and Paweł Zerka, “The Nightmare of the Dark: The Security Fears that Keep Europeans Awake at Night,” European Council on Foreign Relations (July 2018), https://www.ecfr.eu/specials/scorecard/the_nightmare_of_the_dark_the_security_fears_that_keep_europeans_awake_at_n. [8] “Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) first collaborative PESCO projects – Overview” https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/32079/pesco-overview-of-first-collaborative-of-projects-for-press.pdf. [9] Nick Witney, “Macron and the European Intervention Initiative: Erasmus for soldiers?” European Council on Foreign Relations, May 22, 2018, https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_macron_and_the_european_intervention_initiative_erasmus_for_sold. [10] “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe,” European Union, June 2016, https://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/top_stories/pdf/eugs_review_web.pdf. Also see Nick Witney, “Brexit, defence, and the EU’s quest for ‘strategic autonomy,’” European Council on Foreign Relations, June 25, 2018, https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_brexit_defence_and_the_eus_quest_for_strategic_autonomy. [11] Dennison, Franke, and Zerka, “The Nightmare of the Dark.” [12] Dennison, Franke, and Zerka, “The Nightmare of the Dark.” [13] Marcin Goclowski, “Trump-Putin Meeting Could Have Been Worse, Poland Says,” Reuters, July 17, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-nato-morawiecki/trump-putin-meeting-could-have-been-worse-poland-says-idUSKBN1K71GT. [14] Dennison, Franke, and Zerka, “The Nightmare of the Dark.” ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [post_count] => 3 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 763 [post_author] => 223 [post_date] => 2018-11-06 04:00:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-06 09:00:36 [post_content] =>

Those people — the map people, the logistics people, the intelligence people — have always been accused, by operational commanders, of thinking more than is good for them, but this time they’ve got it right.”

– Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows

  In 2018, both the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted their largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. The role of such maneuvers in the larger geostrategic context has been brought to the fore by these activities and President Donald Trump’s decision, announced at his summit in Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, to suspend the U.S.-South Korea Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise.[1] Official statements about these military exercises typically stress their specified purpose of improving training, readiness, and interoperability among services and multinational forces.[2] But military exercises also convey powerful geopolitical messages intended to demonstrate how the capabilities on display enhance regional stability, deter aggression, and reinforce foreign policy goals.[3] However, I argue in this essay that they can instead do the opposite, in the sense of the classic security dilemma, as real or potentially adversarial states ratchet up the size and scope of their exercises and push exercise venues into militarily problematic areas. In other words, the risk of geopolitical instability that such exercises imply may not bring a corresponding deterrence reward. This is especially true across the increasingly tense NATO-Russia divide in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, which is the focus of this paper. The elusive line between deterrence and provoking aggression has been explored in depth in analyses of tabletop war games or simulations in the German kriegsspiel style. The most notable are those conducted by the RAND Corporation involving a hypothetical Russian invasion of the NATO-member Baltic states. The results provided the impetus for a more robust alliance military presence in that region and in Poland.[4] Michael Kofman has discussed at length whether this shift from “reassurance” to “deterrence” makes sense and, importantly, posits that a critical variable in this calculation is the perception of the Russian threat. He also questioned whether “conventional deterrence by denial is possible on NATO’s eastern flank.”[5] Through my experience as an intelligence officer at the tactical and national levels, I became — and remain — acutely aware of the role that the threat, or at least the United States military’s assessment of the threat, plays in both planning and executing military operations. That includes exercises, a number of which I participated in. Later, as an academic researcher in geopolitics, I came to appreciate the influence of what Gerard Toal refers to as “thick geopolitics,” a concept that “strives to describe the geopolitical forces, networks, and interactions that configure places and states.”[6] Combining these two perspectives, in this paper I examine the strategic implications of NATO’s ongoing efforts to extend its reach eastward and, in some cases, northward,[7] by shifting its military exercise venues forward and including non-NATO “partners” in the alliance’s military operations and exercise agenda. The symbolism of these highly visible activities — which precede the Crimean crisis — is difficult to ignore, especially as they contribute to Russia’s geopolitical angst as regards its immediate neighborhood. Certainly, as Toal avers, the many multi-layered influences of location, distance, and place come into play here, especially given that some of these NATO-sponsored and member-state exercises take place along the Russian land frontier or its adjacent maritime zone and airspace. The reverse is also true, as Russia conducts large-scale exercises and other military demonstrations — what Mark Galeotti terms “heavy metal diplomacy”[8] — in that same contact zone. These exercises are viewed as threatening by many NATO states, some of which harbor unhappy memories of when this “thick geopolitical” landscape was dominated by Russia in its imperial or Soviet form.

Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging

Military exercises do not take place on tabletops. Instead, warships, troops, aircraft, armored vehicles, and logistical and engineer support units maneuver across land, sea, and airspace overseen by headquarters staffs practicing command, control, and communications. A combination of live firing of weapons; cyber activities; collection, processing, and dissemination of target information and intelligence data; and after-action assessments all make for a complex and demanding undertaking, often at considerable expense and some element of danger to the participants. These exercises also involve considerable fanfare in the host countries and, especially, strong visualization elements. As Roland Bleiker notes, “Images shape international events and our understanding of them.”[9] Certainly, images of warships, tanks, and live firing make for dramatic coverage, especially as they have become more incorporated in and widely disseminated via social media. These messages and images complement official foreign and security policy narratives and those of nongovernmental groups (e.g., think tanks and human rights organizations), and they should be seen as part and parcel of the larger geopolitical discourse. The Exercise Is the Message The annual Foal Eagle joint and combined forces maneuvers,[10] conducted by the United States and the Republic of Korea, are an excellent example of how military exercises can be used to message strategic posture. In addition to the complexity and scope of these maneuvers, conducting them on and around the Korean Peninsula has become a highly contentious element in relations between these two allies and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.[11] In its press release announcing the 2017 iteration, the Defense Department stated that Foal Eagle “is designed to increase readiness to defend South Korea, to protect the region, and to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.”[12] This is the template for the manner in which militaries typically describe their exercises and signal their import. And that language is understood to mean that readiness involves training, that protecting the region implies a specific geographical focus, and that stability (or, frequently, deterrence) is a desired strategic outcome. Geopolitical messaging is conveyed via military exercises through several means by the exercise planners and their superiors. First, is the decision of whether to hold exercises. That means that starting, suspending, or terminating them is a foreign policy and security policy statement in and of itself. This is certainly true in long-standing military relationships such as that between the United States and the Republic of Korea, wherein the form and scale of exercises have evolved since their inception shortly after the end of the Korean War. In fact, the major U.S.-South Korea exercise, Team Spirit, was canceled four times in the 1990s to facilitate negotiations to limit North Korea’s nuclear program.[13] Notably, the Bright Star exercises co-sponsored by the United States and Egypt since 1980 were suspended by President Barack Obama in 2013 in the wake of the military takeover of the elected Egyptian government. They have, however, since been reinstated.[14] The U.S. Central Command press release for Bright Star 2017 made no mention of the hiatus.[15] The Malabar naval exercises initiated by the United States and India in 1992 (and joined by Japan in 2015) presaged increased American interest in the Indian Ocean and Indian concerns regarding China’s growing presence in South Asia. Although these exercises have recently expanded significantly, they were suspended for a period after India tested nuclear weapons.[16] [quote id="1"] The same cyclical pattern of scaling down and ramping up military exercises as political circumstances change is evident in the U.S.-Philippines Balikatan exercise, which recently concluded its 34th iteration.[17] Disinviting the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the U.S.-sponsored 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise was intended to signal U.S. displeasure at China’s increasing militarization of islands in the South China Sea. (The Chinese navy had participated in RIMPAC in 2014 and 2016.)[18] Meanwhile, Russia and China announced that their two navies would conduct a second round of joint exercises in the Yellow Sea, and the huge Vostok 2018 exercises involved Chinese troops for the first time as part of a long-term plan of greater military cooperation between the two countries.[19] Once it has been decided that exercises are to take place, geopolitical messaging is conveyed in several ways in their actual execution: Where the exercises are conducted, how many personnel are involved, what countries they are drawn from, and the types of weaponry employed are all key elements in strategic positioning or, one might say, posturing. Further complicating matters, the number, size, and scope of military exercises are growing — in some regions dramatically so — and at a time of heightened stress in the international system.[20]

The NATO-Russia Military Exercise Dynamic

Nowhere is this expansion of military exercises more evident and potentially de-stabilizing than in the NATO-Russia arena. Since Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014, tensions have risen steadily between Moscow and the West, with economic sanctions, mutual expulsions of diplomats and the closure of legations, and a barrage of mutual recriminations not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War. Russia’s interference in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, including the insertion of regular units of the Russian army into the fighting there,[21] and at least one major cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid, banks, and government agencies, has exacerbated what was already a full-blown international crisis and catalyzed fears in the West — warranted or not — of a new and more capable Russian threat. Russia, meanwhile, harbors long-standing grievances concerning NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet states (the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact in Central and Eastern Europe, which acceded to NATO from 1990 to 2004. Actions by NATO in the Balkan conflicts, especially the bombing campaign against Serbia, also invoked Russian fears of Western encroachment into what Moscow considers its sphere of influence. [22] These increasingly contentious relations have resulted in a significant expansion of military operations on both sides. Russian forces continuously operate close to NATO forces in and around Europe as well as in the Middle East, especially Syria. Partly, this is because the NATO alliance now adjoins Russia along a longer frontier. Four of the newer NATO member states have land borders with Russia proper (Estonia and Latvia) or its Kaliningrad Oblast exclave (Poland and Lithuania), whereas previously only Norway directly bordered Russia, and that was in the very remote far north. All of these new eastern frontiers have become increasingly militarized. For example, almost from the moment of their accession to NATO, the three Baltic countries — with no combat aircraft of their own — received air defense cover from their NATO allies, a continuing mission that involves frequent intercepts of Russian military aircraft transiting Baltic Sea airspace.[23] The alliance also agreed at its Warsaw summit in 2016 to rotate “battalion-sized battlegroups” into Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in what it termed an “enhanced forward presence.”[24] Samuel Charap argues that Russia has likewise raised the ante in its standoff with NATO by using “its military beyond its borders with unprecedented frequency since the invasion of Crimea in February 2014,” referring to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and by its “brinksmanship in the skies and sea with NATO and other Western militaries.”[25] Finally, Russia’s extensive buildup of forces in Kaliningrad has significantly altered the military landscape in the Baltic Sea region.[26] As Dmitry Gorenburg has noted, the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its Crimea bases have been significantly upgraded, with more resources expected in the coming years. [27] Closing the Exercise Gap The upshot of this heightened military activity is that deconfliction and avoidance of the kinds of catastrophic accident that could lead to hostilities has become an increasingly serious matter. As will be discussed below, military exercises involving these forward-deployed units are an inevitable consequence of their placement.[28] That is to say, if one forward-deploys or bases forces in a given region, exercising them in these locations is imperative — and the chances of miscalculation or accidents rise commensurately. These exercises have generated considerable attention in both the mainstream media and in the national security and geopolitics commentariat. The Russian Federation and its allies have undertaken a number of large-scale military maneuvers designed to test their troops and weapons, demonstrate their ability to defend the homeland, and convey a message of resoluteness in so doing. Russia’s large Zapad (“West”) 2017 maneuvers generated unprecedented coverage in Western media, think tank analyses, and official sources. They provided a prime example of how these events shape the national security discourse between Moscow and NATO.[29] In keeping with the universal exercise rationale template, the Russian Ministry of Defense described Zapad 2017 as “a final stage of joint training of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces [involving] interoperability of staffs [in the defense of] territories of the Republic of Belarus and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation [to prevent] their destabilization.”[30] Both in terms of its regional scope (the Baltic Sea region, western Russia, and Belarus) and the number of personnel and different weapons systems involved, Zapad 2017 certainly deserved the attention it received. But the ensuing frenzy, including concern that the exercise was intended to mask an actual invasion of the Baltics and Poland, exacerbated tensions throughout Europe even though that exercise occurs every four years.[31] Even before Zapad 2017, at least one American national security think tank raised the specter of an “exercise gap” between Russia and NATO, arguing that the former enjoyed a significant advantage.[32] Vostok (“East”) 2018, another quadrennial Russian capstone military exercise, has likewise received extensive coverage in Russia and in Western media, mainly, but not exclusively, because the numbers of troops and equipment engaged may have exceeded Zapad 2017 (there is some dispute about the numbers directly involved[33]), which would make it the largest since the end of the Cold War. But it also involved an “interstate-conflict scenario” with coalition adversaries,[34] closely resembling what Russia would face should it wind up in a fight with NATO, though the maneuvers took place at a far remove from NATO territory. As such, the geopolitical message conveyed by the exercises, in particular the added element of participation by Chinese military units, was more subtle, involving what could be characterized as an in-house assessment of how well Russian armed forces could generate and manage a large-scale conflict from the command-and-control perspective. [quote id="2"] Not to be outdone, NATO and its member states and partners likewise sponsor an expanding series of large and complex military exercises in close proximity to Russia’s western border and its adjacent seas and airspace.[35] Not surprisingly, this has provoked a negative reaction from Moscow. Indeed, since the annexation of Crimea, the schedule of military training events involving NATO and its member states, as well as non-NATO partners, has become increasingly ambitious.[36] As a consequence, the “exercise gap” has narrowed.[37] This was underscored by the alliance’s top leadership at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014,[38] reemphasized at the Warsaw summit in 2016,[39] and reaffirmed at the 2018 Brussels summit: “We continue to ensure the Alliance’s political and military responsiveness, including through more regular exercises.”[40] As is true in general of military exercises, these recent NATO exercises are intended to act as both training events and indicators of security policy and posture. That is, they signal the alliance’s determination to defend its member states. Thus, several major exercises were conducted in 2017 with the aim of “assuring” NATO states bordering or near Russia (especially strategically vulnerable Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) and thereby “deterring” Russian aggression. The evolution of the annual Saber Strike exercise series is a good example. Initially, from 2011, this exercise involved about 2,000 personnel, with a focus on training troops from the Baltic countries to NATO standards as a means of integrating them into the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.[41] By 2018, Saber Strike had grown to 18,000 participants, with a clear focus on “validating our [NATO’s] collective capability to rapidly respond to and reinforce Allies in a time of crisis.”[42] From whence that crisis might emerge is not stated, but reference is made to the fact that the exercise is “not a provocation of Russia,” leaving one to imagine another major external threat to the alliance. In the same vein, the biannual Anakonda exercises organized by Poland have grown enormously since their inception in 2006. The 2016 edition numbered 31,000 troops from 23 countries with the intent “to check the ability of NATO to defend the territory of the eastern flank of the Alliance.”[43] Again, absent an attack from Belarus or Ukraine, the obvious aggressor state would be Russia. But the clearest message yet that NATO intends to push the geopolitical envelope by means of military exercises came via Trident Juncture 2018, the alliance’s premier format. Not only is this the largest post-Cold War NATO exercise, with some 50,000 participants, but the venue, mainly in Norway, further extends the field of play. Hitherto, Norway, a founding NATO member state, had been careful to avoid antagonizing Moscow by allowing maneuvers in its far northern region, but, as Azita Raji notes, the mood in Oslo has clearly shifted toward taking a much stronger stance against what is perceived as an increasingly serious Russian threat.[44] Thus, Trident Juncture 2018 sends three geopolitical messages: that Norway takes its NATO commitment very seriously, that it will push back hard against Russian pressure, and that the alliance supports both of those positions. [45]

Can Anybody Play?

Significantly, over the past decade NATO has sought to integrate some non-NATO partners into operations and exercises, and in certain cases it has conducted large-scale NATO-, U.S.-, or European-sponsored events (including live-fire practice) on the territory of those non-member states, with resultant geopolitical implications. In the Nordic region, for example, Swedish and Finnish forces have participated in exercises with NATO, and NATO ground forces and aircraft have operated in Sweden and Finland proper in the two countries’ respective maneuvers.[46] Finnish and Swedish ground, naval, and air-force units participated in Trident Juncture 2018, with some NATO events taking place in both countries.[47] Such exercises and other steps that the two countries have taken to bolster their militaries have significantly altered the strategic situation in NATO’s favor vis-à-vis Russia in the Baltic Sea area while, predictably, provoking a negative response from Moscow.[48] Likewise, NATO has dramatically strengthened its military relationship with the Republic of Georgia through training assistance programs and major exercises. The highlight of these is the Noble Partner series, wherein U.S. Army forces (including tanks and other armored vehicles) recently deployed to Georgia from bases in Germany. Through participation in such exercises, some units of the Georgian army have met NATO operational standards and are included in NATO’s Response Force, a readily available and deployable contingency command for insertion in emerging-crisis situations.[49] Previously, Georgian troops had been involved in a number of NATO operations. With 32 of its soldiers killed in support of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, Georgia’s casualty rate in that conflict is higher than that of any NATO country.[50] In the Black Sea region, the U.S. Navy has bolstered its presence both in exercises with Ukraine and NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria and through freedom-of-navigation visits. This was particularly evident in the Sea Breeze 2017 exercise, during which two advanced U.S. warships participated and also conducted a port call in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa. Russian news sources have featured prominent coverage of these NATO-Ukraine military maneuvers in the Black Sea. For example, Sea Breeze 2017 was not covered in the mainstream U.S. media (although it did appear in defense-related news outlets and on social media), whereas both Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) had features on the maneuvers. Sputnik posted eight features on another U.S.-Ukraine exercise, Rapid Trident 2017, including articles in its German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Moldovan outlets. One can reasonably conclude that the signaling of military partnership, if not treaty obligation, is being received by Russia, and not favorably.

(In)stability: One Is Easy; the Other, Not So Much

If geopolitical “stability” is a stated goal of most military exercises, a working description of how such stability might be measured in the NATO-Russia context is necessary. Although there is no universally accepted definition to reference, the specifics of where the exercise takes place, how many personnel are engaged, which countries participate, and how certain types of weapons are involved can be used to make at least a rough assessment of the extent to which these events might be de-stabilizing. Using military exercises to advance the forward deployment of troops, naval vessels, and aircraft has been a feature of both NATO and Russian military planning and posturing since the Crimean crisis unfolded, and it show no signs of abating.  Incorporating more advanced weaponry in maneuvers in forward areas is especially destabilizing as it alters the military status quo ante. For example, NATO used the Tobruk Legacy exercise in July 2017 to deploy the Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile system to Lithuania, the first time that such an advanced system had been positioned in the Baltic region.[51] Not surprisingly, Russia viewed that move as provocative.[52] The missiles were withdrawn after the exercise concluded, but the idea of permanently basing them in the region remains very much alive. During a state visit to the White House on April 3, 2018, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid advocated placing Patriots in her country.[53] On the other hand, since 2014, Russia has periodically moved its Iskander tactical ballistic missiles forward to Kaliningrad during exercises, prompting a warning from NATO that this presented a serious threat to the alliance and constituted a “pattern of continuing behavior to coerce [Russia’s] neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe.”[54] As it developed, these exercise deployments were, in fact, the prelude to the permanent basing of an Iskander brigade in Kaliningrad, a move that the chairman of the Russian Duma’s defense committee called “the answer to the deployment of military assets in neighboring territories.”[55] U.S. Navy vessels equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System have participated in the Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea to which, according to one U.S. Defense Department official, “the Russians are particularly sensitive.” That same official stated that the Russians must be “desensitized.”[56] For years, Russia has expressed this “sensitivity” by conducting low-level passes over NATO warships operating on the Black Sea, often dangerously close to the vessels, and by intercepting and approaching NATO maritime patrol and intelligence collection aircraft. Obviously, these incidents carry a very high risk of collision or might provoke hostilities. On April 19, 2018, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the chief of the Russian general staff held a rare face-to-face meeting to discuss “issues related to military posture and exercises … to foster predictability and transparency.”[57] Yet, despite previous such meetings, these encounters continued. Fight Where You Train? By pushing military exercise venues further forward, is NATO signaling that it is prepared to fight early in a conflict with Russia in exposed regions such as the Baltic countries? The viability of changing the NATO/U.S. imperative from “reassurance to deterrence” in that context has been extensively critiqued as problematic at best.[58] Yet, this has not forestalled the view among exercise planners and think tank analysts that it makes good sense to demonstrate at least some capability to engage the threat far forward (e.g., Saber Strike) despite the realities of military geography.[59] As I have written apropos the challenges of a high-end fight with Russia from an airpower perspective, conducting military exercises close to Russia’s heavily defended territory where NATO forces are at a serious disadvantage is a singularly bad idea: Airfields are static targets, and most of those closest to the eastern borders of NATO countries do not possess facilities hardened to withstand the inevitable attacks against them. They are also within easy range of any number of Russian offensive threats.[60] Moreover, because Russia has put in place the much-discussed anti-access/area-denial “bubbles” of sophisticated defenses around its western perimeter and extending well into NATO’s eastern flank, the alliance must confront a difficult question:[61] Is the geopolitical message that these exercises send essentially a bluff easily recognized by Russia as such and, therefore, unnecessarily provocative? Along these same lines, what is the point of conducting military exercises with non-NATO countries if the alliance is not treaty-bound to assist them in the event that they are attacked by Russia? One could argue that the increasingly tight bonds between NATO and Sweden and Finland bolster the alliance’s Baltic Sea flank and that both of those countries have capable militaries and long-standing cultural, political, and economic ties with many NATO states by virtue of their membership in the European Union.[62] To some extent, Russia facilitates this drawing together for common defense by sending mixed military-exercise messages of its own: In the Zapad 2013 exercise, Russian aircraft simulated what appeared to be an attack on military targets in Sweden, a charge denied by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. More recently, a Russian special forces operation on an island 24 miles from the Finnish coast signaled to Moscow’s neighbor that the threat is close by, a point about which the Finns hardly need to be reminded. [quote id="3"] Ukraine and Georgia present an altogether different geopolitical and strategic agenda that NATO and the United States seem determined to advance by, among other means, carrying out increasingly more complex military exercises in those countries. Certainly, the exercises and the official statements made about them also form an integral part of the messaging from NATO and its member states to Russia. NATO places a high premium on supporting these two partner states and is determined to assist them in deterring Russian aggression. The exercise messaging would suggest that the maneuvers are for training (especially interoperability), defense, and promoting stability. But is that how it is interpreted in Moscow? Do the exercises in Ukraine and Georgia suggest that NATO or the United States is prepared to fight there? Does that make any sense from a military perspective? Finally, does conducting such exercises promote regional stability? Interoperability between NATO and non-NATO members (in this case, Ukraine and Georgia) is a consistent element of messaging, appearing in the mission statement for Sea Breeze, Rapid Trident, Noble Partner, and other exercises conducted in the Black Sea region. Promoting interoperability with partner militaries such as those of Ukraine and Georgia makes a significant statement that the alliance is extending its remit and creating, de facto, an expanded military frontier into an unstable area with thick geopolitics. Simply put, why work toward greater interoperability unless the intent is to interoperate? The suggestion that these partners already operate with NATO outside the area and therefore should be able to operate by NATO standards makes sense. But when exercises are conducted in areas bordering Russia, that distinction will not be appreciated in Moscow. Among other things, such exercises involve actual combat units of participating NATO countries, bringing with them heavy and sophisticated weaponry. Sea Breeze 2017, for example, included a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, among the most powerful warships afloat. These provided an opportunity for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to visit (and be photographed on) one of the ships at port in Odesa, where he could “emphasize … that this joint training is our response to ideologists, organizers and sponsors of hybrid wars” and that the “Head of State [Poroshenko] is confident that the training will become another resolute step towards achieving stability in the region.”[63] The parties fomenting hybrid wars and instability were not named, but, from where Poroshenko stood, the air distance to the Russian naval base at Sevastopol is only about 200 miles and is easily within the Crimean anti-access/area-denial zone that the Russians have since put in place.[64] Again, citing Dmitry Gorenburg, Russia is “mak[ing] it clear that the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet and the concurrent strengthening of Russian military presence in the Black Sea region [is] a priority to counter the threat it sees emanating from NATO and its partners in the region, including Ukraine.”[65] In a similar fashion, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence noted during the opening ceremony of Noble Partner 2017 in Georgia that “The strategic partnership between the United States and Georgia is stronger now than ever, and this joint exercise is a tangible sign of our commitment to each other to make it stronger still.”[66] Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili used the occasion of the Noble Partner 2018 kickoff to denounce Moscow for its role in the 2008 conflict that resulted in the secession of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying that the participating troops “are standing on the territory of a country, 20 percent of which is absolutely occupied by our neighbor Russia.”[67] After Noble Partner began, perhaps responding to Margvelashvili’s statement (although he did not refer specifically to the exercise), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that admitting Georgia to NATO could trigger a “terrible conflict,” suggesting, at the least, that the presence of combat troops, including tanks and other armored vehicles from NATO countries, in a “frozen conflict” zone is viewed by Moscow as unacceptable and highly destabilizing.[68]

Conclusion: Is Exercise Always Good?

Despite the vast increase in the number and scope of NATO and associated exercises, in Western think tanks some still advocate “more big exercises.”[69] There is a strong contingent of exercise advocates within the U.S. national security establishment and among many allied governments.[70] Yet, as Michael O’Hanlon suggested in regard to the Korean theater, cutting back or even eliminating large-scale exercises can be offset by conducting more frequent training at the tactical level, using “state-of-the-art simulations,” or by conducting exercises outside the immediate vicinity, including in the United States.[71] The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag exercises in Nevada and Alaska, which usually include units from other countries, are a good example of the latter. Although the lower visibility involved in small-scale exercises or those remote from geopolitically fraught regions reduces the demonstration effect in deterring an aggressor, they are also much less de-stabilizing, precisely because they lack the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding highly publicized exercises such as Zapad 2017 and Trident Juncture 2018. Military exercises in Europe since early 2014 have frequently involved bringing troops, naval vessels, and aircraft from opposing sides within increasingly closer proximity to one another, and have introduced newer and more capable weaponry as part of the fielded forces. The official messaging behind these maneuvers usually makes reference to the need to train in real-world conditions and ensure that units from different militaries can operate efficiently with one another. Moreover, the defensive nature of the exercise is stressed, often with the claim that greater capability will promote geopolitical stability and deter aggression. But by incorporating non-member militaries in its exercises and other missions, NATO has ratcheted up the operational tempo of its forces in areas that Russia views as buffer zones and that are too close for its strategic comfort. Not surprisingly, Russia responds in kind and raises anxiety levels among NATO members and key non-NATO partners and, in some cases, increases the likelihood of inadvertent actions that could escalate into hostilities. Explaining the Russian rationale behind the huge Vostok 2018 exercise and other Russian maneuvers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly toward us, is absolutely justified and has no alternative.”[72] Not surprisingly, U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Foggo, who commanded NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018, said that the rationale from his perspective is much the same: “NATO is a defensive Alliance. We’re not looking for a fight, but we are committed to defense and deterrence. That’s what this exercise is all about: training to defend, and providing a deterrent effect, ready to respond to any threat from any direction at any time.”[73] Certainly, both NATO and Russia have legitimate interests in maintaining readiness, exercising command and control of complex military operations, and assuring both their citizens and allies that they are capable of defending against external aggression. But the danger here is that the two sides are caught in an increasingly complex and dynamic upward spiral of military brinkmanship that will be difficult to manage if present trends continue. If there is a way out of this dangerous course of events it might lie within the framework of the Vienna Document 2011, the latest version of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreement to which the United States, other NATO countries, and Russia (among others) are signatories. The document is “composed of politically binding confidence and security-building measures designed to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted inside the OSCE's zone of application,”[74] which is essentially all of Europe (including Russia as far east as the Ural Mountains). It requires all participating states to notify other parties of military events above a certain threshold and to invite observers to these events. The central problem here, as articulated by Olivier Schmitt, is that the heightened level of geopolitical tension in Europe effectively precludes the necessary updates and modifications to the OSCE document that would make it a more effective instrument for containing, among other things, the unbridled growth of military exercises.[75] In Europe, a region with very thick geopolitics, the messaging incorporated into both NATO and Russian military exercises “risk[s] inducing a self-righteous bubble of understanding that is too far removed from the ground-level actualities in [the] post-Soviet space.”[76] NATO, in response to the entreaties of its eastern allied states and even non-member states, and at times because of ill-advised moves by Russia, has leveraged itself into territory that it would be hard-pressed to defend against a large, conventional Russian attack. Using their military exercises to message their interest in bolstering defenses in this inherently unstable geopolitical zone is a risky proposition, at best, for both NATO and Russia.   Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Gerard Toal for reading an earlier version of this paper, and Ryan Evans and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on the draft. Megan Oprea and Autumn Brewington provided much-needed editorial advice. Any shortcomings remaining are solely the author’s responsibility.   Ralph Clem is emeritus professor of geography and senior fellow at the Steven J. Green School of Public and International Affairs at Florida International University. He also served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, retiring as a major general.   Image: North Carolina National Guard [post_title] => Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => military-exercises-as-geopolitical-messaging-in-the-nato-russia-dynamic-reassurance-deterrence-and-instability [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-14 08:51:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-14 13:51:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=763 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Military exercises are often viewed as geopolitical tools used to boost stability and enhance deterrence. However, they can sometimes have the exact opposite effect: increasing instability and contributing to dangerous levels of escalation. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of NATO and Russia. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Once it has been decided that exercises are to take place, geopolitical messaging is conveyed in several ways in their actual execution. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => [S]ince the annexation of Crimea, the schedule of military training events involving NATO and its member states, as well as non-NATO partners, has become increasingly ambitious. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [W]hat is the point of conducting military exercises with non-NATO countries if the alliance is not treaty-bound to assist them in the event that they are attacked by Russia? ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 223 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] This decision seemed to catch the Pentagon and Seoul off guard. See: Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, “Trump’s Promises to Kim Jong-un Leave U.S. and Allies Scrambling,” New York Times, June 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/15/world/asia/us-trump-north-korea-credible-military-exercises.html. [2] For an excellent overview, see: Beatrice Heuser, “Reflections on the Purposes, Benefits and Pitfalls of Military Exercises,” in Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, ed. Beatrice Heuser, Tormod Heier, and Guillaume Lasconjarias (Rome: NATO Defense College Forum Paper 26, February 2018), 9–25. [3] This paper concerns only major scheduled military exercises. Most militaries also conduct tactical training exercises and “snap” or “operational readiness” inspections, but these are difficult to enumerate and even more difficult to analyze. In the case of Russia, for example, see: Alexander Golts, “Rehearsals for War,” European Council on Foreign Relations, July 5, 2016,  https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_rehearsals_for_war. [4] David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson, “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics,” RAND Corp., 2016, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html. For a broader discussion of war gaming, see: Jeffrey Appleget, Jeffrey Kline, and James J. Wirtz, “Do Wargames Impact Deterrence?” in Heuser, Heier, and Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 27–44. As war games relate to escalation dynamics, see: Jacquelyn G. Schneider, “What War Games Tell Us About the Use of Cyber Weapons in a Crisis,” Defense One, June 22, 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/06/what-war-games-tell-us-about-use-cyber-weapons-crisis/149206/. [5] Michael Kofman, “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO’s Crushing Defeat by Russia,” War on the Rocks, May 12, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/05/fixing-nato-deterrence-in-the-east-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-natos-crushing-defeat-by-russia/. [6] Gerard Toal, Near Abroad: Putin, the West, and the Contest Over Ukraine and the Caucasus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). [7] As this involves Norway’s decision to push its defense perimeter farther north, see: Tormod Heier, “Towards a New Robust Defence? Norway’s Exercises on NATO’s Northern Flank, 2008–2017,” in Heuser, Heier, and Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 163–85. [8] Mark Galeotti, “Heavy Metal Diplomacy: Russia’s Political Use of Its Military in Europe Since 2014,” European Council on Foreign Relations Policy Brief, Dec. 19, 2016, https://www.ecfr.eu/page/-/Heavy_Metal_Diplomacy_Final_2.pdf. [9] Roland Bleiker, “Mapping Visual Global Politics,” in Visual Global Politics, ed. Roland Bleiker (New York: Routledge, 2018), 1. [10] Joint exercises involve two or more service components (air, ground, or naval), and combined exercises involve forces from two or more countries. Herb Lin, “The U.S. and South Korea Should Conditionally End Large Joint Military Exercises,” Lawfare, Aug. 30, 2017, https://lawfareblog.com/us-and-south-korea-should-conditionally-end-large-joint-military-exercises; Helene Cooper and Choe Sang-Hun, “U.S. and South Korea to Resume Joint Military Exercises,” New York Times, March 19, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/us/politics/us-south-korea-joint-military-exercises.html. [12] Emphasis added in excerpt from “U.S., South Korea Launch Annual Foal Eagle Exercise,” Department of Defense News, March 3, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1102331/us-south-korea-launch-annual-foal-eagle-exercise/. [13] Robert Collins, “A Brief History of the US-ROK Combined Military Exercises,” 38 North, Feb. 26, 2014, https://www.38north.org/2014/02/rcollins022714/. [14] Michael R. Gordon and Declan Walsh, “General Says U.S. Wants to Resume Major Military Exercise With Egypt,” New York Times, Feb. 26, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/26/world/middleeast/trump-al-sisi-egypt-military-exercise.html. [15] “U.S., Egypt Kick Off Exercise Bright Star 2017,” U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs, Sept. 13, 2017, http://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/1308877/us-egypt-kick-off-exercise-bright-star-2017/. [16] Adarsha Verma, “The Malabar Exercises: An Appraisal,” Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, July 18, 2017, https://idsa.in/idsacomments/the-malabar-exercises_averma_180717. [17] Prashanth Parameswaran, “What Does a Bigger 2018 Balikatan Military Exercise Say About US-Philippines Alliance Under Duterte?” Diplomat, May 8, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/what-does-a-bigger-2018-balikatan-military-exercise-say-about-us-philippines-alliance-under-duterte/. [18] Megan Eckstein, “China Disinvited from Participating in 2018 RIMPAC Exercise,” USNI News, May 23, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2018/05/23/china-disinvited-participating-2018-rimpac-exercise. [19] Tom O’Connor, “Russia and China Will Hold War Games in Asia, Checking U.S. Military Power in Pacific,” Newsweek, April 26, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/russia-china-hold-war-games-asia-taking-us-military-power-pacfic-903251. [20] Michael J. Mazarr and Michael Kofman, “Rediscovering Statecraft in a Changing Post-War Order,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 3 (May 2018), http://hdl.handle.net/2152/65634. [21] Ralph S. Clem, “Clearing the Fog of War: Public Versus Official Sources and Geopolitical Storylines in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict,” Eurasian Geography and Economics 58, no. 6 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/15387216.2018.1424006. [22] There is a vast literature on this subject. For an overview, see: Andrew Monaghan, “The Ukraine Crisis and NATO-Russia Relations,” NATO Review (2014), https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2014/russia-ukraine-nato-crisis/Ukraine-crisis-NATO-Russia-relations/EN/index.htm; Kimberly Marten, “Reconsidering NATO Expansion: A Counterfactual Analysis of Russia and the West in the 1990s,” European Journal of International Security 3, no. 2 (June 2018), https://doi.org/10.1017/eis.2017.16; Michael McFaul, “Russia As It Is: A Grand Strategy for Confronting Putin,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 4 (July/August 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2018-06-14/russia-it. [23] The Baltic Air Policing mission involves heel-to-toe rotations of fighter aircraft to bases in Lithuania and Estonia. See: “NATO Air Policing,” Allied Air Command, accessed Oct. 30, 2018, https://ac.nato.int/page5931922/-nato-air-policing. [24] “Boosting NATO’s presence in the east and southeast,” NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), Aug. 14, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_136388.htm. [25] Samuel Charap, “Russia’s Use of Military Force as a Foreign Policy Tool: Is There a Logic?” PONARS Policy Memo 443, October 2016, http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/russias-use-military-force-foreign-policy-tool-there-logic. [26] Fredrik Westerlund, “Russia’s Military Strategy and Force Structure in Kaliningrad,” Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), FOI Memo 6060, May 2017, https://www.foi.se/download/18.bc6b81b15be852194d71d/1494413062692/RUFS Briefing No 40 Kaliningrad by Fredrik Westerlund.pdf. [27] Dmitry Gorenburg, “Is a New Russian Black Sea Fleet Coming? Or Is It Here?” War on the Rocks, July 31, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/07/is-a-new-russian-black-sea-fleet-coming-or-is-it-here/. [28] Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, November 2014, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Dangerous-Brinkmanship.pdf. [29] Keir Giles, “Russia Hit Multiple Targets With Zapad-2017,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Jan. 25, 2018, http://carnegieendowment.org/2018/01/25/russia-hit-multiple-targets-with-zapad-2017-pub-75278. [30] Emphasis added to this undated Russian Ministry of Defense press release on the Zapad 2017 Joint Strategic Exercisehttp://eng.mil.ru/en/mission/practice/more.htm?id=12140115@egNews. [31] Andrew Higgins, “Russia’s War Games with Fake Enemies Cause Real Alarm,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/world/europe/russia-baltics-belarus.html. [32] Ian J. Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis, “The NATO-Russia Exercise Gap,” Atlantic Council’s NATOSource, Feb. 23, 2015, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/the-nato-russia-exercise-gap. [33] Michael Kofman questions the manner in which the much larger numbers were generated, but the publicity from the Russian Ministry of Defense stresses the record size. See his article “Assessing Vostok-2018,” Changing Character of War Centre, Russia Brief no. 3, September 2018, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55faab67e4b0914105347194/t/5bae3876ec212d07ae601d68/1538144376047/Russia+Brief+3.pdf. [34] Dmitry Gorenburg, “5 Things to Know About Russia’s Vostok-2018 Military Exercises,” Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog, Sept. 13, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/09/13/5-things-to-know-about-russias-vostok-2018-military-exercises/. [35] NATO sponsors a set of exercises annually, and some of its member states or groupings of members do likewise. For an in-depth look at a NATO exercise and a Russian exercise, see: Thomas Frear, Ian Kearns, and Łukasz Kulesa, “Preparing for the Worst: Are Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe More Likely?” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, August 2015, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Preparing-for-the-Worst.pdf. [36] Ralph S. Clem, “NATO’s Expanding Military Exercises Are Sending Risky Mixed Messages,” War on the Rocks, Oct. 10, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/10/natos-expanding-military-exercises-are-sending-risky-mixed-messages/. [37] Ian Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis, “The NATO-Russia Exercise Gap: Then, Now, and 2017,” Atlantic Council’s NATOSource, Oct. 25, 2016, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/the-nato-russia-exercise-gap-then-now-2017. [38] NATO, “Wales Summit Declaration,” news release (2014) 120, Sept. 5, 2014, https://www.nato.int/cps/ic/natohq/official_texts_112964.htm - top. [39] NATO, “Warsaw Summit Communiqué,” news release (2016) 100, July 9, 2016, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_133169.htm. [40] Emphasis added to official alliance statement on the Brussels summit. See: NATO, “Brussels Summit Declaration,” news release (2018) 74, July 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm. [41] “During Saber Strike, Baltic Countries Train with U.S., U.K., Canada,” Army News Service, June 13, 2012, https://www.army.mil/article/81683/during_saber_strike_baltic_countries_train_with_us_uk_canada. [42] Undated U.S. Army (Europe) webpage on “Saber Strike 2018” exercise, http://www.eur.army.mil/SaberStrike/. [43] “The Anaconda-16 Exercises Begin,” Polish Ministry of National Defence, June 7, 2016, http://en.mon.gov.pl/news/article/important/the-anaconda-16-exercises-begin-n2016-06-07/. [44] Azita Raji, “The Perils of Playing Footsie in Military Boots: Trident Juncture and NATO’s Nordic Front,” War on the Rocks, Aug. 20, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/the-perils-of-playing-footsie-in-military-boots-trident-juncture-and-natos-nordic-front/. See also: Heier, “Towards a New Robust Defence?” [45] Ralph Clem, “Today, NATO Begins a Huge Military Exercise. Here’s What You Need to Know,” Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog, October 25, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/10/25/today-nato-begins-a-huge-military-exercise-heres-what-you-need-to-know/?utm_term=.aa2fb879a091 [46] Richard Milne, “Sweden Gears Up for Biggest Military Exercise in Decades,” Financial Times, Sept. 7, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/11e9a55c-93b3-11e7-a9e6-11d2f0ebb7f0; Brad Lendon and Zachary Cohen, “U.S. Air Force to Send F-15 Jets to Finland,” CNN.com, Feb. 15, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/15/politics/u-s-f-15-finland-training-exercise/index.html. [47] Finnish Defence Forces, “Trident Juncture 2018 to Be Organized in October-November in Norway, Sweden and Finland,” news release, April 27, 2018, https://puolustusvoimat.fi/en/article/-/asset_publisher/trident-juncture-2018-harjoitus-jarjestetaan-loka-marraskuussa-norjassa-ruotsissa-ja-suomessa; Undated Swedish Armed Forces webpage on “Trident Juncture 2018,” https://www.forsvarsmakten.se/en/activities/exercises/trident-juncture-18/. [48] Sweden brought back military conscription in 2017 and is set to make major increases in its defense spending that will add significant troop strength, aircraft, and enhanced cyber capabilities. See: Gerard O’Dwyer, “New Swedish Government Advocates for Greater Defense Spending,” Defense News, Sept. 12, 2018. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2018/09/12/new-swedish-government-advocates-for-greater-defense-spending/. Finland, which already has compulsory service, likewise plans to increase its defense spending and add manpower. See: “Finland to Increase Troop Levels, Defence Spending Amid Heightened Tensions,” Reuters, Feb. 16, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-finland-government-military/finland-to-increase-troop-levels-defence-spending-amid-heightened-tensions-idUKKBN15V25C. [49] “NATO Response Force,” NATO website, Jan. 16, 2017, https://www.nato.int/cps/ua/natohq/topics_49755.htm. [50] Denmark has the highest casualty rate of any NATO member state. [51] “U.S. Deploys Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles in Baltics for First Time,” Reuters, July 10, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-baltics-patriot/u-s-deploys-advanced-anti-aircraft-missiles-in-baltics-for-first-time-idUSKBN19V28A. [52] “US Moves Patriot Missiles near Russian Border in 1st Baltic Deployment,” RT, July 11, 2017, https://www.rt.com/news/396028-us-patriot-missiles-baltics/. [53] “Estonia Calls for Deployment of US Troops, Patriot Missiles,” Euractiv, April 5, 2018, https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/news/estonia-calls-for-deployment-of-us-troops-patriot-missiles/. [54] Vladimir Isachenkov, “Russia Is Putting State-of-the-Art Missile in Its Westernmost Baltic Exclave,” Business Insider, March 18, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-placing-state-of-the-art-missiles-in-kaliningrad-2015-3. [55] Richard Milne and Kathrin Hille, “Baltic Concern Rises at Russian Missiles in Kaliningrad,” Financial Times, Feb. 5, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/ef93af1e-0a8d-11e8-8eb7-42f857ea9f09. [56] Victoria Leoni, “Navy Sends Destroyers to Black Sea to ‘Desensitize’ Russia,” Navy Times, Feb. 20, 2018, https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2018/02/20/navy-sends-destroyers-to-black-sea-to-desensitize-russia/. [57] “NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Meets with Russian Chief of General Staff,” Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe Public Affairs Office, April 19, 2018, https://shape.nato.int/news-archive/2018/nato-supreme-allied-commander-europe--general-scaparrotti-meets-with-russian-chief-of-general-staff--general-gerasimov. [58] Kofman, “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East”; Ulrich Kühn, Preventing Escalation in the Baltics: A NATO Playbook (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2018), https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/03/28/preventing-escalation-in-baltics-nato-playbook-pub-75878. [59] Clem, “NATO’s Expanding Military Exercises Are Sending Risky Mixed Messages.” [60] Ralph S. Clem, “Forward Basing NATO Airpower in the Baltics Is a Bad Idea,” War on the Rocks, April 18, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/04/forward-basing-nato-airpower-in-the-baltics-is-a-bad-idea/; Ralph S. Clem, “Geopolitics and Planning for a High-End Fight: NATO and the Baltic Region,” Air and Space Power Journal 30, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 74–85, https://www.airuniversity.af.mil/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-30_Issue-1/V-Clem.pdf. For a contrary view, see: Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis, “Time for the Baltic Air Policing Mission to Become the Baltic Air Defense Mission,” Heritage Foundation, Oct. 2, 2017, https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/time-the-baltic-air-policing-mission-become-the-baltic-air-defense-mission. [61] Luis Simon, “Demystifying the A2/AD Buzz,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 4, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/demystifying-the-a2ad-buzz/. [62] Coffey and Kochis, “Time for the Baltic Air Policing Mission to Become the Baltic Air Defense Mission.” [63] Petro Poroshenko, “President on Sea Breeze 2017 Training,” July 17, 2017, https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/prezident-pro-navchannya-sea-breeze-2017-ce-nasha-vidpovid-i-42442. [64] Loic Burton, “Bubble Trouble: Russia’s A2/AD Capabilities,” Foreign Policy Association, Oct. 25, 2016, https://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2016/10/25/bubble-trouble-russia-a2-ad/. [65] Gorenburg, “Is a New Russian Black Sea Fleet Coming? Or Is It Here?” [66] Author’s emphasis added to the statement. “Remarks by the Vice President to Noble Partner Participants,” U.S. Embassy in Georgia, Aug. 1, 2017, https://ge.usembassy.gov/remarks-vp-noble-partner-participants/. [67] “Georgia Slams Russia ‘Occupation’ Ahead of NATO War Games,” DW.com, Aug. 1, 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/georgia-slams-russia-occupation-ahead-of-nato-war-games/a-44916562. [68] Andrew Osborn, “Russian PM Warns NATO Admission of Georgia Could Trigger ‘Terrible Conflict,’” Reuters, Aug. 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-nato-georgia/russian-pm-warns-nato-admission-of-georgia-could-trigger-terrible-conflict-idUSKBN1KR1UQ. [69] Elisabeth Braw, “NATO Needs More Big Exercises, Too,” Defense One, June 14, 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/06/nato-needs-more-big-exercises-too/148980/. [70] Lara Seligman, “Experts Question Wisdom of Canceling U.S. Exercises with South Korea, as Mattis Makes It Official,” Foreign Policy, June 26, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/26/experts-question-wisdom-of-canceling-u-s-exercises-with-south-korea-as-mattis-makes-it-official/. [71] Michael E. O’Hanlon, “It’s Finally Time to Deal With North Korea,” New York Times, July 5, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/opinion/north-korea-military-sanctions.html. [72] Andrew Higgins, “300,000 Troops and 900 Tanks: Russia’s Biggest Military Drills Since Cold War,” New York Times, Aug, 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/world/europe/russia-military-drills.html. Jack Watling correctly points out that the exercise also serves a domestic political purpose: highlighting Russia’s growing military might as a distraction from the country’s social and economic problems. “Russia’s Vostok-2018 Exercise Is About a Lot More Than War With NATO,” RUSI Commentary, Sept. 7, 2018, https://rusi.org/commentary/russia’s-vostok-2018-exercise-about-lot-more-war-nato. [73] NATO, “Exercise Trident Juncture 18 to Demonstrate NATO’s ability to Defend Itself,” news release, June 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_155866.htm. [74] State Department, “Overview of Vienna Document 2011,”   https://www.state.gov/t/avc/cca/c43837.htm. [75] Olivier Schmitt, “The Vienna Document and the Russian Challenge to the European Security Architecture,” in Heuser, Heier, Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 269–84. 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