Too often today, the obvious cannot be seen or acknowledged unless somebody conducts an exercise or a research project. Then we are all allowed to see and comment upon what leaders should have been seeing and warning about all along.
So here is an issue we have been discussing for 20 years -- the stupid decision by our elite (of both parties, much of academia, and the entire DOS and DOD) to expand NATO right up to the border of Russia, and pledge that we will go to war in defense of what cannot be defended without huge effort and expense. What we spent on NATO at the height of the Cold War would not come close to meeting the requirements to rapidly reinforce and defend the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). The Russians have their largest military force an afternoon drive from the potential battlefield. We have our forces weeks to months away . . . IF we still had some appropriate forces to send. But the tanks and mechanized infantry troops we would need are gone, as are the air interdiction and air defense forces that would be equally essential.
And by the way -- the conventional force we fielded in NATO was never the real deterrent. A no kidding conventional war in Europe would have been bloody, because NATO could have offered strong resistance . . . for a while. But from at least our Vietnam involvement through the 1989 fall of The Wall, the Russians could probably have taken Germany (maybe not France) if they were really willing to pay the price. They had the reserves and the geographic advantage. They could pour in forces faster than we could defeat them, until we were overrun. We practiced our defense a lot. I was there -- I practiced it a lot. Our conventional defense would probably not have kept the Soviets out of Germany.
What dissuaded them from testing their conventional advantage was the knowledge that if our traditional defense failed, a tactical nuclear defense awaited. A “pulse” of hundreds of small nukes delivered by artillery, rockets, short and intermediate range missiles, and aircraft would not have just blunted the attacking hordes – it would have eviscerated them. But that nuclear deterrent is now completely gone, as are our tank divisions and fighter/bomber squadrons -- the weapons, the systems, the people, the facilities and the training are not just out of Europe, they are out of existence.
This is especially bad news because control of the Baltics really matters to Russia. Imagine that one of our biggest military bases, many of our military ships, and our primary access to say, the Gulf of Mexico, were all concentrated on a spot of land we owned, that was separated from our mainland by 100 miles of Mexican territory. Would we be pretty intent on establishing a land bridge to our base and troops and ships? Especially if Mexico cut a deal with Russia to defend that land bridge and keep us cut off from our forces? That is the situation with the Russian territory and base of Kaliningrad -- on the Baltic Sea and a short drive from Russia (as long as they are willing to make that drive over Lithuania – a NATO partner we are pledged to defend).
In short, we are pledged to go to war to defend a strip of land that can’t be defended, using troops and equipment that do not exist, while partnered with European military forces in worse shape for this mission than we are. The military objective we defend is of vital interest to our opponent. And anybody who spends 5 minutes looking at this situation can see all this plain as day. Anybody except our European specialists who have been busily spot-welding our future to the Baltic states for two decades.
Fortunately, somebody has now run an exercise, and looked the disaster full in the face, so we can talk about it. (Sydney Freedberg Breaking Defense). This is not the first group to do this - there have been previous exercises like this, with similar outcomes. But this one featured a cast of well known "NATO experts," and a pedigree from an organization generally more friendly to Obama style "transformation" of America's role in the world, than say, RAND -- so it is getting more attention.
Well good -- finally. But I still have one complaint. Relying on advice from the NATO experts who dithered while the problem unfolded does not strike me as the best approach fixing it. I would prefer bringing in an expert who understands the realities of war, offense and defense. Ditching the generals and ambassadors who got us into this mess, and consulting any random corporal from the 82d Airborne Division instead, would be a good start.