In a secret report, NATO warns that it may not be prepared to confront a hypothetical Russian attack. Senior military officers would like to see a return to the command structures used by the alliance during the Cold War.
The 2nd Cavalry Regiment is one of the oldest units in the U.S. Army. As early as 1846, soldiers from the unit fought against Mexico and in the American Indian Wars two decades later, elements of the unit stumbled into an ambush and were scalped. In 1905, the cavalry members put down a rebellion on the Philippines before going on to take part in two world wars. More recently, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment made several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But on July 18, 2017, the 1st Squadron of the proud regiment came up against an opponent that it couldn’t handle. At the Romanian-Bulgarian border, the unit’s convoy found itself stopped by a simple border crossing. “We sat in our Strykers for an hour and a half in the sun just waiting for guys to manually stamp some paperwork,” Colonel Patrick Ellis, the unit’s commander, told the American website Defense One.
In times of peace, such a situation seems little more than burlesque. But in more serious circumstances, such a thing could limit NATO’s ability to defend itself. Ever since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the Western alliance has been preparing to defend its territory against an aggressor, should it become necessary. But the bureaucracy associated with the international borders among the alliance’s 29 member states likely slows troop convoys more effectively than any Russian tank trap ever could. And the problem isn’t one of bureaucracy alone.
Since the end of June, a report marked “NATO SECRET” has been circulating in headquarters in Brussels that unsparingly lists the alliance’s weaknesses. Under the innocuous title “Progress Report on the Alliance’s Strengthened Deterrence and Defense Posture,” the authors arrive at the shocking conclusion that “NATO’s ability to logistically support rapid reinforcement in the much-expanded territory covering SACEUR’s (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) area of operation has been atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”
Atrophy is a word used by doctors to describe the wasting away of bodily tissue, often the result of disuse due to injury. And it takes quite some time before strength is rebuilt. Twenty-seven years after the end of the Cold War, NATO’s logistical infrastructure is apparently in a similar situation: Its functionality is limited.
There are shortages of almost everything: things like low-loaders for tanks, train cars for heavy equipment and modern bridges that can bear the weight of a 64-ton giant like the Leopard 2 battle tank. What good are the most expensive weapons systems when they can’t be transported to where they are needed most? “The overall risk to rapid reinforcement is substantial,” the report reads.
A Vexing Situation
Not even the alliance’s rapid-response unit can be relied upon …