June 16, 2015 | Research | TPF Staff

Eastern Europe Needs “Deterrence” not “Assurance”

The Potomac Foundation applauds U.S. plan to deploy heavy weaponry to Eastern Europe; calls for reestablishing a meaningful NATO Deterrence Posture.

The Potomac Foundation strongly endorses the Pentagon’s decision to introduce battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for up to 5,000 troops to several Baltic and East European countries, as reported by the New York Times over the weekend.

This move will be the first step in over two decades to finally start correcting the current strategic malaise and military vacuum that leaves NATO capabilities emasculated and emboldens aggressive behavior in the region.

Since 1993, The Potomac Foundation has been warning about the dangers of deep withdrawals of prepositioned U.S. heavy forces from Central Europe; and argued against the reduction of its conventional forces designed for high-intensity combat and the negligently slow modernization rate of U.S. ground forces.

The current administration’s penchant for “leading from behind” and America’s decade-plus preoccupation with the “war on terror” have diverted our strategic focus and resources away from the most formidable danger to our closest friends and allies.

“Refocusing of the U.S. efforts toward Europe is timely, prudent, and has a great stabilizing potential,” believes Dr. Phillip Karber, President of the Potomac Foundation.

Since 2014, Dr. Karber has made 15 trips to the war zones in Ukraine, where he has been documenting and analyzing Russia’s “New Generation Warfare” concept of operations as manifested in violations of international boundaries; seizure of Crimea; promotion of a major proxy war in the Donbas region; and observing Russia’s increasingly frequent and provocative aerial and maritime maneuvering, as well as nuclear exercises against NATO.

“One of the most urgent pleas articulated by the senior-level defense officials from Central Europe and the Baltic States who participated in the 24th Annual European Security Workshop ran by the Potomac Foundation in Florence last month, was the need for “deterrence, not assurance,” said Dr. Karber. “It is important that the impending change in the U.S. regional deployment is not merely intended to assuage Allied concerns, but, more importantly, designed to send a strong signal to any country attempting to threaten the security of the European order.”

This renewed focus on European Security is a great first step. However, over the next few months, the Administration, Congress and the national security policy community must follow up with corresponding adjustments in budgets and programs. The following recommendations put forth by Potomac Foundation’s Starry-Watkins Initiative[1] should be considered:

  • Establishing a new NATO defense concept that moves beyond rhetoric and serves as a solid foundation for a realistic defense of the Baltic States, Poland and the southern region of Eastern Europe.
  • Immediately providing Ukraine with the defensive weapons (Javelin & TOW II anti-tank guided missiles; long-range counter-artillery radar; and high-altitude UAV surveillance) necessary to ensure the continued viability of the Minsk II Ceasefire; and initiate a series of bilateral and alliance studies on how Ukraine’s defense potential can be integrated to support NATO’s air, land & maritime security.
  • Re-envisioning the role of the U.S. Army in Europe, not merely as a national reinforcement, but rather the forward-deployed, high-tech spine around which East European muscle can be built-up and integrated into a synergistic defensive force where the total deterrent value is more than the sum of the parts.
  • Resurrecting the concept of a bipartisan Long-Term Defense Plan (LTDP) for NATO[2] focused on East European defense and security; incorporating, but adjusting for current conditions, many of the innovative and effective concepts of the original LTDP, such as:
    • Prepositioned equipment (in much smaller unit sets to reduce vulnerability);
    • Establishment of an active U.S. Corps Headquarters located in Poland—the new center of gravity for NATO’s defense;
    • Negotiation of host-nation support packages and hardened shelters for rapid-reaction U.S. air assets deployable to the region;
    • Provision of standardized and secure command, control & intelligence between the U.S. and East European forces;
    • Deployment of a Patriot air defense belt from the Baltic to the Black Sea integrated with AWACS surveillance and incorporating allied air assets;
    • Advancing modernization, standardization and interoperability of East European armies by supplying surplus U.S. artillery systems, anti-tank weapons, long-range rocket launchers and A-10 ground support aircraft;
    • Preparation of a NATO infrastructure and training fund to improve East European logistics, rapid reinforcement reception, and intra-Allied interoperability.
  • In the event of continued hostile Russian nuclear posturing and coercive threats, fielding of low-yield nuclear artillery, and deployment of SS-26 Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and Crimea – reassessment of NATO’s own nuclear deterrents in term of expanded delivery options and halting the two-decade long freeze on U.S. warhead design.

Such an effort is not inexpensive and would require considerable time to fully implement. However, as demonstrated by the LDTP initiative in the past, a proactive, bi-partisan American strategy focused on strengthening alliance partnership is the best way to produce an effective and efficient defensive deterrent for our friends as well as a stable Europe for all.

In 2009, the Potomac Foundation convened a working group on the Future of the Transatlantic Alliance. Originally directed by Gen. Don A. Starry (the visionary behind the “Air-Land Battle” Concept) and Admiral James D. Watkins (former Chief of Naval Operations responsible for formulation of the U.S. Navy’s innovative “Maritime Strategy”), the project has continued at Potomac into the present day, named the Starry-Watkins Initiative after their passing in 2011 and 2012.

[2] The Long-Term Defense Plan for NATO was developed in the Carter Administration by Robert Komer, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, with the full endorsement of the Secretary of Defense Harold Brown. It was adopted in 1979 by NATO in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and served as the conceptual basis for European Security of the subsequent Reagan build-up which provided resources to fully implement LTDP.