By Stephen Bryen
NATO has weakened even more in the face of Russian provocations in the Baltic Sea. According to the Free Beacon, NATO has decided on a unilateral basis to reduce its air patrols challenging the incursion of Russian military aircraft into the Baltic area. NATO countries have been using F-16′s and European Typhoon jet fighters to deter the Russians who have used fighter aircraft and Tupolev Bear strategic bombers flying near the coast of the Baltic Nations, Norway and the UK. In 2014 NATO intercepted over 150 Russian military penetrations in the Baltic; overall NATO jets have scrambled over 250 times.
Until the latest decision, 16 jet fighters have been assigned to the NATO intercept mission. That number is being reduced to 8 aircraft, NATO claims that this is a reasonable reduction.
Given the persistence of the Russians and the concern raised among the NATO allies that face the Baltic, the argument is simple nonsense and a coverup.
The Baltic area includes Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and on out into the North Sea Norway and France and the UK, plus the neutral nations of Sweden and Finland. Deploying only 16 aircraft to the job of protecting the airspace of the region given the length of the coastlines involved, was stretching the point. Dropping to 8 aircraft is virtually to have no continuous coverage and no ability to shadow Soviet operations.
From the Russian standpoint, Putin has received a gift of inestimable value. It will reaffirm in the minds of Moscow planners that NATO is not only a gutless wonder, but that its leaders are deliberately pulling back and allowing Russia to flex its muscles.
Of course this should come as no surprise. It is one thing for NATO to beat up on hapless and alliance-meaningless countries such as Afghanistan and Libya, it is an entirely another matter to behave like a serious defense alliance.
Nor can this message be lost on the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland, who are already under intense Russian pressure. How this will play out is anyone’s guess, but one can anticipate serious political destabilization, changes of government, and more accommodation to Russia.
One gets the impression such an outcome may be fine in the minds of the bigger NATO players, namely the US, Germany and the UK. (I exclude France because the French have never played a serious role in NATO, just a polemical one.)
Why then are the bigger NATO countries disinterested in playing a strong role in upholding NATO’s security interests?
Surely leaders like Merkel and Cameron “get it” when it comes to the challenge Russia poses. But they obviously are going along with the voluntary slashing of NATO’s defensive patrols. One detects an American hand in this: the United States is a country in full retreat and intends to do little or nothing to support its “new” NATO allies. This has already been clear by the pittance of support to Poland and to the Baltic countries as the Russian challenge began to materialize. With America’s military seriously gutted and weakened from a strategic point of view, the Pentagon is not in much of a mood to press its civilian leaders to take the Russians seriously. Indeed, the complete non-participation of the Pentagon in the Iran negotiations underscores the emasculation of the US military: which is, for those who look at ideology, a goal of the far left of the Democratic Party and the White House.
The problem with all this is that maintaining a balance of power is a fundamental issue in geopolitics. Anytime a vacuum is created, it is open to exploitation. And while it may look for a while as if nothing has happened, sooner or later the other foot drops and real trouble starts. It could be a skirmish on the border of Poland, or a shoot down of a Russian bomber over Latvia, or countless other possible missteps that will lead to war. Where military force postures are balanced, skirmishes and blunders can be managed; where there is an imbalance it is an invitation to increase military activity and square accounts.
Looking at the current situation, NATO’s reduction of aircraft is a blunder with long term, serious consequences. Are we at the start of the unwinding of the NATO alliance that has preserved peace since the end of World War II?
[Photo Credit: http://www.airliners.net/photo/Russia—Air/Tupolev-Tu-95MS/1328519/L/]