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Sunday, July 26, 2015

A New Age of Great Power Competition? - Russia Part II


Efficacy of the Current US Response

Image 1: "Dragon Ride" exercise across Europe, 2015. 

Key Points from Part I: 
  • Russia's main foreign policy objectives are (1) remain a nuclear power on equal footing to the United States (2) retain great power status in international politics, and (3) attain regional hegemony (Leon Arron, 2013). 
  • Russia's increased belligerence is not an indicator of Russian strength. The conventional Russian military faces substantial modernization challenges which are unlikely to be addressed in light of the country's bleak economic prospects
  • Given Russia's poor economic prospects, Russia is more likely to invest in its nuclear modernization program as a means to offset conventional US military advantages. Furthermore, Russia will invest in its asymmetric capabilities to coerce states below the Article 5 threshold as part of its strategy to attain regional hegemony in the near abroad. 
The principle US Military response to the Russian intervention in Ukraine has been "Operation Atlantic Resolve". Congress approved $1 billion towards funding Atlantic Resolve which facilitated substantial rotational deployment of US forces in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, prepositioning heavy equipment in six Eastern European countries, and large scale exercises between US and NATO partners. Unlike the US & EU sanctions which are intended to enact costs such that Putin will cease Russian support for Ukrainian separatists, the objective of Atlantic Resolve has been to deter Russian aggression into NATO states and reassure US allies. The short-term goal to reassure US allies and deter Russia has worked insofar as no Russian military incursions into the Baltics or Eastern Europe have occurred but the sanctions have largely been ineffective given the extent of Russian commitment to retain Ukraine within its sphere of influence. However, two major military policy issues remain unaddressed by Atlantic Resolve: (1) the large scale deployment of conventional military forces is ill-suited to counter Russian asymmetric forces - which are more likely to be used given the shortcomings of their conventional military and the greater geopolitical consequences of overt conflict, and (2) the NATO alliance continues to fade into irrelevance as a unified fighting force. Few European NATO members are capable of conducting both intensive military operations and are willing to use force to deter potential Russian aggression. NATO's shortcomings will be discussed followed by policy recommendations within a larger US foreign policy context in Part III.

The Hybrid Threat

Image 2: Pro-Russian separatists in Slavyansk. Image Credit: Roman Pilipey

Russia's use of unconventional forces poses significant challenges to conventional NATO forces, particularly in terms of response time. The speed at which Russian forces overwhelmed Crimea caught Western leaders off guard and underlined the inadequacy of the current 30 day mobilization period of conventional NATO units (Saunders, 2015).  Prior to the Ukraine crisis, NATO maintained a meager rapid response force of 5,000 troops with a response time of five to seven days; NATO now has plans to expand the rapid reaction force to 40,000 troops with a response time of 48 hours. While the expansion of the rapid reaction force is prudent, it is not wholly sufficient to counter Russian asymmetric capabilities in a potential conflict over the Baltics and Eastern Europe.

A great deal of literature acknowledges the shortcomings of conventional US & NATO forces in dealing with the various aspects of hybrid warfare including information operations, use of special forces, paramilitary forces, cyber attacks, etc. but much less is published on specific tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) US forces would utilize to counter hybrid threats. In order to create new TTP, the United States should continue to collect as much intelligence information on Russian capabilities as possible throughout the conflict. For example, the US Army has garnered useful information on the efficacy of counter-mortar radar units against hybrid forces and potential vulnerabilities of US & allied networks to Russian electronic warfare systems:
"The U.S. Army is working to glean intelligence on Russian military technology from the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, American generals said...'The lightweight counter-mortar radar, turns out, that it is a much better piece of equipment than we realized,' Hodges said. 'None of us have ever -- maybe one or two exceptions -- have ever been under a massive Russian artillery [attack] the way the Ukrainians have, and so we have learned a lot in the way that they have responded to that.'On the other hand, the conflict has exposed the potential for Russian electronic warfare technology to pierce U.S. and allied battlefield communications networks', Hodges and other U.S. generals said. Rostec, a Russian-owned arms and technology company, last year claimed it used 'complex radio-electronic' frequencies to hack into an MQ-5B Hunter drone that was flying over Crimea and belonged to the Army's 66th military intelligence brigade based in Germany." - Brendan McGarry, 2015

NATO's Growing Irrelevance

Image 3: NATO military spending by member states.
"The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources ... to be serious and capable partners in their own defense..future U.S. political leaders, those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me, may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost,” - Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, 2011 [emphasis added] 
In recent years US diplomats and top Administration officials have lamented the continued perceived lack of defense spending among European partners. As the graph above shows, it immediately appears as if the United States is responsible for a disproportionate burden of defense responsibilities relative to European allies. In terms of the spending burden, two major factors must be kept in mind. A major caveat is the US economy is nearly equal to the combined total of the 28 European Union countries despite its much smaller population; the US has a population of 320 million and a GDPs of $17.45 trillion 2014 dollars compared to the EU's population of roughly 500 million and GDP of $18.48 trillion in 2014 dollars (IMF, 2015).Thus it is important to remember that given even a low percent of GDP allocated towards defense, the US is bound to significantly outspend any individual member of NATO.

The second major caveat is US forces are spread throughout six operational commands given the global national interests of the United States. A more apt comparison for peacetime aggregate defense spending would be US expenses related to the defense of Europe relative to NATO allies e.g. the costs associated with the forward deployed 65,000 US troops stationed in EURCOM. However, during wartime conditions in Europe forces from other operational commands would be allocated to USEUCOM e.g. surge forces from US. With these two factors in mind, the overwhelming extent to which the US provides funds for Europe's defense is somewhat reduced but remains substantial relative to other NATO members. Most importantly, the United States disproportionately provides the bulk of warfighting capabilities within the NATO alliance despite the aforementioned caveats with respect to US defense spending.

Image 4: Note the divide among member states between increasing expenditures among Eastern European members and cuts in Western European countries. Image Credit: Defense One, 2015.

The aggregate spending figures alone do not illustrate the full extent to which the US composes the alliance's warfighting capability. Defense spending is a means to produce warfighting capability and "bean counting" type of analysis's which look at total defense budget figures alone glaringly overlook how defense budgets translate into a fighting force's effectiveness. Defense budgets are generally divided into four categories: procurement, research & development, operations and maintenance, and personnel expenditures. The most troublesome trend among European allies in terms of defense budgets has not been the overall budget cuts of recent years. Rather, European militaries consistently spent upwards of 50% of their existing defense budgets on personnel expenditures such as benefits in conjunction with overall defense spending cuts. Given the higher proportion of personnel expenditures in European militaries, less new equipment can be purchased, existing vehicle and equipment are not as likely to be maintained, and more capable future systems will be delayed or not pursued. Thus, European defense budgets translate into substantially less warfighting capacity than the United States. It is worth noting that the DoD has also struggled in recent years with the onset of sequestration and the end of two wars to reign in personnel expenditures, but in percent terms these additional personnel costs do not approach many of the EU states below.

Image 5: EU member states proportion of defense spending allocated to personnel expenditures. Note: Austria, Cyprus, Malta, Sweden, Finland, and Ireland are not part of NATO.

Another worrisome trend within European militaries is the growing rift among Eastern and Western European NATO members in terms of their willingness to use force. Western European states face a less immediate threat from Russia as Eastern European states such as Poland and the Baltics. Unlike the Cold War, Western Europe has substantial economic ties with Russia and is incentivized to limit further economic damage from sanctions relating to Ukraine. The cohesion of the alliance has been disrupted further by the Snowden leaks which have drastically lowered US favorability in Europe, particularly in Germany. In an overt military conflict with Russia, these trends are unlikely to be as impactful as peacetime efforts against countering asymmetric Russian advances in Eastern Europe. Given the lack of immediate danger to themselves and economic incentives, Western European states are much less willing to confront Russia in Eastern Europe so long as Moscow refrains from overt military intervention. The combination of high personnel expenditures in the face of overall defense cuts coupled with the reduced willingness to use military force effectively erodes the extent in which European partners contribute to NATO's overall deterrence via providing substantial warfighting capabilities.

Image 6: Divisions among NATO member states in response to Russia. Image Credit: The Wall Street Journal, 2015.

Given Russian capabilities and NATO's growing irrelevance, Part III will discuss policy recommendations within the context of a larger US foreign policy perspective.

Sources (in addition to Part I) 

  1. Explainer: This Graph Shows How NATO’s Military Capability Has Evolved Since 1949, Janine Davidson, 2014. 
  2. NATO Members’ Defense Spending, in Two Charts, Kedar Pavgi, 2015. 
  3. International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook Database, 2015.
  4. World Europe U.S. pledges commandos and high-end equipment for new NATO force, Carol Williams, 2015.
  5. U.S. Consolidates Forces in Europe to Save Money, Helene Cooper, 2015. 
  6. National Defence Data 2013 of the 27 EDA Member States Brussels, Silvija GuzelytÄ—, 2015 
  7. Ukraine’s Army Slogs Through the Merciless Donbass, Robert Beckhusen, 2014. 
  8. Carter Says U.S. Will Contribute to New NATO Rapid-Action Force, David J Lynch & James G Neuger, 2015.

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