By Air Cmde TK Chatterjee(retd)
A US think tank, the RAND Corporation, has recently published a perspective paper on possible responses from US policymakers in case of a limited military strike on NATO military or strategic assets in Europe by Russia. The aim of such attacks by Russia will be in all probability to deter USA and its NATO allies from assisting Ukraine in its war with Russia or risk a direct NATO-Russia confrontation. The envisaged limited strike could be on land-based assets or space based ISR assets, which may not have drastic effect on the ongoing operations but can be merely demonstrative to test US and NATO resolve.
The paper analyses in great detail the various grades of provocation by Russia, from a one-off missile strike on an inconsequential asset in some remote part of Europe to a multiple target strike on relatively important assets in Poland and Romania and the subsequent various grades of NATO responses to each of these strikes. All very logically defined based on possible US and NATO interests and objectives.
But there is one surprising illogical element in this otherwise logical analysis. The paper clearly states that the response of the USA will be quite different in case of a direct attack on the US mainland or if the attack by Russia involves NBC elements. It states, “We excluded an attack on the U.S. homeland from consideration because such an attack would produce a very different decision-making calculus”. So much for Article 5 of the trans-Atlantic treaty: “an attack on one is an attack on all”. What it implies to a reader is that as long as the war and devastation continues in the European mainland, it is one thing for the US, but the moment it gets closer to home, it is quite another. It is indeed surprising that Europe still continues to depend on the USA for its security concerns.
Is the European Union not strong enough to look after its own security? Figures do not say so. As per figures of 2021, the EU has a total population of 447 million and a combined GDP of USD 16 trillion with 2 million military forces, with France giving the nuclear umbrella. What it is up against is Russia, with a population of 145 million and a GDP of USD 1.7 trillion, with 1.4 million in the armed forces. Though NATO has a total armed forces of 3.5 million, out of that, 1.3 million US military may not have objectives congruent with the EU, as is obvious from the think tank’s perspective of the Ukraine war and its possible future. The European energy dependence on Russia notwithstanding, they do have the resources to fend for themselves.
Though figures are a matter to be kept in mind, they are not the last word on the outcome of any armed conflict. This fact has been proven repeatedly in history by the Davids against the Goliaths. As the Vietnamese or the Afghans. It is the will of the people to come together and fight that becomes the ultimate force multiplier. The fragmentation of Europe in its strategic objectives is one of the obstacles to such unification. The EU consists of 27 nations, out of which 21 are in NATO, 6 nations are as yet outside NATO. NATO has 30 countries as member states out of which 28 are European and two North American. While Malta and Cyprus, from far flung regions of Europe, with no contiguous borders with any EU members, are members of the EU, Norway and Switzerland are not. The Balkan states are not in the EU whereas Turkey is in NATO and wants to join the EU, but that is not acceptable to the Europeans. Besides there is a Euro zone and a Schengen area. And above all, for quite some time now, there has not been a statesman who can pull fragmented Europe together and guide it to a common destiny. The French president Macron has spoken in public about a separate European defence apparatus, but it has so far remained a wishful thought. Britain’s departure from the EU was seen by most Europeans as an act of grave betrayal. Being a ‘special friend’ of the US and after the backstabbing of France in forming the AUKUS alliance, and 10 Downing Street resembling an Air B&B, how far they will go to protect European interests in continental Europe is something time will tell.
Since the end of WWII, many attempts have been made to ensure engagement of all parties in intra-European security, the latest of which is the present Common Security and Defence Policy, which in turn is a component of Common Foreign and Security Policy. At the same time that integration of Europe was being attempted through various charters and agreements, NATO was also formed with 12 founding members, with the main objective of halting the spread of communism by the then Soviet Union. Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it has not just remained but has continued to grow. It added new members eight times and now 30 members, each promising to spend 2% of their GDP on defence. Their total expenditure constitutes 57% of global expenditure on defence and security. Finland and Sweden are about to be inducted, forming the 31st and 32nd members of NATO. The Balkan states and Ukraine are in the pipeline.
Many observers believe that this eastward expansion of NATO has caused unnecessary tensions in the European mainland, resulting finally in the Ukraine war. Somewhere down the line Europe, in spite of its tremendous resources and capabilities, has outsourced its security to the USA. Technologically or in human resources, Europe is in no way less than the USA. For example, France builds submarines to satellites and everything in between, all within the country. So do the Germans, the British and the rest with little help from each other.
If Ukraine was being inducted into the EU, it would have probably been less of a threat to the Russians since the EU is seen more as a political and free trade alliance rather than military. Whereas NATO is seen as a pure military alliance whose main adversary is Russia. Hence Ukraine joining NATO is a no-no for the Russians.
Does Europe really need the USA to secure the territorial integrity of its member states? It is for the Europeans to answer. But if the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania are threatened by the Russian bear, and they are being assured that the USA will put all its military might to save them, they are being led up the garden path. When any nation or a group of nations outsource its security to another country, despite having more than adequate resources and capabilities to defend themselves, they are not exactly buying eternal peace.
But it will require a great pan European statesman to lead Europe to a common destiny. Right now, such a leader is not on the horizon, but the aspirations of Europeans to break free must not die.
Author is an Indian Air Force Veteran.
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