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Is NATO Ready for War? An In-Depth Assessment of Defense and Deterrence


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Two years ago, in response to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, NATO adopted a "back to the future" strategy, emphasizing forward defense and deterrence. This shift marked a significant moment for the alliance, with allies committing to various measures to enhance their collective defense capabilities at the 2022 Madrid Summit. As NATO leaders gather in Washington for the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit, it is crucial to evaluate the progress made in bolstering NATO's defense capabilities.

 

Significant advancements have been made in several areas, including defense spending, forward defense, high-readiness forces, command and control, collective defense exercises, and the integration of Finland and Sweden. While NATO appears ready for war, the question remains whether it is prepared to sustain and deter a protracted conflict. Achieving this goal requires increased spending, boosted industrial capacity, addressing critical capability gaps, and enhancing national resilience.

 

The Latin adage "Si vis pacem, para bellum"—if you want peace, prepare for war—aptly describes NATO's purpose. Preparing for war is essential to averting it, and this logic of deterrence has guided NATO's actions, especially in light of recent developments in Ukraine. Russia's actions have validated fears that Vladimir Putin seeks to continue the Stalinist subjugation of Russia's neighboring regions. The conflict underscores the necessity of NATO's worst-case planning regarding Russia's ambitions. Putin's propensity for aggression and strategic miscalculation makes him a formidable and challenging adversary to deter.

 

Despite substantial losses in Ukraine, Russia has "almost completely reconstituted militarily" to pre-war levels through national mobilization and a war economy supported by China, Iran, and North Korea. Beyond Ukraine, Russia is issuing nuclear threats against NATO and increasing hybrid threats across Europe. Several European leaders have warned that Russia could attack NATO allies within the next few years. China's assistance to Russia's military reconstitution and the potential for coordinated aggression between Moscow and Beijing pose significant challenges for NATO, especially concerning U.S. force posture in Europe.

 

To paraphrase Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, what kind of war should NATO prepare for? Perhaps the most pressing scenario is a rapid territory seizure by Russian forces in the Baltic region. This scenario, frequently analyzed and wargamed, remains a critical concern. It represents the "most likely" and "most dangerous" course of action for Russia. While it might not be the likeliest overall scenario, it is a significant NATO-Russia war scenario due to the local force balance favoring Russia.

 

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NATO must be prepared for such an invasion, which risks nuclear escalation and is difficult to reverse. Any NATO operation to reclaim lost territory would require establishing air superiority and control of the Baltic Sea before amassing a significant local ground force. Even with NATO assurances, this situation could prompt Moscow to deploy non-strategic nuclear weapons, forcing NATO to threaten nuclear use to compel a Russian withdrawal and reestablish deterrence.

 

This is why Baltic officials advocate for a "repel, don’t expel" strategy. NATO's new strategic concept emphasizes deterrence by denial and forward defense, akin to Cold War strategies. While deterrence by punishment, relying on U.S., UK, and French strategic nuclear forces, will continue to be crucial, forward-based "shield" forces will strengthen conventional deterrence and defense.

 

One of the most notable achievements since the Madrid Summit is the inclusion of Finland and Sweden as full NATO members. Their formal invitation and eventual accession, following concessions from various allies, sent a strong political message to Moscow and enhanced NATO's deterrent capabilities. Finland and Sweden's integration is ongoing, facilitated by their prior deep military cooperation with NATO as Enhanced Opportunities Partners. Their formidable air power, developed over decades, is now integrated with NATO forces.

 

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Challenges remain in fully integrating Finland and Sweden, including developing appropriate command structures, adjusting regional plans, and addressing both nations' defense requirements across all domains. The United States and the United Kingdom play critical roles in this process, given recent Nordic defense cooperation agreements and the Joint Expeditionary Force's integration of Finnish and Swedish forces.

 

NATO has significantly expanded its exercise program to focus on collective defense since Madrid. The recent Steadfast Defender was the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War, involving 90,000 personnel from all allies across all domains. It included maritime and amphibious drills in the High North and multi-domain exercises across Europe, emphasizing military mobility. The exercise program has also focused on multi-domain operations. In the air, Germany hosted its largest Air Defender exercise, while Vigilant Falcon tested Baltic air policing. At sea, Neptune Strike 2024 included five carrier strike groups in the Mediterranean, and Dynamic Mongoose focused on anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. The 2023 Baltops exercise marked Finland's first participation as an ally.

 

NATO has also tested new domains, such as cyber and space. The Vulcan Guard exercise focused on space operations, while the Locked Shields cyber defense exercise, hosted by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence in Estonia, remains the world’s largest. The Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exercise in June will test interoperability across all domains and NATO command and control systems.

 

Despite substantial progress, challenges remain for NATO to be fully prepared for a protracted conflict. Allies must increase defense spending, enhance industrial capacity, address critical capability gaps, and bolster national resilience.

 

As NATO celebrates its 75th anniversary, it has made significant strides in strengthening its collective defense since the Madrid Summit. The integration of Finland and Sweden, enhanced collective defense exercises, and a renewed focus on forward defense and deterrence have bolstered NATO's readiness. However, to be fully prepared for a protracted conflict and to effectively deter adversaries, NATO must continue to address remaining challenges and ensure its capabilities are robust and resilient.

 

Credit: CSIS 2024-06-21

 

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Does Russia still have sufficient professional soldiers to attack several countries at once? I assume they have to win in Ukraine first or find their armies struck in the back.

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9 minutes ago, Purdey said:

Does Russia still have sufficient professional soldiers to attack several countries at once?

They got about a Million (estimated)

Does NATO have sufficient soldiers to attack Russia ?

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7 minutes ago, jvs said:

NATO does not need any soldiers to attack russia,they never will!

Russia has maybe 1 million soldiers?Maybe on paper but that would also include cooks and adm.

personnel.

Russia is not afraid of NATO attacking them,just look at what is happening at the Finnish border,

most equipment and personnel are leaving to fight in the Ukraine.

Looking at the graph of how much each NATO country is spending on defense?

The numbers are up a lot and most are around 2% now.

Putin has mentioned a lot of red lines and all he can do is whine about F-16s that are coming.

They maybe used above russia but not really likely,Crimea is going to be a prime target and the jets can also be used to climb high inside of the Ukraine and send bombs across the russian border.

Do not under estimate NATO,they are sending(like the USA) mostly old equipment and they still have a lot of spares.

They had 2 years and no one has been idle.

Russia is getting more and more desperate.

Yeah, now they have to catch up after more than a decade of underspending on the military. Even now American spending is more than the entire rest of the organization.

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3 hours ago, Jingthing said:

No, they're not ready yet, but the trend is that they're waking that they have no choice but to counter the dictatorship axis.

However if the Putin adjacent fascist forces take too much power within the west, especially if Trump takes power again in the U.S., then things will be looking quite grim. 

 World war 3 won't be a conventional war. It will go nuclear, and be over in a couple hours. There won't any winners and most of Europe and the states will be obliterated.  

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1 hour ago, johng said:

They got about a Million (estimated)

Does NATO have sufficient soldiers to attack Russia ?

+ 1,000,000 promised by NK, and arms factories.

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23 minutes ago, CharlieKo said:

 World war 3 won't be a conventional war. It will go nuclear, and be over in a couple hours. There won't any winners and most of Europe and the states will be obliterated.  

..but aren't the 'ancients' going to intervene and put out the lit fuses!

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1 hour ago, newbee2022 said:

Wrong! It's more than 2% !!!

...and for the previous decade? The 2% is an estimate only for this year. Believe it when I see it. Plus they have decades of neglect to make up for.

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2 hours ago, CharlieKo said:

 World war 3 won't be a conventional war. It will go nuclear, and be over in a couple hours. There won't any winners and most of Europe and the states will be obliterated.  

In that case you're talking nuclear winter.

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47 minutes ago, Hanaguma said:

...and for the previous decade? The 2% is an estimate only for this year. Believe it when I see it. Plus they have decades of neglect to make up for.

Yeah, go back to 1938. How was it there?

It's irrelevant to look into the past. Important is the present and maybe outlook into the future 🙏

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1 hour ago, Hanaguma said:

...and for the previous decade? The 2% is an estimate only for this year. Believe it when I see it. Plus they have decades of neglect to make up for.

NATO allies in Europe this year will invest 380 billion dollars,

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6 hours ago, Hanaguma said:

The Donald told them to get their <deleted> together years ago, and they laughed. Well, who's laughing now? Germany spending 1.4% of GDP on defence is a sad joke, the rest of NATO not much better. They are reaping what they have sown. You think Putin would have invaded in 2022 if NATO had provided any kind of credible military response capability? Doubt it.

The felon was busy cutting and running creating a vacuum for his pal putin to fill….remember the felons first day in office?that’s when he had the Russians in the Oval Office without an American representative……remember his private meeting with his pal in helinsky again without American a record or a American representative humm??the Donald indeed…..he’s the biggest asset Putin has.in my opinion in these modern times nato would destroy putins supply’s before the material arrives in theater.one thing Ukraine has exposed is the inferior systems the Russians have with sufficient resources and manpower Russia would be annihilated and sent packing rather quickly.the Russians need to take care of their (problem) and rejoin the world to thrive as a nation 

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32 minutes ago, jvs said:

NATO allies in Europe this year will invest 380 billion dollars,

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Big deal. Still half of what Uncle Sugar spends all on his own. Plus notice the 10 years previous. Lots of catching up to do.

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