November 19, 2013

Steadfast Jazz 2013: Back to Basics

Lithuania's Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius (L), Latva's President Andris Berzins, Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski (3rd L), NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (2nd R), General Knud Bartels (R), chairman of the military committee, attend a news conference during the "Steadfast Jazz" military exercise at the military area in Drawsko Pomorskie, northern Poland, November 7, 2013. NATO is staging its biggest military exercise in seven years this week in the Baltic countries and Poland but its insistence that the drills are not aimed at sharpening defenses against a resurgent Russia have not convinced Moscow. NATO says the exercise, involving 6,000 soldiers from the alliance as well as non-members Sweden, Finland and Ukraine, is based on a fictional scenario in which troops from the imaginary state of Bothnia invade Estonia in a crisis sparked by competition for energy resources and economic collapse. REUTERS/Cezary Aszkielowicz/Agencja Gazeta (POLAND - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. POLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN POLAND
Lithuania's Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius (L), Latva's President Andris Berzins, Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski (3rd L), NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (2nd R), General Knud Bartels (R), chairman of the military committee, attend a news conference during the "Steadfast Jazz" military exercise at the military area in Drawsko Pomorskie, northern Poland, November 7, 2013. NATO is staging its biggest military exercise in seven years this week in the Baltic countries and Poland but its insistence that the drills are not aimed at sharpening defenses against a resurgent Russia have not convinced Moscow. NATO says the exercise, involving 6,000 soldiers from the alliance as well as non-members Sweden, Finland and Ukraine, is based on a fictional scenario in which troops from the imaginary state of Bothnia invade Estonia in a crisis sparked by competition for energy resources and economic collapse. REUTERS/Cezary Aszkielowicz/Agencja Gazeta (POLAND - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. POLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN POLAND

Since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO, the question of whether or not these three small countries – squeezed into a relatively narrow piece of land between the Baltic Sea and Russia – are defensible, has hung in the air.

Since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO, the question of whether or not these three small countries – squeezed into a relatively narrow piece of land between the Baltic Sea and Russia – are defensible, has hung in the air.

For a long time, the question remained unanswered. NATO was busy in Afghanistan, the United States was engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the conventional wisdom held that thinking about military threats in northern Europe was both impolite and dated. After all, the thinking went, why continue to cling to a Cold War-era mindset when the only possible military threat to the Baltic countries was cooperating with the Alliance in the NATO-Russia Council?
All this changed with Russia’s military action against Georgia in August 2008 and its Zapad and Ladoga military exercises in 2009, in which the Russians simulated military thrusts against the Baltic States and Poland, with the attacks culminating in a nuclear strike against Warsaw. This came to most Western observers as a shock and as a cause for alarm. A similarly aggressive stance was evident in Zapad 2013 in September, where according to some estimates more than 70 000 soldiers from all military services and support organizations took part.
NATO’s Steadfast Jazz 2013, conducted on the territories of the three Baltic States and Poland on 2-9 November and led by the Allied Joint Force Command located in Brunssum, The Netherlands, should be seen and evaluated in the context of these Russian exercises. Its over-all aim was to allow NATO troops to train for a full spectrum of potential missions, including humanitarian missions, cyber defense, and anti-missile defense, as well as high-intensity combat. The specific task, however, was to test the Alliance’s ability to defend the territories of Poland and the Baltic States.
The exercise consisted of approximately 6 000 troops altogether, of which roughly a half participated in live exercises in combat formations; the remainder worked in the various exercise headquarters. One subcommand headquarters was located in the Ādaži Base near Riga. By nationality, about 3 000 soldiers were Polish, 1 000 came from France (which will have the command of the land component of the NATO Response Force in 2014), and the rest of the troops from nearly all of 28 NATO member nations. The Baltic countries provided contingents of 200-300 soldiers each. Meanwhile, non-NATO partner nations Ukraine, Sweden and Finland participated with small groups of staff officers.
An especially interesting part of Steadfast Jazz was the Baltic Host, which tested the Baltic nations’ capability to provide the necessary support for the incoming NATO troops. After all, not only are ports and airfields important to get the troops safely to their destinations, but an entire range of logistics infrastructure, from feeding the troops to moving them into positions to resupplying them with ammunition, is vital to the success of any defense.
Much of this is “back to basics”, as the Economist described it in recent piece. With the NATO presence in Afghanistan drastically reduced in post-2014, it is not easy to see where else the Alliance will soon be used “out of area”. Therefore, it will be smart for NATO to strike a balance between expeditionary capabilities and its somewhat neglected capability for collective defense. Also, testing the Alliances ability to defend the territories of its more exposed members is a sound and necessary check on the concept of the Connected Forces Initiative (CFI), which together with Smart Defense is designed to become a main vehicle for the Alliance’s future transformation.
“As the ISAF mission winds down, NATO’s challenge is to maintain the cohesiveness and compatibility it has achieved through the years,” said Commander Joint Force Command Brunssum, General Hans-Lothar Domröse during Steadfast Jazz. According to the German officer, the NRF is the “tip of the spear” in NATO’s ability to respond to an emerging crisis, which is why realistic and demanding exercises like Steadfast Jazz are essential.
Also, in the words of General Philip Breedlove, the new SACEUR and Commander USEUCOM, the Alliance is now, as a result of working together in Afghanistan, “at the pinnacle of our interconnectedness”. That level can be maintained only through frequent and demanding exercises. In order to test and certify the NRF elements, NATO will conduct several smaller-scale exercises in 2014, and will hold its next large combined and joint exercise, Trident Juncture, in southern Europe the following year.
A sign of the times we live in is that tens of cyber incidents against the exercise took place during Steadfast Jazz in the Baltic countries and Ukraine. The exercise provides a good opportunity to examine relationships between “hacktivists”, government-controlled media, as well as the possibility of links between “patriotic” hacktivists with elements within governments.
It is not easy to understand why Steadfast Jazz marks only the first time since 2006 that NATO exercised all command and control levels (strategic, operational and tactical) together with all four components of the NRF (land, maritime, air, and special forces). Whatever the reasons for the previous omissions, understandable or not, Steadfast Jazz marks a break with the past. In this exercise, the Alliance’s multinational, interoperable forces demonstrated complex capabilities in a demanding environment. This alone should make the Baltic States leaders and citizens sleep a little better at night.

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