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NATO, Then and Now

It all boils down to one word: Leadership.

by
Stephen Green

Bio

September 4, 2014 - 2:05 pm
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Post-Cold War NATO might be the first “serious” military alliance in history lacking the forces to defend itself, or even any real plans to do so. But is the threat from Vladimir Putin’s Russia forcing a change? Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reports:

With Russian forces entering into Ukraine, NATO is putting together a plan to place the alliance’s troops in bases behind the former Iron Curtain. One U.S. official who was not authorized to speak to the press said the presence of U.S. troops inside these bases in Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would act as a “tripwire for Russia. If Putin considers any military action in these countries, they will know that they will be involving U.S. forces too.”

There are really two NATOs, and I don’t mean the original Western European members and the new members from behind what was once the Iron Curtain. No, the dividing line is a date — specifically, November 9, 1989, the day East Germany opened the Berlin Wall and the inter-German border. And more importantly, it’s the day when the Soviet Union acquiesced to the end of the Warsaw Pact.

The old NATO was a serious military alliance with large and well-trained forces. We took our responsibilities seriously, too. Major exercises like REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) demonstrated our resolve and our abilities to Moscow, and to each other, on an annual basis. NATO was at its most effective in the 1980s, when the British PM, the West German Chancellor, and the American President functioned in harmony as political allies, too. It took less than a decade of increased NATO military spending and deployments (think of the Pershing II missile) for Moscow to call it quits.

That’s no exaggeration about the importance of the Pershing II. Never fired in anger, it helped win the Cold War more than any single weapons system — for reasons both military and political. West Germany at the time was in the grips of a vocal no-nukes movement, which Chancellor Helmut Kohl faced down to deploy the nuclear-tipped American missiles in West Germany. The political message was clear: Bonn and Washington stood together, even against domestic opposition. Militarily, the Pershing II could put a bunker-busting nuclear warhead with unequaled accuracy into any underground Soviet military or political HQ west of Moscow — at Mach 9 and with very little warning. The Soviet military leadership was personally threatened by such a capability, forcing the first-ever treaty (INF) to reduce nuclear forces. The other guy blinked; the rest is on the ash heap of history.

NATO didn’t win because it was nice countries being nice together about nice things. NATO won because it was a serious military alliance, and it acted like one. Yes, we had our differences, and yes, we would have preferred it if our European allies had committed to higher levels of spending — but we made it work long enough to secure victory without having to fight WWIII.

Top Rated Comments   
Our enemies need not do a thing.....

..... the Democrats are doing a swell job of destroying America all by themselves.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I remember the Pershing. I also will never forget whose side the left was on, concerning the nukes in Europe. I will not forget whose side Greenpeace was on, and where they got cash to undermine the West.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
In my opinion, WWIII was the so-called "Cold War". I was down-range for a tiny portion of that. The Soviets where very serious.

We're in WWIV now, though few will admit it. Asymmetrical, significant non-state actors, and layers on layers of misdirection and fog.

People that want to avoid another hot war are ignoring the fact that the other side is religiously determined to end Western Civilization as we know it. They will soon have the technical and logistical means to implement their plans. A nuclear capable Iran is the next step to that end, and the Hindmost is evidently just fine with that.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (23)
All Comments   (23)
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Psst... Sanger is a NY Times reporter, not Washington Post. Obama laid down the Mother of All Red Lines in his speech the other day in Estonia. Now, will Putin put it to the test?
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
"That’s no exaggeration about the importance of the Pershing II. Never fired in anger, it helped win the Cold War more than any single weapons system — for reasons both military and political."

Good column, but I would have to disagree with you on that particular assessment. I personally think it was the improvements in NATO's conventional defense capabilities that took place under Reagan and Thatcher and so forth that played a bigger role in winning the Cold War than any nuclear capability.

See, I believe that for a long time--decades--the Soviets always thought that their ace in the hole was their ability to destroy NATO by quickly overrunning Western Europe with conventional forces. And I think they suspected that, if push really came to shove, the Americans were probably bluffing when they said they would use nuclear weapons to stop a conventional invasion from succeeding--especially after the late '60s/early '70s timeframe, when the Soviets achieved rough strategic nuclear parity. I mean, it's one thing to say that you will use nukes to turn back a Warsaw Pact offensive, but when the chips are down, how willing will a U.S. president actually be to sacrifice Manhattan to save Munich, or Boston to save Bonn, and so forth? (Obviously, concern over the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent were a big factor in the decision of the British and French to pursue their own independent nuclear options).

But that equation changed during the 1980s, when the U.S. fielded its new generation of major combat equipment--the M1 Abrams tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, MLRS, the F-15 and F-16 and so forth--along with their foreign equivalents like the British Challenger and German Leopard 2 main battle tanks. And on top of all that, the tremendous investments in manpower, training, readiness, and so forth made by the major NATO powers during the first half of the 1980s, and suddenly the Soviets realized that victory in a purely conventional conflict was by no means any longer assured, and their long-held trump card was now essentially worthless.

Obviously there were a lot of factors in ending the Cold War, beginning with the underlying weakness of the communist economic model, but I think when it dawned on the Soviets that they no longer had a realistic military option open to them, that pretty much broke the camel's back.

My $.02 worth.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wrote that the Pershing was the *single* most important. The others, in aggregate, outweighed it in importance.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just to add, the M1, M2, F15, F16, A10, the clear understanding that our anti-tank weaponry would eat them up, British "Sponge" techniques on the northern plain. Oh, they knew.

I understand that the Russians saw how rapidly we trashed the Iraqis - using Soviet equipment and Soviet doctrine and they realized that we would have done the same to them on a larger scale to them, had they tried to overrun the Central Region (by '85, certainly).

Also, little known - when we actually got on the ground in East Germany in the early 90s, it was seen that the Soviets could not have sustained more than 9 Divisions in active operations there. The infrastructure just wouldn't have sustained any more. They were BS'ing us for decades.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Also, little known - when we actually got on the ground in East Germany in the early 90s, it was seen that the Soviets could not have sustained more than 9 Divisions in active operations there. The infrastructure just wouldn't have sustained any more. They were BS'ing us for decades."

We found out more than that in Iraq. Our A-10 pilots were told not to waste ammo on the T-10 main battle tank, as its armor was so thin the 30mm wouild only bounce off.

Well, fine. Tell that to a bunch of American cowboys. What do you think they are going to do with such orders in combat? That's right - light up the first T-10 they see just to piss him off. Even if you don't get a kill, you'll give the crew a monster headache.

Ooops. They were destroying them!

When we examined the hulks, we found the armor was about a third of what we had been hoodwinked into believing. Easy pickings for the Warthogs.

Well, when that came out, the Soviets claimed that those were merely the inferior copies sold to the Iraqis, but the Russians had the real thing, which really was as formidable as we had thought.

Then we captured a bunch on rail cars, complete with Soviet markings. Same 1/3 armor.

Oops.

Oh, well, it was a good story while it lasted.

:D


(show less)
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Leadership?

Our "fierce minimalist" blueprints the way to make our enemies smaller and more "manageable".

Translation: The Angry Inch discusses shrinkage.

11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Our enemies need not do a thing.....

..... the Democrats are doing a swell job of destroying America all by themselves.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I saw "ketchup-boy Kerry" in the background in one of the video clips. Wonder if he brought extra ketchup for gnat nads nobama to draw the next red line with?
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are no permanent allies; there are only permanent national interests. And ours are not served by acting as janissaries for the EU's tattered social democracies/future islamic republics. Deal with your staggering demographics and get back to us in a few decades, Europe. NATO is dead. Perhaps the next president will give it a decent burial.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
No one believes Obama an we have two more years of him.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Zero does not deserve to be on the same cover as Reagan. Hell, he barely deserves to be on one with Carter.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Looks like Putin now thinks Obambus is his punching bag.

Yes, the eastward expansion of NATO was one of these historic moves which was about 97% pure screwup, and the hollowing out of European military since then is astonishing, and just what Obambus wants to do to the US as well. OTOH Putin has been just that much a blowhard troublemaker on his own right since day one, but maybe we should not have expected anything else from any Russian leader lest we be disappointed.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
' The herb of our cure is a bitter one, but gnaw it we will.' Prepare.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
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