Barefoot Boomer is a U.S. Army officer and has served in both the Infantry and Armor.  He is currently a Strategic Planner serving in Texas.  Boomer has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history with an emphasis in military history from the University of Missouri at Saint Louis and a Master of Science degree in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University at the Defense Intelligence Agency.  He can be found on Twitter at @BarefootBoomer.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.


National Security Situation:  Deterring Russia through military exercises between the U.S. and Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Date Originally Written:  January 12, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  January 23, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Barefoot Boomer is a Strategic Planner with the U.S. Army and has previously served in the Operation Inherent Resolve Coalition headquarters which leads the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  His current focus is mainly on Northern European and NATO security interests.

Background:  For decades during the Cold War the U.S. and its NATO allies conducted REFORGER (REturn of FORces to GERmany) exercises in order to deter aggression and ensure U.S. military forces could respond quickly to a Soviet and Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe.  REFORGER was also designed to be the operational defensive plan executed if a Soviet and Warsaw Pact attack occurred.  Annually, large numbers of U.S. military forces would rapidly deploy from bases in the U.S. to Europe and conduct exercises with NATO partner nations at training sites across Germany.  The last REFORGER exercise was formally conducted in 1993.

Significance:  As tensions have risen the last few years between Russia and the West, NATO has begun to increase its defense posture as well as member’s defense spending.  Russian incursions into Crimea, their invasion of Ukraine, and operations in Syria have also strained Russia-NATO relations.  In response, since 2014 the U.S. and her NATO allies have conducted Operation Atlantic Resolve[1], small-scale exercises and military-to-military training with northern and Baltic NATO nations.  Examples include the U.S. 2nd Cavalry Regiment executing Operation Dragoon Ride[2], a show of support to NATO allies by conducting a road march through six nations while training with host nation partner forces, and the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade sending units to train with their counterparts in the Baltic region.  Other NATO countries have sent forces east to conduct joint air patrols and exercises with partner nations.  These exercises and alliance contacts are designed to not only deter Russian threats to these partner nations but also to increase the capability, interoperability and responsiveness of the force.

Option #1:  Continue Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Risk:  The risk to continuing Operation Atlantic Resolve is minimal to NATO as well as to the U.S. overall yet could be higher to those NATO countries closest to the border with Russia.  The small-scale deployments of U.S. forces to the Baltic region with NATO partners such as Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as with larger ally Poland, have been conducted by forces regionally aligned to Europe.  These deployments are focused mainly at the company-level or lower and concentrated on building partner capacity, military-to-mililitary cooperation, and integration into NATO command structures.  These small deployments and exercises may not be substantial enough to enable NATO to deter Russia.

Gain:  Any exercises conducted to strengthen NATO resolve and foster a more secure environment is a gain.  Operation Atlantic Resolve has shown this to be valid as it has grown larger over the past couple years to include more NATO partners eager to participate.  The positive response from the local population in each nation has also born this out.  If Atlantic Resolve continues at its current size and pace any further gain may be minimal at best.

Option #2:  Expand Operation Atlantic Resolve into a reconstituted large-scale REFORGER exercise.

Risk:  The risk from NATO executing larger, more rigorous exercises is that this may further increase tensions between Russia and NATO.  Even though NATO conducted large exercises in the past, and Russia has been conducting some themselves, increasing NATO’s footprint along Russia’s border may be seen as provocative and escalatory.

Gain:  There is much to gain from conducting wider-scale exercises like REFORGER that may outweigh any increased risk.  This gain includes everything from shrinking deployment timelines as our forces get better at rapidly deploying, sharpening the U.S. logistics capability, and increasing the cohesion of partner forces at higher command echelons.  In essence, conducting exercises as large as REFORGER can do certain things that smaller exercises cannot.  For example, decades of executing REFORGER were instrumental in the deployment of forces to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm.  Moving thousands of pieces of equipment, men, and materiel and the logistics to support them is a large part of any exercise and must be trained along with combined arms maneuver[3].  The deployment of an Armored Brigade Combat Team to Poland is a start but incorporating higher echelons of command, such as Divisions and Corps,  should be a priority to ensure the interoperability and close coordination with NATO partner forces.

Other Comments:  Deterrence only works when there is sufficient force behind it to threaten escalation and reaction, if required.  Smaller exercises are good for conducting exchanges with partner forces but executing larger scale exercises and deployments ensures that, if deterrence fails, NATO forces have the ability to react with enough size, strength, and most of all interoperability, to defend NATO Member States.  Larger exercises will also allow the inclusion of all members of the Joint Force, to include the Reserves and National Guard.  It has been over two decades since NATO has conducted a REFORGER, and while NATO has experience working together from years of operations in Afghanistan, they have lost the “muscle memory” of executing large, coalition operations and must regain it in order to deter Russia.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Atlantic Resolve | U.S. Army in Europe. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.eur.army.mil/atlanticresolve/

[2]  Vandiver, J. (2015, March 12). Dragoon Ride will send US troops through eastern Europe in show of support. Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.stripes.com/news/dragoon-ride-will-send-us-troops-through-eastern-europe-in-show-of-support-1.334021

[3]  Scales, Robert H., Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War, Brassey’s Inc., 1994, pg. 46.

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