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Varðbergsfundur: Pólverjar vilja svara áreitni Rússa með bandarískum NATO herafla

fundur 8.október

Lech Mastalerz, forstöðumaður sendiráðs Póllands í Reykjavík, hvatti eindregið til þess á hádegisfundi Varðbergs fimmtudaginn 8. október að Bandaríkjastjórn og NATO kæmu upp herstöðvum í Póllandi og Eystraltsríkjunum til að mynda mótvægi gegn áreitni Rússa.
Í erindi sem Lech Mastalerz flutti í fyrirlestrasal Þjóðminjasafnsins sagði hann meðal annars að ekki væri lengur forsvaranlegt að láta sem ákvæði í samkomulagi NATO og Rússa frá 1997 um bann við dvöl erlendra hermanna í Póllandi og Eystrasltsríkjunum væru enn í fullu gildi. Innlimun Rússa á Krímskaga hefði breytt forsendum þessa samkomulags. Þá hefðu ráðamenn Póllands og Eystrasaltsríkjanna minnt á að í samkomulaginu frá 1997 væri talað um „umtalsvert” (substantial) stóran her. Ekki lægi fyrir nein sameiginleg skýring NATO og Rússa á hvað fælist í þessu orði – áður fyrr töldu ráðamenn í Moskvu að þá fyrst mætti tala um „umtalsverðan herafla” ef hann væri stærri en stórfylki – 3.000 til 5.000 manns.
Pólski sendiráðsmaðurinn sagði að það byggju ekki aðeins pólitísk sjónarmið að baki óskinni um fasta viðveru bandarísks herafla í þessum löndum heldur einnig hernaðarleg. Það mætti rekja til þess að fælingarmáttur herafla Bandaríkjanna og NATO á stafaði næstum alfarið af því hve hratt væri unnt að flytja hermenn á staðinn kæmi til átaka yrðu þeir ekki á þessum slóðum á friðartímum. Rússar hefðu á hinn bóginn sýnt hvað eftir annað getu sína til að virkja og beita miklum herafla innan fárra daga eða jafnvel klukkustunda. Þetta ýtti undir ótta við að rússneska ríkisstjórnin gæti í skyndi brotið staðbundnar varnir á bak aftur og lagt undir sig hluta af varnarsvæði NATO áður liðauki bærist úr vestri.
Taldi Lech Mastalerz að einkum væru sterk rök fyrir þessu viðhorfi í Eystrasaltsríkjunum sem stæðu ekki aðeins frammi fyrir yfirþyrmandi herafla Rússa heldur byggi einnig stór rússneskur minnihlutahópur í þessum löndum. Hann mætti nota til að koma illu af stað og það yrði síðan notað sem yfirvarp til að réttlæta íhlutun Rússa sem segðust vilja vernda landa sína. Auk þess væri auðvelt að skera á tengsl þessara ríkja við aðra hluta NATO frá rússneskum hólmlendunni Kalinigrad og þar með leggja enn meiri hindranir í veg fyrir liðsauka frá NATO-ríkjunum.
Hér fyrir neðan birtist ræða Lechs Mastalerz í heild á ensku:
Russians used to say – Kura nie ptica, Polsza nie zagranica – Chicken is not a bird and Poland is not abroad. The saying originates from the time when a large part of Poland was incorporated into the Imperial Russia in the late 18th century. Nowadays Polish eastern border is also the border of the EU and NATO.

Traditionally, Russia use history as a political weapon. For example, the Soviet victory over Germany in 1945 takes central place in Russians’ historical memory. It serves as a useful and efficient tool to reach specific political goals far beyond commemorating the victims of – so called – the Great Patriotic War and praising the efforts of the Soviet soldiers. Domestically, it is used as a means of self-assertion, consolidating society, as well as preserving the current political system and legitimizing its actions. In foreign policy, Russia uses the myth of the “exclusively defensive” war to legitimize aggressive policy. It is particularly useful in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, presented by Russian propaganda as a struggle against the “revival of Nazism”.

It is also worth to notice that in the last years, memory of the Great Patriotic War was transformed significantly. It shifted from “no more war” to “we can defeat anybody”.

The current relations between the Baltic States, Poland and the Russian Federation are associated with reduced confidence based on their XX.century historical experiences. It was obvious that after regaining full sovereignty the countries of Central and Eastern European region considered as the most important goal of ensuring their safety and undertook intensive efforts to join NATO. Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary were admitted to the organization in March 1999. The Baltic states in 2004.

On the 1st March 2014 the Council of the Russian Federation at the request of President Putin authorized the use of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine. Thus began the so called hybrid war in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

In the wake of the Ukraine conflict, the United States has proven to be the most resolute and capable Ally of the Central and Eastern European states. The U.S. has been striving to provide leadership for the Alliance and invigorate other NATO members to act, while implementing deterrence and reassurance measures on faster and on bigger scale than other countries.

For this reason, I will focus mainly on the U.S. involvement in the NATO and the region.

In its initial move, the U. S. sent twelve F-15 fighters and an air-tanker to augment the NATO Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission. This happened a few days before NATO decided to launch its first reassurance measure, by deploying AWACS planes over the region. Moreover, 12 F-16s from Italy began a temporary deployment to Poland to strengthen the U.S. Air Force Aviation Detachment there. Meanwhile, the other individual Allies started taking similar steps at the end of March 2014, while NATO collectively agreed on an enhanced presence in Central and Eastern Europe in middle of April 2014.

The U.S. was also the first country to deploy land units in the area, and is still the only NATO member that maintains a persistent rotational presence there in its own capacity. Deployments of small contingents around 150 troops in Poland and in the Baltic States began at the end of April 2014, when four companies of 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy, arrived to train and exercise with local units. The deployment marked the beginning of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which encompasses the majority of air, sea, and land deployments and activities intended to reassure NATO Allies and deter Russia.

Of course, American actions have been received very warmly among Central and Eastern Europe countries.

During one of his visits to Europe, U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter announced the ground-breaking decision to pre-position around 250 armored vehicles and their associated equipment in Central and Eastern Europe. For the first time in NATO’s history, such equipment will be stored on territories of “new” members: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, although some of it will be housed in Germany, which already hosts a battalion’s worth of tanks and Bradleys.

Equipment already stored in Germany and more brought into Europe by units rotating from the U.S. during the last several months already make up two-thirds of the equipment needed for an Airborne Brigade Combat Team. The remaining battalion should be on site by the end of this year, while the placement of all storage sites is most likely to be completed by the summer of next year.

Altogether, the so called European Activity Set (EAS) will be sufficient to equip one U.S.- based Armored Brigade Combat Team, (around 5,000 troops), for contingency, and will be used in exercises by American units on rotation in the region.

As a part of the Readiness Action Plan, since January 2015 NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs), are being established in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. These cells will facilitate planning, exercises and potential combat deployment of NATO forces. Additionally, the U.S. has been increasing its staff in NATO’s Multinational Corps Northeast headquarter in Szczecin, which will coordinate the NATO Force Integration Units in the and also will become responsible for joint military operations on NATO’s eastern flank by 2018.

Furthermore, the U.S. pledged to support NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), the core of which consists of land units to be provided by European Allies on a rotational basis every year. An interim Very High Readiness Joint Task Force has been active since January this year, and is set to become operational by 2016. That means – ready to deploy within two to seven days in the event of an emergency. The Americans also contributes troops to the NATO Response Force (NRF), capable of deployment within 30 days, which would be expanded from its current strength of 13,000 troops to up to 40,000.

Apart from that, two U.S. Brigade Combat Teams based in Europe are already at a relatively high level of readiness, especially the 173rd Brigade, which is designated as the U.S. Army Europe’s Contingency Response Force, with the first company capable of reaction within 18 hours.

Moreover, U.S. activities have at least to some extent helped to pave the way for more vigorous NATO involvement. Other Allies could have been more reluctant to, for example, start rotations of ground troops in the region, fearing retaliation from Russia. With U.S. units already in place, such concerns have lost much of their validity. Besides, overall U.S. engagement in the region has a tangible impact on the operational effectiveness of NATO’s defenses. Training and exercises with American troops increase the interoperability and combat value of Central and Eastern European forces.

One of the main rationales raised by the Central and Eastern European states relates to the argument that truly permanent basing is necessary to prove that there are no second-class security guarantees for the region and that NATO is not a “two-tiered” Alliance.

Although, U.S. and NATO officials stress that persistent rotations of units will be continued for “as long as necessary,” there are also fears that these deployments will turn out to be only temporary. Moreover, there has been long-standing dissatisfaction in the region with the provisions of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, in which the Alliance declared that it would not permanently station of additional “substantial combat forces,” indirectly precluding such a move with regard to the territories of new NATO members.

Following the annexation of Crimea, many Polish and Baltic States officials argued that NATO should no longer abide by these provisions, as they regarded the “current and foreseeable security environment,” which has changed radically since Russia violated the Act. Others, also pointed out that some permanent basing could take place in line with the 1997 pledge, as long as it did not reach or exceed the notional “substantial” size of forces. There is no agreed definition between NATO and Russia, although in the past Moscow described “substantial forces” as units not bigger than a brigade.

Apart from political reasons, calls for a permanent combat presence are also influenced by military considerations. They relate to the fact that the U.S. and NATO deterrence postures in the region rest almost entirely on the mechanism of reinforcement in the event of conflict, with very limited forward presence in peacetime. Meanwhile, Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to mobilize and deploy large numbers of troops within days or even hours, which in effect causes fears that Moscow could quickly overwhelm local defenses and occupy parts of Allied territory before the arrival of NATO reinforcements.

Such fears are especially well-founded in the Baltic States, which are not only dwarfed by Russia militarily, but are also home to large Russian-speaking minorities, which could be used to stage a crisis and give Russia justification for an intervention aimed at protecting its citizens. In addition, these states could easily be cut off from the rest of NATO by Russian forces from Kaliningrad Enclave, which could further impede the deployment of Allied troops with the use of various anti-access and area-denial weapons.

Thus, Russia could present NATO with a fait accompli, gambling that no one would be willing to engage in a long and costly campaign to retake Allied soil.

A swift initial reaction could be much more likely if the U.S. were to act unilaterally, but even such a move would be unlikely to make up for the Russian time advantage. Moreover, two U.S. Brigade Combat Teams would be not enough to counter a large scale invasion without a broader NATO contribution, especially in the event of an operation aimed at pushing the aggressor out of already occupied territory. Permanent basing of forward-deployed American or other Allies’ troops is perceived as a remedy to these problems.

Such deployments would serve as a “trip-wire.” An attack on American or NATO forces could drastically shorten the decision-making process and draw the Western Allies into the conflict from the very beginning. Such prospects would minimize Russian hopes for a quick victory and increase the chance of further involvement by the U.S. and NATO, even if forward-deployed American and NATO forces were over-run at the outset of hostilities.

Concerned Central and Eastern European states do not see NATO Force Integration Units and pre-positioned equipment as sufficient, standalone trip-wires. The same seemingly applies to the U.S. missile defense sites that are to be deployed in Romania and Poland by 2015 and 2018 respectively, even though both states value such presence very highly.

A perfect trip-wire would be positioned directly in the areas threatened with aggression, and would consist of forces prepared to engage the enemy. Therefore, the ongoing persistent presence of rotational forces does not meet these requirements either, as such units move across each country for training and exercises.

Permanent bases would ideally host a greater number of troops than the current rotational U.S. company, occasionally augmented by similar NATO units or forces taking part in exercises. While Poland did not set a specific number, the Baltic States requested NATO to permanently station a battalion, composed of troops rotated from NATO countries, on each of their territories. Altogether, these units would comprise a brigade-sized force (between around 3,000 and 5,000 troops). While increased unit size could serve as a stronger sign of commitment, Central and Eastern European states also seem to desire forces that would have a tangible impact on local defenses, in order to at least slow down any enemy offensive and buy time for reinforcements to arrive.

While Poland and Baltic States would welcome permanently stationed troops from other NATO countries as well, they aim predominantly for American presence in large part for the same reasons that underlie interest in any Washington engagement in the region. American troops would constitute a strong deterrent as a trip-wire force, linking an attack on Central and Eastern European states with one on a major nuclear super power and the world’s biggest conventional military player.

U.S. forces also have presumably greater combat experience than do most, or even all, European countries. Moreover, as the political leader of the Alliance, the U.S. is assessed to be much more willing than other members to undertake such a move, possibly prompting other states to follow Washington’s lead.

Finally, given its military capacity, it is assessed that the U.S. would be most capable of deploying greater numbers of troops in the region.

American officials have repeatedly stressed the need to increase European defense budgets and meet the goal of 2% GDP. That was already done by Poland and as far as I know by the Baltic States. The fact that the U.S.is responsible for more than 70% of combined NATO expenditure makes it more difficult for the Obama administration to justify greater U.S. involvement in Europe in the light of the widespread conviction of European “free-riding” on American taxpayers’ money. Definitely, increased American presence in the region “should be matched by an increased force presence of European Allies.”

Calls for a permanent NATO presence will not die down any time soon. In fact, efforts might even be intensified in the run-up to the 2016 Warsaw summit, as evidenced by the agenda of new Polish President Andrzej Duda. Moreover, positions of Central and Eastern European countries are entirely justified in the light of Russia’s adversarial stance and its military capabilities.

Basing permanent troops in the region is necessary not only to send a strong message of Allied commitment and solidarity, but also to overcome numerous political and operational complications in NATO’s posture.

Placing combat troops in border States would ensure that any attack against them would be the same as an attack against NATO. It would deprive Russia of hopes of discrediting NATO through a swift local victory, achieved without triggering broader conflict with the Allies. Basing larger forces in the area would also allow countries under attack to resist invasion and allow time for reinforcements to arrive.

If they are to reach their goals, Central and Eastern European countries will have to convince skeptical Western European Allies, but it is unlikely that they can do this alone. To be successful, diplomatic efforts aimed at reaching consensus on a permanent presence would require strong American leadership.

The ideal outcome of diplomatic efforts would include withdrawal from the NATO – Russia Founding Act and the deployment of larger units in the region. These goals are undoubtedly worth pursuing, but Central and Eastern European countries might also consider options that would be less satisfying for them, yet more viable under current political and financial limitations, and still favorable for regional security.
Possible area of consensus might include providing some permanent presence without rejecting the NATO-Russia Founding Act. The Russian views on that matter accepts deployments of the forces up to the strength of a single brigade. If distributed across the region, such deployments would have less actual defense value, but could still enhance deterrence as effective trip-wires.

Even with the permanent presence of larger units, these states would still require additional reinforcement in the event of a major conflict. Central and Eastern European states expect greater investments in facilities necessary to expedite the reception of bigger forces, similar to the infrastructure present in Western Europe, for example, major ports and airfields, and logistic hubs. These should naturally come in substantial part from the states of region themselves, as well as from NATO. Within the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), the Alliance continues its investments in national infrastructure as part of the NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP), but should consider increasing their scale, as was suggested by Poland. Moving beyond the Readiness Action Plan, it would be a welcome and substantial move to create not just national but NATO logistical facilities.

Apart from their military utility, all these moves, along with continued exercises, persistent rotational deployments, and the establishment of command structures such as NATO Force Integration Units, could eventually lead to NATO’s almost permanent presence in the region.

In the perception of Central and Eastern European states, the more Washington signals its commitment to European security, the higher the risk for Russia that its aggression against NATO would result in a global conflict with world’s sole military superpower. In this context, the Central and Eastern European states are especially reassured by the physical U.S. presence, particularly by deployments of “boots on the ground,” seen rarely and meagerly in the years before the annexation of Crimea.
Of course, Poland is deeply committed to the development of good neighborly relations with the Russian Federation but can’t ignore the fact that Russia has used its military power to annex part of the territory of sovereign state. Any action contrary to the fundamental principles of international law arises fully justified fear that the lack of will to act decisively against it would bring even greater threat for the peace in the future.

The latest information on the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine show that Minsk agreements are respected by both parties and military tension decreases. This is a good news. However, for full settlement of the conflict and restoration the territorial status quo before the annexation of the Crimea is still far away.

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