Archive for the 'NATO' Tag

U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis briefs the media during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

A true sign of mutual respect among friends is to be honest with each other. You demonstrate how much you value a friendship by being clear, direct, and fair when you outline where your friend is either abusing your friendship or is acting in a way that is self-destructive to their well-being and those around them.

One of the useful secondary effects of being clear and direct with your friends is that you quickly discover, by their reaction, if they were every your friend in the first place.

The fact that many in NATO have not been contributing in a fair way to collective defense has been an open sore for a long time. Over at my homeblog, we’ve reviewed the issue on a regular basis over the years, most significantly while discussing General Craddock’s 2009 farewell, and Bob Gates’s 2011 speech. There are legion other moments when American and other alliance leaders have openly broached the subject. No one should be on the fainting couch that SECDEF Mattis is taking President Trump’s message on fairness to Brussels.

As reported by the AP;

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday issued a sharp ultimatum to NATO Wednesday, telling allies they must start increasing defense spending by year’s end or the Trump administration will “moderate its commitment” to them.

“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values,” Mattis told the alliance’s 27 other defense ministers, according to a text of his remarks. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do.”

Mattis noted Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the Islamic State group’s hold over parts of Iraq and Syria, and said that “some in this alliance have looked away in denial of what is happening.”

Using a percentage of GDP is not a perfect benchmark, but it is a good one – fair to large nations and small.

I served for years seconded to NATO. I greatly care for the alliance and its ideals, but I won’t ignore how it is destroying itself. For over a decade online and face to face with NATO officers, I, along with many others, have warned that the American people have never been comfortable with their global responsibilities post-WW2. They understand and support the requirement grudgingly, but are not comfortable with it.

The American people also do not like being taken advantage of by freeloaders in their personal, professional, national, or international lives. No one does.

The trend for the last 15 years has been clear to anyone who was listening; we were just one election away from having the American people decided they were tired of being “Uncle Sucker.” Well, it appears that we had that election, and our NATO allies need to understand this reality.

Asking for fairness of effort is not an unreasonable request. The rest of the alliance needs to look at joining those members meeting the modest 2% of GDP minimum benchmark; USA, GBR, POL, EST, and even desperately poor GRC. FRA, TUR, LTU, ROM, and LVA are only .5% away.

The rest of alliance members? There needs to be consequences. Alliance consequences are preferred sooner more than later, or the USA may take steps on its own that no one will like.

If I may make a simple but effective suggestion to my NATO friends to start? Flags to post.

If a member state does not reach at least 1.5% by 2019 and 2% of GDP by 2022, then that state will not get a single General Officer/Flag Officer NATO billet, and their allotment of Colonel/Captain (OF5) billets will be reduced by 50%.

Trust me, that will get attention – and might buy time to prevent unilateral action by the USA against those nations who are content to defend their nation to the last American.

UPDATE: You can hear his comments below.

The following article was published in Proceedings in December, 2010, and seems prescient given recent comments about the Alliance by President Trump. We are highlighting it today both to stir debate on the topic and to draw attention to a commentary coming in the February issue called “NATO No More” by Michael Kambrod.

As the first American Commander-in-Chief famously admonished, no alliance should be permanent; is it time to bid farewell to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?

When it comes to NATO, Americans might ask themselves, “WWGD?” (“What would George do?”) In his 1796 farewell address, President Washington advised his nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances.” His words have been dusted off and revisited throughout U.S. history; their relevance seems to be resonating again.DATELINE: OTTAWA, CANADA, 17 DECEMBER 2019—In a move that many international observers long anticipated, Canada officially withdrew from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) today, severing the last transatlantic link of the alliance and effectively ending the organization in all but name. Coming some ten months after Canada’s neighbor to the south pulled out of NATO, the announcement today met muted responses from the 26 remaining European members of NATO. Canadian Prime Minister Mike Meyers explained his government’s decision largely as a necessary cost-saving move, noting that since the American withdrawal from the organization, Canada no longer had ready access to the strategic movement and global logistics resources that the United States had previously provided to other NATO member states. . . .”

This “news” story is, of course, completely hypothetical—but it does represent one potential scenario for an end to NATO. The story only mentions the very end of the alliance, the moment when Canada pulls out as a byproduct of an earlier political decision on the part of the United States. But as the story alludes, the dissolution of NATO would not be a rapid event. Rather, it will be the result of a long series of smaller events, a gradual melting rather than a catastrophic collapse.1 But what might that series of events and shifts look like en route to the end? What might be the motivations that could drive the American political leadership of 2019 to pull support from a treaty organization it had so much of a role in creating? And is this at all plausible? Europeans, after all, have foreseen the death of NATO over and over again, with each shift of American politics. So much so, over the past 20 years, that to their eyes it appears that this is a story very much like that of the boy who cried wolf.

2000px-NATO_OTAN_landscape_logoSuch an event not only could occur, but it appears that it is increasingly likely to occur. Not soon, and not precipitously, but it is sadly an apparently probable eventuality if conditions within NATO do not change. Due to a fundamental misreading of the state and nature of the domestic American political scene by the political elites of the European NATO members, the alliance already may be well down the trail for this potential outcome. The forecast presented here is one in which the United States maintains friendly diplomatic relations with the individual nations of Europe, and interacts both on the nation-to-nation level and with the supra-national structure of the European Union. The relationship with the United Kingdom, our deepest tie, is certainly secure, as are the linkages with France and Germany and some other major contributing nations. But in the wake of the end of conflict in Iraq, and Afghanistan, it is quite possible that politics may drive the United States in a direction toward which it is historically inclined.

This is a future in which the United States no longer considers itself responsible for the collective defense of Europe. In this evolution, it becomes clear that when former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made his openly dismissive comments about “New Europe” and “Old Europe,” he was not speaking in isolation, as many Europeans appear to believe was the case. Rather, he was tapping into a raw nerve within American public opinion. Indeed, by 2004 a full 80 percent of the American public believed that the United States was contributing too much to the security of other nations by acting as a “global policeman.”2 In the American context, this includes membership in NATO and the de facto subsidizing of European security by American taxpayers and military members.

In this vision of the future, American relations may be bilateral, trilateral, or involve short-term episodic coalitions created and shaped through situation-unique diplomacy to deal with a specific event. Indeed, over the past 18 years these have increasingly become the main American method for waging war. Such a future is particularly plausible if one understands the forces that today buffet American political leaders. To understand this point, however, one needs to grasp the foundation of those political winds swirling within the United States. And to do that it is necessary to go back almost 20 years, to the momentous period of 1990-1991.

Dust-Up Over Desert Storm

That time period witnessed two momentous events with regard to NATO and popular opinion in the United States of its transatlantic allies. First and most obvious, there was the collapse of the Soviet Union. We need not recount that history here; it is sufficient to note that between January and August of 1990 a series of internal crises ultimately ended in a failed coup and the effective end of the U.S.S.R.3 These events, of course, followed on the heels of German reunification and the de facto collapse of the Warsaw Pact as a viable military threat—the combination of which effectively ended the original raison d’etre of NATO.

But soon after the final act of that collapse came Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the U.S.-led responses, first the defensive operation known as “Desert Shield,” beginning in mid-August 1990, and then the subsequent combat operations known as “Desert Storm,” which began in early 1991. Both involved ad hoc coalitions of nations orchestrated by the United States, and neither involved NATO—despite the fact that the nations of Western Europe were the most direct second-order beneficiaries on the basis of their vulnerability to Middle Eastern oil-driven prices.

But the larger part of the rift, as it relates to U.S.-NATO relations, really centered around American domestic political perceptions about the actions of its NATO ally, Germany. Although little remembered now outside of the United States, throughout the period of German reunification problems had surfaced in U.S.-German relations, not the least of which was an attitude of paternalism on the part of the American political elite.4

As early as the second week of September 1990 it was widely reported in the United States that Germany, a nation to which the United States had committed massive resources for more than 40 years, had at that point contributed less to the defensive coalition of Desert Shield than had its much smaller NATO peer (and fellow NATO ally to the United States) Portugal.5 American public opinion started turning against Germany, and was only partially mitigated with regard to NATO by the fact that other NATO allies, most notably England, but also France, were stepping up and committing not only money, but their own soldiers and airmen to the effort.

By the end of the year, and with a U.N. resolution and mandate pending, temperatures in the United States toward its German NATO ally rose to something of a fever pitch of outrage. Significantly, in light of later political developments in the United States, this anger and disdain for Germany came not from the political right, but from the political left. Moreover, it came from some of the people who are right now, in 2010, at the very pinnacle of U.S. political power.

In late December 1990, Representative David Obey (D-WI)—the man who in 2010 is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and therefore by some political estimates one of the five most powerful politicians in the entire U.S. government—said the following:

Germany is absolutely outrageous. They are the worst because they have been the principal lecturers about the behaviors of others, and the principal beneficiaries of the collapse of the Soviet Union . . . . For ten years they have lectured us about the international need of American fiscal responsibility, getting our deficits down, until we nearly gagged . . . . But here they are, looking after their own interests (financing the merger with East Germany, sending aid to the former Soviet Union, and underwriting the cost of Soviet forces still in Germany) but nickel-nursing when it comes to world interests.6

The message to the American public was clear, as stated by one of the highest-placed American elected officials: America could not count on cooperation in military affairs even from the nation that most directly benefited from the contribution of trillions of dollars and more than eight million man-years of American labor in that nation’s defense over the course of four decades. It was a narrative that bit hard into the American public’s political perception of Germany, and to a lesser degree, the rest of Europe and NATO.

‘An A Team and a B Team’

DoD (John McDowell)

The transatlantic relationship was strained anew in 1999; for nearly a decade, European NATO members had fallen further and further behind in military technology and manpower, leaving the United States to carry the bulk of the load in combat against the Serbian Republic. Lieutenant General Michael Short, the U.S. Air Force commander in charge of the air campaign, forthrightly declared, “We’ve got an A team and a B team now.”

Beginning just two years later, the United States and most of Europe entered into one of the most prosperous periods of the post–World War II era. Not long after this sustained economic boom began, two other trends also made themselves apparent: The European members of NATO commenced, almost across the board, to reduce their defense budgets and defy NATO budget targets of 2 percent of GDP, even as NATO began to advocate the expansion of its defense umbrella to more countries.7 The combination of these factors meant that as every year passed, U.S. taxpayers and troops carried a proportionately higher percentage of the collective defense load for the benefit of European nations, even as European technological prowess and manpower declined, creating an ever-widening capabilities gap. This alone, however, was not considered significant until the first time NATO went on the offensive.

In 1999 NATO collectively decided to initiate combat against the Serbian Republic to end the events taking place in the Serbian province of Kosovo. During and immediately after that conflict, two other realities became apparent to the American voting public that adversely affected U.S. public opinion about Europe and NATO. The first was that because of the reduced European military budgets of the previous decade, almost none of the European NATO allies was capable of conducting combat operations alongside the United States, and this forced the United States to carry the majority of the risk and combat load. American aircraft accounted for 768 of a total of just over 1,000 NATO aircraft.8 The U.S. Air Force commander in charge of the air campaign, Lieutenant General Michael Short, was even publicly quoted as saying, “I don’t think there’s any question that we’ve got an A team and a B team now.” Those nations that failed to invest in precision guidance or night capabilities or beyond-visual-range systems were “relegated to doing nothing but flying combat air patrol in the daytime; that’s all they were capable of doing.”9

Many Americans resented all this and considered it as something of a betrayal, particularly since Kosovo was seen as a European issue, not nearly as much an American one.10 The second factor that incensed U.S. public opinion against NATO was the concept of “consensus” being used by European NATO nations, particularly by those who were making little or no contribution to the actual combat efforts, to control American actions through veto in the tactical targeting process.11

When Popular Opinion Sours

Europe does not seem to acknowledge certain realities about the domestic American political scene or the forces currently in play in the United States. In particular, there seems to be a lack of understanding of how directly the U.S. government reacts to popular opinion, and an apparent inability to recognize what that opinion actually is with regard to Europe and NATO.

It appears to surprise Europeans to discover that during the 1990–2007 period, the general population of the United States developed a more negative attitude toward Europe and NATO. Those American attitudes, moreover, were exacerbated during the 2003–2006 period, when even left-wing American comedians took to mocking European leaders (and by extension, America’s NATO allies). Among the general population, negative attitudes toward Europe accelerated. Positive attitudes toward France, for example, went from 56 percent in 1984 to 45 percent in 1990, then to 39 percent in 1994. U.S. opinion about Germany went from a 76 percent rating of those who believed that relations with Germany were important in 1984 to 73 percent in 1990 and 66 percent in 2004. More recent surveys place the opinion of both of these major NATO members another ten percentage points lower, in large part in reaction to the anti-Americanism that was so evident in Western Europe from 2003 to 2007.12 And this opinion is not limited to the general public but is reflected upward, through American political leaders of both major parties as well.


U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been vocal in his criticism of NATO’s contribution to the Afghan war effort: “I am not satisfied that an alliance, whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed to Afghanistan.”

In 2007, newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued the first of what has become an annual scathing assessment of NATO and its contributions in Afghanistan. In it, he said, “I am not satisfied that an alliance, whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed to Afghanistan.”13 These were harsh words from a man known for maintaining a civil and even diplomatic tone in most of his dealings.

Indeed, American public opinion toward Europe had sunk so low by 2008 that even as Europeans lauded then-candidate Barack Obama following his stirring speech in the Tiergarten in downtown Berlin in July 2008, Obama’s political opponents were actually able to use the very fact that he was popular among Europeans as a political weapon against him.14 And more directly related to NATO, in 1998, a year before Kosovo, when Americans were asked, “Should we increase our commitment to NATO, keep it the same, decrease it or withdraw entirely?” (with “keep it the same” being considered a neutral rating of 0 percent) the response from American political leaders was an astonishing -21 percent.15 The numbers only get worse from there. Yet those deep and building sentiments of a preference for isolationism, a decrease in affection for some of the leading nations of Europe, and a clear desire for withdrawal from international military-aid efforts, do not seem to be known or understood by leaders in Western Europe. Indeed, it seems they are blind to American political history and political forces over time—an irony for a continent which continually reminds us how little history we have.

‘Essentially Foreign to Our Concerns’

In his farewell address to the people of the United States, President George Washington enjoined his nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances.” But he was even more explicit in exactly what he meant when he wrote this often-quoted statement:

So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.16

Library of Congress

When it comes to NATO, Americans might ask themselves, “WWGD?” (“What would George do?”) In his 1796 farewell address, President Washington advised his nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances.” His words have been dusted off and revisited throughout U.S. history; their relevance seems to be resonating again.

This is an American political document that has been repeatedly cited and used for more than 200 years. Even today one finds it used regularly by both political parties, regularly, as a foundation for political speeches in major campaigns. And both Democrats and Republicans, for different reasons, may be on track to once again use this document and the underpinning ideas therein not only to drive reductions in the size of the U.S. military, but also to use them as a justification for adhering to Washington’s plea about permanent alliances—and pull out of NATO.

On the left end of the political landscape, the Democratic Party has a tradition of opposing large standing military forces dating back to President Thomas Jefferson.17 The opposition is based on a traditional liberal interpretation of the dangers to liberty that such a force represents.

But there is a similar tradition of opposition to large military forces (and foreign “entanglements”) on the political right, as represented by the Republican Party in the United States. In that case it ties in closely with the thesis of noted military sociologist Samuel Huntington, who noted that true “conservatives” are traditionally opposed to large military forces because the support thereof requires more government, more taxes, and therefore more intrusion into the lives and business efforts of the citizenry.

Both political parties shelved their traditional positions after 1945, as the obvious threat of the Soviet Union and communism trumped the historical American inclination toward isolationism and small military forces. But it is not beyond the pale to speculate that once U.S. forces exit Iraq, and the mission in Afghanistan is either reduced or eliminated, these central elements of American political life may well come to the fore again.

Auf Wiedersehn, Adieu

American public opinion toward Europe has been slowly but steadily dropping over the past 20-plus years. Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Obey, the man who effectively controls half of the entire U.S. budget, once referred to Germany as “outrageous” for its failure to commit to Desert Shield/Desert Storm, after so many years of Germany telling the United States what it must do. Public opinion polls in the United States have subsequently found that 80 percent of Americans think that the United States spends too much on the security of other countries. This sentiment has leaked over to American political elites who have returned a -21 percent vote of no confidence toward NATO—and that was before the American reaction to NATO operations in Kosovo, let alone the perceived tepid response of NATO to the American call for a “surge” in Afghanistan in 2010. (France, as it reintegrates, is sending more than 1,000 men to NATO headquarters in Belgium, but only agreed to send an additional 80 men to Afghanistan to actually fight as part of NATO there.)

All of these downward factors, combined with traditional American inclinations toward isolationism, a building resentment among everyday Americans regarding European defense budgets and capabilities, and a now nearly 30-year tradition of the United States being forced to create de facto “coalitions of the willing” either alone or under U.N. auspices, are building political pressures on U.S. leaders—pressures that may well see the United States pulling out of the alliance. This seismic shift appears to be occurring without acknowledgment of these pressures by the European members of NATO.

Without the United States, it is not likely that the military aspect of the transatlantic alliance would last much longer. Canada, not out of sympathy but out of a simple lack of resources, would probably follow the United States out of NATO and perhaps into something more akin to a Commonwealth Alliance. The United States, for its part, may well participate in some sort of informal agreements, perhaps an expansion of the much-cited “Special Relationship” that it maintains with the United Kingdom. In any event, the result would be the same: the death of NATO.


1. Personal conversation, Dr. Stanley Sloan, Rome, Italy, 5 April 2010.

2. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Survey, “Global Views 2004,”

3. Professor Archie Brown, “Reform, Coup and Collapse: The End of the Soviet State”, BBC History,

4. Frank Costigliola, “An ‘Arm around the Shoulder’: The United States, NATO and German Reunification, 1989–90,” Contemporary European History, Vol. 3, No. 1 (March 1994), pp. 87–110.

5. Carol J. Williams, “Desert Shield Gets Low Priority in Bonn,” Los Angeles Times, 11 September 1990.

6. Marianne Means, “Our Deadbeat Allies, Germany Worst Deserter of Desert Shield,” Reading Observer, 31 December 1990.

7. Linda Bentley and Robert Leavitt, “The NATO Expansion Debate: Reviewing the Arguments,” Global Beat Issue Brief No. 25 (2 February 2 1998),

8. “Clinton increases U.S. troops for Kosovo force,”, 2 June 1999,

9. John A. Tirpak , “Washington Watch: Short’s View of the Air Campaign,” Air Force Magazine, Vol. 82, No. 9 (September 1999),

10. “North Atlantic Treaty Organization: NATO and the post–Cold War world,”

11. See Wesley Clark, Waging Modern War, for his descriptions of NATO vetoes over targeting.

12. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Surveys, 1984, 1990, 1994, 2000, and 2004,

13. Robert M. Gates as quoted in Ahto Lobjakas, “Afghanistan: US Unhappy with NATO Allies’ Troop Contributions,” Radio Free Europe, 24 October 2007,

14. The examples are legion, but this essay at the influential conservative Web site “American Thinker” is typical:

15. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Survey, “Global Views 2004.”

16. George Washington, “Farewell Address,” 19 September 1796, full text available at

17. Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For The Common Defense (New York: Free Press, 1984), p. 105.

Please join us at 5pm EDT (US) for Midrats Episode 342: Turkey ,Erdoğan & its Miltary – with Ryan Evans:

The events of the last week in Turkey brought that critically important nation in to focus, and we are going to do the same thing for this week’s episode of Midrats.

Turkey has a history of military coups as a byproduct of an ongoing drive to be a modern secular nation against the current of a deeply Islamic people. This week we are going to look at how Turkey found itself at another coup attempt, the response, and the possible impact for Turkey and its relationship with NATO, Russia, Europe, and its neighbors.

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Ryan Evans.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk- Father of Modern Turkey

Ryan Evans is a widely published commentator and recovering academic. He deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan from 2010 – 2011 as a Social Scientist on a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team that was OPCON/TACON to the British-led Task Force Helmand. He has worked as assistant director at the Center for the National Interest, a research fellow at the Center for National Policy, and for the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London. He is a Fellow of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society and received his MA from the King’s College London War Studies Department.

Join us live if you can or listen later by clicking here. Or pick the show up later from either our iTunes page here or our Stitcher page here.

Maybe President Recep Erdogan is not the only one who can take advantage of an opportunity.

This idea came to me as I calmed down over the anger rising up within me over Erdogan’s demand for his one-time political ally Cleric Fethulla Gulen who lives in Pennsylvania.

Defense Secretary Robert M. GatesMy first reaction was – “Let’s call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council and threaten to eject Turkey from NATO.” Of course this is not so easy. No clear article exists about how to go about such a process other than some vague language about being required to “uphold democracy, including tolerating diversity.” But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of taking the unilateral action of simply announcing that the United States itself had decided to leave NATO given, among other reasons, a member nation threatening a fellow member nation as part of its trajectory toward a non-democratic, authoritarian Islamist state. It would also solve the problem of free rides by U.S. allies that Barry Posen has identified in his work.

In addition to this provocative type of thinking — NATO Exit or NAXIT if you will — how the U.S. might actually begin a trajectory toward such a drastic policy move? What elements in the articles and fine print of the existing NATO verbiage allow for someone to leave NATO, in whole or in part? Should the U.S. consult with the French, who to my knowledge are the only ones to have actually tested this, at least from its military component?

So what can the President do within his authority to, hypothetically, pull the U.S. out of NATO? Is it like most other treaties that you have to give notification of intent (i.e. Japan’s notification of withdrawal from the Washington and London Naval Treaties in the 1930s)? And what role do the Senate and Congress play overall in such a process — NAXIT that is?

I think these are ideas worth exploring — if for no other reason than one might be horrified by the prospect of the U.S. deciding to leave NATO.

Finally, as every good officer learns (or should learn) when they identify a problem, what would I recommend the U.S. do after NATO pullout, to compensate for the perceived lost advantages?

There are two choices. The first is nothing. You know, unilateral action along the lines of the Farewell Address by President Washington — something about “Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European Ambition, Rivalship, Interest, Humour or Caprice”? Especially with people who do not like us. The U.S. simply acts in its own national interests as an independent sovereign nation. Louis Sears wrote during the supposedly “bad” era of “isolationism” these words of wisdom in 1927: “ . . . inasmuch as friendships are less steadfast than they sometimes seem, international security is best advanced by calm examination of a nation’s interests, rather than by frenzied appeals to an imaginary love.” They still apply today.

There is the separate issue of the UN, but for the time being let us simply accept that the U.S. stays in the UN. There are lots of non-NATO nations in the UN, membership in one does not exclude membership in the other. Which leads to course of action number two, as they say at the Command and General Staff School (CGSS). Form a new collective organization of like-minded sovereign states. Something along the lines of MTAO — Maritime Treaty Alliance Organization; or maybe OTO — Oceanic Treaty Organization. That way the U.S. could unify both its Atlantic AND Pacific AND Indian Ocean security interests into a global collectivist structure. It could include, for example, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and even Great Britain — who would likely leave NATO if the U.S. left, too. Hey, Ireland could join. And the nations of South America. And India.

The U.S. seems to be trapped in an old paradigm — NATO — and thanks to the arrogant and power hungry Mr. Erdogan, we can now see that the existing paradigm need not become our prison.

The views are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

CnwQTWyWYAAEbiPFrom our seats in North America, the best response to the upheaval in Turkey over the last week is to be calm up front, but task a little extra work in the back office behind the door.

Political chaos and recovering from successful and unsuccessful coups are not unheard of in Turkey. While there are some aspects of the Erdogan government that are less than ideal compared to previous governments, there are good reasons to not buy in to some of the more excited reactions to Erdogan’s response to the coup. At this stage of the game, excessive concern about USA/NATO’s nuclear weapons stored there, NATO status, or the Islamist vs. Kemalist nature of the government should not be top of mind.

Military uprisings, regardless of outcome, never have clean endings or result in gentlemanly treatment of the losing side by the winning side. As such, patience is in order to give the Turks a chance to find their balance again. We should give them time.

The next few months will tell the story, but let’s look at the Most Likely vs. Most Dangerous COA, and some of the Planning Assumptions we are working with.

Hope isn’t a plan, but with the right Assumptions, you can write a plan around it. Let’s be optimists and run with COA-Hope as Most Likely.

Good thing for everyone, I don’t have to make that up – Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret) has a must read looking forward on what steps we should take with Turkey post-coup. Though I non-concur with his 3rd point, he outlines a solid step forward.

If things in the background would trend in a way we would like, these initial steps would go a long way of firming up that path. Even better, if there was a slight drift away from where NATO and the USA would like to see Turkey go, such actions might help the better minds in that star-crossed nation nudge things back in the correct direction.

In summary, here are his four points;

First, we need to stand firmly on the side of the Turkish civilian government.

Second, we should send our senior military officials to Ankara to hear from their counterparts about the situation while congratulating Turkey’s leadership on doing the right thing and helping stop the coup.

A third smart move by the United States would be to increase cooperation in intelligence sharing and targeting against Kurdish radical terrorist groups.

Fourth, and finally, the United States should use NATO as a mechanism to support Turkish positions.

We, NATO, and Turkey should be so lucky to have this as an entering argument, but we need to do the responsible thing and look at our assumptions.

We are assuming that Erdogan will not go in the direction he was already heading – a more Islamist Turkey. That is assuming against the trend.

Moderation usually requires peace. If we are assuming that Turkey’s part of the world will become more peaceful, then that is assuming against the trend too.

We could go on, but let’s just stick with those two assumptions being invalid; Turkey more Islamist, a move enhanced by insecurity and internal strife. Those will not create effects on the ground that are in line with what NATO sees itself as in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century. That needs a Branch Plan. One variation of that Branch Plan could have a few Decisive Points that lead someplace I’m not sure how we would deal with.

1. NATO membership revoked or best case, as Greece did in the 1970s, Turkey leaves NATO’s military command.
2. In line with #1, NATO nuclear weapons need to removed to a more secure location.

In an ideal world, #2 should happen well before #1 and should really be a stand along plan, but history on occasion moves faster than we like, and not in an ideal order. Though we are far from #1 and #2 today, it doesn’t take all that many more cards pulled from the deck and we could find ourselves close. As the SECSTATE said recently;

Turkey could fall foul of Nato’s “requirement with respect to democracy” if it fails to uphold the rule of law in the wake of an attempted coup, the US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned.

The US “will certainly support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice,” he said, “but we also caution against a reach that goes beyond that and stress the importance of the democratic rule being upheld”.

That, my friends, is a tough nut to crack if it leads down the path where we need to look at #1 and #2. Those nukes are housed on an airbase in the suburbs of a city of 1.7 million.

The fact that we should even be concerned with this begs the question; besides bureaucratic inertia, why in 2016 do we need a bunch of nuclear gravity bombs stored only 125 miles as the Hornet flies from the Syrian border?

That, perhaps, is another post for another day. In any event, we live in interesting times. Though I think our world will be closer to Most Likely COA-Hope as outlined by Stavridis, it is probably prudent to have a few plans on the shelf to deviate from if some variation of the Most Dangerous COA peeks above the horizon.

On a personal note, like Admiral Stavridis, I served for four years with NATO and developed some great working relationships with good men, officers and NCOs . Once this went down, in particular I thought of a Turkish Air Force officer, now close to Colonel, who I enjoyed working with immensely. He, his wife and children were right out of central casting of what we would see as an almost ideal American military family. Hope they are on the right side of things. I once thought he and those like him were the future of Turkey, now – not so much, and that is sad.

16 ships from 9 nations (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.) maneuvered in close formation for a surface ship Photo Exercise, 9 June 2016

16 ships from 9 nations (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States) maneuvered in close formation for a surface ship Photo Exercise, 9 June 2016

Our theme for BALTOPS 2016 was straightforward: “Baltic Unity and Strength bring Security.” “Unity,” though, is a word tossed around quite a bit without much thought given to the actual definition. So what unifies 15 Allied nations and 2 Partner nations in these Baltic Operations, and — now that BALTOPS is over—how is what we did here relevant to the problems Europe is facing today?

The strength of the assets represented in this year’s iteration of BALTOPS was evident from the earliest stages. Forty-three ships and submarines along with eight hundred troops from fifteen Allies and two Partners of NATO speak for themselves even when presented in the sterile form of a Power Point slideshow at a mid-planning conference. Once the ships were steaming in formation for the Photo Exercise (PHOTOEX) or deploying LCACs and AAVs to storm a beach, the message became even clearer. These force offerings showed a unity of resolve, a common purpose and commitment to security which will no doubt be a major theme within the upcoming Warsaw Summit. The nations of NATO are unified in their commitment to the defense of the whole.

15 mine counter measure ships from 13 nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.) maneuvered in close formation near command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) for a surface ship Photo Exercise

15 mine counter measure ships from 13 nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States) maneuvered in close formation near command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) for a surface ship Photo Exercise

Seven hundred troops from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, and Finland made up the assault force. Within the short period of ten days they stormed the beaches three times, in three different countries. While talking to Marines of different nationalities it became clear to me that their perspective on unity was a little different; the unity they felt comes from relationships on a personal level. Parliaments and Congresses and Summits can talk about unity and friendship, but those friendships between military Allies and Partners are worked out in ships at sea and in the mud and sand ashore. There is a saying I heard once which I believe came from the British military, “We sweat in peace so we do not have to bleed in war.” We work hard now to be better prepared for anything that may come. In BALTOPS we are sweating together.

There is another sort of unity at work in BALTOPS and that is a unity of effort. BALTOPS 2016 is the largest live, NATO-led, joint air-maritime exercise in Northern Europe. At first that distinction may seem to contain a few too many qualifiers to actually be relevant. The level of integration, though, between the air, surface, and subsurface assets in this year’s exercise is really unprecedented in recent memory. BALTOPS 16 stressed complex coordination between units.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From waterspace and airspace management to radio communication, each piece of the puzzle had to fit together. First, the mine countermeasure vessels swept the operating areas to locate and neutralize any mine threats. Submarines and surface ships conducted anti-surface and anti-subsurface warfare to obtain local maritime superiority, protecting the high value units. Sailors and Marines boarded other surface vessels and searched for prohibited materials during Maritime Interdiction Operations. Ships assigned to the surface task units worked with friendly aircraft to provide air defense coverage over the high-value units.

The sequence of events was designed to be rigorous. The first landing in Hanko, Finland, was only one day after we sailed from Tallinn, Estonia. Training intensified as the forces in Sweden met opposition forces and prepared for the final exercise phase in Poland. I am continually impressed with the cohesion achieved in such a short time. Unity of effort is not just a plan. It is a common purpose that serves as guide when the plan falls to pieces.

A United States Air Force ‎B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft including two Polish air force ‎F-16 Fighting Falcons, four U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, two German ‎Eurofighter ‎Typhoons and four ‎Swedish ‎Gripens over the Baltic Sea, 9 Jun, 2016

A United States Air Force ‎B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft including two Polish air force ‎F-16 Fighting Falcons, four U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, two German ‎Eurofighter ‎Typhoons and four ‎Swedish ‎Gripens over the Baltic Sea, 9 Jun, 2016

Unity of effort is what allowed the forces from the seventeen participating nations to adapt and move forward. This unity is not built on common principles alone; it is not just built on friendships; it can be discussed at tabletop exercise, but it is really developed and put to the test in places like BALTOPS. Raw power is not enough to guaranty the security of the Alliance because that power can be misdirected. It is when power is guided by a common effort, each part working together, unified, that NATO really delivers on its obligations to defend peace in Europe.

The NATO Alliance and Europe in general is beset on all sides: a leadership in Russia that oddly seems more interested in burning than building bridges, a migrant crisis of epic proportions not seen since World War II, and barbarians that are not only at the gates but have actually come inside in the form of Daesh. The Baltic Sea is center stage for some of these challenges, while others are being played out in the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and greater Atlantic. The answers to each, though, are heavily dependent on the maritime domain.

Unity on the operational and tactical level is necessary to achieve the goals which have been agreed upon at the strategic level. If the Alliance is not unified, the message it sends is muddled and its strength, wasted. During BALTOPS 2016 we saw a force unified at every level. We honed our skills in amphibious, anti-submarine, anti-surface, and mine counter measure warfare and are now better prepared to ensure regional security in whatever way we might be needed. What we have done in the Baltic Sea for the last two weeks reverberates far beyond this body of water…even the Pacific. The ramifications reach every part of the Alliance.


A Munich Moment

February 2016


Yesterday, Richard Fontaine over at WarOnTheRocks provided one of the better summaries I have read about what was floating around in the ether at this year’s Munich Security Conference.

As a result of the discussions, a mood of frustration, even somberness, settled on the Munich participants this year. There have been difficult conferences before: in 2003, during the white-hot transatlantic fight over the looming war in Iraq, and in 2007, when Vladimir Putin denounced a “unipolar” world and previewed a more aggressive and anti-Western Russian line. Perhaps Munich 2017 will be sunnier and more hopeful, with many of this year’s challenges having faded into mere annoyances. Yet there is a good chance that many of the problems that so bedeviled the transatlantic partners this past weekend will remain on the crowded agenda for time to come.

A good chance? Yes, a very good chance.

He had five major take-aways:

1. Russian confidence.
2. European disarray.
3. Pleas for U.S. leadership.
4. Sense of American irrelevance.
5. Little hope for Syrian peace.

I’ll let you read his full post for how he outlines the five, but I think his five are about spot on – mostly because it is what has been groaning out of Europe all year.

You can batch these in to three groupings, though all five are interrelated, but not in the way most people think. We’ll get to that in a moment, but for now let’s stick in order.

Russian confidence and European disarray: For the entire period I wore the uniform and now over a half a decade since my retirements, people who respect history have been warning the Europeans and Canada that they need to take national defense seriously. In recent history, there have been those who thought they could move the needle from within, only to lash out once their turn on the rowing bench was done (Gen. Craddock, USA and SECDEF Gates just two examples).

Some of the cry had been out of a proper sense of fairness and shared sacrifice, but others like myself did it out of affection knowing that my nation was only an election or two away from the American public not willing to defend those who won’t defend themselves.

The Russians are confident as they have seen the Europeans’ failure to rise to the occasion after the slow but steady American decoupling from Europe. The Russians are confident because they perceive that they are winning. They respect strength and have contempt for weakness. The only stiffening of spines they have seen recently have been from the Poles and a little more concern from the Americans – but for the balance of Europe? No.

In the diplomatic and informational domains, they have probed with success. In economics, they are the weakest – but with what they respect the most, their military efforts continue to be a plus from them from the eastern borders of Ukraine, Crimea, and even to the point that the once great Royal Navy cannot even defend its coastal waters;

Britain had to rely on the US, Canada, France and Germany aircraft to protect its territorial waters more than 20 times last year, with the Royal Navy’s reliance on its Nato allies far greater than previously thought.

Defence experts say Russian submarine activity off Britain is returning toward Cold War levels.

Pleas for U.S. leadership & sense of American irrelevance: for almost all of living memory, the Western European nations have lived and prospered under the American military umbrella and have become too used to not carrying their load. Ukraine, Syria, and the migrant crisis is an order of magnitude greater European issue than North American. America isn’t irrelevant, it is just that in elections over the past eight years, the American people have decided that they no longer wish to unequally take on the West’s burdens, to only then be pilloried, insulted, and blamed for the effort. America decided that we will help others who help themselves – so Europe will have to re-learn how to keep their own house in order and we’ll help where we can, if it is in our national interest. Selfish and irresponsible? Not really, just traditional statecraft.

This mood is from both sides of the political spectrum in the USA as well. Where there was once a bi-partisan consensus for American to lead in all significant European security issues – that consensus is long gone. There is now a bi-partisan consensus for just the opposite.

The numbers back up the general vibe. As derived from the CIA factbook, let’s review the top-line numbers.


Until these numbers come more in line, there is only so much any elected American official can do to convince the American people that, once again, the American must do what the Europeans can, but won’t.

Now let’s shift to the last – little hope for Syrian peace: define “peace.” Is peace a frozen conflict? No. If nothing else, we have proven that over time. Why is Western Europe at peace right now? Simple. There was a sound military and political defeat of fascism in Western Europe. There were boundaries made and then for the most part there was massive and merciless ethnic cleansing that created relatively ethnically homogeneous nations inside agreed borders. Where there is conflict today is where in places like eastern Estonia, eastern Ukraine, and spots of bother in the Balkans where significant minority groups were left. That is an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Syria and northern Iraq is the Balkans of the Arab World. If militant Sunni Islam is your greatest enemy, then you have one option in the Game of Thrones-ish war going on now in Syria; let Assad win and play the strongman over a subjugated people, come to some accommodation with the Kurds, and move to destroy ISIS with the Russians before Turkey gets involved. There is really no other realistic option. If we will not back the Russian play, if we cannot offer a better way to end the conflict, then we should just get out of the way. At other earlier points in time, there were perhaps other more attractive options, but 1QCY16, this is where we are.

There are a lot of places where people seemed to believe because we should do something, we will/can do something. To get from “should” to “will/can” there has to be a critical bridging function known as leadership from the POLMIL level.

Shifting to the original failure in the Arab Spring, the Libyan theater of operations; listen to the following from our friend Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret.)

The clock is ticking for Western powers to intervene militarily against ISIS in Libya — and Canada has a responsibility to join a potential mission there, says NATO’s former supreme allied commander.

“If we’re going to have an impact in Libya, now is the time to get involved, over the next six months,” retired U.S. navy admiral James Stavridis said on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

“We have to act before the Islamic State becomes even stronger … otherwise we’re going to have another massively failed state on the periphery of Europe.”

Is he correct? Is this something the international community “should” do? Yes and of course. What is missing then?

Let’s go back to the fundamentals. Is there a popular will in Europe to conduct peace enforcement operations in Libya with German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, and British forces and money? No. Is there a popular will in North America to conduct peace enforcement operations in Libya with Canadian and USA forces and money? No.

Is there leadership in place at the levers of power in Europe and North America that has the desire to bring the popular will to a national will to take action? No.

As such, as much as the theory is sound in early 2016 – as sound as the theory of the invasion of Iraq was in 2003 – will there be any such action in Libya or Syria? No.

As a result, what should one do? Think and plan for consequence management. Wargame Most Likely and Most Dangerous COA and then clearly identify Decision Points for Branch Plans. Do it twice; once with pro-active leaders, one with passive/dithering leaders. If that has not already been done, then we will just have to make it up as we go along when, as our politicians like to say on occasions, we find out about events on the news.

This is the world that was asked for at the end of the last decade, especially in Western Europe. It is what we have. Tomorrow will have to do the best it can with its inheritance.

M-60 main battle tanks are lined up in the staging area at the Dundalk Marine Terminal after being offloaded from the vehicle cargo/rapid response ship USNS ANTARES (T-AKR-294). The tanks were used by the 32nd Separate Infantry Brigade (Mechanized), Wisconsin Army National Guard, during Exercise Reforger '86.

“Hey 1980s! The second decade of the 21st century is on the POTS line, and they are wondering if they could make some copies of your stuff in the vault.”

As history shows, most times you don’t pick a war – a war picks you.

Of course, in a way, all wars are wars of choice. When faced with aggression, a people can always decide to surrender without a fight – or only after a token resistance. War is a test of national wills on many levels – big wars often result when one side misreads the national will of another.

In the 21st Century, could there possibly be a situation where we would, once again, have to fight our way across the Atlantic to support another entanglement in a European war? As 2016 arrives, are the odds of this greater or lesser than they were 1, 5, or 10 years ago?

Julian E. Barnes and Gordon Lubold at WSJ have a little required reading for you. From their article, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, General Philip Breedlove, USAF put out this call that should have all navalists sit up and notice;

“For two decades we haven’t thought about the fact that we are going to have to fight our way across the Atlantic.”

Let’s pull that thread a bit. Don’t bother on how you get there, just start with waking up one day and getting the D&G that you need to ready a sustained opposed crossing of the Atlantic.

For those 45 and older, this should sound familiar.

NATO countries are discussing increasing the number of troops stationed in members bordering Russia and putting them under formal alliance command. The next talks on that idea are likely to come in early December, when foreign ministers gather and begin discussing proposals to be formalized at a Warsaw summit in July.

The Army currently has two brigades—of about 3,500 soldiers each—based in Europe. It has assigned one additional brigade in the U.S. to serve as a regionally aligned force that will rotate into and out of Europe. Gen. Milley said he would like to add more brigades to those rotating to Europe, and add attack helicopter units, engineering teams and artillery brigades.

Throughout the later years of the Cold War, the U.S. military conducted a massive exercise called Reforger, that practiced moving tens of thousands of troops from the U.S. to Europe quickly. While there is no need to revive the exercise on that same scale, a new kind of drill that echoed the old Reforger operation would be helpful, Gen. Milley said.

“Nobody wants to go back to the days of the Cold War,” Gen. Milley said. “We don’t need exercises as big as Reforger anymore. But the concept of Reforger, where you exercise contingency forces … that is exactly what we should be doing.”

Technology has changed, but geography has not. There are some constants from the 1st and 2nd Battles of the Atlantic in the first half of the 20th Century that still apply a century later. Some will repeat, some with rhyme. Some will surprisingly not be a repeat factor, some new factors will show up unexpectedly. There will also be new technologies that no one should talk about that will change the odds greatly in favor or one force or the other. There will also be new technologies that on one should talk about that one force or the other thinks will be “war winning” but once put in to operational use will be a complete dud.

Here are some things that have a high probability of being true in a 3rd Battle of the Atlantic if it happens in 2016 or 2026 or 2056.

– You do not have enough escorts. Those escorts you do have do not have enough ASW or AAW weapons.
– Those ASW and AAW weapons you are going to war with, in addition to not being adequate in number, there is a very good chance that one bit of that kit does not work and cannot kill anything. Hopefully you have a backup for the pointy end of the kill chain. If not, you are going to have a bad first year.
– Higher HQ is asking for too much information from deployed forces, and as a result, deployed forces are talking too much. As a result, the enemy has a better idea of your location than you think, and may have cracked your code.
– Your allied forces that on paper look good? Many of them aren’t what your N2/3 think. Some of them won’t even deploy. Some of those that do won’t engage the enemy to an effective degree.
– The threat from the air will be easier to counter than the threat under the water, though in the early stages, the threat from the air may be a larger concern than you planned.
– This is a game where “body counts” actually matter. If something is being sunk faster than it can be replaced, you need to change what you are doing.
– It will be seductive to think attacking bases will be a shortcut. It will help, but will not be a magic bullet.
– Finally, the war will go on much longer than you think. Though you may think that it is industrial capacity that is going to be your greatest challenge, it may actually be your ability to find competently trained personnel fast enough.

War, if it came, would be very much a come as you are event. We do not have a huge mothball fleet to reactivate. We do not have a huge Naval Reserve to recall. We do not have a diverse industrial capacity to quickly build up, nor, unlike the period right prior to WWII, do we have a few years headstart in new construction.

So, think about it. The geography is the same, technology and enemy different, but the mission is the same; a sustained, opposed crossing of the Atlantic.

image018This week gave another example why some concepts should give all navalists pause – things such as “1,000 Ship Navy,” “Cooperative Maritime Partnership,” or the rather curious hope a few years ago that the USN does not need frigates, but if we do, we can simply have our allies supply them.

When interesting yet repeatedly debunked theory drift towards policy, you have a problem.

Allies are good – yet most look best at peace and on paper. One must, however, be very careful. For every British ally in OIF, and RC(S), there are the Belgians at the Kabul airport, and the 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies covering the flanks of the German 6th Army.

Sure, you may get 40 Commando Royal Marines, but you might also get the Spanish part of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Traflagar.

War or even a warm peace is a different challenge with allies than peace. Review your ISAF allied ROE matrix, or the ROE for certain allied ships off the Horn of Africa for a reminder.

Beyond performance and national will, there is and issues of political risk. At the extremes, the Italians and Romanians, again same WWII, switched sides – heck the French switched sides twice.

This week we saw a more mild reminder that there is another uncomfortable fact about our allies. Almost all of them are high-functioning democratic governments. The people get a vote. As in our nation, sometimes that vote can quickly change policy.

Via AFP;

Canada’s prime minister-elect Justin Trudeau said Tuesday he told US President Barack Obama that Canadian fighter jets would withdraw from fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

“About an hour ago I spoke with President Obama,” Trudeau told a press conference.

While Canada remains “a strong member of the coalition against ISIL,” Trudeau said he made clear to the US leader “the commitments I have made around ending the combat mission.”

… Trudeau pledged to bring home the fighter jets and end its combat mission. But he vowed to keep military trainers in place.

Canada can be the best of allies at one point, such as the years of service they did around Kandahar before being one of the first relatively caveat-free allies to bolt for the door, but on a dime they can also decide to be the Elector of Bavaria in the middle of the fight and go home – or for that matter, the HMCS UGANDA off Okinawa.

There is a pattern here;

Presented to the RCN, the ship was commissioned HMCS Uganda on 21 Oct 1944, at Charleston, and in Nov 1944 returned to the U.K. for further modifications. She left in Jan 1945, for the Pacific … In Apr 1945 she joined Task Force 57 in the Okinawa area, and was thereafter principally employed in screening the Fleet’s aircraft carriers operating against Japanese airfields in the Ryukyu Islands.

After the fall of Germany, while Uganda was involved in operations with the US Navy’s Third Fleet that a directive came through from RCN Headquarters that Captain Mainguy poll the crew on whether they would volunteer for the Pacific War and eventually Operation Downfall, the codename for the invasion of the Home Islands. The crew of Uganda felt that they had volunteered for “hostilities only”, (i.e., hostilities against Nazi Germany) but now found themselves fighting a different enemy in a quite different part of the world. On 7 May 1945, the vote was held onboard Uganda and 605 crew out of 907 refused to volunteer for continuing operations against Japan.

As you plan – always watch your assumptions. If your plan relies on an ally, have branch plans that involve your own kit. If you don’t have your own kit because you thought you had ownership of your friend’s – well bad on you.

Good Sunday morning of Women in Writing Week! This article originally appeared at CIMSEC. It is cross-posted here with the author’s permission.

On August 4th, the Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry reported that it had resubmitted its claim to a vast swath (more than 1.2 million square kilometers, including the North Pole) of the rapidly changing and potentially lucrative Arctic to the United Nations. In 2002, Russia put forth a similar claim, but it was rejected based on lack of sufficient support. This latest petition, however, is supported by “ample scientific data collected in years of arctic research,” according to Moscow. Russia’s latest submission for the United Nation’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf’s (CLCS) consideration coincides with increased Russian activity in the High North, both of a military and economic nature. Recent years have seen Russia re-open a Soviet-era military base in the remote Novosibirsk Islands (2013), with intentions to restore a collocated airfield as well as emergency services and scientific facilities. According to a 2015 statement by Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin, the curiously named Academic Lomonsov, a floating nuclear power plant built to provide sustained operating power to Arctic drilling platforms and refineries, will be operational by 2016. Though surely the most prolific in terms of drilling and military activity, Russia is far from the only Arctic actor staking their claim beyond traditional EEZs in the High North. Given the increased activity, overlapping claims, and dynamic nature of Arctic environment as a whole, Russia’s latest claim has tremendous implications, whether or not the United Nations CLCS provides a recommendation in favor of Moscow’s assertions.

Academic Lomonsov under construction. Please click on the image for its source.






The Claim:

Russia’s August 2015 claim encompasses an area of more than 463,000 square miles of Arctic sea shelf extending more than 350 nautical miles from the shore. If recognized, the claim would afford Russia control over and exclusive rights to the economic resources of part of the Arctic Ocean’s so-called “Donut Hole.” As the New

A depiction of the "Donut Hole."
A depiction of the “Donut Hole.”

York Times’ Andrew Kramer explains, “the Donut Hole is a Texas sized area of international waters encircled by the existing economic-zone boundaries of shoreline countries.” As such, the donut hole is presently considered part of the global commons. Moscow’s claim is also inclusive of the North Pole and the potentially lucrative Northern Sea Route (or Northeast Passage), which provides an increasingly viable shipping artery between Europe and East Asia. With an estimated thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and thirty percent of its undiscovered natural gas, the Arctic’s value to Russia goes well beyond strategic advantage and shipping lanes. Recognition by the CLCS of Russia’s claim (or any claim, for that matter) would shift the tone of activity in the Arctic from generally cooperative to increasingly competitive, as well as impinge on the larger idea of a free and indisputable global common.

The Law:

As most readers likely already know, the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows claimants 12nm of territorial seas measured from baselines that normally coincide with low-water coastlines and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ)

A depiction of universal claims afforded by UNCLOS
A depiction of universal claims afforded by UNCLOS

extending to 200 nautical miles (inclusive of the territorial sea). Exploitation of the seabed and resources beyond 200nm requires the party to appeal to the International Seabed Authority unless that state can prove that such resources lie within its continental shelf. Marc Sontag and Felix Luth of The Global Journal explain that “under the law, the continental shelf is a maritime area consisting of the seabed and its subsoil attributable to an individual coastal state as a natural prolongation of its land and territory which can, exceptionally, extend a states right to exploitation beyond the 200 nautical miles of its EEZ.” Such exception requires an appeal to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a panel of experts and scientists that consider claims and supporting data. Essentially, the burden is on Russia to provide sufficient scientific evidence that its continental shelf (and thus its EEZ) extends underneath the Arctic. In any case, as per UNCLOS Article 76(5), such a continental shelf cannot exceed 350 nm from the established baseline. Russia’s latest claim is well beyond this limit; the Federation has stated that the 350 nm limit does not apply to this case because the seabed and its resources are a “natural components of the continent,” no matter their distance from the shore.

The CLCS will present its findings in the form of recommendations, which are not legally binding to the country seeking the appeal. Though Russia has stated it expects a result by the fall, the commission is not scheduled to convene until Feburary or March of 2016 and, as such, there will be a significant waiting period before any recommendation will be made.

Rival Claimants:

Russia is far from the only Arctic actor making claims beyond the 200 nautical mile EEZ. Denmark, for instance, jointly submitted a claim with the government of Greenland expressing ownership over nearly 900,000 square kilometers of the Arctic (including the North Pole) based on the connection between Greenland’s continental shelf and the Lomonosov Ridge, which spans kontinsokkel_uknearly the entire diameter of the donut hole. This claim clearly overlaps Russia’s latest submission, which is also based on the claim that the ridge represents an extension of Russia’s continental shelf. Though there is no dispute on the ownership of the ridge, both Russia and Denmark claim the North Pole. Both nations have recently expressed a desire to work cooperatively on a resolution, though a Russian Foreign ministry statement did estimate a solution could take up to 10-15 years. Also of note: this has note always been Russia’s tune on the matter (See here and here).

Similarly, Canada is expected to make a bid to extend its Arctic territory. Notably, Canada claims sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, a shipping route connecting the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay based on historical precedent and its orientation to baselines drawn around the Arctic Archipelago. The U.S. maintains that the Northwest Passage should be an international strait. Though they have yet to submit a formal claim to the UN’s CLCS, one has reportedly been in preparation since 2013. According to reports, Canada delayed a last-minute claim at the behest of PM Stephen Harper, who insisted the claim include the North Pole. If this holds true, Canada’s claim will likely overlap both Russia and Denmark’s submissions to the CLCS. If the CLCS were to recognize the legitimacy of two or more states’ overlapping claims, the actors have the option to bilaterally or multilaterally resolve the issue to their satisfaction; developing such a resolution is beyond the scope of the commission.


Likely, Russia’s submission to the United Nations is part of a larger campaign by Moscow to reassert and re-establish its influence in the international order by virtue of its status Arctic influence. Regardless of approval or rejection by the UN, Russia’s expansive claim highlights Moscow’s very serious intention to control and exploit the Arctic. As the Christian Science Monitor’s Denise Ajiri explains, “a win would mean access to sought after resources, but the petition itself underscores Russia’s broader interest in solidifying its footing on the world stage.” With much of Western Europe reliant on Russian oil and natural gas, the Arctic and its resources represent an opportunity for the Kremlin to boost their position in the international order and develop a source of sustained and significant income. Russia may be acting within the letter of the law on the issue of their claim at this time, but it’s hard to separate that compliance from the Federation’s significant investment in the militarization of the Arctic, frequent patrols along the coastline of Arctic neighbors, and expenditure on the economic exploitation of the High North. For now, the donut hole remains part of the global commons and therefore free from direct exploitation or claim of sovereignty. The burden of proof on any one state to claim an extension of their continental shelf is truly enormous, but as experts and lawyers at the CLCS pore over these claims, receding Arctic ice combined with economic and strategic interests of the claimants will likely increase the claimants’ sense of urgency.

« Older Entries