Posts Tagged ‘General Ben Hodges’

NATO in Europe needs ‘military Schengen’ to rival Russian mobility

September 13, 2017

NATO has reformed its military capabilities to be able to deploy forces much more quickly. But could leftover Cold War bureaucracy prevent a rapid response? NATO General Ben Hodges told DW he wants a “military Schengen.”

US-General Frederick B. Hodges (picture-alliance/dpa/V. Kalnina)

With an unverifiable number of Russian soldiers preparing to practice war against fictional Western countries in so-called “Zapad” exercises, the US general in charge of the US military in Europe, Ben Hodges, recently spoke with DW about the differences between his ability to summon forces quickly and that of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“[Putin] is able to move a lot of stuff real fast which is what got my attention and made me start thinking, how do we achieve at least the same speed that he has,” Hodges explained. PreviousZapad drills, which are held every four years, honed the Russian ability to launch the massive “snap exercises” seen ahead of the invasion of Crimea in 2014, and earlier, the aggression against Georgia in 2008.

Read more:Things to know about international military exercises

When Hodges, on the other hand, wants to move tanks or other heavy vehicles and weaponry across Europe, he needs to stop at every national – sometimes regional – border and deal with unique controls.

Troops jump out of helicopter during Zapad in 2013 (picture-alliance/dpa/A.Druginyn)Zapad 2013 ended with a mock nuclear strike against Sweden, NATO says.

“I think most people would be astounded to find out what we have to do,” he said, “to submit a list of all the vehicles, the drivers, what’s in every truck – which they don’t do with gigantic commercial trucks moving back and forth across borders.”

He says in many European countries, it takes weeks to get the permission to move through. In Germany every state requires its own procedure.

NATO hampered by red tape

It means, Hodges fears, that it wouldn’t matter if NATO’s new “very high readiness task force” were at “very very very very” high readiness to be deployed for a crisis – it simply couldn’t slog through the red tape fast enough to effectively counter an acute threat anywhere on its periphery.

Read more: Zapad games – what does Russia want?

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the alliance’s top military executive, does have some enhanced powers to speed up the process if the threat is urgent enough, but that wouldn’t circumvent national rules and it doesn’t by any means bring the continent up to what could be considered a “military Schengen zone.”

That’s the catch-phrase used to describe what Hodges would like to see Europe do for military travel, to bring down border bureaucracy to something emulating the visa-free system agreed to by 22 European Union states along with four other European countries.

NATO doesn’t use the term “military Schengen zone” because it feels that excludes allies that are not part of Schengen. The Baltic states, which are on the potential frontline of any Russian overstep, are backing Hodges’ call.

But even a reduction in border bureaucracy wouldn’t be enough; there are many unresolved questions about issues as diverse as how resources at, for example, Deutsche Bahn could be shared or how much weight and width some of Europe’s old roadways could withstand.

Hodges feels Europeans have not adequately considered the limitations they are allowing to exist. He wants a procedure created Europe-wide that would grant NATO movements within 48 hours.

Soldiers sitting on tank (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Bielecki/PAP)The waiting game – red tape affects NATO troop movements

One military official from a NATO country who declined to be identified agreed with Hodges that the current system is untenable. “It’s not out of the ordinary that another country wants to know where you are and where you will be and they will want to give you certain routes through the country,” the official explained.

“But at the moment it just takes way too long. It will never be like the real Schengen area where you just enter another country obviously, because you are carrying dangerous goods or things like that,  but it can be much much much simpler which will allow us to deploy more rapidly.”

Dutch demand NATO-EU cooperate

The Dutch government has taken the first public step toward demanding changes.  In June, Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert wrote to both NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini insisting the “obstacles to cross-border military transport in Europe must disappear”.

Hennis-Plasschaert urges NATO and the EU to step up cooperation on this matter. “The alliance has expertise and experience in military transport, while the EU has jurisdiction in customs matters and the transport of hazardous substances,” she wrote.

The European Defense Agency (EDA), which coordinates the EU’s defense cooperation, has been tasked with taking the lead on this and things are finally moving with more haste.

An EDA official, who spoke with DW on the condition of anonymity, explained the agency has asked EU governments to formally identify where the holdups are within their own territory, be it crumbling roads or 10-day waits for permission. Next year the EDA aims to produce a report, drawing in both NATO and EU authorities. The Dutch ambition is to actually have the problems “resolved” within a year, though EDA is not committing to a strict timeline.

Hodges: 48-hour maximum delay

One of those solutions crafted by EDA is expected to be, as Hodges desires, a standardized form used by all European countries for granting permission for military transport quickly – not quickly by the standards Putin enjoys to move rapidly across Russia, but certainly more rapidly than Europe’s situation today.

The military official acknowledges perhaps this should have happened earlier along with other enhancements NATO has made, but explains that it just hasn’t been treated as a priority. But now, he says, it’s time to “do the homework”.

“Basically we’ve already enhanced the NATO response force, saying…at least the spearhead of the force can deploy within a couple of days,” he said. “We’re doing that because of Russia’s change in posture. [What] we’re doing now is to make sure that we can actually do it in every situation.”


US commander warns NATO couldn’t repel Russian Baltic invasion

June 22, 2016


© AFP/File / by Frank Zeller with Max Delany in Moscow | Polish paratroopers take part in the Anaconda military exercise at Torun, on June 7, 2016

BERLIN (AFP) – NATO would currently be unable to protect the Baltics against a Russian attack, the commander of US ground forces in Europe, General Ben Hodges, said in a news report Wednesday.

“Russia could take over the Baltic states faster than we would be able to defend them,” Hodges was quoted as saying in a German-language article by news weekly Die Zeit.

The general said he agreed with an assessment by military analysts who claimed that Russian forces could conquer the capitals of Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia within 36 to 60 hours.

Hodges also said NATO forces had found numerous deficiencies during the recent “Anaconda” military exercise in Poland, according to the article from Thursday’s edition of Die Zeit, released early to AFP.

Heavy military equipment could not be moved fast enough from western to eastern Europe, said the general, who also voiced concern about the alliance’s communication technology.

“Neither radio communication nor email are secure,” he was quoted as saying. “I assume that everything I write on my BlackBerry is being monitored.”

The Anaconda manoeuvre included troops from more than 20 NATO member states but was officially a Polish national exercise.

Hodges told Die Zeit that “some countries, like France and Germany, thought it would be too provocative toward Russia to call it a NATO exercise”.

Thousands of NATO troops hit the ground in Poland in the massive 10-day show of force as the alliance launched its biggest war games in eastern Europe since the Cold War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hit out at NATO for “stepping up its aggressive rhetoric and its aggressive actions close to our borders”.

He said that Moscow was therefore “obliged to dedicate special attention to resolving tasks connected with heightening the defence capabilities of our country”.

-‘Boost NATO’s eastern flank’ –

NATO announced last week that it would deploy four battalions to the Baltic nations and Poland to counter a more assertive Russia, ahead of a landmark summit in Warsaw on July 8-9.

All four countries were once ruled from Moscow and remain deeply suspicious of Russia’s intentions.

Russia bitterly opposes NATO’s expansion into its Soviet-era satellites and last month said it would create three new divisions in its southwest region to meet what it described as a dangerous military build-up along its borders.

Putin, speaking Wednesday on the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR, accused the West of rejecting overtures from Russia to help tackle the common foe of “international terrorism” — as it once ignored the Soviet Union’s warnings about Hitler — while seeking to isolate Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

“We once again, as it was on the eve of World War II, are not seeing a positive response,” Putin said.

Relations between Russia and the West have slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its alleged masterminding of a separatist uprising.

Fears of Russian expansionism have rattled NATO’s former eastern bloc members and prompted the US-led alliance to bolster its presence along its eastern flank.

Following talks in Berlin Thursday, both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo stressed the importance of boosting security on the border with Russia.

“Germany has always sought dialogue with Russia,” Merkel said, but added that on the other hand, “Germany also sees the necessity to boost NATO’s eastern flank”.

“That’s why we are taking on additional responsibility in Lithuania, that’s why we took part in the Anaconda manoeuvre,” she said.

Szydlo said that the moves are not only aimed at shielding her country and the Baltic states, but at protecting all of Europe.

by Frank Zeller with Max Delany in Moscow