Russia is probing NATO defenses in Eastern Europe as part of its strategy to recover the satellite countries it lost in the break-up of the Soviet Union. Although NATO was designed around European members shouldering most of their own security, the 26 European members of NATO have been spending only about 1.4% of GDP on defense, and most of their aircraft and military equipment is seriously outdated.
The United States and Russia both spent about 4% of GDP on defense last year. But Russia boosted military spending by 79% in the past decade, according to a Brookings Institution estimate, while the U.S. is rapidly cutting back. Along the 1,000 mile eastern frontier, combined NATO forces are now militarily outmatched by the Russians.
After the NATO-supported revolutionaries overthrew the Ukrainian non-aligned government and the new leaders started talking about NATO membership, Russia provoked a counter-rebellion to annex Crimea and is now threatening Eastern Ukraine with military intervention. Ukrainian tanks and special forces have surrounded break-away Eastern Ukrainian cities as clashes left at least two dead. The United Nations Security Council met in emergency session, but the Ukrainian government set a deadline for pro-Russian paramilitary occupiers to surrender by Monday, April 13th or face a full military retaliation.
Russia spends about $78 billion on its armed forces per year, compared to $1.6 billion by Ukraine. With a massed force of hundreds of fighter jets, dozens of attack helicopters, hundreds of tanks, artillery battalions, and 40,000 combat troops within 25 miles of the border, Russia can swiftly take over Ukraine if NATO does not interfere.
To prevent a NATO military intervention in Ukraine, Russia has been inciting protests from the large pro-Russian minorities in the Baltic States of Latvia and Estonia and making random fighter jet incursions into the countries’ sovereign air space. As members of the NATO alliance, both nations exercised their joint-security agreement rights by requiring the other NATO members to “triple” the aircraft patrolling along the Baltic States’ eastern borders to deter Russia from any further provocations.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen admitted, “We in Europe have disarmed too much, for too long.” To patrol the Baltic States, NATO will have to rely on a grab bag of aging and wildly diverse aircraft including; F-16AM, F-16C, F-16CJ, F-15C, Tornado F3, F-4F, MiG-29A, Mirage F1M, Mirage F1CR, Mirage 2000C, MiG-21C, JAS-39C, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Most NATO planes lack modern avionics and can only exercise limited command integration. Eastern European members’ MiGs require Russian parts and support to maintain combat readiness.
Within months, NATOs air cover will deteriorate and the United States will increasingly be burdened with redeploying large numbers of combat aircraft to fulfill other NATO members’ responsibilities. The snowballing diversion will undermine America’s strategic military and economic interests and could create added crisis in other parts of the world.
Russia by comparison has plenty of command integrated fighter jets with advanced avionics including, Su-27 Flankers, Su-24 Fencers, and MiG-31 Foxhound fighter jets pre-positioned along its western borders. Russia also can deploy new state-of the art Sukhoi Su-30SM multirole fighter jets that feature thrust-vectoring engine nozzles to provide super-maneuverability in high speed dog-fights and at low airspeeds for ground attacks. Russia as the aggressor has the luxury of making small probes that will cause NATO to respond in disproportionate scale, accelerating strain on the defender’s forces.
NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen was whistling past the graveyard when he recently said, “Today the U.S. spends around 75% of the overall NATO defense investment. I’m concerned that in the long run it will weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance if this trend continues.” America is financially over-stretched with $17.5 trillion of sovereign debt, but the other alliance members are worse with over $20 trillion in debt. That “long run” weakness has been outed by the current crisis that demonstrates the Russian military outmatch NATO in Eastern Europe.
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