The military exercises have been code named Joint Warrior and involve huge amounts of personnel. 14 countries have supplied over 13,000 personnel, 50 ships and submarines and 70 aircraft to the exercises off the UK coast. Now NATO claims that they were planned long before Russia started to behave in an increasingly aggressive manner in the region, writes Phil Black for CNN.
Tensions rising between East and West
Russia has recently regained its status as NATO’s main adversary, rekindling Cold War-era tensions. The past year has seen the relationship between NATO and Russia decline steadily due to Moscow’s ongoing involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, as well as the Kremlin’s insistence on undertaking large-scale military drills and repeatedly flying its warplanes close to NATO airspace.
Both sides accuse the other of being responsible for the current levels of tension between East and West, which have not been seen since the Cold War. Despite the fact that NATO claims that Joint Warrior is not a direct response to Russia’s own drills, it definitely comes at a good time to show the alliance’s own capabilities.
Joint Warrior exercises larger than ever
The Joint Warrior exercises are held every six months, but the latest edition is markedly bigger than its predecessors. Over the course of two weeks, there will be practice amphibious landings, mine clearing and mock attacks by small ships, as well as an airborne landing around Salisbury Plain in the south of the UK.
At sea, submarine hunting drills will be led by the Royal Navy’s Astute class hunter killer submarine, HMS Ambush, along with the frigate HMS Somerset.
The USS Vicksburg is the current flagship of a standing NATO maritime group, and is taking part in Joint Warrior off the coast of Scotland. Commanding officer Rear Adm. Brad Williamson says that the way that Russia is behaving provides an extra incentive to perform well in the exercises. “Anytime you have a security situation that reminds us it’s not just a game we’re doing out here, that there are real world implications to our ability to provide security to alliance members, I think that focuses our minds on what we’re doing,” he said.
If any further motivation is needed, it comes from competition between the different nations that make up the alliance, as well as individual ships and submarines, according to other personnel on board the Vicksburg.
Russia’s military inspectors visit UK
Details of the war games are understandably highly classified, but they consist of two sections. The first is set training exercises designed to evaluate how well individual vessels or groups of vessels undertake a particular task, and the second is known as “free play.” The second section sees two teams manipulated by rules set by games masters, designed to invoke a pretend war.
Russia has taken great interest in the war games and even sent along military inspectors to watch over NATO. The Kremlin has the right to do so thanks to the Vienna document, although NATO officials claim that they only stayed for a short period of time and did not gain access to any sensitive information.
Under the terms of the Vienna document, signatory countries have the right to carry out a limited number of inspections of other signatory countries. Joint Warrior marked the first time that Russian inspectors have looked into NATO activities during this latest period of heightened tensions, which was heralded by the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014.
Geopolitical situation continues to evolve
British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Joint Warrior would “send a clear message to those who threaten us” and prove that both the United Kingdom and NATO as a whole could adequately protect themselves in the face of Russian aggression.
Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to be an unpredictable and unorthodox adversary for Western leaders. Economic sanctions imposed on Russia due to the conflict in Ukraine appeared to be having an effect, with the Russian economy struggling, but Putin continues to find new ways of stoking the fire.
Despite its current economic woes, Russia continues to wield considerable influence in certain parts of the world, and there are concerns that potential economic partnerships with Greece could be an attempt to tear the European Union apart from the inside out. Some commentators are also worried by the increasing Russian influence in Central America, where it is feared that proposed sales of Russian weapons could stoke regional tensions.