The military alliance is undertaking its largest exercises in more than ten years in a warning shot to Russia and other potential enemies.
Soldiers, ships and planes are on the move in a choreographed series of movements aimed at training and exercises the armed forces of the U.S.-led alliance, but the show of strength also serves as a warning to other powers, according to The Associated Press.
Show of force designed to deter enemy aggression
In addition to training troops, the exercises are “sending a very clear message to our nations and to any potential adversary,” said NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg at a news conference Wednesday. “NATO does not seek confrontation,” Stoltenberg said. “But we stand ready to defend all allies.”
From Ocober 21 onward over 36,000 personnel from all 28 NATO states, in addition to 8 partner nations, will perform exercises alongside 160 aircraft and 60 warships. Maneuvers will take place across southern Europe, from Portugal to Italy.
The exercise has been codenamed Trident Juncture, and aims to test the capabilities of the NATO Response Force, which recently received more firepower. The exercises will test how far the U.S. and its allies can respond quickly and in unison to a crisis.
Changing geopolitical situation drives new NATO policies
Since the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, NATO has undergone such major changes. The alliance has also updated its capabilities to better counter the threat of the Islamic State and other extremist organizations.
“The last time NATO regularly held exercises of this magnitude, we were in the midst of the Cold War, facing the Soviet threat,” Alexander Vershbow, Stoltenberg’s deputy and the highest ranking American civilian at NATO, said at last month’s official opening of Trident Juncture at Trapani air base in Sicily.
“Now, we have a far more unstable and potentially more dangerous situation,” said Vershbow. “In this new world, NATO’s allies and partners must be able to move quickly and act decisively.”
Huge exercises designed to test rapid response force
This Wednesday more than 500 paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, parachuted into northeastern Spain from the C-17 Globemaster IIIs which had brought them from their home base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on a 9 hour flight.
“High ceiling, low winds, bright sky — it’s a beautiful day to be a paratrooper,” said Master Sgt. Patrick Malone, 31, of Stow, Ohio, a member of the brigade’s advance party.
That same day another 1,800 troops from 12 NATO countries simulated an assault on an enemy village. The exercise also involved helicopters and tanks, supporting the troops as they attacked a mock village at the San Gregorio training ground near Zaragoza.
Tensions remain high between NATO and Russia
Top NATO figures and politicians have been invited to watch the displays in order to see the military strength of the alliance and evidence of the continued trans-Atlantic bond between member states. Other nations are also watching the activities, including three Russian inspection teams that arrived in late October to watch the exercises.
Officials from 11 other countries such as Mexico and the United Arab Emirates have also been invited “in the interest of promoting transparency.” That said the Russians have not attended any events. German Army General Hans-Lothar Domroese said that inspection teams were not present for the exercises at San Gregorio.
According to Moscow’s permanent representative to NATO, Alexander Grushko, the “key process underway” at NATO is a move “from the policy of partnership to the policy of containing Russia.”
Trident Juncture will finish on November 6 after testing the spearhead force of 5,000 ground troops recently created by NATO, designed to reinforce allies under threat within 2 days. Planning for the exercises started two years ago, and different aspects have been added along the way to ensure that every aspect of modern warfare were covered. NATO officials have previously claimed that the alliance was deficient in certain areas such as cyber defense.
Should Trident Juncture be deemed a success there is still more to do. Retired Adm. James Stavridis, dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and former NATO supreme allied commander, has criticized NATO’s “tepid response to Syria,” inadequate cyber defenses and lack of military spending among some European allies.
“If you want a letter grade, I’d say B minus,” he added. NATO has been forced to evolve by a rapidly developing geopolitical situation in which traditional forms of warfare are increasingly being relegated to secondary considerations in the face of cyber attacks and other forms of technological attacks.
Trident Juncture will allow NATO to evaluate how prepared it is for the possibility of armed conflict in Europe.