NATO to stage largest military exercise in Europe since Cold War
Stars and Stripes January 18, 2024
A record number of U.S. and allied troops will launch a new series of war games next week in Europe, where top NATO commanders said Thursday that a “whole of society” effort is needed to prepare for potential conflict with Russia.
U.S. Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s supreme allied commander and head of U.S. European Command, said some 90,000 allied troops are slated to take part in Steadfast Defender, which would make it the largest gathering of troops for an exercise on the Continent in decades.
The drills taking place in the Baltics, Poland and other countries will include reinforcements from North America.
“This reinforcement will occur during a simulated emerging conflict scenario against a near-peer adversary,” Cavoli said at the conclusion of a two-day defense chiefs meeting in Brussels.
Adm. Rob Bauer, the Dutch chairman of the NATO military committee, said the exercise serves as preparation for possible conflict with Russia.
“I’m not saying it is going wrong tomorrow, but we have to realize it’s not a given that we are in peace,” Bauer said. “And that’s why we have the plans.”
Russia remains locked in a nearly two-year-old war with Ukraine, and both sides continue to suffer high numbers of casualties.
About 300,000 Russian troops have been killed or injured in the fighting, Bauer said. The Kremlin also has lost an extensive amount of military hardware.
But while the ground forces have been degraded, the Russians have stepped up production of missiles and other weaponry, Bauer and Cavoli said.
“They are sparing no effort in their reconstitution,” Cavoli said. “They are devoting an enormous fraction of their budget to the military over the coming years ... and they are running their defense industrial base just as fast as they can right now.”
In Europe, military officials from countries including Germany, Belgium and Sweden have warned in recent weeks that allies have a short window to prepare for possible conflict with Russia.
While Russia’s military industrial base is on a war footing, many allies have expended ammunition stockpiles to arm Ukraine.
Bauer, who has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the need for allies to step up their industrial production capability, said societies in Europe that have grown accustomed to peace also need to become more prepared.
“It is the whole of society that will get involved (in a war) whether we like it or not,” Bauer said.
Last week, Swedish military commander-in-chief Gen. Micael Byden warned that that all Swedes should mentally prepare for the possibility of war. That caused alarm, and citizens have begun stockpiling supplies.
Bauer said it’s a good sign that Swedes were getting ready.
“The fact that people find (the possibility of war) a surprise and as a result buy radios and batteries, that is great,” he said. “It starts (with) the realization that not everything is plannable, not everything is going to be hunky-dory in the next 20 years.”