NATO needs to focus more on the Black Sea to defend against Russia, report says
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S.-led NATO alliance is paying too little attention to the threat posed by Russia in the Black Sea, which Moscow sees as a launchpad into the wider region, said a report co-authored by the former head of U.S. Army Europe.
“What was once a Russian naval backwater is now the centerpiece of Moscow’s power projection into the Mediterranean … It is evidently more willing to use force in the Black Sea region than anywhere else along the Eastern Flank,” retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said in the report released Tuesday by the Center for European Policy Analysis.
Titled “One Flank, One Threat, One Presence: A Strategy for NATO’s Eastern Flank,” the report, co-authored by Hodges and security analyst Janusz Bugajski, argues that NATO has focused on building up in the Baltics with multinational battlegroups and other measures, and overlooked the Black Sea region.
It recommends changes that would put the Black Sea “in the middle of the geostrategic map.”
NATO’s limited, “tailored” presence in Romania, for instance, should be upgraded to an Enhanced Forward Presence, similar to what allies have in the Baltic states and Poland, the report said.
Romania should be the “center of gravity” of NATO’s regional deterrence strategy and be reinforced with command and control capabilities, and improved rail and road infrastructure, it said.
Unmanned maritime systems and ground-based systems could be based in Romania, including anti-ship missiles, drones and rotary wing attack aircraft, and used to bolster NATO defenses in the western Black Sea, the report said. It also calls for a Black Sea Maritime Policing Mission to be established for a year-round NATO naval presence.
The current “tiered approach to deterrence capabilities created a degree of incoherence along the Eastern Flank, in effect yielding the initiative in the Black Sea region to the Kremlin, putting strains on the cohesion of the Alliance, and exposing NATO to continued aggressive probing from Russia,” it said.
The report also makes the case for upgrades in Poland and the Baltics, and suggests that NATO should adjust how it measures defense spending among allies.
Repeated demands by President Donald Trump that allies increase their spending on military matters to at least 2% of economic output have been a source of tension in the alliance.
But Hodges argues that spending with clear military value — such as investment in storage and distribution infrastructure for military fuel security — should count toward the 2% spending benchmark.
“This should be part of a broader discussion within the Alliance to reframe ‘burden-sharing’ into the notion of ‘responsibility-sharing,’” the report said. The Black Sea was, however, the main focus of the report.
Hodges, who led USAREUR until 2018, has argued that the region holds greater strategic and economic importance for Moscow than the Baltic region. Hodges was a lead architect of the Army’s expanded mission in Europe following Russian aggression in Ukraine, where it sent troops in 2014 to help separatists in the east. The push resulted in the annexation by Russia of the Crimean Peninsula.
Elsewhere in the region, Russia fought a brief war in 2008 with the Republic of Georgia and continues to have troops in that country’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And in 2018, Russia opened fire on Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea’s Kerch Strait and seized Ukrainian sailors.
“Russia’s subversion, probing, and interventions along the Eastern Flank could develop into several outright conflicts along NATO’s Eastern Flank. It is for this reason that the Alliance needs to make preparations — whether to deter escalation, defuse an armed conflict, or defend against outright military confrontation,” the report stated.