Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, incessant military and other probes against NATO members, sustained military buildup, and constant efforts to project power beyond its borders present NATO with difficult operational and strategic quandaries. A particularly intractable issue confronting NATO is how to sustain existing deployments and the flow of allied forces into European theaters at risk from the Arctic to the Black Sea. This problem not only derives from Russia’s initial superiority in theaters adjacent to it as embodied in formidable Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities and unrelenting information war against allies. It also stems from the continuing and insufficiently appreciated problem of the incompatibility of Europe’s current infrastructure for supporting large-scale forces’ and their equipment’s deployment in Eastern Europe. Not only are there incompatible systems between East and West, Europe’s overall infrastructure also must be modernized. In addition, there is a serious shortage of transportation networks running North-South from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
Thus attacking the problem of inserting sustainable forces on a constant flow into the theaters at risk entails “whole of government” answers involving large and coordinated capital outlays across numerous states regarding both civil and military infrastructure. In operational terms the U.S. seeks ready and sustainable access while front-line states from Norway to Turkey seek credible conventional deterrence either to deter Russian aggression or defend robustly against it.
It may be time to consider reviving an old alternative to help bring large numbers of U.S. and allied troops to Eastern European theaters, enhance credible deterrence there, and help Europe invest in the necessary infrastructure. This solution entails reviving FDR’s programs to provide material assistance to countries fighting totalitarian aggression. Readers will remember that he envisioned this idea in 1940-41 as a way to enhance the U.K.’s and the U.S.’s security against a German attack of Great Britain and strengthen the U.K.’s economic capacity to wage war. The first such program, begun in September 1940, was called Destroyers for Bases. This country lent Great Britain 50 older, but still usable, destroyers in return for 99 year leases on U.K. bases in Newfoundland and the Caribbean.
In December 1940, President Roosevelt announced the Lend-Lease program. The U.S. would provide military assistance to the U.K. while deferring repayment. Eventually, the U.S. agreed to not seek repayment in return for other considerations. One such consideration was British support for U.S. plans to restructure the post-war economic order. The program subsequently morphed into a way of also supporting our Soviet allies by lending them and the U.K. money to buy U.S. products needed to sustain the war effort. During World War Two, the U.S. lent some $50 billion to 38 countries.
Today we could lend front-line European states from Norway to Bulgaria money to invest in building up either or both their defense capabilities and their transportation and other infrastructure necessary to sustaining a war effort in return for bases in the Arctic, Baltic, and/or Black Sea. This means leasing bases in the Arctic, Baltic, or Black Sea from host countries who would be compensated by funds that could be earmarked for the construction of viable transportation infrastructures and/or their own military development in ways that foster a more credible NATO deterrent capability. We could then bring more troops and materiel (including weapons) to the theaters that are at risk, overcome problems like the Montreux Treaty that blocks permanent deployment in and around the Black Sea–a truly problematic theater for NATO–and obtain at least some, if not all of the requisite investment in transportation and military capabilities that Europe needs to be competitive economically and capable of defending itself against Russian aggression.
Naturally Congress must approve the expenditures in question and NATO allies would have to negotiate the many decisions as to priorities and assigning which troops and materiel go to which bases. But such coordination is not only what NATO allies should be and presumably are doing, it also enhances progress towards the great abiding objective of American policy in Europe since 1945, namely the ever-stronger integration of a democratic alliance of European states. Additionally strengthening conventional deterrence in Europe negates Moscow’s ability to achieve strategic surprise and create a fait accompli while using Russian missiles and nuclear weapons to deter NATO from building up its forces.
The stronger our conventional deterrent is in Eastern and Central Europe, the less likely is Moscow’s preferred outcome of a rapidly achieved fait accompli that it can keep limited. In other words, this program, like the best strategies, negates Moscow’s strategy while strengthening NATO in multiple ways and invigorating Europe’s economy. Undoubtedly some will criticize this concept on multiple grounds. But if that occurs they should advance their own ideas so that the ensuing debate actually enhances NATO’s capability in the face of persistent Russian threats.
Dr. Blank is a recognized expert on Russian affairs.
Find Archived Articles: