NATO to launch its largest war games in decades to test fighting capabilities against adversary like Russia

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Jan 19, 2024, 7:11:56 PMJan 19
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NATO to launch its largest war games in decades to test fighting capabilities against adversary like Russia





[Chair of the NATO Military Committee Admiral Rob Bauer, right, and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Christopher Cavoli address a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on Jan. 18.VIRGINIA MAYO/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is to embark on its biggest exercise since the Cold War, as the threat to Europe by Russia and other potential menaces triggers new urgency for military readiness.

The alliance’s top commanders said in Brussels on Thursday that 90,000 troops from 31 member countries, plus NATO candidate Sweden, will participate in operation Steadfast Defender 2024. One of the main goals is to test the ability of the United States and Canada, among others, to reinforce Europe’s defences quickly.

Canada is to devote 1,000 armed forces personnel. A Royal Canadian Navy frigate and the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia, which is led by Canada and is composed of 1,200 soldiers from 10 countries, will also take part.

Britain has said it will deploy 20,000 armed forces personnel to the war games, which are to begin next week and continue into May. Christopher Cavoli, who is Supreme Allied Commander Europe and NATO’s top general, said Steadfast Defender “will be a clear demonstration of our unity strength.”

NATO said the exercise will include 50 naval ships, including aircraft carriers; more than 80 aircraft, including F-35 fighters and drones; and more than 1,000 combat vehicles. The last NATO exercise of comparable size was Reforger in 1988, with 125,000 personnel. Trident Juncture in 2018 involved 50,000 personnel.

Steadfast Defender “will show that NATO can conduct and sustain complex multidomain operations over several months, across thousands of kilometres (miles), from the High North to Central and Eastern Europe, and in any condition,” NATO said in a written statement.

Canada could find itself stretched if it tried to commit thousands of personnel, plus several frigates. The country has been a serial laggard in defence spending and is not close to meeting the NATO target, set in 2014, of devoting 2 per cent of its GDP to defence expenditures. According to figures from NATO, the budget for the Canadian military in 2023 was just under 1.3 per cent of GDP, equivalent to $36.7-billion.

At last count, 11 of NATO’s 31 member states had met or exceeded the 2-per-cent threshold, up from only three in 2014. Overall spending has been rising steadily in the past decade, partly because of complaints by Donald Trump, who was U.S. president between 2017 and 2021, that most NATO countries were not paying their fair share of the collective defence burden.

Earlier this week, British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps played up the importance of NATO’s show of force. He said that the post-Cold War “peace dividend” had ended, and that it was time to rearm as the world became more dangerous.

“Our adversaries are busily rebuilding their barriers, old enemies are reanimated, battle lines are being redrawn, the tanks are literally on Ukraine’s lawn and the foundations of the world order are being shaken to their core,” he said in a speech in London.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, commanders used the Steadfast Defender press conference to praise Ukraine’s performance in the war and criticize that of Russia, whose air force, navy and troop strength greatly exceed those of its adversary.

“Today is the 694th day of what Russia thought would be a three-day war,” said Admiral Rob Bauer, the Dutchman who is chair of the NATO Military Committee. “Ukraine, without a real navy, has been able to push back the Russians’ Black Sea group.”

But Adm. Bauer said he did not see an imminent military breakthrough by either the Ukrainians or the Russians. “I don’t think we should expect a miracle happening on either side.”

Russia is increasing the production of missiles and that “we expect them to get missiles from Iran,” he said.



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