In the comments to my post on Russia and Ukraine last night several people asked why I was very explicit about the force posture I would like to see happen to deter Russian aggression in Europe and against Ukraine. These were all excellent questions and they deserve a bit of attention and a response in something more than just a comment. Here’s what I wrote:
And this is why I think we are still moving far too slowly and are far too late in placing the necessary assets in place to back up our diplomacy and our use of economic power to try to deter Putin. Right now Putin is getting what he wants: bilateral recognition and negotiation with the US. Putin believes Russia is still a great power the way the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. Being able to negotiate with the US, publicly demand written answers – as if formal diplomatic communication would be done some other way – and then receive them because that’s simply how diplomacy is done allows Putin to claim that victory. In order to deter him, he has to be shown that we have the will and the capability to respond. Deploying some Operational Detachments Alpha and putting the equivalent of a brigade combat team and a half on standby is not going to cut it.
In order to actually demonstrate that we have the will and the capability to respond we would need to mobilize and deploy V Corps and all of 1st Armored Division (all combat brigades and the division artillery), plussed up with one brigade combat team each from 4th Infantry Division, 101st Airborne Division/Air Assault, the 82 Airborne Division, and the 1st Stryker Regiment. This should be accompanied by a country team from the 853rd Civil Affairs Brigade with a full complement of Civil Affairs Teams Alpha (CAT-As) and a country team from the 4th Psychological Operations Group’s 6th Psychological Operations Battalion to place Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPTs) into theater. I’d put the Corps headquarters in Poland, the Division headquarters in either Finland or Estonia, and distribute the conventional forces throughout Poland, Eastonia, Latvia, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The Special Operations assets – Civil Affairs and PSYOP – go into Kyiv. Then I’d put the Wasp and Kearsarge Amphibious Warfare Groups (AWG) into theater. Wasp and her float off of Finland and Kearsarge and her float in the Black Sea. I’d keep the carrier group farther out for now. In fact I’d put it in the Irish Sea and even more specifically in the “Irish Box” between Ireland and England. I’d also want Air Force Special Operations – Air Commandos and Para-Rescue, as well as forward observer controllers who paint targets – moved into theater. I’d also want our NATO allies to keep doing what they’re doing, put moving three or four Dutch F-16s to Poland isn’t sufficient either.
Just so that everyone else knows, and courtesy of Leto, the forward observer controllers are formally referred to as Tactical Air Controllers (TACs) and a group of them are known as a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP).
There are three reasons for the suggestions I made last night and that I’ve copied and pasted above. The first is the strategist’s and policy maker’s dilemma: how much risk is one willing to assume. Right now every time something seems to bring some clarity to what Putin may be doing or might be planning to do something else then brings a new layer of obscurity to the situation. This means that President Biden and his team, as well as NATO’s leadership, the leadership of our EU partners and allies, and of our non-NATO European partners and allies have to determine how much risk they want to assume given that things are not particularly clear. Rotating an appropriate amount of military capability into the theater provides us with the ability to manage and mitigate the potential risk arising from Putin’s actions. They give us the ability to have a warm start should that unfortunately be necessary. I was assigned, under temporary assigned control (TACON), to the US Army Europe Commanding General in 2014. I was at his headquarters in January 2014 when the signals began to become clear that Putin was going to invade Ukraine. And, as a result, I know what it is like when the theater army commanding general does not have enough capability to be able to undertake his contingency plan to respond should it become necessary to do so.
Let me just take a moment and anticipate a rebuttal to this. Specifically that I’m letting my experience from 2014 color my judgement now. This is a legitimate question. I don’t think it is happening though. Our military footprint in the EU is not what it was even a decade ago despite some rotating, short term deployments to Poland. Given that we’ve steadily drawn down our military presence in the EU and relocated back to the US, temporarily relocating a force large enough to allow us to credibly respond if necessary would make sense in terms of mitigating and managing risk.
The second reason that I think we should do an increase way beyond just placing 8,500 personnel on standby is to reassure our allies. Sweden and Finland, which are not NATO allies, but do have security partnerships with the US, as well as Norway, which is a NATO member, are all exceedingly concerned regarding Putin’s actions. So are our NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The Swedes have sent military personnel to reinforce Gotland because senior Russian military and civilian officials, as well as state controlled Russian media have been agitating to try to take it. Never mind that the last time non-Swedes tried this it got their stångas kicked. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania see themselves as the frontline of conflict if Putin decides to probe for mush and, along with Poland, have moved towards a war footing just to be ready.
The need to reassure our allies is just as important as the need to deter our potential adversaries. It is especially important in order to further rebuild the trust that was eroded during the Trump administration when Trump would never miss an opportunity to denigrate our alliances, crap all over our allies, and suck up to the leaders of hostile powers and potential peer competitors. Usually all at the same time. Remember, Trump, as he was scheming to bring his autogolpe to successful fruition also ordered Acting Secretary of Defense Miller to pull all of our military personnel out of Germany by the end of January 2021. It is understandable if you had forgotten this. I can assure you that our allies and partners certainly have not forgotten. Reassurance, like deterrence, also helps to manage and mitigate risk.
The third and final reason I made the suggestion is that a lot of people are throwing around that what President Biden and his team are proposing is to small a response, but they rarely put down specifics. Some of this is because the people making the criticisms are just criticizing in order to criticize. Some just don’t have the expertise and experience to name specific elements in specific amounts. I am not criticizing just to criticize. I have either worked on or closely followed this problem set since January 2014. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what might be necessary, in terms of troop deployments, to give us a successful warm start if Putin decided he really wanted to challenge the US and NATO. I’m not just making lists to make lists.
For instance, there’s a reason I’ve got Civil Affairs built into this. Specifically because they’ve been working, albeit slowly due to a variety of constraints, to reconstitute their historic mission from World War II: military support to government. And the reason I named this specific Civil Affairs brigade is that among its leadership is the colonel that did the vast, vast majority of the concept development to bring this important and historic capability back. No one knows it better. And I know this because I was the subject matter expert assigned to assist him by his commanding officer at the time. This wasn’t just: I’ll throw some CA bubbas in so they’re not left out. The same thing with the PSYOP teams. Yes, as I’ve indicated several times, I’ve done work with the Army PSYOP community over the years, but given that Russian military doctrine is to never begin kinetic operations until the theater has been prepared through psychological and information operations, it would make sense to put the tactical PSYOPers where they can do the most good. I will suggest, with a day’s worth of reflection, that they should go to Estonia, which has worked very hard to build an effective counter-PSYOP capability.
We can fairly quickly lay on an extended war game with our NATO and non-NATO allies, similar to what the Russians are doing with the Belarusians, and conduct the deployment within that dynamic. But, regardless, having the capabilities in place to respond if necessary is always better than not having them when you need them.
Just one final point, as Gin & Tonic pointed out in a comment to BettyC’s post on Ukraine earlier today, this thread is spot on! Specifically the author’s discussion of the reality that for Ukraine, they are and have been at war with Russia, what the author refers too as permanent war, since at least 2014.
7/ The real takeaway for those who would help Ukraine is to understand this reality and how to respond to it, which is to adopt a permanent opposition to Kremlin goals on every front, civilian and military, and every slice of "grey zone" in between.
— Edward Hunter Christie (@EHunterChristie) January 28, 2022
This is why I have been saying, over and over and over, and will continue to do so, since I began writing on the front page here that we are at war. It may not be a kinetic war. It may not be a lethal war. Or, at least not always, but we are and have been at war with Russia since at least 2014 and most likely since late 2011/early 2012. Putin and the Russians certainly think so and have acted accordingly for the past 8 to 11 years. It would behoove us to finally begin to take this to heart and act accordingly.
I’ll leave it there.