NATO has kicked off its biggest war games since the Cold War, with thousands of troops and armored vehicles, dozens of warships, and thousands of armored vehicles from nations throughout the alliance.
Officials said that forces from all 29 members plus NATO partners Finland and Sweden kicked off the exercises, codenamed “Trident Juncture,” on 25 October in Norway. The exercises are scheduled to last two weeks and stretch from the North Atlantic to the Baltic Sea.
“This is an important day because Trident Juncture is NATO’s biggest exercise since the end of the Cold War,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said before the exercise began, Radio Free Europe reported.
“Trident Juncture sends a clear message to our nations and to any potential adversary: NATO does not seek confrontation, but we stand ready to defend all allies against any threat,” he noted further, adding that the exercise “is a strong display of our capabilities and our resolve to work together.”
Stoltenberg said the exercise involves 65 ships, 250 aircraft, 10,000 vehicles, and 50,000 personnel.
The secretary-general noted that the drills come amid increased tensions on the continent and throughout the world.
Analysis: Without mentioning Russia specifically, Stoltenberg said that “Europe’s security environment has significantly deteriorated” in recent years and that NATO “has responded with the biggest adaptation of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War. Trident Juncture demonstrates that adaptation.”
Exercises so large and complex take months or even years to prepare, so Trident Juncture isn’t in response to, say, Russia’s Zapad 2018 exercises which involved more than 150,000 troops and much larger numbers of tanks, warships, and planes. Rather, Trident Juncture is more likely in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the Ukrainian war.
That said, Russia isn’t the only ‘target’ of these exercises: So is China.
If the U.S. is attacked by China, NATO is just as obligated to get into that fight as a war between the U.S. and Russia. Just because NATO’s membership is Euro-centric doesn’t de-obligate the alliance from fighting alongside U.S. troops in Asia.
One of the reasons why President Trump has been publicly cajoling NATO members into spending their required 2 percent of GDP on their militaries is because neither he nor his national security team believes the U.S. has enough airlift, sealift, and other capacities to defend Europe and fight an Asian giant at the same time. Where the U.S. lacks capacities to move men and materiel, it also lacks the personnel (at present) to fight and win in both theaters.
So Trident Juncture is important for many reasons.
First, as Stoltenberg said, staging massive war games like this one is an important deterrent. But they are also great opportunities to test member-nation interoperability and test capabilities. Being able to deploy against Russian battalions won’t do much good if the NATO forces meeting them can’t fight together or bring credible firepower to the battlefield.
Also, the drills will demonstrate NATO capabilities beyond simply those of the United States which would have to maintain sufficient forces to keep China at bay if Washington and the NATO alliance found themselves at war in Europe. Some current and former senior flag officers in the U.S. military have said it isn’t realistic to believe that in today’s climate, the U.S. logistical chain and available force structure is sufficient enough to fight two great powers simultaneously on separate continents.
Additionally, the U.S. is stepping up cooperation in the form of military and maritime exercises with its Asian allies as well, to allow the Pentagon can leverage a smaller force by combining it with similarly capable militaries in that part of the world.
Trident Juncture certainly is aimed at forcing Moscow to take notice, but if Beijing’s leadership is smart they’ll be paying attention as well.