The Swedish Defense Research Institute (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut, FOI) has once again turned to the topic of military-political confrontation in Eastern Europe. A new report entitled "Western Military Capability in Northern Europe 2020" examines the current threats and challenges in the region, primarily the notorious Russian aggression. Also, Swedish specialists studied the balance of forces in a hypothetical conflict, the advantages and problems of its potential participants.
In 2017, the FOI released a previous analysis of the strategic situation in Europe and the specifics of the confrontation between Russia and NATO. Much has changed over the years, both politically, diplomatically and militarily. The new report looks at the current state of affairs, and also suggests ways to solve current problems.
The changing "security landscape" remains the main background for current events. The world is becoming multipolar, large countries are increasing their influence, and the potential of international organizations is shrinking. These processes threaten European countries, and they are forced to hastily modernize their armed forces, as well as develop international military cooperation.
The Russian "authoritarian regime" seeks to regain the status of a great power and includes neighboring countries in the sphere of its interests. The "Russian threat" worries European states. At the same time, not all of them are confident in possible assistance from the main NATO ally - from the United States. The lack of guarantees from the American authorities, according to the FOI, is viewed by Russia as an additional opportunity to expand its spheres of interests.
In recent years, despite the presence of strategic threats, not all European countries have increased their defense budgets at an adequate pace. The ongoing pandemic has hit the European economy - and this will prevent an increase in defense spending.
The FOI believes that in the current situation, only Russia cannot be considered a threat. In recent years, China has taken various measures to expand its political and economic presence in the European region. China's "authoritarian regime" is also seen as a threat to European security and therefore needs to be taken into account in subsequent military planning.
Advantages and disadvantages
The report examines the key indicators of the armed forces of Russia and NATO, as well as political and economic characteristics. From these data, general trends are deduced that affect the balance of forces and the situation. FOI experts note that both sides of a hypothetical armed conflict have their own advantages over each other. Their competent use can affect the outcome of the alleged war.
In terms of military, political and economic power, the combined European forces are superior to Russia or China. However, such superiority can be obtained only with the correct coordination of actions of all countries and in the absence of disagreements. Taking this into account, the Russian and Chinese "regimes" seek to undermine the contours of interaction between the countries-potential adversaries.
The strengths of Russia are called a unified management system, consistent strategies and the ability to quickly complete assigned tasks. At the same time, the Russian economy is weak, social discontent is growing, and state structures rely on the personality of one leader.
The exact plans of the high command of the Russian armed forces remain unknown. However, in recent years, significant measures have been taken in the construction, planning and use of troops. The FOI believes that the Russian army is capable of quickly transferring large groupings of troops and supporting their activities; there are developed and effective control loops, etc. These factors give advantages in combat work on the territory of Russia and in the nearest regions of Europe.
Since the summit in 2014, NATO has been implementing various programs to modernize its European grouping. Plans for the transfer and deployment of troops are drawn up and updated, new agreements on cooperation are concluded and new guidelines are introduced. However, there are some gaps in the current planning. The exact composition of the command structures has not been determined. There are no clear plans for the deployment and use of troops in certain situations, etc.
Russia's clear advantage is its numerous and well-equipped ground forces with considerable experience. In the shortest possible time, strike groups can be assembled for an offensive in the given areas. NATO countries can assemble a similar contingent only through joint efforts. There is also a lag in logistics and support processes.
One of NATO's main problems is the dispersal of military forces across Europe. The gathering of groupings of several armies in one direction is a rather complicated and lengthy operation. Its progress and results can also be affected by the low level of combat readiness maintained by the European armies.
NATO has advantages in the air and naval realms. The alliance can gather aviation and naval groupings superior in quantity and quality to the Russian Air Force and Navy. However, advantages in these areas are guaranteed only on condition of US participation and the rapid arrival of its ships and aircraft on the theater of operations.
The balance of forces and capabilities of Russia and NATO is considered on the example of a hypothetical conflict in Eastern Europe, started by the Russian side. According to the FOI scenario, the Russian army begins an offensive into the Baltic States from its own and Belarusian territory. The purpose of such an offensive is to quickly seize territory and destroy local NATO forces.
It is assumed that at the operational-tactical level, the course and results of such a conflict will be determined mainly by the ground forces. The rapid transfer of tactical aviation allows NATO countries to count on the defeat of the Russian air defense system and the subsequent active influence on ground strike formations. The possibility of using nuclear weapons.
The FOI suggests that during the first few days of the conflict, Russia will be able to use its advantages in the land sphere and develop an offensive. However, then NATO will be able to assemble a sufficient air force, and the advantage will go to the side of the Alliance. The further course of the conflict depends on various factors.
It is noted that not only the Baltics are a potential theater of operations. Conflicts may start in other regions as well, and NATO should prepare for this. At the same time, it is necessary to take into account not only the risks of the outbreak of war, but also threats of a different nature.
To increase NATO's potential in Europe and more effectively counter potential adversaries, the FOI proposes to take a number of measures. The implementation of six key proposals will significantly increase the combat effectiveness of both individual armies and NATO as a whole.
First of all, FOI calls on NATO countries not to confine themselves to confrontation only with Russia. It is necessary to pay attention to other threats, such as China, other "unreliable countries" and terrorism. At the same time, the emergence of coalitions within the Alliance is not excluded, which is associated with the large number of its participants and the presence of their own interests.
The second proposal concerns the development of a new flexible response strategy capable of deterring and actively countering the adversary. It is necessary to cover the entire spectrum of threats, from subtle impact on individual allied countries to full-scale nuclear war.
The third idea is to abandon the desire for leadership in all areas. European countries do not have to ensure superiority over Russia in all directions. All that is needed is those measures that will deprive the Russian command of confidence in a quick and easy victory. This will save money, but provide effective containment - or losses unacceptable for Russia in the event of a conflict.
The fourth proposal from FOI provides for the creation of the most flexible multicomponent forces. Capacities should be built in all areas, from cyberspace to space; conventional and nuclear forces. Such a force will be more effective than just a large army of the classic model.
The fifth measure is called the simplest, cheapest and most effective. It is proposed to continue the processes of building, training and coordination of forces. In parallel with this, a sixth step is needed - planning with an eye to the near and long perspective. Long-term investments are necessary and obligatory, but with their help it will not be possible to solve urgent problems. Therefore, programs for the rapid modernization of armies are needed. At the same time, plans for the distant future should be drawn up taking into account the risks of reduced funding and reduced support from the population.
The report "Western Military Capability in Northern Europe 2020" from the Institute for Defense Studies shows one of the existing points of view on the current political-military situation in Europe. He reviews the current state of affairs, points out the potential and characteristics of the opposing sides, and also suggests steps to improve the capabilities of one of them.
It is obvious that the situation in Europe will not change for the better in the near future. Moreover, the emergence of new challenges and threats is possible. In this regard, FOI proposes a number of measures to improve the defense capabilities of European countries and NATO as a whole. However, the prospects for such proposals are dubious. NATO has its own analytical and planning structures, and their views on key issues may differ from the conclusions of the FOI report. At the same time, the final decisions will remain with the state and NATO structures.