“We will increase the number of high readiness forces to well over 300,000” said its General Secretary after the latest NATO talkfest. Larry has already sneered at this preposterous assertion, Bernhard has scoffed at it too, but I want to jump in as well because such fatuity deserves more contempt. Indeed, if there were anything amusing about this level of delusion, it would be a funny. But it isn’t. These people actually construct decisions based on such fantasies. (Ask the sanctioneers’ subjects as the sanctions backfire.)
300K – where are they going to come from? This site – Macrotrends – gives numbers. To no one’s surprise, almost all of the NATO countries have reduced their military over the past twenty years. USA from 1575K-1379K, Poland 264K-196K, Spain 262K-196K, UK (especially belligerent if you pay attention to its utterances) 218K-148K, Netherlands 60K-41K, Turkey 850K-512K, France 411K-304K, Italy 521K-341K and Germany 331K-181K. And so on and so on.
I guess Stoltenberg expects this trend to reverse. But will it?
Let’s look at some relevant data from the USA, NATO’s largest and most important member. About half of the US population reads at grade seven level or below – how’s that going to work with some complicated weapon’s instruction manual? About a third are rated as obese (the rate’s doubled in a quarter century). Not likely bound for the infantry and tank hatches should probably be made bigger. Covid vaccination rules just took out about a Vietnam War’s worth of soldiers. Twice as many of the potential recruits think other countries are better than the USA so the rah rah spirit is down. And, finally, 6000 veterans kill themselves every year. Hardly surprising then that the US military is having a lot of trouble recruiting new members. And so they’re dropping both their standards and their demands and offering bonuses. So Stoltenberg had better not expect too much from the USA.
How about the other chief cheerleader for more wars with more enemies? Well we were told about a year ago that only one of the British Army’s 33 infantry battalions was fully staffed – and that was the 1st Royal Gurkha Rifles. Gurkhas certainly are outstanding soldiers but they actually come from Nepal. Nothing to suggest that young Brits are very interested in joining up, And the British Army will be cutting further. But diversity numbers are up. I guess Stoltenberg had better not expect too much from the UK either.
And the same elsewhere in NATO. Recruiting crisis in Germany – maybe they can fix it by poaching in other EU countries. France is looking in Africa. Poland has brought back DOSAAF (not, of course, that it would dream of calling it that.)
Maybe twenty years in Afghanistan culminating (the military word of the day) in a rushed getaway, to say nothing of other failing wars, don’t make the job prospects very attractive. To say nothing of PTSD and suicides to go with your deflating pension.
And the way things are going in Europe, many of these soldiers may be out keeping order on the streets. Cold and hunger have a powerful effect on what people see as priorities.
So Stoltenberg may find it a bit difficult to ramp up his “high readiness” force – he will probably have to settle for “300,000 troops out there somewhere, many of which are ready for something, some time.” Not as catchy though, is it?
But the troops question is the least of NATO’s problems – just read The Return of Industrial Warfare. NATO has neither the stockpiles nor the manufacturing capacity to equal what Russia and its allies are doing in Ukraine right now.
As for Russia, Macrotrends says its armed forces numbers have held pretty steady from 1482K to 1454K in twenty years. But mere numbers miss a lot. There has been an enormous improvement in quality, training and equipment in two decades. The Donetsk and Lugansk forces have significant numbers of competent and equipped soldiers. Russia seems to be using a lot of Russian Guard troops as we see in the very visible Chechen, Cossack and Buriat formations. One can wonder, in fact, just how much of the Russian Armed Forces, strictly defined, are involved in the fighting. And they don’t have a supply problem – precision missiles and fire missions keep rolling out with no indication of concern.
Wars are a brutal reality test and NATO’s perception of reality isn’t holding up very well.