NATO general: battalions have been developing like three puddles

Evelyn Kaldoja
, välisuudistetoimetuse juhataja
General James Everard, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
General James Everard, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Photo: Mihkel Maripuu

The NATO advance battalions in the Baltics are fine, but they have developed like three separate puddles, admits General James Everard, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

He borrowed the parallel with puddles from the first Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Bernard Montgomery, who was worried in the 1950s that instead of a sea of unity the West had approximately thirty political puddles.

“I like the analogy,” Everard said in his interview to Postimees. “It seems to me that the advance battalions have been growing like separate puddles. They do communicate with each other but we have to integrate them more.”

Everard further added that the development of such initiatives is frequently gradual. The next stage will involve the revision of the NATO battalions’ system so that they would be more than the sum of their parts. He places his hopes on the forming of the Mutinational Division North, which would link the Estonian and Latvian battle groups through command with the Corps Northeast and the Brunssum HQ. “I believe that operations will become more uniform and subordinated to single command,” Everard remarked.

Although the NATO information documents presenting the battalions stationed in the Baltic states and Poland do not mention it, the fact cannot be denied that the command and control system, at least initially, remained somewhat lopsided locally.

All four countries come in the alliance structure under the NATO Multinational Corps Northeast with its HQ in Szczecin. In turn, under its subordination the Division Northeast with its HQ in Elblag, Poland, covers the territory of Poland and Lithuania.

However, no similar link to the NATO command was initially developed regarding Estonia and Latvia. It is only since this spring that the Multinational Division North is being developed in Adaži, based on the old Danish division and under Danish command to serve as the connecting link in the defence of the two northernmost Baltic states.

Everard also admitted that, despite the operating Baltic air police mission and the presence of NATO warships in the Baltic, these spheres could use more uniformity.

“But this would require a specific command, which would run from the Supreme HQ allied Forces Europe to Brunssum and from there through the Corps Northeast to the multinational divisions North and Northeast,” he said. “The brigades are presently doing an excellent work, but how do they fit in the structure?”

NATO decided to bring allied battalions in every Baltic state and Poland at the Warsaw summit in summer 2016 in order to deter Russia after its display of aggression in Ukraine. It was agreed in Warsaw that the leading nation of the Poland-stationed battalion will be the USA, the leader in Lithuania will be Germany, in Latvia Canada and in Estonia the UK.

Everard was at that time the command of the UK land forces. In his words Estonia had simply been the most natural partner for the UK. Among other reasons, thanks to long cooperation in Afghanistan, where the Estonians were subordinated to the British command.

“The USA quickly announced that they will send troops to Poland. After that we quickly agreed with Estonia that we shall come here,” Everard recalled. “I do not know whether other countries told your prime minister that they would like to come and heard that the British are already on the way, but we agreed approximately within a week that if it happens, we shall come to Estonia.”

The present NATO general proudly recalled how he traveled to Estonia one week after the summit to make plans with the then commander of the Estonian Defence Force General Riho Terras. In other words, by the time the politicians came to the military to ask what should be done, the latter already had drafted a plan.

“Looking at the advance battalions you can see the best example of the unity of the alliance existing anywhere,” the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe said. “Twenty-seven member nations are present in at least one of these four battle groups. When somebody asks why two countries are absent, I would say that it is because we asked them to perform some other missions. If necessary we could get here 29 or 30 countries (North Macedonia will soon join the alliance).

In a difficult moment it is good to have the Turks on your side

When I asked Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe General James Everard about the Turkish decision to purchase an anti-aircraft system from Russia, he emphasizes that it is impossible to integrate it in the systems of the rest of the alliance.

Nevertheless, the Turks are good allies who should be kept on one’s side.

Why cannot NATO integrate the Russian S-400 missile system Turkey has purchased into its own systems?

We have said quite clearly that if they buy the Russian AA complex, they cannot integrate it into the NATO system without the risk of revealing how the system operates: its strengths, weaknesses and everything.

From the start, Secretary General of NATO as well as the USA have been very clear that it may be Turkey’s business which systems they buy, but that it would not be integrated into the NATO air defense system [if it has been purchased from Russia].

Curiously enough, Turkey is now negotiating with the USA about the opportunity to buy additionally the Patriot air defence system.

Or Eurosam [the air defence system produced in Italian-French cooperation – Ed.]?

Or Eurosam.

If they do it, these can naturally be integrated into the NATO air defence system.

Although the Turks already bought the Russian system, they will now need another from an allied country?

This for them to decide, isn’t it? They can choose whether they want an air defence system integrated into the NATO network or not.

Turkey is a very good ally. They are doing excellent work with the NATO rapid response forces. And moreover they are one of the few NATO armies with a real mass.

They have the largest army in the NATO European part.

Yes. And of you should go to battle tomorrow and the Turks are on your side, you will be happy to have them, since they are quite strong. They would not run, they would fight, they are very good. In my opinion this is more a political issue. We shall see what will come out of it. We need smart leaders.