Military


Eagle Guardian

NATO's undisclosed defense plan for the Baltic States and Poland is called Eagle Guardian.

Following the unrest in Ukraine which led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia, Estonian Defense Forces Commander in Chief Major General Riho Terras was quotes as saying on 25 March 2014 that he did not see at the moment a real immediate military threat to Estonia and that the focus should be on NATO’s Article 5 and rapid response units. To him, the Ukrainian crisis did raise the question about a possible immediate response when it comes to NATO’s Article 5, which states that an attack on one NATO member would be considered an attack on all members. Commenting on the battle-readiness of the Russian army, Terras said “Whereas in previous years, a lot has been made of the Russian army not being capable of doing various things, today they have a very credible capability of doing them”.

Major General Terras emphasized that the Estonian army was focusing on ensuring a fast response, as Russia had demonstrated its ability to move large units around in a short amount of time. “First, it is impossible to believe that when a conflict erupts, we will have contracts that will bring us ammunition, weapons and equipment - we must have it here already. Second, when it comes to NATO, it is important to understand that if we’ve spoken about contingency plans so far, we must now seriously think about defense plans based on Article 5,” Terras said when asked about the lessons of Crimea.

Terras also commented that while he did not see a real military threat to Estonia, the situation could escalate. “What is important today is to determine which things work and which things don’t work: how fast will they get here, to which bases, how will they operate. It is noteworthy that when we asked for planes, it took three days and 20 hours for 18 US fighter aircraft to reach the Polish-Baltic region. And that’s a considerable amount of time,” he said, adding that dominance in the air was a vital part of military defense.

On 22 January 2010 NATO Allies agreed in the Military Committee to expand the NATO Contingency Plan for Poland, EAGLE GUARDIAN, to include the defense and reinforcement of the Baltic States. The expansion of EAGLE GUARDIAN was a step toward the possible expansion of NATO's other existing country-specific contingency plans into regional plans. This was the first step in a multi-stage process to develop a complete set of appropriate contingency plans for the full range of possible threats - both regional and functional - as soon as possible.

The United States believes strongly that such planning should not be discussed publicly. These military plans are classified at the NATO SECRET level. The Alliance has many public diplomacy tools at its disposal. Contingency planning is not one of them. American officials urged their Baltic colleagues to keep the extension of the defence plan a secret to avoid antagonism with Russia. Estonia fully agreed that all such discussion should be conducted out of the public eye, stating that Estonia is looking for, "solidarity, not visibility." Estonia asked the Lithuanians to keep contingency planning discussions private as well. Andres Kasekamp, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, however, shows no concern: "Some people had doubts whether NATO really has a plan for defending us. So such a course of events should provide Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians with a higher sense of security."

The actions of Russia during the Russian-Belarussian ZAPAD 2009 military exercise indicated that Moscow was clearly not concerned about damaging relations with NATO or Russia's neighbors. On 04 November 2009 Polish FM Radoslaw Sikorski's, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, requested U.S. forces on the ground in Poland to "protect against Russian aggression", characterizing the recent "Zapad-2009" exercises as directed against Poland. The tepid response of some Allies to ZAPAD 2009 as an example of the "Russian influence" on Alliance security issues.

The cornerstone of European security changed as the allies drafted NATO's new strategic concept. The new members viewed such a course of events with great interest as well as concern. Since the cold war ended, the world and NATO's position in it has changed significantly. The previous concept drafted in 1999 obviously needs revising under the new circumstances. The previous concept has been criticised from the very beginning - it focuses on describing the current situation instead of looking into the future. The state of security has changed dramatically since 1999. Examining NATO's approach to contingency planning will be one element of a strategy for reaffirming both NATO and U.S. commitment to the core responsibility of the Alliance: collective defense. Moving from country-specific to regional contingency plans is one potential method. Expanding EAGLE GUARDIAN could be a first step in favor of regional planning. This is the first step in a multi-stage process to develop a complete set of appropriate contingency plans for the full range of possible threats - both regional and functional - as soon as possible.

In October 2009, the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania exerted strong pressure for a Baltic contingency plan to be drafted concerning the use of the "all for one and one for all" Article 5 of NATO's founding treaty. The Baltic States wished to give more weight to Article 5, hoping for a clearer interpretation and a better implementation of the article. Over the past few years Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had voiced concern that NATO initially failed to draft a defense plan for the trio. Poland had one -at least on paper. In 2010 skeptics raised the issue whether NATO would stand by its smallest members, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at the hour of crisis. The answer now is yes, with a decision in principle to develop formal contingency plans to defend them.

The shift came after hard-fought negotiations, in which, at American insistence, Germany and other countries dropped their opposition. At the November 2008 NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting the Polish delegation indicated they were against including the Baltic states into Eagle Guardian as they did not want the Polish plan to be diluted or held hostage in case other allies opposed adding the Baltic states. Warsaw eventually agreed to the proposal, but wanted US support for Polish ideas on how to implement the proposal in order to avoid unnecessary delays in the Poland-specific portions of the plan. The ongoing update of EAGLE GUARDIAN as currently configured was completed by March 2010.

During the Bush administration, NATO had accepted the former Soviet republics as members but avoided including them in defence planning, which might have provoked Russia. The United States believed that NATO - as a matter of course - should conduct appropriate contingency planning for the possible defense of Allied territory and populations. As President Obama said in Prague: "We must work together as NATO members so that we have contingency plans in place to deal with new threats, wherever they may come from." The U.S. welcomed the decision to expand EAGLE GUARDIAN to include the defense of the Baltic states, and sees it as a logical military extension of the existing contingency plan that fits well within the existing scenario.

In January 2010 Germany proposed expanding the Polish defense plan to include the Baltic States and the alliance's Military Committee in Belgium approved. NATO leaders accepted the plan quietly at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010. In the event of armed aggression against Poland or the three Baltic States, nine NATO divisions - US, British, German, and Polish - were identified for combat operations. Polish and German ports have been listed for the receipt of naval assault forces and British and US warships.

The first exercises under the extended plan took place in the Baltic in 2010. The US Marines started their first amphibious landing exercise in the Baltic States. The landing, which was Estonia's initiative, was conducted jointly with the Estonian forces along the coastline of Hara bay, North-Estonia. Combined U.S and Estonian forces conducted a multinational amphibious landing as part of Exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS 2010) 16 June 2010. BALTOPS is a multinational exercise designed to focus on maritime safety and security as well as focus on increasing the interoperability of the allies and partner nations within the Baltic Sea region.

Without favorable Estonian-Russian and US-Russian relations, such an exercise could not take place. At least the US wanted to show Estonia that they would provide real support. The US Ambassador to Estonia, Michael Polt, explained that the US conducted this joint exercise with three important allies - Poland, Latvia and Estonia. Estonian Defence Minister, Jaak Aaviksoo, interpreted the amphibious landing exercise mostly as a message to Estonia. "I'm convinced that NATO has a defence plan. Not just on paper - they are actually prepared" Aaviksoo said. )

Michael C. Polt, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, also addressed the attendees and highlighted the spirit of cooperation on which the exercise is based. “Today’s BALTOPS landing epitomizes the United States’ commitment to Estonia and to our excellent cooperation," said Polt. “This exercise also demonstrates that from Afghanistan to Bosnia, Iraq to Kosovo, on land and at sea—Estonia and the United States can rely on each other in peace and during conflict."



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