Publiceret 01/03 1977
The Defence of the Northern Region
Den hidtidige chef for Nordregionen, General Sir John Sharp, KCB, MC, døde pludselig den 15. januar. Generalen havde bestridt denne stilling siden september 1974. Han indledte sin militære karriere i Royal Artilleri i 1938. Under den 2. verdenskrig gjorde generalen tjeneste i Frankrig og i den nordafrikanske ørken. Under felttoget i Nordvest-Europa efter invasionen tilhørte han feltmarskal Montgomerys stab af personlige forbindelsesofficerer.
Efter krigen var generalen tjenstgørende på Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, i det fjerne Østen og i Tyskland, hvor han var såvel brigade- som divisions- og korpschef. Generalen har yderligere været chef for Staff College, Camberley, og været tjenstgørende i det engelske forsvarsministerium. Den følgende artikel er - med enkelte indlednings- og afslutningsvise udeladelser - manuskriptet til et foredrag generalen holdt i Dansk-Engelsk Selskab i København den 19. november 1976.
I would like to give you as frankly as I can, within of course the limits of security, my impressions after just over two years as Commander-in-Chief. They are based on a close association with the Chiefs of Defence and Military Commanders of all the nations concerned with the Defence of this Region, and that of course includes the nations whose contribution is vital to the reinforcement of the Northern European Command in times of tension. I also base my views on the many exercises which take place each year involving thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen from many nations, including, of course, the Servicemen, Reservists and Home Guard from this country.
I have found that all those with whom I have discussed the problem appreciate the difficulties that face us and have been most constructive and helpful in assisting with their resolution.
This evening I would like to discuss the threat as it affects the Northern European Command and some of the measures that I believe must be taken to counter this threat, and the problems involved. I would also like to mention possible future trends and difficulties that lie ahead.
Despite the so-called era of detente, it is an unpalatable fact which many people seem unwilling to recognise, that we still live in a marsh, cruel and violent world in which, tragically, force is often still the final arbiter of conflicts of interest and conviction. In relatively small peaceloving countries such as ours, it is tempting to believe that the world of violence will pass us by. However, so-called detente has in no way reduced the scale of Soviet power which, on the contrary, continues to increase the iron grip of the Soviet Communist Party on Russian life and the lives of millions living in Eastern Europe, nor the ambitions of the rulers of this acquisitive Empire. Wherever we look today, whether it is in the Far East, the Middle East, Africa or on our own doorstep of NATO, particularly in the Southern Region, the picture is one of growing Russian influence and power. It is our duty to educate the people about the realities of this turbulent world in which they live. It is a difficult and unending task and not always a pleasant one, which is perhaps why not enough people are doing it.
The present Soviet policy of peaceful co-existence implies that they will use all means available in advancing their interests short of direct confrontation with the West. They are nevertheless a thrusting and ambitious power. They take advantage of every opportunity to achieve their ambitions but measure the degree of risk involved before committing themselves militarily.
It is Soviet practice to use their military forces in peacetime to support Soviet interests worldwide. They have demonstrated that they will willingly use military intervention when they consider vital national interests within the Eastern Bloc are at stake. Overseas they have continued to provide political, economic and military aid in support of their policies. We have seen and are still seeing this in Angola and Southern Africa in general. They have shown their willingness to become directly involved in military activities and are establishing a worldwide network of base facilities.
The Soviet Union has thus embarked on a flexible and ambitious programme of politico-military activity designed to support its foreign policy, expand its influence overseas and to limit Western influence and options.
The Soviet Union is adapting its military power to support this programme and has shown that it understands the value of exploiting the freedom of the seas. The Soviet leaders have probably recognised the dangers inherent in such activities and will be guided in each particular move by their assessment of likely foreign reactions, but I believe there is a tendency for the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact satellites to become more confident and less cautious in their dealings with the West as their military strength and capabilities improve. This was, for example, blatantly demonstrated by the harrassment of Danish ships during the so called “Battle of the Baltic” in June and a large scale amphibious exercise in the Mecklenburger Bight only a couple of months ago.
As a result of these activities close to NATO boundaries, the warning time of attack could be drastically reduced.
Although the possibility of such an attack with short warning by Warsaw Pact Forces cannot be ruled out, I believe that the deliberate initiation of hostilities which might risk an escalation to nuclear conflict is unlikely at the present time, provided NATO maintains its resolve and solidarity.
However, the Warsaw Pact continues to maintain and improve its capability to conduct conventional as well as nuclear and chemical warfare, and this capability is steadily reducing the options open to NATO in periods of tension and crisis situations.Furthermore, because Soviet policies are based on the expansion of Soviet influence abroad, and Soviet leaders have shown that they sometimes fail to appraise risks accurately, the possibility of crisis by miscalculation remains.
It cannot be too long either before a new and unpredictable generation of leaders take over.
I would like to dwell for a moment on Soviet maritime policy.
In peacetime it aims at supporting and furthering Soviet interests anywhere in the world, provides the necessary security for the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and forms part of their nuclear deterrent.
The steady and dramatic growth of the Soviet Navy increases its ability to fulfil its maritime roles, and the expanding deployment of Soviet maritime forces enables the USSR to apply political and military pressure as the situation dictates, both in time of peace, and even more so in periods of mounting tension.
The core of their largest naval base complex supporting this policy is, of course, in Kola, which allows continous ice-free access to the oceans of the world. Over a third of the Soviet submarine strength and a large proportion of their surface ships and aircraft are attached to this Northern Fleet. Strategically, the Soviets must regard the North of Norway as an area from which their sea lines of communication could be threatened. One cannot, therefore, exclude the possibility of the Soviets attempting to gain control over this area in order to ensure the security of their access to the North Atlantic and Oceans of the world and to deny NATO the use of vital strategic bases and surveillance facilities. Again, I don’t think that an attack in the near future is likely. I do believe, however, that the Soviets may be tempted to use their maritime power to dutflank the North and exploit the situation to obtain political concessions or extend their influence in the sea areas bordering the Northern Flank. And more of that a little later on.
Similar considerations apply to a large extent in the Baltic, where the Soviets maintain a fleet which greatly exceeds their requirements for defence in this area. In addition, the ships of the Polish and German Democratic Republic navies - particularly amphibious craft supported by modern effective air forces - pose a direct threat to the Danish islands and Baltic straits, and an area which the Warsaw Pact would have to control in order to allow free access both ways through the straits for their fleets, and simultaneously to outflank the Central Front of NATO.
It is important to remember that by far the largest naval repair facilities for the Russian fleets are in the Baltic ports, notably Leningrad. When I say “both ways” I mean therefore that if hostilities were prolonged for any length of time, the ships of the Northern Fleet which needed repair would have to try to get back into the Baltic.
I must add that apart from the imbalance of forces in the Northern European Command, which is greater than in any other area of NATO, the Warsaw Pact enjoy other important additional advantages.
Their standing forces are fully equipped, highly trained and ready for action with the minimum of preparation.
Their equipment is standardised and the quality of their weapons and trainig is undergoing continuous modernisation.
They operate under a unified command and can concentrate at will in any area they wish to bring pressure to bear.
They operate on internal lines of communication, and reinforcements and supplies pose no major problems.
Political decisions can be taken rapidly. As security is rigidly controlled and, as we all know, highly efficient, intentions can be concealed until the last possible moment.
Finally, and most important of all, they hold the initiative.
Faced with the problems of how to counter this massive threat, we in the Northern European Command have to contend first of all with two political constraints. These are the policy of both Norway and Denmark not permitting the stationing of foreign troops or the stockpiling of nuclear weapons in peacetime on their soil. It is futile to pretend that these constraints do not make our task harder and that of a potential aggressor correspondingly easier, because it means that a successful defence of this region can only be accomplished with the help of overseas reinforcements. I understand the reasoning behind the present policy and I fully subscribe to the view that political, as well as military considerations, must be taken into account when security policy is determined. I would, however, suggest to you that the present day military considerations are completely different from those which pertained during the first years of the post-war era. Particularly the growing capability by the Warsaw Pact forces of launching an attack with little warning.
There is nothing static or immutable about the security of a region, a country - or indeed, an alliance. It is dynamic and under pressure from a variety of different forces. This means that all policies must be kept constantly under review.
The problem with reinforcements is, of course, that of moving forces with their naval escorts from North America and the United Kingdom to this part of the world in the face of rapidly expanding Soviet maritime power. In April last year, we witnessed the biggest naval exercises in history staged by the Soviets across the oceans and seas of the world. I have grave doubts that reinforcements could be deployed successfully in time by sea, once war had started, in the face of this modern and powerful fleet with its tremendous number of submarines. It is imperative, therefore, that bold political decisions are taken in a period of tension. If they are not, then we will be more or less resticted to what we can bring in by air.
And here we come up against the fact that each nation has to provide their own supplies for the forces deployed. If these forces are to remain viable, it is essential that the necessary support is forthcoming and rapidly accessible. I can foresee considerable difficulties in not only providing timely logistic support, but also its reception and distribution after its arrival in Denmark. In my view, given the constraints we have, Denmark’s salvation can only lie in the political will to ask for outside help in time. I keep using the words “in time”, but I am convinced they are the key to our situation.
However, I do not want this audience to be in any doubt that if there is an attack on this strategically important area - even if it is isolated and the rest of the Western world is not involved - that it will automatically involve the whole of NATO with all that that means. If I did not firmly believe this, I would not continue to hold the position of Commander-in- Chief. I would also quote to you two questions and answers during a television interview with Admiral Kidd, the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, which you may have seen during his visit to Norway earlier this year. They went as follows:
Question: Are you willing to give sufficient assistance in a military situation at any price?
Answer: I will give you an unqualified YES.
Question: Will you risk the Strike Fleet? Answer: Of course all of us are determined to risk our ships, our lives if necessary in the defence of this Alliance.
So, despite certain things which I have said - and we simply must face up to facts - I am in no way a pessimist or resigned to the inevitable, should hostilities occur. I can assure you that this is certainly not the case.
During my time as C-in-C, I have seen a large number of reservists, as well as standing forces and Home Guard, during their training. I have been impressed with the very high motivation and spirit of all those I have seen. Their enthusiasm is most heartening and gives me confidence that no aggressor would have an easy passage in the event of an attack.
It is also most encouraging to see that recruiting targets for the Danish Forces have been achieved and that there is increasing public support for NATO.
Equipment now coming into service, particularly anti-tank weapons for the Army, surface-to-air and surface-to-surface guided missiles, arid the introduction of the Harpoon missile in the new fast patrol boats, have done much to improve the capabilities and effectiveness of the Services. The decision by Denmark and the German Forces in Schleswig Holstein to standardise on the Leopard tank, and that of Norway and Denmark to purchase the F-16 aircraft, are important steps forward both in the quality of weapons, and in the field of standardisation.
I am also encouraged by the measures taken to prevent incursion by unauthorised shipping in Danish territorial waters, and the recent deployment of the Sanding Force Atlantic into the Baltic to demonstrate that this area is not just a “Russian lake”.
There are, of course, as we know, also weaknesses and deficiencies which we would like to rectify but, as in other NATO countries these days, funds allocated for defence are strictly limited and we must concentrate on measures which are most cost-effective. However, I should stress that while we are very pleased to see new equipment coming into service, it is nevertheless important that modernisation plans are not implemented at the expense of maintenance of adequate war reserve stocks. Without these we would rapidly lose the capability to support current operations.
I would like to mention one or two measures which I believe are particularly important to the defence of this Region. First, I consider that everyone should fully understand the necessity for the timely deployment and reception of reinforcements to Northern European Command.
This is vitally important if the solidarity and resolve of NATO are to be properly demonstrated. In order to achieve this situation, early political decisions must be taken, adequately trained and equipped forces must be immediately available and plans must be ready to meet all likely contingencies. It is, therefore, important that trainig exercises are carried out by all potential external reinforcements at regular and frequent intervals so that existing plans can be tested, problem areas identified and deficiencies corrected. I also believe that it is important that the necessary support for external reinforcement forces is available. This not only affects the type of forces that can be provided, but also the equipment and reserves that are earmarked for this Region. Lack of such facilities and a reasonable assurance of their security will inevitably influence the reinforcements that are allocated. I am glad to say that such plans are well developed here in Denmark. I believe that much is achieved by the presence of NATO forces, land, air and sea, exercising and being seen regularly in this Region, and especially I believe NATO could demonstrate its solidarity by operating more multinational forces in the sea areas around this Command.
We have recently witnessed two major reinforcement exercises in this Command - TEAMWORK and BONDED ITEM, the latter in Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein. Both demonstrated the ability of external forces to deploy rapidly to the Northern European Command in a time of tension. They also provided a valuable reminder to any potential aggressor, by their presence in this area, that the security of the region is very much NATO’s concern. I believe, apart from all else, that these exercises will lead to a much closer involvement on the part of the US Marine Corps in the defence of NEC.
Finally, I would be failing in my duty if I did not express the hope that real increases will be made in our respective defence budgets in the future, particularly in view of the enormous and growing military expenditure by the Warsaw Pact Forces at the present time. And don’t let’s kid ourselves that we can’t afford it. It is merely a question of getting our priorities right, and surely the maintenance of freedom and democracy must come first.
Any country, and I include the UK as much as any other, which reduces its defence capability at a time of vast expansion by the Warsaw Pact is surely putting at risk the priciples of liberty and freedom which, as we know only too well, were won at such tremendous cost - far greater, I might add, than that ever required to keep the peace.
I therefore believe that it is of vital importance that everyone understands what risks we run if we do not maintain our defence budget at an adequate level. With rising costs and inflation it is even more important that we avoid degrading our military capability by failing to allocate adequate funds.
I said that I would mention my thoughts on possible future trends and difficulties that lie ahead.
The Northern European Command has generally had the reputation, with some justification, as the “quiet comer of Europe”. The so-called Nordic Balance has achieved a long period of stability in the region, and many of us are indeed envious of the harmony and prosperity that has resulted from this ideal state of affairs. I sincerely hope that such a situation will long continue, but without wishing to cast shadows of gloom or despondency over our heads, you must agree with me that circumstances are now changing.
With the rapid development and growth of Soviet weapon technology and forces in this region, I would hesitate to predict what the future may hold in store but it would seem to me that the Northern European Command may attract far more attention in the years ahead than it has in the past.
Geographically, Denmark occupies a vital strategic position guarding the exit through the Baltic Straits. With the rapid growth of the Warsaw Pact Navies and the increasing importance of the Baltic repair yards in support of these fleets, it is not surprising that Warsaw Pact surveillance activities and exercises have intensified in these waters recently. These will, I am sure, continue unabated in the future.
Similarly Greenland and the Faeroes (although of course not within the Northern European Command) have also assumed a far greater strategic importance to the defence of this region. The growing strength of the Soviet Fleet threatens to strangle the sealines of communication through which reinforcements have to pass. These are our lifelines and without them, as history has shown, we cannot survive.
In the sea areas surrounding this Command, oil and mineral explorations will create increasing problems as further devedopments get underway. It has been estimated that 50 % of the world’s entire oil reserves are located in the Artic and this vast region is, therefore, receiving far more attenion today than in the past. One must remember that the shortest route between the vital strategic areas of the USA and Russia straddle the central polar region and cut across Greenland. Furthermore, the Arctic provides an ideal environment for the deployment of nuclear ballistic submarines and with the introduction of the SSN8 misilie four years ago, the Russians can hit vital Northern American targets from virtually home waters.
The recent decision to extend fishery limits to 200 NMs and the problems involved in the control of vast additional sea areas will inevitably present new difficulties. Any suspected encroachments into international waters are viewed with instant distrust by the Soviets, and we have seen attempts to influence the course of events by missile and other exercises being conducted in sensitive areas. This has been evident in both the Baltic and Barents Seas.
Such actions clearly demonstrate a willingness by the Soviets to use their military power to apply pressure in support of their policies. The recent debates on the Danish Defence Review have again focussed attention on the difficulties of preserving a credible defence in the face of financial constraints. This is certainly also true in the case of the United Kingdom at the present time. I only hope that confidence in Danish defence built up since the last review in 1973 will not be impaired. It would be tragic if because of cuts in, say, fuel and training the morale of the services was affected. Particularly now that recruiting targets are being met. As I said earlier peace can never be bought on the cheap, and every NATO country must contribute its fair share. This I am afraid is a fact of life that can only be ignored at great peril.
PDF med originaludgave af Militært Tidsskrift, hvor denne artikel er fra: militaert_tidskrift_106_aargang_mar-apr.pdf
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