The perspectives of the defence of the northern region

I februar 1972 tiltrådte general Sir Thomas Pearson posten som Com- mander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe. Forud for overtagelsen af denne post var general Pearson Military Secretary i det britiske forsvarsministerium. Generalen deltog i kampene i ørkenen under 2. verdenskrig samt i Italien, Sydfrankrig og Grækenland. Han har efter 2. verdenskrig bl.a. været chef for 16 Independent Parachute Brigade, forrettet stabstjeneste i Tyskland og været Commander Far East Land Forces. I denne artikel redegør generalen for sine synspunkter vdr. truslen mod NATO og spec, mod Nordkommandoen samt mulighederne for at løse den Nordkommandoen påhvilende opgave.
General Sir Thomas Pearson
I would like to start with the following quotation. It reads: »Russia must then watch for and seize the favourable moment and pour her assembled hosts into Germany, whilst two immense fleets, laden with Asiatic hordes and conveyed by armed squadrons of the Euxine and Baltic set sail simultaneously from the Sea of Asov and the harbour of Archangel. Sweeping along the Mediterranean and Atlantic, they will overrun France on the one side while Germany is overpowered on the other. When these countries are fully conquered the rest of Europe must fall easily and without struggle under our yoke. Thus Europe can and must be subjugated.«
Although this was prefaced by a passage that called for the European countries as a pre-requisite to be in acute disagreement with each other, it is not a current military assessment of Soviet long term intentions but an extract from the reputed Last Testament and Will of Peter the Great who died in 1725 and goes to show that, over the years, little may have changed in Western Europe’s military relationship with the East. However, the fact that Peter the Great’s designs have not yet been carried out should give us some cause for encouragement.
What is of interest to us today is how these designs may have changed over the course of years and whether the most recent changes, and here I am speaking of the last 25 years, have in any way altered the fundamental concept which caused the West to combine their defence in the Atlantic Alliance. This is important for us today, for in the prevailing atmosphere of detente there will always be a desire for Western nations to increase the money spent on social services and the development of the economy and to cut back on economically unproductive military expenditures. A realistic understanding of our defence requirements is therefore essential to avoid social and economic pressures so limiting the provision of military forces that these forces cease to be a deterrent to aggression and, as such, counter-productive.
It is true to say that the Warsaw Pact’s military potential has never been as great as it is today and it is continuing to grow in relation to the West. This is illustrated by the comparison of the proportion of the Gross National Product spent on defence by the Warsaw Pact with that of the West, which is:
Soviet Union 11 %
Satellites 4.5 % average
USA 7.5 %
Western Europe 4.2 % average
The total spent by the Soviet Union is difficult to assess accurately. Although the GNP of the Soviet Union is visibly about 50 % of that of the USA, we must remember that first, the Rouble has greater purchasing power within the USSR than in the international field and, second, there are many defence items in such areas as weapons and equipment research, and the nuclear weapons development programme, which do not appear in the Soviet Defence Budget. Furthermore, personnel costs as a percentage of the Defence Budget are 27 % in the USSR and an average of over 50 % in the West which leaves a far higher proportion of the Soviet Defence Budget for equipment development and procurement. Finally, the Warsaw Pact defence expenditure has shown a growth rate of 4 % per annum of the GNP in real terms in the past 5 to 6 years, whilst that of the West has declined.
NATO came into being mainly as a result of a land threat to Western Europe, but today the threat extends to the sea lanes of the world and the continent of the Americas through the media of inter-continental missiles, strategic bomber aircraft and powerful submarine forces all with a nuclear capability and also modem large surface fleets.
In Europe the land, air and missile forces equipped and trained to wage nuclear war are of a size and sophistication that was hardly imaginable 25 years ago. Nevertheless, if we are realistically to assess our defence requirements we must try to resolve the enigma of Soviet intentions and estimate the likelihood of their using and the way they might use their military forces in pursuit of their political aims. Let us for a moment look at this; it is a large field and suitable for a lecture on its own but I will try and cover what I consider to be the relevant and salient points.
After the Russian Revolution the Soviet Union’s declared international political intention was the overthrow of the so-called Imperialist/Bourgeois Governments of the West and the replacement of them with proletarian regimes subservient to Moscow through an International Soviet Republic. Whether these intentions were guided by a desire to increase the security of the Soviet Union or were a Soviet version of Russian Imperialism, is difficult to assess. It was possibly a little of both, but there is no doubt that initially a lack of military potential forced the Soviet Union to a policy of agitation, subversion and revolution through the Comintern, in pursuit of her aims.
The concept of a Communist Federation stems from basic Marx/Leninist doctrine and it would seem highly unlikely that any Soviet leader deviates from this concept today. If one does he has never said so. Further to this it is another axiom of Marxist doctrine that tactical withdrawals even though contrary to basic Marxist ideals are permissible if long term progress can be made towards the main goal. If then today we talk about détente do East and West mean the same thing?
Two aspects of the Czechoslovak crisis in 1968 are interesting in this respect. Prior to the crisis the Soviets were promoting a détente movement with the Western European nations and the rise of a more liberal regime in Czechoslovakia faced them with the dilemma of disclosing the hollowness of their approach by the military occupation of Czechoslovakia or accepting a more democratic regime in that country. The fact that they chose the military option of oppression and subsequently justified their action under what is now known as the Brezhnev doctrine, indicated that they had not progressed from their position in 1948 when they first subjugated Czechoslovakia, in 1953 when they suppressed the uprising in East Germany and in 1956 when they occupied Hungary. These are a far cry from invading a Western country but could indicate the line that might be taken with any nation which became politically estranged from the West and in which Communism could establish a firm hold. It also illustrates that Lenin’s concept of the right of secession for the states of the Soviet Socialist Republic has been firmly abandoned, if it was ever accepted.
Against this one could point to Finland and ask why similar action has not been taken in this case. It is possible that the Soviets see the addition of this nation as a thorny satellite to her sphere of domination, and as more of an embarrassment than an advantage, as it would upset the present Nordic balance, well known to you. They probably consider that their present relationship with Finland is adequately maintained by the Mutual Assistance Agreement and their own proximity, and one cannot discount the influence of NATO in contributing to this.
Another interesting aspect of Soviet behaviour is the speed with which she has detached herself from certain nations with whom she seemed to be in close accord and rendering considerable economic and military aid, once her presence in such a country has been declared as no longer wanted. There have been examples in Africa and more recently in Egypt.
It is possible that basically the Soviet Union is still a land oriented military power and dislikes the idea of getting involved in a hostile military situation in an area where her lines of communication from the Soviet Union are vulnerable to western interference. Whilst increases in sea and air power have improved her capability to conduct operations without a land line of communications from the Soviet Union, full confidence in this capability may not yet exist. It is for this reason that, in spite of the large Soviet maritime build up, it is probable that the land frontiers and the sea areas adjacent to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact must still be regarded by the West as danger points which must be adequately defended. The significance of this for NATO’s Northern Region is readily apparent, where large amphibious and airborne forces operation in close cooperation with land forces and supported by powerful air forces have the potential to attack in the North and Baltic at extremely short notice.
What then are the Russian strategic aims today? There is no evidence that, in the short term in spite of talk of detente, the Soviet Union is prepared to abandon her power basis for maintaining her dominion over her satellites or that she has rejected her desire to extend her influence into Western Europe with its rich rewards in technology and industrial resources and know-how. It is also probable that an opportunity to extend her defence glacis further westward would not go unexploited if favourable conditions arose or could be engineered.
The fact that the position in Europe is stabilised and detente is now in the air is, in large measure, due to the balance of power between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, combined with internal pressures and the spectre of the rising military power of China; but one is entitled to one’s doubts as to whether the Soviet Union has abandoned her original long-term aim for Europe. Although there may be many influences at work both internal and external forcing her to a policy of détente, if the Soviet Union is to make further progress in her long term aims in extending her influence into the nations of Western Europe, the balance of power between East and West must somehow be reorientated to the Soviet advantage.
Today we talk about the Nordic balance but we must not forget that already on the scales are the two super powers America and the Soviet Union. Any lessening of America’s weight would in NEC have to have a counter-weight added by the Scandinavians themselves, but any major move in this direction is hardly a practical possibility. So if we are to maintain the present stability it is vital that the close association of the US is maintained in the defence of NEC and in the wider field of Europe as a whole. If it is the Soviet intention to change the balance of power to her advantage this could be best achieved by American forces withdrawing from Europe and at the same time, or separately, European nations reducing their defence effort. Such a withdrawal today, or a weakening of any European nation’s defence effort, if carried too far could lead to an unstable situation and an imbalance that could in a major crisis or war situation eliminate the possibility of a flexible response and reduce us to the options of surrender or nuclear conflict.
The danger of an unstable situation is illustrated by the discussions that must go on in the Polit bureau when the Soviet Union is faced with a situation which demands a decision between solving it by peaceful political processes or resorting to military force. Although the top policy makers of the Soviet Union are civilians, it is likely that, with the huge military resources at their disposal, situations could arise where there is a conflict of views between the hard liners who want to use military force and those who will accept a negotiated political solution. Although the political solution will as often as not appear to result in a climb down, from a true Communist point of view it will be regarded as a tactical retreat rather than a defeat. Examples of the latter are Cuba and the period of harassment of West Berlin and its communications.
In cases where the West has shown strenght and military potential to resist, the peaceful factions have appeared to have had their way but where the West’s position has been weak, or the use of their power to intervene unacceptable, successful military action has been taken in support of political aims as in Czechoslovakia.
With the balance of power as it is today, it is highly unlikely that the Soviet Union would risk an all-out war in pursuit of her aims. Even should the NATO military position be weakened in Europe, so long as the US is a firm partner in the Alliance a policy of general war would seem unlikely. However, should the European forces facing the East cease to retain their credibility through a combination of US troop withdrawals and a downgrading of national defence efforts, the way would be open for politico-military pressure, directed at isolating and dominating the weaker members of the Alliance. To count such possibilities our defence must remain credible and viable when measured against the military potential of the East and it is probable that the defence potential needed effectively to meet this form of pressure is much the same as that required to deter major aggression.
The lesson to be drawn is that until it is established that a genuine détente is attainable, and until it has been negotiated, the balance of the Western defence potential must be maintained against that of the Warsaw Pact.
I have already said that the Warsaw Pact potential is continually improving and to maintain the balance we in turn must make corresponding improvements. This brings us to one of the problems in NEC where all the nations, two of them small in population, have to strike a delicate balance between the demands of the economy and social welfare on the one hand, and military preparedness on the other. Countries such as Norway and Denmark and even West Germany have perforce to rely on a concept of total defence involving the whole nation and accept that conscript service in some form is inevitable if they are to have a viable defence. It is for this reason that one cannot expect the smaller nations to produce standing forces of sufficient size to defeat the potential aggressor on their own. Defence plans must rely on a combination of standing forces and rapid mobilisation of reserves, reinforcement from outside the Command, and in the last resort, the use of nuclear weapons.
The concept of reinforcement is not peculiar to NEC alone but to Western Europe as a whole and it is the ability to associate all the nations of the Alliance with the defence of any individual nation through the AMF or STANAVFORLANT that provides a deterrent to the limited type of aggression. The association of major reinforcements from the more powerful nations of the Alliance, together with the nuclear capability of the USA, in a similar way deters the all-out aggression. However, with the steadily increasing dominance of the military power of the Soviet Union, the NATO nations must continually review whether what they have is enough and not be lulled into a sense of false security because the deterrent against aggression has worked so far, and they must guard against any premature reductions due to complacency.
It is certain that if the Soviet Union continues their present defence expenditure, the West will have to spend more on defence to maintain the balance. But in countries with the smaller economic resources we must be careful to ensure that such expenditure is channelled into the right areas. There is also a limit to the number of men that can be allocated to standing forces and man the sophisticated equipment that goes with modern warfare on land, sea and in the air. It is just as important to arrive at a fair distribution of national manpower resources between defence and the economy as it is for financial reasons.
In the field of detente, in addition to the European Security Conference, the Soviet Union has recently agreed to take part in talks on mutual and balanced force reductions. These talks are for the time being to be concentrated mainly on the situation in the centre but the flanking nations are being invited to attend to watch their interests. There is a genuine feeling among the flanking NATO nations that Soviet forces reduced in the centre could be used to strengthen the flanks. Nor can the potential of the Soviet naval forces to prevent the return of forces withdrawn across the Atlantic from Europe be left out of the equation. It is certain that the West’s negotiators are fully conversant with these implications and I would remind you of the first principle of negotiation that was agreed by the NATO council in Rome in 1970. This was that reductions should be compatible with the vital security interests of the Alliance. The importance that NATO as a whole attaches to security of the Northern Flank and the security of the Atlantic sea lanes cannot avoid being a vital factor in any negotiations and one would expect the requirements of NEC to be adequately safe-guarded.
Let us then turn from these wider issues and look more closely at the perspectives of the defence of the Northern Region. The area of my Command in war stretches from North Cape to the River Elbe and includes the whole of Norway, Denmark and Schleswig- Holstein together with the adjacent sea areas and associated air space. The Region is flanked in the South by SACEUR’s Central Region AFCENT and to seaward in the North and Norwegian Seas by SACLANT’s Subordinate Command of CINCEASTLANT.
The possession in war of the land mass of the Northern Region (or Northern European Command) would be of great strategic value to the Soviet Union and her Warsaw Pact allies. The occupation of North Norway would give depth to the defence of the Murmansk base and the Kola Peninsula and the use of captured airfields would enable air cover to be given to Soviet surface forces operating in the Norwegian Sea. In addition valuable ice-free sheltered anchorages and bases would become available to the Northern Fleet. Furthermore North Norway would subsequently provide a valuable and vital spring board for attacks further South into Norway. Should Norway as a whole fall to the enemy, allied dominance of the Atlantic and Norwegian and North Seas would be seriously challenged by Soviet naval and air operations.
A similar situation arises in the South if the Warsaw Pact forces gained access to the North Sea by occupation of Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark. In addition a successful offensive in this area would directly threaten South Norway and close the Baltic to us.
North Norway and the Baltic Approaches are the vital areas of my Command, which must be defended at all costs. In the North and South there are the common frontiers and contiguous sea areas with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact respectively which give great possibilities for attack with little warning.
The denial of North Norway and the Baltic Exits to enemy occupation must be the primary task of the Army, adequately supported by naval and air operations, and our tri-service operations must be directed accordingly, but the operations of the Navy and Air Force must not necessarily be confined to the close cooperation of the land battle but be used offensively to interdict and inflict damage and casualities on the attacking enemy amphibious, airborne and land forces, before our main defences are met. The Air Forces and air defences will have the additional and high priority task of obtaining a favourable air situation under which our forces can operate.
In war, Command of the sea for reinforcement and supply of Europe will be as important to the success of our operations in defence of our land areas as it was to the British in the Peninsula war in the early Nineteenth century, where land operations (leading to the defeat of Napoleon’s numerically superior armies) could not have been conducted successfully in Spain and Portugal if the British Navy had not dominated the sea by blockading French ports and defeating their fleet at Trafalgar.
The large increase in Soviet naval power over the recent years indicates that they are aware of this lesson. In war they will have two options open to them - either to retain their fleet in being by not giving battle (thereby tying down our surface fleet), and at the same time harassing our sea lines of communication with their submarines and longe range aircraft, - or, to give battle to defeat SACLANT’s Strike Fleet and thus decisively gain command of the sea for themselves.
In the first case our convoys must be got through though it will be a protracted battle, in the second it is vital that the Soviet Northern Fleet is driven from the High Seas. This would still leave a considerable submarine threat, but SACLANT would be in a better position to cope with it. In either case the Soviet prospects of success would be enormously enhanced by the possession of the Danish, German and Norwegian territory of NEC with its air and naval bases. This emphasises the vital importance of the defence of the NEC priority regions not only to the indigenous nations but to the whole of the Allied defence of Europe.
Although command of the seas must be SACLANT’s priority task, we must not overlook the great potential of the Strike Fleet with its aircraft carriers to give support to the counter air and land battles in Europe. This capability if deployed in time could provide a very useful and possibly decisive reinforcement to our operations. Operations of NEC and those of SACLANT can be said to be inter-dependent and it is the sum of our capabilities that adds to the deterrent and the security of the European nations.
In addition to these local factors the growing power of China which poses the Soviet Union with the possibility of a war on two fronts and the existing but latent dissatisfaction within satellite countries, emphasises the value of the determination and preparedness of Western nations to resist aggression as a contribution to the deterrent.
The Military Committee and the Defence Planning Committee of NATO take all these factors into consideration when assessing standing and first echelon forces required to counter the threat in each region and producing the force goals at which each nation should aim. Not all these goals are fulfilled and any reduction means that any lesser force must be that much more effective to compensate.
There is however a level below which forces cease to be viable and are a bad investment. Let us look at the areas in which we must be strong or strengthen our defence capability.
In both the North and South we are faced with a powerful and numerically superior military potential to counter which the Command would have to be reinforced and plans exist to meet such contingencies. Exercise STRONG EXPRESS was a manifestation of this and the capability of the Strike Fleet itself which, with its conventional and nuclear capability to reach out and attack an aggressor’s bases, must not be forgotten.
What is of vital interest in formulating our views on the forces required is how long an indigenous force would have to hold out before such reinforcements arrive. This is a major factor in our plans, operational concepts and estimates of force requirements. The time for which we should have to hold out would depend on the amount of warning of an impending attack that the West might receive as well as the willingness of Governments to take the vital political decisions to get reserves called up and reinforcements moving. These are imponderables but there is a time beyond which indigenous forces could not be expected to operate effectively against a full scale aggression ruthlessly pressed. To enhance our chances it would certainly be necessary to get some of the scheduled reinforcements in before hostilities start and there is considerable potential for doing this if the political decisions can be taken. Air units can deploy very quickly. Naval units with air and amphibious forces can be maintained afloat in close proximity to likely danger points, and quick reaction forces such as the AMF can be deployed.
One can produce many combinations of hypothetical emergencies from limited aggression to general war and draw conclusions from them; but the experience of war has taught me that the defender is never granted enough time to do all that he wants especially if the initiative lies with the aggressor. The Soviet Union proved adept at deception in the Second World War and the totalitarian society lends itself to the concealment of intentions. A powerful aggression has endless scope for deception and there is no doubt that warning of an impending attack could be concealed under the guise of training exercises or other ruses and thereby limit the precautions that could be taken under our own Alert Measures.
We must therefore assume that if battle were to be joined our indigenous forces would be faced with a fierce and protracted battle against numerically superior forces which would be unlikely to follow the anticipated course. Many improvisations and changes of plan would be necessary in meeting such an onslaught.
The potential enemy we face is of comparatively long service, with excellent upto-date equipment and thoroughly trained in its use. His air borne and amphibious troops are of the highest quality and the training of his air and naval forces must be assessed as good as our own. Their nuclear and chemical warfare capability has great potential as does their capacity for electronic warfare and deception.
There are examples in history where nations standing alone have contained superior forces until allies have come to their assistance and changed the tide of battle. But such assistance is no good to the weak. The nation attacked must have the capability to inflict heavy casualties and delay an aggressor and be prepared to fight from the start. The NEC nations can only expect help to come from outside if the reinforcing nations consider that their forces can be committed to battle with a chance of attaining their aim.
The initial scope of operations must therefore be, in general terms, to delay the enemy gaining his objectives while gaining time both for reinforcement and for decision-making on the use of nuclear weapons at the higher political level. Our indigenous forces must therefore be primarily designed, equipped and trained to this end.
In peace time it is necessary for higher commanders to think out their operational concepts and plans in detail and to train their HQs in their war role so that they may maintain control of their forces in battle. Those with unified tri-service commands must also coordinate the tri-service plans of the forces under their Command and ensure that each national component is familiar not only with its own task but with what may be expected of those of other nations. Also, for forces that have a large conscript element, it is necessary to ensure that the period of full time service is adequate and fully utilised, that full training value is got from it and that there are adequate periods of call up of reserves for refresher training.
Primarily the soldier, sailor, and airman in the front line must be made highly skilled in the use of his weapons whether they be a rifle, anti/tank weapon, artillery piece, tank or a weapon system such as an aeroplane, missile or ship, and with these skills be able to exact the maximum toll from an aggressor. But we must not forget the controlling systems of the modem land, naval and air battle including communications which need their share of a nation’s technical personnel, without which no defence can be coordinated and develop its maximum efficiency. There is a lot to be done in the all too short time now allowed by conscript service, but if the will is there a great deal can be achieved. It nevertheless requires dedication and leadership by the small regular cadres of officers and NCOs, and places a heavy responsibility on the Commanding Officers of units.
Finally there is one field where I believe much more could be done to make the best use of the money that is spent on defence, and that is in the field of standardisation of equipment and techniques, and joint production and procurement. Although there are some notable examples of successful cooperation such as the MRCA project and British and German cooperation over the development of certain artillery equipments, arms and equipment production within NATO is far too diverse. If nations defending a common area such as BALTAP can get together and work out joint tactical and operational concepts and adopt common arms philosophies, this must reduce many of the problems that tend to diversify weapons systems. Such closer cooperation calls for an international system to coordinate such projects and evaluations of the nations concerned are truly to standardise and make the best use of their resources. A start could be made on a bi-national or tri-national basis within NEC.
Perhaps at this point I should remark on the delicate subject of Norway electing to stay out of the Common Market, as this in certain circumstances and in the long term could affect defence expenditure. It is gratifying to see from the Gallup Polls that the present feelings of Norway’s population for defence under the Atlantic Alliance seem to have been strengthened and indicate strong support for the Government’s defence policy.
However the effects that the Common Market decision will have on Norway’s economy are as yet far from clear, but it would not be a happy state of affairs if the economic effects caused a cut back in defence expenditure. Furthermore one anticipates that within the Common Market more economical research and weapon procurement programmes will be developed benefiting the defence expenditure of the nations concerned. One would like to hope that through the auspicies of the Euro-Group of NATO, Norway might be able to share in these benefits.
It is too early to say how the manifestations of détente such as the European Security Conference and negotiations on MBFR will work out, and one must not be disparaging about the opportunities they may provide for progress and real detente. But, until positive and real progress is made, there is no scope in NEC for any reduction in our present force capability, indeed there is rather a strong case for improving it.
Personally I believe that if we adhere to the principles concerning the organisation and training of national forces that I have mentioned, maintain manning and the period of conscript service at a level compatible with the task; if we concentrate on ways and means of greater productivity in expenditure especially in the weapons and equipment field, and if nations allocate an undiminished proportion of the GNP to defence in real terms, when looked at in the global sense the nations of NEC will be making a fair and effective contribution to a viable defence within the Atlantic Alliance, and fully warrant the support from allies overseas.
If NATO does all that it has the potential to do, it seems to me unlikely that the Warsaw Pact would risk a full scale campaign to subjugate Europe as they could not clearly see their way to winning it. Equally unlikely, to my mind, is their use of politico-military pressure or limited aggression against an individual nation which can lead to war by miscalculation, so long as they knew that the rest of NATO was likely to become involved. Therefore whilst the Atlantic Alliance remains firm, and our defence plans credible, the risk of war arising from instability recedes.
The paradox is that the better prepared we are for war the less likely it is to happen. This insurance premium in the cause of peace is one we should not lightly abandon. We must not forget that the battle to maintain our freedom from Communist domination is continuing today on the economic, social and technological fronts and a strong defence is a stabilising factor which enables the battle to be continued effectively by peaceful means.
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