HMS Queen Elizabeth and USS George H.W. Bush (Wikimedia Commons)
Re-Anchoring NATO
The US Needs to Boost Bilateral Relationships in Europe

And it should start by focusing on the “strategic triad” of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Poland.

Published on: February 12, 2018
Andrew A. Michta is the dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Views expressed here are his own
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  • AbleArcher

    I don’t know about Germany, but I think the US already has pretty good ties with Poland and the UK, especially with Poland being one of the odd man out not wanting to import a bunch of migrants, and with the UK already negotiating an exit. Didn’t May talk about building some new ships with the US when she visited Donald last year?

    • KremlinKryptonite

      As far as defense goes, the interoperability of forces and hardware is already there, but none more closely linked than with the UK. Few know that the UK PM sits down on their very first day of the job and he/she hand writes four identical letters to the SSBN commanders (they have four SSBNs). Upon learning of a decapitation strike on the British government, the sub commanders unlock the special safe and read their letter. The letter is meant to outline the PM’s choice (out of three options).
      1. Stand-down. Do not retaliate.
      2. Retaliate with nuclear weapons.
      3. Join the USN, and place those nuclear weapons under the presidents command and US continuity of government, etc etc.
      That’s a pretty remarkable thing. It’s literally weaved into their plans to essentially gift their strategic forces to the USN. And of course those nuclear weapons are American-made Trident IIs.

      Beyond that, PM May was among the first handful of foreign heads to meet DJT, and she very excitedly informed him about Britain’s plan to construct some new carriers and remain part of the US’s SSBN/Ohio replacement program, and naturally those new carriers and SSBNs will be readily folded into the USN if need be. The only notable difference is that the British model sub will have 12 nuclear weapons launch tubes vs the US models 16.

      Poland is already buying state of the art US equipment, of course, but perhaps the most recent sale of note was a few years ago with the sale of state of the art JASSMs – a stealthy, smart missile.

      Germany is definitely more worrisome as it pertains to their sub force, in particular. For instance, the fact that Germany continues to allow the sale of engines to China that are used in its sub force, namely the 396-SE84 series, while at the same time the German sub force, which is rather small, sometimes sits completely unusable and all down for maintenance. That is simply unacceptable.

      • SeaAyeA

        I wonder what happens to the unopened/unused letters? Incinerated?

        • KremlinKryptonite

          That’s correct. The letters are burnt and actually they are not supposed to be opened, so only the PM who wrote them knows what their dictate was.

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      • Jeff77450

        Re. Royal Navy SSBNs, genuinely fascinating, I didn’t know that.

        • KremlinKryptonite

          It is interesting, isn’t it? What I think is even more interesting is that the US doesn’t do the same, and why. There are two distinct sort of eras in US SSBN history, and those are pre-1980s and then 1980s onward.

          The first couple of decades were characterized by fairly inaccurate SLBMs, good enough for a secure second strike, but definitely not a first-strike weapon. Then there was the quite touchy subject of sub commanders having their own launch authority should they be able to check off enough items on a list. For example, if they knew with certainty that there was a nuclear attack upon United States, even if they were unsure of the scale, and they unable to contact the president, or anyone’s command, for that matter, on the mainland. I guess you could call that a sort of dead hand system, but even scarier because there is the small margin for technical failures and then human judgment error on top of that. We know it definitely kept Nikita Khrushchev awake at night, and particularly during the height of the Cuban missile crisis when he had some whispering in his ear that they ought to use the missiles before they lose them.

          In the 1980s everything changed. Reagan invested vast sums of money into improving the quality of and expanding the scope of continuity of government. There are certainly thousands of miles of fortifications and tunnels and whatnot around the United States. Systems were also improved, including strategic airborne command protocols, etc., and tech.
          About the same time, the Ohio-class subs were entering service and so too were the Trident II SLBMs for them. In other words, by 1990, US SSBNs and their SLBMs were large enough, quiet enough, and most importantly had missiles accurate enough to be used as a real first-strike weapon.

          Those developments made an already serious job even more serious, and absolutely no launch authority is delegated to anybody besides the acting president. When I spent my time on the USS Pennsylvania we drilled and drilled and drilled, and then did a little bit more drill on top of some more drill. I can still hear the “emergency action message” alarm, followed by a general alarm, followed by weapons-com requesting what target package is designated and requesting permission to fire. The whole thing takes but a minute or so once the message is authenticated.

          • AbleArcher

            How long was a patrol on an SSBN?

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Each ship has two crews, two teams, blue and gold. Navy colors of course. The teams alternate, and a patrol is generally 10 weeks, so about 70 or maybe 71/72 days. However, if need be, the ship has enough space to accommodate food for six months. We can dive to more than 200m and sit there completely silent for six months just waiting and listening. No need to worry about fuel being nuclear, and we make our own fresh air from the seawater itself via electrolysis, just as might see during a high school chemistry experiment but on a large scale.

          • Paul Lies

            But doesn’t the submarine have to surface periodically to receive messages? And what if a first strike on the US wipes out the communication centers anyway?

          • KremlinKryptonite

            No! All that you said here fits into the pre-1980s era of SSBNs i spoke of. None of what you said is at issue from the 1980s on.
            The sub doesn’t need to surface to receive EAMs.
            A first-strike on the US is very unlikely to destroy all of the targets of such a strike anyway, but nonetheless the massive improvements and continual improvement in continuity of government and communications ensures that the “lop the head off the snake” or “decapitation strike” doctrines do not work against the US.

            Lopping the head off the snake is a conventional warfare doctrine, and it is most successfully used against autocratic regimes which quickly fall to pieces when the dictator is gone, or even in a corrupt oligarchy, like China, which suffers from a lack of continuity of government, and in which the slightest upset can cause all of the members of the Politburo Standing Committee (in chinas case) to try and kill each other off at the same time as they’re under attack. The tactic was used against Saddam to great effect. Targeted air campaign followed by a rush to Baghdad. Once Saddam and the top generals are dead, captured, or forced to flee then the regime is effectively destroyed.

            A decapitation strike is essentially the nuclear version of lopping the head off the snake. Most likely, although not necessarily, it’ll be combined with a proper first-strike, the decapitation specifically seeks to exploit problems with regime stability in the same way when the top few leaders are suddenly dead or even just unable to communicate with the military.

            US continuity of government is so robust and well planned (and well rehearsed!) that the decapitation concept doesn’t work against it. You can lop the head off but the body just keeps coming. Also, America has massive amounts of redundancy built in to force command, especially nuclear force command. The airborne command planes, like the highly upgraded E-6Bs, are flying nuclear command posts, each with a general or admiral onboard, and each capable of communication directly with the SSBNs, nuclear bombers, and ICBMs. In fact, the ICBMs can even be launched remotely from these planes via UHF comms if the missile crews are incapacitated somehow or taken out in a first strike, although not much more can be said about that here!

          • Paul Lies

            I guess I didn’t even think about that and the regime type. Yeah that’s really true that I think about it! Hasn’t been a great power war since World War II, and that was long before the days of precision weapons and stealth and long range cruise missiles let alone ICBMs.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Iraq is a great example (keep it in mind when you read salacious, clickbait trash regarding North Korea on other sites that don’t merit mentioning). Anyways, 15+ years ago we heard “Saddam has a million man army!” and things like “Saddam: locked and loaded!” yadda yadda.

            In the picture you’ll notice two separate forces took part in the invasion to lop the head off the snake. The green represents the Army’s 5th Corps, 3rd Infantry, while the blue represents the 1st Marine. The two forces totaled about 45,000 men. The army swung out to the west and rushed to Baghdad from an unexpected direction, while the marines followed the Tigris, the traditional invasion route to Baghdad, and Saddam had stockpiled munitions and more than 100,000 men along its banks. The only place the Marines stopped to fight along the way was in Al-Kut because Saddams Republican Guard was there and they still had tanks, artillery, APCs, and could cause some trouble for supply lines. Otherwise the doctrine stipulates don’t stop to fight people. if you can, go around them because once the regime is destabilized it falls like a house of cards.

            The point is, not only did 45,000 men collapse a regime with a million man army, but the factor making that possible was not simply quality beating quantity in that case, but just as much about the regime type. No continuity of government. Not an elected government. In fact, unelected, dictatorship, instability, nobody knew what would happen when the leader died or was captured etc. etc.

  • Earl Tower

    I would say London, Warsaw, and Rome for defining the major players in each theatre that NATO is likely to face. Berlin and Washington need to have a long talk. In any realistic plan of potential conflicts and crisis that NATO has to respond, German really is ideally placed geographically to be both the land and aerial strategic reserve. German forces could easily rush to any point to back up any other NATO member on the periphery except the Atlantic approaches, and the United States has that covered.

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