In a historic agreement the Danish government has decided to use soldiers as a temporary reinforcement of the police force. The soldiers will perform guard duties primarily on the border to Germany and around Jewish facilities in Copenhagen.
Military strategy and politics
A somewhat confusing debate has broken out in Denmark where the government has announced substantial increases in defense spending but also insists that the military meets new budget cuts before it can receive more money. Independent defense website Olfi.dk has released the catalogue of proposed savings produced by consulting agencies BCG and Struensee & Co.
Skeptics fear that the suggested savings will cause irreparable harm to the military’s ability to function, while others point out that every government agency needs to aspire for efficiency and responsible use of taxpayer money. Regardless of attitude towards the budget analyses it is undeniable that some of the suggestions will have profound consequences for the way the military works.
The overall 45 suggested possibilities for “increased efficiency” include fundamental changes of operational, managerial, and educational structures as well as reduced material redundancy. An element of the budget analyses is the reduction of formal education of military personnel and an increased reliance on on-the-job-training, leaving critics worried about the quality of military education. A de facto abandonment of a regimental structure of the Army is also on the table.
The budget cuts are a result of last year’s decision to buy F-35 fighter jets where the politicians agreed to finance the 27 new aircraft through cutting other defense spending by 1 billion DKK (160 million USD). This reduction comes on top of the 15% decrease (2.7 billion DKK) that was decided in the 2013-2017 defense agreement.
Interesting rundown of Zapad 2017 by Anna Maria Dyner from the Polish Institute of International Affairs. It is interesting that Russia and Belarus use fictional adversaries but real geography for their own side. This seems like a good approach compared to the rather artificial scenarios you sometimes see at NATO exercises where participants end up spending unreasonable amounts of time trying to figure out the dynamics of the scenario.
This part of Dyner’s analysis is too politicized, though:
This year’s scenario shows that Belarusian military leaders, like the Russians, see NATO as the main threat. This proves there is a difference between the thinking and the military doctrine adopted in 2016 that stressed that Belarus does not treat any state as an opponent. At the same time, the exercises plan proves the weaknesses of Belarus, whose authorities, even at a rhetorical level, do not assume Belarus can defend its territory by itself and that support from Russia is crucial. It also indirectly confirms that Russia de facto holds military control over Belarus.
This kind of lightweight finger-pointing makes nobody smarter. Substitute “Poland” for “Belarus” and “USA” for “Russia”, and the same statement would make sense. If anything, this shows that the Belarusian authorities have a realistic understanding of their military circumstances.
Ben Hodges, the U.S. Army’s commander in Europe, accuses Russia of fiddling with the numbers in order to keep foreign observers away from the upcoming exercise Zapad 2017, according to The Baltic Times:
“The Russians had not given us a lot of reason to trust the numbers that they say. But again, the exercise hasn’t happened yet, so we don’t know what they are going to do,” Lieutenant General Ben Hodges said at a joint news conference with Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis in Vilnius.
Moscow says that Zapad 2017 will involve fewer than 13,000 troops, but NATO officials think that the number was artificially reduced by splitting the exercise into separate parts so as not to give wider access to observers, as required by international rules.
If more than 13,000 troops are involved, Russia and Belarus are obligated to invite observers from OSCE countries. Speculations are that as many as 60,000-100,000 Russian troops could be involved, making Zapad 2017 the largest exercise since the Cold War.
The Russian word “Zapad” means “West”, indicating that it is a geographically limited exercise in the Western part of the country. Belarus actually did invite observers to the exercise to be held on its territory (link in Estonian), but no observers were invited to oversee the simultaneous exercises that take place across Russia, which possibly involve many more troops than indicated in official statements.
The same tactics were used during Zapad 2013, where officially 10,000 troops participated but an estimated 70,000 troops actually were involved.