40. Ecology in NATO in 'Once upon a time'
NOV. 18, 2021
Pete discovers the NATO countries, taking Ryan on a history of the events that made the organisation, the events that took us to within 30 minutes of nuclear war, and the events that happened 'once upon a time'.
In this episode Pete and Ryan learn about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as NATO (or alternatively OTAN - Organisation du traité de l'Atlantique nord)
But what is NATO? It’s an intergovernmental military alliance, meaning a group of people who say they’ll help each other out, especially if one of them got invaded. The alliance is between 28 European countries and 2 North American countries, specifically Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.
Well, you asked.
NATO is led by the secretary general of NATO, who is the chief civil servant and is an international diplomat not a military leader. The current secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian Prime Minister who took office on 1 October 2014 and recently extended for another four-year term, meaning that he will lead NATO until September 30, 2022.
He heads the North Atlantic Council (NAC) which is the principal political decision-making body with a headquarters in Brussels.
As a military alliance, it unsurprisingly has military management in the form of Allied Command Operations (ACO) which is the NATO command responsible for NATO operations worldwide. But there is also Allied Command Transformation (ACT), responsible for transformation and training of NATO forces.
Like a country, NATO has a flag, although the current flag is not their original flag. The first one was 1951 flag consisted of a green field with the coat of arms of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, designed by a committee, including General Eisenhower himself. Whilst this one is no longer the NATO flag ,it is still used by SHAPE. That flag didn’t last long – the current flag was first hoisted on November 9, 1953, at the opening ceremony of the Atlantic Exhibition in Paris. At the time, it was explained by NATO Secretary General Lord Ismay as "a four-pointed star representing the compass that keeps us on the right road, the path of peace, and a circle representing the unity that binds together the 14 countries of NATO".
As well as a flag, NATO also has a song. The NATO hymn is an instrumental piece, composed in 1989 by André Reichling, a Luxembourgian military officer and a member of its military band. This was originally composed to commemorate NATO's 40th anniversary and it was performed at an anniversary gala that year, and after that it was used unofficially for many years before being formally adopted in January 2018.
A potted history of NATO
After World War II, Europe was devastated and the Communist Soviet Union was looking suspiciously at the capitalist Western powers who were looking equally nervously back.
Then, on 4 March 1947, the Treaty of Dunkirk was signed by France and the United Kingdom as a Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Assistance in the event of a possible attack by Germany or the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II.
In 1948, this alliance was expanded to include the Benelux countries – this became the Western Union, aka the Brussels Treaty Organization (BTO)
But they still didn’t feel safe enough. So on 4 April 1949 in Washington signed of the North Atlantic Treaty by the member states of the Western Union (France, UK, Belgium Luxembourg, Holland) plus the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
So far, so ‘normal treaty’. But things started to ramp up during and after the Korean war.
In a world of emergent Soviet power, successful testing of nuclear bombs and communist victory in Chinese civil war, the west was worried. The Korean war, then, was a trigger to develop a more robust organization.
President Truman said “I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, Communist leaders would be emboldened to override nations closer to our own shores. If the Communists were permitted to force their way into the Republic of Korea without opposition from the free world, no small nation would have the courage to resist threat and aggression by stronger Communist neighbors.”
So there was a big surge in the development of a joint military capability. This included the formation of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in 1951, which established military structures and plans, with Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower as its first leader.
It established headquarters in the Parisian suburb of Rocquencourt, near Versailles and saw the development of STANAGs (standardization agreements - so people from different countries could work together) and SOFAs (Status of Forces Agreements ie the rules under which you’ll allow someone elses army in your country).
In 1952 Greece and Turkey joined the party, followed in 1955 by West Germany.
This expansion also triggered the signing of the Warsaw Pact – the Eastern Bloc equivalent of NATO, which was established in May 1955 and was officially the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. This, commonly known as the Warsaw Pact was between the Soviet Union and seven other Eastern Bloc socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe.
In 1966 France felt a bit fed up and like the military side of NATO was being dominated by Britain and USA withdraw from the military component of NATO, including the removal of the SHAPE headquarters out of France, to Belgium (Casteau).
This didn’t stop further NATO expansion. In 1982 Spain, now democratic after fall of Franco, joined the organization, and in 1990 reunification of Germany brought East Germany into the pact.
In fact this period, and 1991 in particular, marked the end of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself. Which raised the questions of whether NATO was still needed at all. It did lead to a reduction in the size of armed forces, but there were still things to do.
In 1992 the collapse of Yugoslavia caused the Bosnian war which saw NATO intervention - 60,000 soldiers under Operation Joint Endeavor, including bombing of Serbian targets.
Likewise in 1998 Kosovo was separating from what was left of Yugoslavia, and Nato bombed Belgrade to bring matters to a conclusion.
And still expansion continued. In 1999 – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland joined, followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
In 2007, the French came back into the fold and rejoin the military structure, in 2009 Albania and Croatia joined. 2017 saw Montenegro sign up and finally, the most recent member joined in 2020 – North Macedonia.
The time period – Once upon a time.
The Earliest use of the phrase “once upon a time” is estimated to be dated to 1380 with the story Sir Ferumbras, actually ““Onys..uppon a day”.
But the form of words to start a story being told seems to be almost universal. Charles Dickens opens A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, with the phrase. Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s tales start with “der var engang,” literally “there was once,” and the Brother’s Grimm’s German “es war einmal,” means “it was once.”
So why might this be so universal. Maria Konnikova psychologist and writer says in Scientific American
“We are not speaking of a defined time, a time you can point to, but rather of a once, an indeterminate moment. Not a land or a place you can locate, but some kingdom, some land, some place that cannot be tied to a map or a ready-made travel plan. And it is to these two elements, distance and vagueness, that I propose we look in trying to describe, if not altogether explain, the power that once upon a time holds over its audience.”
“You can say and think things from far away that you can’t say and think up close. For a child, this means the possibility of comprehending far more about reality than can come from reality itself.”
And it does truly seem to be a global phenomenon
o Thai - Once upon the time (long ago).
o Bengali - In some country, there was...
o Chinese - A very very long time ago...
o Hindi - It's an old story,
o Japanese - Long ago, long ago...
o Nepal - Once in a country...
o And of course – a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away
The subject: Ecology
Oxford English Dictionary defines ecology as “the relation of plants and living creatures to each other and to their environment” which could mean pretty much anything, so let’s look at some ecology in action.
Once upon a time…
Ok, in 2018, in Norway there was a an attack by a neighbour. Well, there wasn’t, because this was ‘once upon a time’. It was, in fact, an exercise called Trident Juncture 2018.
In this exercise, the concept was that Article 5 has been triggered and NATO forces rushed to the area to defend their ally.
50,000 individuals from NATO allies and Sweden and Finland were despatched to the area. 250 aircraft were sent, 65 ships, including an American aircraft carrier arrived. Approaching 10,000 vehicles were despatched Leopard 2 tanks, Amphibious Assault Vehicles, and regular old trucks all arrived. Admiral James G. Foggo, Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy took command and between 25th October and 7th November there exercises conducted on land, sea and air.
The purpose of this kind of exercise was to test interoperability - lots of nations have different equipment and different standards and they need to learn how to work together. Also it tested logistics ensuring that troops and equipment can be moved and tracked effectively. Also it tested the information landscape – there is so much information in the modern battlefield, it is hard to distinguish good information from bad.
But, there’s another lesson here, and it wasn’t for NATO. Norway has a 120-mile long land border with Russia and at the time of the exercise Russia had recently engaged in Crimea, Ukraine and played a role in Syria.
Consequently, Council on Foreign relations Eurasian security expert James M. Goldgeier said “This exercise is part of NATO’s ongoing effort since the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine to reassure member states bordering Russia that the Alliance will defend them against Russian aggression,”
Russian spokesperson Maria Zakharova obviously felt the same way, claiming Norway’s hosting of foreign troops violates ‘traditions of good-neighborliness.’ adding “irresponsible actions will inevitably destabilize the military and political situation in the north, increase tensions and undermine the fabric of Russian-Norway relations.”
So as well as learning how to function together, this exercise could be construed as a show of force to demonstrate that NATO was still able to protect its allies.
Once upon a time part 2…
Sometimes, exercises like Trident Juncture can have consequences beyond those intended, as was discovered in 1983 during an exercise called Able Archer.
This took place at a time when things were much more tense than they are today. The Soviet Union still existed and it was led by Yuri Andropov, a hardliner dedicated to "the destruction of dissent in all its forms.
The USA was led by President Ronald Reagan, also something of a hard man. In March 8, 1983 he had given his ‘Empire of Evil’ speech
“Let us be aware that while they [communists] preach the supremacy of the State, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world ....”
[those who] label both sides equally at fault for nuclear proliferation “ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.
In another speech to house of commons in London “"freedom and democracy will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history".
This fighting talk helped convince Andropov that the USA wanted to basically destroy them, so Andropov initiated Project RYAN (Raketno-Yadernoe Napadenie "Nuclear Missile Attack".)
This was intended to collect intelligence about any plans of the Reagan administration to launch a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union
But why would Andropov worry about a soviet first strike? Well, in December 1979 NATO decided to deploy Pershing II nuclear-armed missiles to West Germany. These were a truck with a nuclear missile on it. Launched from road-mobile vehicles, making the launch sites very hard to find with a flight time to European Russia of four to six minutes.
At the same time, in 1983 Ronald Reagan publicly announced development of the Strategic Defense Initiative aka Star Wars, actually a variety of anti-missile technology, but generally remembered for the idea of space-based lasers zapping nuclear missiles out of the sky.
Whilst from the US perspective this was intended to make missiles obsolete, that’s not what it looked like to the USSR. To them it looked like prep for a successful strike against them with no possibility of retaliation.
Feeling threatened, Andropov expanded the RYAN program. He wanted to know when these guys are going to attack. Activities included:
o assessing the level of blood held in blood banks,
o observing of places where nuclear decisions were made and where nuclear weapons were stored,
o observation of key nuclear decision makers,
o observation of lines of communication,
o reconnaissance of the heads of churches and banks,
o surveillance of security services and military installations.
So things were tense in November 1983, which was when NATO decided to have an exercise they call Able Archer 83.
This started with a scenario. The Orange team (the hypothetical opponent, representing Russia) attack across Europe. Blue (NATO) declaring a general alert. Orange initiated the use of chemical weapons on 6 November and by the end of that day had used such weapons throughout the theatre of conflict.
This was all preamble, because this exercise wasn’t particularly about the deployment of conventional troops. What they were simulating was conflict escalation, with a scenario culminating in the US military simulating a DEFCON 1 coordinated nuclear attack
For the exercise they started increasing their encrypted communications in preparation for the pretend launch. And to make matters worse, NATO had decided to make this super realistic, involving actual heads of state in the exercise, including West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
So, just as the Soviet intelligence officers in Operation RYAN were on the lookout for signs that USA was going to launch a nuclear attack, the USA started going through the motions of exactly that.
The KGB reported “changes in the method of operating communications systems and the level of manning may in themselves indicate the state of preparation for RYaN” (nuclear attack)
And duly, NATO start to work up to a state of attack readiness
o DEFCON 5 – fade out – normal situation
o DEFCON 4 aka Double Take – bit more alert
o DEFCON 3 – Round House - Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes
o DEFCON 2 – Fast Pace - Armed forces ready to deploy and engage in less than six hours
o DEFCON 1 - Cocked Pistol, defined as Maximum readiness. Immediate response. Described as Nuclear war is imminent or has already started
And the Soviets were watching all this. So they got scared.
The Soviet Union thought its only chance of surviving a NATO strike was to strike first, so it started to ready its nuclear arsenal.
Which then triggered the CIA observers, who recorded activity in the Baltic and in Czechoslovakia, nuclear-capable aircraft in Poland and East Germany "on high alert status with readying of nuclear strike forces". Soviet commanders ordered nuclear warheads to be placed on 4th Air Army bombers and Soviet fighter-bombers in Germany were placed on a 30-minute alert
So now the USA gets scared in turn. Everyone thought the other side was preparing to do something drastic.
Enter Lt. Gen. Leonard H. Perroots, the assistant chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force in Europe
Perroots was approached by Commander in Chief, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, General Billy Minter. Minter asked Perroots if the Air Force “should increase the real force generation,”
Perroots said to “carefully watch the situation” but not increase “real alert posture,” which is soldier for ‘be alert but don’t start a fight’.
It was the right thing to do. By not escalating, and allowing Able Archer 83 to conclude and temperatures to cool down, the Soviets were able to see a strike wasn’t imminent and they too stood their forces down.
Since then, Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, has since argued that Able Archer 83 was one of the times when the world has come closest to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
So once upon a time there was a nuclear attack that wasn’t a nuclear attack, that almost caused a nuclear attack that was a nuclear attack that, had it not been for one man in charge at NATO, would have seen one of the most radical changes to the Earth’s ecology mankind had ever seen.