NATO debates air defense after the missile that fell in Poland

The global alarm over the missile that fell in Poland in mid-November, which killed two people and for the first time brought the direct military impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine to allied territory, has generated a greater debate in NATO about air protection. from its eastern flank. The countries of the east have been demanding the reinforcement of the border line for a long time and, although at the Atlantic Alliance summit in Madrid in June it was agreed to shore up the sector with the greatest presence of troops, discontent persists in the nations that feel very close to the Russian military encouragement.

“The Baltic countries and Poland expected reinforcements greater than those agreed in Madrid; therefore, especially the Baltics, which do not host as large an American presence as Poland, continue to press, ”explains Justyna Gotkowska, deputy director of the Center for Eastern Studies (OSW) from Warsaw.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more batteries were already located, but now it is a question of greater industrial capacity

The protection of the eastern European skies is of concern to the Alliance, and the missile incident – ​​which turned out to be remnants of a Ukrainian air defense shell fired to intercept an attacking Russian missile – has only underscored this urgency. “For political leaders, it means transmitting to their respective countries that efforts must be intensified in anti-aircraft defense, not only for the protection of the NATO area in the east, but also of Ukrainian airspace,” says Rafael Loss, a specialist in Berlin. in security from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank. “Because if the Russian missile hadn’t managed to get that far into the Ukraine, the Ukrainian army wouldn’t have had to shoot it down so close to the Polish border,” Loss reasons. It is, therefore, about “removing the threat by making the Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense more robust.”

This and other global security issues have been discussed this week at the Alliance Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Bucharest, as well as at the Berlin Security Conference, an informal forum organized by Behorden Spiege l, the magazine of the German public administration. “We don’t see any indication that Russia is going to threaten any NATO member, and that’s because NATO made it clear from the very beginning that it would defend its territory,” the alliance’s secretary general said Thursday in Berlin. Jens Stoltenberg.

Tension between Berlin and Warsaw over the fate of some Patriot anti-missiles

The governments of Germany and Poland are locked in a tension that arose after the missile incident, when German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht offered to supply US Patriot anti-missile systems from its arsenal to the neighboring country to better protect its airspace. After a first good reception, Warsaw replied that it would be more appropriate to locate them in western Ukraine, something that Germany does not want to do, because it understands that it is not NATO territory and should be discussed with the allies, apart from the fact that instruction is required to operate this armament. “You have to separate the discussion around the offer made to Poland from the help to Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday in Berlin, chilling the Polish-Ukrainian aspiration. “Air defense assets for Ukraine are crucial for the Ukrainian people to survive the winter,” says Polish specialist Justyna Gotkowska. Since the German government is probably not ready to do so, it cannot be excluded that ultimately those German Patriot batteries will be stationed in Poland.” In Germany, many analysts such as Rafael Loss consider that the Polish government of Mateusz Morawiecki handles here “an internal political component, that of stirring up anti-German sentiments as a trick for next year’s general elections.”

Regarding the surveillance and protection of the Allied skies closest to Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and its enclave of Kaliningrad, the Alliance recalls that there are around thirty Allied reconnaissance and combat aircraft in the air at all times.

“This has been an increasingly important issue even before November; NATO already placed anti-aircraft defense assets on the eastern flank a few months ago”, recalls the Polish specialist Gotkowska, who cites the Spanish Nasams battery in Latvia, the American Patriot and British Sky Saber systems in Poland, and German, Dutch and American batteries. of Patriot in Slovakia. “The needs are enormous and all NATO countries must speed up their modernization processes in this area,” says the expert. The problem, Rafael Loss adds, is “the industry’s ability to produce these systems; Western governments must be engaged on this issue.”

On land, as agreed in Madrid, the number of soldiers mobilized for the eastern flank will gradually increase from the current 40,000 to more than 300,000, a deployment that includes the reinforcement of the eight multinational battle groups in the area: four already existing since in 2017 (in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) and another four created this year (in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia). These units are around a thousand strong, and it is expected that they can reach the rank of brigades, that is, be made up of between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers. The Spanish army is present in the Latvian group.

The collective defense agreed in Madrid also includes the evolution of the NATO Rapid Reaction Force towards pre-assigned forces that remain in their countries of origin to move in the event of a crisis: one hundred thousand soldiers in ten days, another 200,000 in a month, and up to 500,000 in a period of between one month and half a year. In European seas there are 140 allied ships.