Europe's Readiness Problem

Why the Continent's Militaries Are Slow—and What to Do About It

Latvian soldiers during a NATO drill in Adazi, Latvia, October 2017. Ints Kalnins / REUTERS

Say Latvia were invaded. Its allies would, naturally, want to respond immediately. First out would most likely be NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or VJTF, a 5,000-troop rapid-reaction group. Together with NATO air power, the VJTF would quickly deploy to assist the Latvians and the 1,100-troop-strong Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup stationed in the country. After that, however, Latvia’s allies would struggle to quickly dispatch a large follow-up force. Logistics, unavailable troops and equipment, decision-making: all of these factors would slow the allies down.

None of these problems will be solved by the signing of the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation. PESCO’s goal is to develop European defense capabilities for EU military operations through a variety of longer-term programs. Although Europhiles may be rejoicing over the agreement, Europe has a much more pressing need: it has to get its forces ready to fight. According to a recent study published by the RAND Corporation, the British Army would need up to three months to assemble a brigade that could deploy to the Baltics. France would do better, at around one month, but many of its troops are busy with domestic counterterrorism duties. Germany, too, could put together a brigade within a month, but that brigade would need to borrow its equipment from other units.

“You need to have personnel and equipment available, and we don’t,” Vincenzo Camporini, Italy's former chief of defense, told me this month. “And you need fast decision-making so that troops can move within 24 hours. We don’t have that, either. If we don’t correct this situation, we won’t be able to respond to attacks.” Mihnea Motoc, who was Romania’s defense minister until earlier this year and now serves as deputy director of the European Political Strategy Center, the European Commission’s in-house think tank, similarly noted that “readiness can be a credible deterrent, but it depends on the kind of military mobility we can count on.” And that is a

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