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NATO In The Early 21st Century: Part Six

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) May 19, 2009
As the first decade of the 21st century ends, the European member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are moving in a somewhat leisurely manner to modernize their already technically advanced weaponry with more high-tech systems. But they are making no moves to increase the size of their military establishments.

On the contrary, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose nation fields the most formidable combined military forces of any NATO member state in Continental Europe, has announced ambitious plans to shrink the size of the French armed forces drastically while increasing their capability to undertake rapid-deployment missions far from home.

Sarkozy's vision, ironically, was inspired by the policies of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which have been significantly discredited in the United States, in large part because they proved so irrelevant to the actual combat conditions the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Sarkozy and the still cautious and complacent defense planners in other European nations, as well as in NATO headquarters in Brussels, have not addressed the fact that 21st century wars will require lots of soldiers and that they can be won with a mix of advanced weapons systems spearheading lots of less ambitious ones.

The lesson that less advanced weapons manufactured in high numbers and operated by well-trained troops can win wars should not be a novel one. It was successfully practiced by the U.S. Army and Army Air Forces against Nazi Germany in World War II. The Messerschmitt-262 jet aircraft was light years ahead of the single piston-engine U.S. Army Air Forces North American P-51 Mustang fighter. But the Luftwaffe was only able to get a few hundred of the 1,200 Me-262s that were produced into the air, and the far more numerous and far smaller Mustangs made mincemeat of the highly inflammable Me-262s.

On the ground, it was the same story. Tank for tank, the rugged and dependable but relatively small and lightly armored U.S. Sherman tanks were no match for the German Panthers and Tigers. But the U.S. Army had incomparably more of them, and its weight of materiel won the day.

When the Russian army rolled into the former Soviet republic of Georgia last August, it taught the same lesson. The Russians concentrated as many of their state-of-the-art T-90 main battle tanks as they could. But much of their armored force behind the T-90s was of tank designs that were 25 or even 30 years old. Against an outnumbered and far inferior opponent however, even old T-72s were good enough to do the job.

Following its success in Georgia, Russian military leaders have not shown any complacency. They are currently upgrading Russian equipment on a more massive scale than at any time in at least the past 30 years. Even though world oil prices for Russian oil and gas exports remain more than $80 a barrel less than they were a year ago, these re-equipment and rearmament programs are being given top priority. Apart from Sarkozy's controversial programs in France -- which will reduce the size and possible effectiveness of French conventional forces -- no other NATO nations have comparable programs online to match the Russian effort.

Part 7: Russian concepts of land war versus NATO concepts

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China cracks down on military graft, extravagance: report
Beijing (AFP) May 18, 2009
Chinese President Hu Jintao has called for a crackdown on graft and extravagance in the military, kicking off a campaign to bring discipline to the world's largest army, state press said Monday. In a recent circular he ordered the end to "prominent problems" in the military and reiterated the need to maintain a clean and honest defence force, the People's Liberation Army Daily reported. ... read more

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