Academic journal article Naval War College Review

NATO'S SELECTIVE SEA BLINDNESS: Assessing the Alliance's New Navies

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

NATO'S SELECTIVE SEA BLINDNESS: Assessing the Alliance's New Navies

Article excerpt

Governments of the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are guilty of inattention to, and sea blindness in, modernizing their navies. While among "old" NATO navies this reality is understood and documented widely, the state of development and readiness of those navies considered "new" receives considerably less attention.1 On examination, these new navies are deficient in building integrated capabilities, ensuring common operating procedures, projecting battlespace awareness, and accomplishing interoperability in all maritime combat domains.

This is because of a combination of three factors: the tyranny of Mackinderesque geography; the legacies of the former communist countries that inform how forces man, equip, and train for war; and Western governments' inability when proffering advice and assistance to understand fully the operational and cultural contexts within which the new navies exist. To date, a focused analysis is lacking, not only of the status of development of these navies, but, perhaps even more importantly, of the common challenges they face as they modernize their respective fleets. This lack of an across-the-board analysis is not necessarily obvious, given the disparities in size of these navies and their different geographic locations-the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic Seas, none of which are contiguous.

However, this lack of attention is no longer prudent in light of Russia's seizure of Crimea and its policy of challenging the post-Cold War international order. Those states with shores on the Black and Baltic Seas now find themselves on the front line with, or indeed adjacent to, an aggressive Russia. Arguably, because we lack a clear conceptual framework, we are hindered in our full understanding of those endogenous influences that continue to obstruct the modernization of these postcommunist navies.

This article builds a foundation of understanding that provides a clearer analysis of the many challenges facing new navies in their modernization efforts and provides an explanation for these navies' limited operational capabilities. More importantly, it identifies those influences that are inhibiting them from adopting the basic and relevant tenets of Western defense and naval concepts.2 This is not to imply that these navies should adopt a Western, blue-water rationale; rather, there is an overwhelming need for them more systematically to adopt Westernstyle mission command and combat readiness, as well as operational and tactical leadership-practices that support the development of reliable, lethal naval capabilities to deter Russian revanchist activities. To achieve this objective, it is necessary that they more closely align themselves with Western defense governance norms and adopt a stronger operational focus through more training and exercises and, consequently, more sea time for their forces. Yet, as the author argues elsewhere, communist concepts are quite difficult to eradicate even after legacy kit is retired and replaced by Western weaponry.3 Thus, a clearer appreciation of the conceptual and institutional challenges faced by these navies, as well as instances where they have been able to overcome them, is applicable within central and eastern Europe and beyond.

In its examination of NATO's new navies, the article addresses four core areas. First, the best means to assess these navies is through the small-navy school of thought-notwithstanding the ostensibly large size of the Polish navy, if one counts hulls. An examination of the characteristics of this typology provides a clearer understanding of the inherent challenges and operational limitations under which these navies must function. Second, on this foundation the article describes and analyzes the communist-era legacy institutional and conceptual impediments to reform and modernization. That the Baltic States' navies were created from scratch implies that Soviet naval legacies are modest at best; however, their larger national defense institutions, as in other legacy countries, continue to harbor atavistic inheritances in their concepts, assumptions, and, indeed, institutional logic. …

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