As the U.S. presidential election looms large over American foreign policy, the future of transatlantic security remains uncertain. Regardless of the result, military mobility must be a core priority for the next administration’s European security and defense agenda going forward.

Military mobility — the ability to move forces and material quickly and safely across Europe — is essential to NATO’s recommitment to its core function of providing credible deterrence and collective defense. Effective military mobility provides political leaders with options ahead of and during crises to avoid a fait accompli – a worst-case scenario in which an adversary could occupy a piece of NATO territory before Allied forces even arrive. Already recognized by NATO and the EU as essential to transatlantic security, military mobility is about more than physical movement. It involves advance planning, aligning resources, securing critical infrastructure, addressing legal barriers to cross-border movement, and enhancing coordination across the public and private sectors.

While progress has been made — as highlighted in a recent EU report — military mobility is still far from seamless. Despite conventional and hybrid threats from Russia and China, the transatlantic alliance has failed to sufficiently prioritize and fund military mobility: proposed EU funding has decreased from €6.5 bn to €1.5 bn. The coronavirus pandemic will diminish defense and infrastructure spending and continue to command political leaders’ time and attention. Yet, as the security environment evolves and intensifies, the transatlantic community should double down on the military mobility agenda.

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To help drive that agenda, CEPA recently hosted a Military Mobility Workshop, which brought together more than one hundred key stakeholders from transatlantic governments, NATO, the European Union, industry, think tanks, and civil society to test and strengthen military mobility in Europe. The workshop convened virtually to assess the strategic and operational barriers to moving forces in peacetime in five geographic scenarios: (1) the Nordic-Baltic region; (2) the Suwałki Corridor, (3) the Focșani Gate and the Black Sea region, (4) the Western Balkans, and (5) Libya via the Mediterranean.

While the final recommendations from the workshop will be published in a final report in January 2021, here are five interim takeaways for transatlantic decisionmakers:

  • Early Policy Action: Speed is critical to military mobility. In order to achieve quick and efficient movement of forces, advance planning is essential. Streamlining standards for cross-border movement of materiel by standardizing customs forms and administrative processing timelines in peacetime will allow a crisis response force to move seamlessly across European borders. Governments should establish national territorial commands to provide sufficient Host Nation Support for transiting forces and pre-approve movement routes to accelerate crisis response. Military planners should involve industry and civilian partners early and often leverage their specific understanding of regional and local infrastructure and key vulnerabilities.
  • Improve Infrastructure: The security of critical transportation infrastructure is integral to military mobility. Having robust bridges, roads, ports, telecommunication networks, fiberoptic cables, and other infrastructure with sufficient capacity allows operational planners to consider multiple routes and contingency options. This, in turn, creates the flexibility needed for the Alliance to maintain its advantage leading up to and during crises. Current regulations limit information-sharing about infrastructure between NATO, the EU, national governments, and relevant industry partners. Building a shared database of detailed survey routes would improve information access.

Incentivizing greater investment in infrastructure, much of which is privately owned and operated, and making better use of existing funding, is also critical. The Three Seas Initiative — which promotes economic growth and security and funds infrastructure projects among 12 EU member states along the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic Seas — and the EU’s TEN-T program could prove decisive for connecting Europe to NATO’s Eastern Flank and establishing more secure transportation routes.

  • Increase Exercising and Training: Military mobility requires exercising. Before COVID-19, U.S. Army Europe was increasing the frequency of joint military exercises such as Defender-Europe 2020. Future large-scale exercises, such as Defender-Europe 2021, will allow more participating NATO countries to collectively test vulnerabilities in command and control, interoperability, and infrastructure with the U.S. NATO itself should lead more exercises of this nature in the future, in coordination with the EU. In addition to improving readiness, these exercises achieve a deterrent effect by demonstrating NATO’s capabilities to its adversaries.
  • Deepen NATO-EU-Industry Cooperation: NATO, the EU, and the private sector each play critical, complementary roles in military mobility. But they are limited in their ability to share information. Leveraging their many overlapping nations, the EU and NATO must develop a deeper strategic relationship to strengthen interoperability and facilitate communication. One key step should involve assigning single national points of contact for military movement. These points of contact should also serve as liaisons with industry and civilian partners.
  • Build Resilience to Hybrid Threats: The threat of hybrid warfare underpins every aspect of military mobility. Any crisis operation involving movement within or beyond NATO territory exposes forces to combinations of non-kinetic threats — from disinformation and hacks to civil unrest and economic coercion — designed to slow crisis response or to sow confusion and chaos. The Alliance must enhance its cyber and physical protection of critical infrastructure; train military personnel to spot and respond to these issues and practice good cyber hygiene; and raise awareness and build resilience among political leaders, civil society, the private sector, and civilian populations. In the longer term, NATO and EU members will have to adopt a more proactive, whole-of-society approach to mitigate these kinds of threats.

Military mobility is crucial to the transatlantic alliance’s ability to maintain its strategic edge in an increasingly contested world. As Washington and Europe reset their collective agenda after the U.S. elections, they must leverage the resources, institutional frameworks, and political will at their disposal to make military mobility happen.

Common Crisis is a CEPA analytical series on the implications of COVID-19 for the transatlantic relationship. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe's Edge
CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.
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