Why Military Mobility Matters

Before the covid-19 outbreak, the issue of military mobility had gained momentum through initiatives such as the European Union’s PESCO and Horizon Europe research, and the U.S. Defender Europe 2020 exercise. With disruptions to these established initiatives and talk of decreasing the European Defence Fund’s budget, military mobility is in danger of being moved to the “back burner” amid this crisis. Pushing back against this trend, CEPA’s LTG (Ret.) Ben Hodges led a conversation on May 5 to discuss how increasing military mobility could strengthen civilian crisis-management as well as strategic deterrence and defense. The participants were: Jacek Bartosiak, CEO and Founder, Strategy & Future; Tania Latici, Policy Analyst, European Parliamentary Research Services; Greg Melcher, Chief Operations Officer, New Generation Warfare Centre; and Group Captain Elizabeth Purcell, J4 Strategic Plans, NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

Key takeaways (condensed and paraphrased for clarity):

The pandemic has highlighted the usefulness of military mobility capabilities in moving equipment, resources, and people rapidly across borders. Multinational organizations initially struggled to find their role. Having a framework in place could avoid such delays in dealing with future military and healthcare emergencies alike.

Crisis mobility requires a breadth of expertise and policy that draws on NATO and European Union capabilities. The EU can help with border regulations, political cooperation between national governments, and economic integration. NATO expertise lies chiefly in the logistics needed to develop infrastructure, transport equipment, and move personnel.

The Movement Coordination Center Europe is the interlocutor between NATO and the EU. Much remains to be done to maximize the crossover of competences between the two organizations. By deconflicting priorities and increasing cooperation, Europe has the potential to be more active in its response to threats, rather than reactive.

One example of potential strategic and economic growth is the highly touted Three Seas, an initiative to increase the North-South connectivity in Eastern Europe by linking the countries stretching between the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas. This could be a new resource to improve connectivity on NATO’s eastern flank, improving both economic cohesion and deterrence.

Military mobility serves priorities in civilian and defense budgets. It should stay on political leaders’ radar during and after the covid-19 crisis. External threats to the transatlantic community will still loom large once the pandemic is over.

This discussion was part of a monthly series focused on military mobility, with the next event taking place on Tuesday, June 2. CEPA’s work on military mobility will culminate in a workshop in the fall.

Photo: “Largest plane in the world brings face masks to Germany” by NATO under C BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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May 7, 2020

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.