On March 29, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia celebrated the 15 years that they have been NATO member states. The journey to alliance membership was not simple for these newly-born independent countries. They have achieved great success in fulfilling many NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased their number of military personnel.
At the same time, they have become accustomed to relying on more powerful member states for advice, help and even decision-making. All through these 15 years they have felt safe, more or less, because of the assumed capabilities of their European NATO allies.
Unfortunately, it is now high time to doubt these capabilities. NATO today is not as strong as it should be. And this deficit in strength exists not only because of blunders by NATO leadership: in fact, every member state has contributed a little. As for the Baltic States, they are now particularly vulnerable, because they depend entirely on other NATO member states for their defence. This is seen in the composition of the NATO battle group in the Baltic States: Germany, Canada and Britain are the leading nations in this battle group, stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.
Dependence on Germany, for example, seems unwise in current circumstances. The state of Germany's national armed forces inspires doubt. The armed forces of Germany not only cannot defend the Baltics against Russia, they cannot defend Germany itself. Some of Germany's leaders are dissatisfied with the country's combat readiness and the Minister of Defence's ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad that the military's annual readiness report has for the first time been classified for "security reasons."
"Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it," said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.
Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said the average readiness of the country's nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations, despite increasing responsibilities. No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year's report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.
Zorn said this year's report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO's high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.
"The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany," he wrote.
While knowledge about the exact level of combat readiness may be uncertain, critics are sure about the incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now, she shows no signs of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, has by some miracle remained in power for a long time, although she inspires no trust even among the German military elites she works with. She has been dogged by numerous scandals and she tries to manage the Armed Forces in an amateur way. Of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. And because the Baltic States are so dependent on Germany in the military sphere, the same can be said about their military capabilities.
After fifteen years of NATO membership the Baltic States are still militarily vulnerable, because NATO is not all it is assumed to be. At the least, it is clear the Baltic States cannot rely on Germany any longer.
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