What is the point of this massive drill?
Like all grandparents, I worry about my offspring. As President Trump and John Bolton continually remind us, it’s dangerous out there. But these nights I am sleeping better. My granddaughter, age nine and living in Norway, is being particularly well looked after.
Fifty thousand allied troops are participating in Operation Trident Juncture in Trondheim, Norway, my granddaughter’s home town. It is the largest North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise since 1991. About 15, 000 American troops are involved, almost as many as President Trump has promised to send to the United States border to stop the “ caravan.” Fifteen thousand troops to protect my granddaughter just because her mother and grandfather are American citizens. What service! This is why American citizens, even those abroad, file taxes.
NATO was established after World War II to defend the western alliance against the Warsaw Pact and a confrontation with the Soviet Union in Europe. Originally twelve countries, the alliance has grown to 29-member states. After the end of the Soviet Union, NATO was active in the former Yugoslavia and in out of the European areas such as Afghanistan. During a cooling of U.S.-Russian relations – remember Hillary’s “reset the button” – the alliance seemed like 29 characters in search of an author. What was the point of military cooperation if there was no common enemy to fight?
The alliance has now found a raison d’etre. My granddaughter is nine years old, approaching that delicate age between childhood and adolescence when parents and grandparents worry about where the youngsters are and what they are doing. While she seems wise for her years, and her devoted parents are more than attentive, one never knows where trouble is lurking, even in peaceful Norway.
In addition to the 50,000 troops from all NATO countries plus Sweden and Finland, there are 65 ships, 250 warplanes, and more than 10,000 vehicles. As reported by a first-hand report from Trondheim: “There have been huge problems on the roads because of them. First there were eight trucks carrying tanks and stuff that all crashed into each other when they were following a snowplough and the snowplough stopped and none of them noticed. Two people were sent to the hospital by helicopter and one by ambulance! Then people are trying to pass the convoys and crashing because it’s icy and the convoys are so long.”
And think of the troops’ dilemmas. Having fought in the heat of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the soldiers, according to the New York Times, have to wear black, Merino-wool long johns to protect themselves from the cold. Two Italian soldiers have been treated for hypothermia. In addition, they have to use cold-weather lubricant for machine guns and worry about crossing snow-filled fields, all in the name of protecting my granddaughter.
Could there be another reason why so many troops are there? The exercise, according to NATO’s Lt. Col. Ben Sakrisson, is “focused on ensuring the continued freedom and liberty of our allies’ nations, and partners, and their citizens.” Obviously he could not mention my granddaughter, but why else would 50,000 troops be in the frozen north of Norway? Reports state that the “war game will continue…and include continue mock assaults on Norwegian towns and a ski resort. The drills will involve clandestine water crossings and battles – although, thankfully for residents, not with live ammunition.”
That’s reassuring. I worry enough about her being attacked by wolves or elk while crossing the street to school, but live ammunition has no place in peaceful Norway except perhaps during the hunting season.
Lt. Gen. Valery Zaparenko, a former deputy chief of the Russian general staff said: “Even if NATO says otherwise, Trident Juncture is really preparation for a large-scale armed conflict in regions bordering the Russian Federation.” That’s obviously the Russian perspective.
But, no, Lt. Gen. Zaparenko. The reason for the exercise involves protecting a charming nine-year old. As proof, listen to the argument of NATO officials as reported in the Times, “Officials with the Atlantic alliance said Russia had nothing to worry about…” Indeed, the Russians have nothing to worry about. It’s the elk and wolves who may think of bothering my granddaughter who should be careful. After all, sending 50,000 troops to the frozen north to protect a nine-year old girl, like sending 15,000 troops to stop 3,000 desperate migrants fleeing persecution, makes little rational sense. Unless you consider that this grandfather sleeps better at night knowing that his granddaughter is well protected. That’s the truth, and I’m glad to make it public.