The top US Army general in Europe and the Netherlands push to ease movement of military personnel and equipment across EU and NATO borders. European leaders have made a priority of greater military cooperation, yet the ability of NATO forces to operate in Europe is still hindered by border restrictions and mismatched infrastructure, according to uniformed commanders and EU defense ministers. A Military Schengen Zone could be the solution to the problem.
While NATO has made substantial progress in surmounting legal hurdles to cross-border operations, lingering bureaucratic requirements — such as passport checks at some border crossings and infrastructure problems, like roads and bridges that can’t accommodate large military vehicles — could slow or even cripple any allied response to an emerging threat, officials warned.
To lift the roadblocks, and speed coordinated military action, the Dutch defense minister, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called on EU officials to create a so-called military Schengen zone. The idea, loosely modeled on the open-border travel zone that has covered most of Europe since 1996, has also been a long-time goal of the senior United States Army commander in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges.
“We must be able to move quickly to any place where there is a threat,” Hennis-Plasschaert said in a statement announcing her proposal at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in June.
NATO leaders insist they have addressed the most problematic obstacles to cross-border operations, but nonetheless welcomed the Dutch proposal as a way to raise political pressure and create a sense of urgency around further improving the “interoperability” of allied countries.
Officials say the obstacles are only apparent during peacetime exercises and planning, and that during a real military emergency, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe — based in Mons, Belgium — would simply warn allies and deploy as needed.
But officials also said NATO’s deterrence mission requires the alliance to constantly demonstrate its capabilities in peacetime and those capabilities are still encumbered. Moving U.S. forces to Poland from Germany, for example, requires a five-day notice period, American officials said.
And then there are infrastructure challenges: roads and bridges that potentially cannot bear the weight of heavy equipment; tunnels that are not tall enough; air strips that cannot accommodate all aircraft.
EU leaders at their June summit formally approved a plan for greater military cooperation but the first concrete proposals will not be announced until European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech in September. (full article Politico.eu)
PS Are we at or do we plan a war somewhere in or near Europe?