Trident Juncture 18 “From the largest ship to the smallest drone”: the implications of the largest NATO exercise
“Trident Juncture sends a clear message, to our nations and to any potential adversary: NATO does not seek confrontation, but we stand ready to defend all Allies against any threat […]Today, all our forces and equipment are in place – from the largest ship, to the smallest drone. Moving troops and equipment across borders on such a scale is a multinational effort”, said NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, at a press conference on the 24th October 2018. Trident Juncture is considered the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War. According to data provided by NATO, the exercise involved about 50,000 participants from member countries of the Alliance and other partner countries, about 250 aircraft, 65 ships and up to 10,000 vehicles. The aim was to ensure that NATO forces were trained, able to work together and ready to respond to any threat coming from any direction. Firstly, the exercise will be described, underlining its origin and its different phases. Secondly, the positions of the experts will be exposed in order to understand the importance and the aim of the exercise. Finally, the outcomes of Trident Juncture will be clarified in order to show its implications in the international strategic scenario.
1.What is Trident Juncture 18?
In 2014, during the NATO Summit in Wales, the Alliance decided to conduct several high profile military exercises for the coming years and Trident Juncture is part of these. The first one was held in 2015 in Italy, Spain and Portugal. The same year, Norway offered to host the second exercise scheduled for 2018, and NATO accepted. The exercise mainly took place in the central and eastern parts of Norway and in the air and maritime areas of Sweden and Finland. It was coordinated by the Allied Joint Force Command Naples (JFC Naples) and led by US Admiral James G. Foggo III, commander of US Naval Force Europe, US Naval Force Africa, and Allied Joint Force Command Naples. Trident Juncture’s main goal was to train the NATO Response Force (NRF) and testing the Alliance’s defense capabilities, but also allowing the Norwegian armed forces to test their ability to receive and manage the support of NATO forces.
Trident Juncture 18 was composed of three main phases: a deployment phase that lasted from August to October, the actual exercise from 25th October to 7th November, and finally a command post exercise from 13th to 24th November 2018. In technical terms, the last two parts of the exercise have been defined:
- Live Field Exercise (LIVEX), from 25th October to 7th November, which was mainly performed on Norwegian territory, with some limited activities in Finland and Sweden and in adjacent waters, including the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
- The final post-command computerized exercise (CAX / CPX), from 14th to 23rd November, which was held in the NATO Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger (Norway). It was an administrative exercise and there were no military forces on the ground, at sea or in the air because the CPX was a computer simulation. During this simulation, all participants were put to the test in the exercise of their functions within the NATO’s command structure.
Trident Juncture 18
LIVEX took place at sea, on land and in the air. In the land exercise, a force from the north simulated a battle against and a force from the south. While the northern force was led by NATO’s Allied Land Command and consisted of Norwegian, Canadian and Swedish brigades, the southern force was led by the German/Dutch Corps and consisted of brigades from Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The choice of Norway to perform the exercise was also linked to the climatic conditions of the area. Indeed, air forces had the opportunity to perform complex operations in difficult weather conditions. NATO’s Allied Air Command at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany was responsible for planning air operations, while Norway’s National Air Operations Center (NAOC) planned and coordinated Norwegian participation in co-operation with the Norwegian Joint Headquarters. Furthermore, the maritime forces were divided into two main groups. On one hand, the northern maritime forces consisted of units coming from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States. On the other, the southern maritime forces consisted of the NATO Maritime Group 1 and 2 (SNMG1 and SNMG2), the NATO Standing Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1), a Dutch-led amphibious force, and ships from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Military maritime operations were mainly carried out in the Norwegian Sea along the coast from the city of Bergen in western Norway to Vestfjorden in the county of Nordland.
According to data provided by NATO, the exercise is not a preparation for a military attack. NATO is a defensive Alliance, of which the aim is to protect member states. In this regard northern Europe has a profound strategic importance for security: NATO’s exercise has however not been planned against any specific country or region. Indeed, Trident Juncture was designed to ensure that Alliance forces can work together in times of crisis and in any area. Furthermore, on the 31st of May, during the NATO-Russia Council, there was an exchange with the Russian Ambassador, who was informed about the exercise. He also informed NATO about Vostok 18 operation, which took place in September in eastern Siberia and the Far East and which involved the armed forces of China and Mongolia. All members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including Russia and Republic of Belarus, were invited to send observers to ensure transparency of the exercise. Moreover, in a separate program, NATO also invited observers from Sweden, New Zealand, Serbia, Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Switzerland.
2.The experts’ opinion
The exercise tested the entire NATO military chain and, above all, served to test and improve the capabilities of the NATO Response Force (NRF) and the forces of other allies and partners, ensuring they can work together. The NRF is an advanced multinational force composed of land, air, maritime forces and the Special Operations Forces (SOF) that the Alliance can deploy quickly wherever it is needed. In addition to its operational role, the NRF can be used to enhance cooperation in training: the NRF provides a tangible demonstration of cohesion and NATO’s commitment to deterrence and collective defense.
According to Derek Chollet, Vice-President and Senior Advisor for Security and Defense Policy of the US Marshall Fund, NATO needs this exercise. NATO must ensure that the armies of its 29 member states can effectively collaborate in a case of emergency. Therefore, these maneuvers also serve to identify weaknesses in planning and logistics. According to the expert, at the same time, NATO had the opportunity to pay close attention to Russia’s reaction. The United States, like the EU, was completely surprised when the Russians invaded Ukraine in 2014 and they illegally annexed Crimea. Since then, risks have been assessed differently and capacities have increased. Considering that NATO has to play its role of collective defense, the exercises proved to be essential. According to Derek Chollet, Trident Juncture, having been carried out with transparency between the different parts, must be interpreted as a necessary but not offensive exercise.
According to Erlingur Erlingsson, military historian and researcher at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, the solid participation of Canada and the United States alongside the European allies is a visible demonstration of the transatlantic link and the unity of NATO as institution.
NATO forces at Trident Juncture prepare for cold weather operations
In his essay “A credible transatlantic bond: Trident Juncture and NATO capabilities” he points out that after the end of the Cold War NATO paid little attention to the north flank, due to the fact that during the 1990s Russia was in economic difficulties and the process of military modernization appeared to be slow. But the situation has recently changed, and this is the reason why the Trident Juncture exercise is a timely effort by NATO to prepare for current and future threats. In recent years, a more assertive Russia shocked the security landscape in Europe and the North Atlantic. NATO military planners want therefore to be ready to assess and train the Alliance’s capabilities to deter, oppose and, if necessary, defend this growing belligerent Russia. Moreover, in recent years Russia effectively modernized its submarine force and is now a credible equal competitor for NATO: this growing capacity, which goes far beyond the simple protection of its borders, is a major cause of concern. According to the author, Trident Juncture 18 aims at dissuading any type of attack, providing a clear guarantee of NATO’s ability to prepare and deploy forces for a major operation to protect Article 5 in a complex environment of security.
In an article published on the website of the Atlantic Council, Clementine G. Starling (associate director at the Atlantic Council Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s Transatlantic Security Initiative) argues that the tension between NATO and Russia, in the last year, has been high due to interference in democratic elections of some countries, the use of a chemical nerve agent on British soil, and cyber attacks and violations of allied airspace. In this context, NATO, thanks to the exercise, wants to test its defense capabilities. After the election of President Donald Trump, there were political and diplomatic tensions between the two sides of the Atlantic, especially regarding spending for collective defense. So, according to the author, more than a threat to neighboring Russia, Trident Juncture is a huge sign of cohesion, with the participation of all twenty-nine member states. Thus, the exercise had three significant purposes. First, on a practical level, Trident Juncture tested NATO’s ability to respond quickly and mobilize forces. Secondly, it showed NATO’s interest in its northern flank, strengthening it in order to adapt its strategies to all scenarios. Finally, at the political level, the exercise serves to reassure allies that border Russia.
In an article published on the site “Gli occhi della Guerra”, the journalist Alberto Bellotto points out that the exercise should not be understood as a provocation against Russia, but as a logistic test. With this exercise, NATO is proposing again an old Cold War skill: to be able to move the troops. According to several NATO officials, the roads, the bridges and the tunnels are no longer sized to carry military vehicles and transport hundreds of tons of tanks. Therefore, NATO countries should modernize and adapt infrastructure thanks to the support of the EU with a set of rules that standardize and homogenize certain provisions and by pushing the various member states to invest more funds in infrastructures that respect the NATO parameters.
- A threatening exercise?
On October 24th, in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “NATO is a defensive Alliance. We are transparent in the way we exercise. All members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been invited to send observers to Trident Juncture. And I welcome that Russia, as well as Belarus, have accepted the invitation. NATO also briefed Russia on Trident Juncture in the NATO-Russia Council earlier this year. NATO Allies respect the OSCE Vienna Document on transparency of military activities both in letter and in spirit. While Russia has not notified a single exercise since the end of the Cold War”.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Indeed, the exercise took place in mutual transparency and in respect of the exchange of information. However, nowadays, the relations between Russia and NATO are quite tense. According to the Secretary General’s statements, NATO continues to show its concern over Russia’s lack of respect for its international commitments, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, namely the INF. This treaty, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987, abolishes an entire category of weapons and it is a crucial element of security. According to NATO, this treaty is in danger due to the actions of Russia, which after years of denials has recently recognized the existence of a new missile system, called 9M729. NATO Secretary General underlined that Russia has not provided credible answers on this new missile and that all the allies agree that Russia is violating the Treaty. This also led to the reaction of President Donald Trump, who intends to withdraw from it.
According to NATO, Trident Juncture was a means to test its ability to train and operate together, even in the northern areas of the Alliance. NATO also states that it proved the Alliance’s ability to operate at low temperatures and in difficult terrain. According to the Norwegian armed forces, the exercise was a proof of the country’s ability to receive and manage large numbers of troops and military equipment. They also argue that the exercises tested the concept of total defense of Norway: the total military and civilian resources to be used to prevent and manage crises and conflicts. Indeed, the civil authorities, the health sector, the State Railways, the Norwegian Public Road Administration and the Norwegian Civil Protection Directorate supported the army in hosting the Allied troops during the exercise. On several occasions, the Secretary General, together with General Curtis Scaparrotti, declared: “Our deterrence and our defence, it’s not there to provoke a conflict, it is there to prevent a conflict. And we strongly believe that the best way to prevent conflict is to show the unity and the strength of the Alliance, as we do through the Trident Juncture exercise, with all these excellent capabilities”.
From the beginning of the maneuvers, NATO wanted to reiterate a concept: they were not against Russia. The Norwegian Defense Minister, Frank Bakke-Jensen, also reminded that Trident Juncture is not a measure of defense against a military threat to Norway. However, considering the scenario at the northern and eastern borders of the Alliance, it is advisable to avoid accidents. Russia has been among the observers of the exercise, but it is clear that it was perceived as a maneuver aimed at defending the Alliance’s northern flank against any possible move. It must be emphasized that the exercise has been planned for years and that in September 2018 Russia started the operation Vostok 18. The Vostok 2018 was an operation, which lasted from 11th to 17th September, which involved Central Russian (Volga and Urals), and Eastern military districts (Siberia) and at least 29 regions of the entire Federation. In addition, the northern and the Pacific fleets were involved, as well as the Aerospace and Aircraft Forces. The operation was divided into two stages. In the first stage the Joint Strategic Operational Commands and the Northern Fleet were deployed on the eastern side, for the preparation for combat, in addition to the full deployment of the Russian Navy between the North and the Far East. The second stage was dedicated to the organization of the inter-force groups to prepare troops for the escalation of clashes and fighting in the trans-balkanic direction, as well as similar maritime operations in the Pacific. Thus, both Russia and NATO have carried out exercises to defend their borders.
Despite the speculations related to the need for Trident Juncture and Vostok 18, no serious incident occurred between NATO and Russia during their maneuvers: the exercises, being planned years before, have the main purpose of testing abilities in cases of emergency. If it is true that they wanted to show their strength to their neighbors, one needs to consider that this is what the military powers do, but without avoiding political dialogue, as long as possible.
Maria Elena Argano
For further information:
 NATO Website, Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of exercise Trident Juncture: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_159666.htm
 NATO Website, Trident Juncture 18 Media Resources: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_158620.htm
 Regjeringen Website, NATO sier ja til store-ovelse I Norge I 2018: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/aktuelt/nato-sier-ja-til-stor-ovelse-i-norge-i-2018/id2394173/
 NATO Website, Facts and informations – Exercise Trident Juncture 2018: https://forsvaret.no/en/ForsvaretDocuments/Facts-English.pdf
 NATO Website, Joint Warfare Centre: http://www.jwc.nato.int/index.php/organization/mission
 Trident Juncture 18 on Naton artikla 5 -harjoitus, johon myös Suomi osallistuu: http://aripesonen1.puheenvuoro.uusisuomi.fi/262103-trident-juncture-18-on-naton-artikla-5-harjoitus-johon-myos-suomi-osallistuu
 NATO Website, Facts and informations – Exercise Trident Juncture 2018: https://forsvaret.no/en/ForsvaretDocuments/Facts-English.pdf
 NATO Website, Press briefing on Exercise Trident Juncture 2018: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_155888.htm
 NATO Website, Pre-ministerial Press conference: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_158684.htm
 NATO Website, International observers visit exercise Trident Juncture: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_160033.htm
 NATO Website, NATO Response Force: https://www.nato.int/cps/ie/natohq/topics_49755.htm
 Suddeutsche Zeitung Website, Es braucht diese Ubungen unbedingt: https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/nato-manoever-trident-juncture-1.4183894
 NATO Website, A credible transatlantic bond: Trident Juncture and NATO capabilities: https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2018/Also-in-2018/a-credible-transatlantic-bond-trident-juncture-and-nato-capabilities-military-exercise/EN/index.htm
 US Politics Website, NATO forces at Trident Juncture put together for cold-weather operations: https://uspolitics.10ztalk.com/2018/11/05/nato-forces-at-trident-juncture-put-together-for-cold-weather-operations/
 Atlantic Council Website, Trident Juncture: NATO’s crisis response put to the test: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/trident-juncture-nato-s-crisis-response-put-to-the-test
 Occhi della Guerra Website, NATO cos’è Trident Juncture e perché è così importante: http://www.occhidellaguerra.it/cose-trident-juncture-e-perche-e-cosi-importante/
 NATO Website, NATO Secretary General briefs on Exercise Trident Juncture: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_159663.htm?selectedLocale=fr
 NATO Website, Pre-ministerial Press Conference: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_158684.htm
 Norwegian Armed Forces, On track ahead of Trident Juncture: https://forsvaret.no/en/newsroom/news-stories/on-track-ahead-of-trident-juncture
 NATO Website, Press Conference: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_159355.htm
 Occhi delle Guerra Website, La NATO “invade” la Norvegia e scatena l’ira della Russia: http://www.occhidellaguerra.it/nato-esercitazioni-norvegia-russia/
 Formiche Website, Il senso strategic delle esercitazioni Vostok 18. L’analisi di Valori: https://formiche.net/2018/10/senso-strategico-esercitazioni-vostok/
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