Dear Tecumseh Court

Virtue, Emmins & Co., publisher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


What do NATO’s preparations look like?

Dear Tecumseh Court,

First off, I just read this: “Travels with Milley: The general brings his ‘big green map’ to NATO’s flank,” where I came across this sentence:

Milley began quizzing aides about the coming invasion: ‘How many? Where are they? What can we see? What’s hidden? What’s the intent?’

Thanks to Tecumseh Court, I understand better (really, 100 percent) the meaning of the question, “What’s the intent?” (I have to wonder if the journalist understands the meaning of “intent” as Milley used it.) Thank you, Tecumseh Court.[1]Claire—I know, right? Once you read Part II of WAR 101, you start seeing this everywhere, and it makes so much more sense! Another example: Inside the transfer of foreign military equipment to … Continue reading

Anyway, the article’s penultimate paragraph reads,

Milley’s army is preparing for a war he hopes it will never have to fight. It’s eerie, traveling this NATO arc, to see US and NATO forces arrayed like a picket line. NATO, once a seeming anachronism, is reenergized. Putin is cornered with his reckless adventure in Ukraine.

I would welcome an explanation of what those preparations look like, the contingencies the military plans for, and how each division of the US military (Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy) would contribute, if and when the US is drawn into this war.


Clarence E. FENSTERWASSER[2]This was a longer letter, with two separate questions; I edited it for clarity. Tecumseh Court replied to the questions in reverse order. The response to Mr. FENSTERWASSER’s second … Continue reading

Tecumseh Court replies:


Before breaking down the American military contribution to NATO, it’s worth reviewing how warfighting—the verb, not the handbook—evolved after 9/11. After US-led Coalition forces toppled governments in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, twenty years of protracted combat operations ensued. During these decades, the buzzword “whole of government” came to be applied to any proposal. Most CG readers will have heard the term.

The whole-of-government concept shapes the first role US military planners perform in NATO. American military planners have been conditioned to see themselves as the option of last resort, so they usually start by helping policymakers analyze other options. This has been happening for months. The way they discuss this matters. US policymakers, via their well-intentioned military advisors, have been trained to distill the whole-of-government approach into DIME: Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic. The acronym isn’t confined to Washington; freedom-loving bureaucrats in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London, Warsaw and beyond are now dutifully writing briefing papers for their bosses presenting options in terms of DIME.

Military liaison officers on intra-government staff assignments struggle to simplify or scale the M in DIME. First, as we’ve discussed, lethal battlefield tools usually require massive logistical support. This can only be harmonized successfully through the D, I, and E—and ideally, this is done beyond the battlefield. It’s very good that this logistical harmonization effort is now focused on Ukraine (as we reviewed in WAR 101, Part 3). For now, NATO’s supply lines are its most essential contribution to the war effort.

If they comply with the instructions they’ve been given in staff courses, military planners will demand explanations from their civilian counterparts about how the other letters in the acronym will be addressed for every measure of M expended. You’re probably wondering what this looks like in practice, since (apart from sanctions), D, I and E are fuzzy concepts and difficult to measure precisely when determining one’s capabilities or evaluating their effect.

You wouldn’t be the first to wonder. I could give you case studies and illustrations, but you can basically imagine how this goes. Ultimately, in intra-governmental planning sessions, M isn’t seen as the primary element of national power until the government agencies representing D, I, and E cede the levers of power. This isn’t efficient, but it’s how most deliberations unfold. As DIE loses utility, the die is cast.

This has consequences. While I salute Mr. Treviño’s timely discourse about prudent advisors thoughtfully scanning a 44-step decision tree ladder, even good government leaders typically lack the creativity and agility necessary to master this skill set. Bureaucracies everywhere are unduly prone to aping the military habit of reliance on acronyms. The more acronyms an organization uses, the more the organization thinks in acronyms.

But the question you’re really asking is what plans does the US have in place to shore up Europe right now, and who’s responsible. Answering this requires a history lesson.

During World War II, the US military machine operated as the Department of War and the Department of the Navy. Within the War Department, the US Army’s raison d’etre has long been large-scale battlefield ground operations, which require support in time, space, and logistics. The US Air Force was part of the Army (and was then called the Army Air Corps). The US Marine Corps, which then as now falls within the Navy Department, can quickly deploy from ships as a rapid assault force. Each service has other assets, too, but the core capabilities are their bread-and-butter.

After World War II, the US military was reorganized twice through Congressional legislation. The first reorganization, in 1947, created the Department of Defense. The second, in 1986, created operational forces via Combatant Commands. Warfighting roles and responsibilities were shifted to geographic commands such as CENTCOM, EUCOM, and INDOPACOM, and to joint operational commands such as Cyber Command, Transportation Command, or Special Operations Command. The operational commands pull service teams of staff officers and budget resources from the various US military services, and they hire civilians and contractors either to perform their operational function or to conduct joint military operations in their geographic area of responsibility.

NATO is a special exception. It isn’t just part of European Command, or EUCOM. Effectively, NATO is EUCOM. Since 1986, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR), and the EUCOM Commander have been the same person. However, NATO is headquartered in Mons, Belgium; the Deputy SACEUR isn’t American (and never will be); and the staff, reflecting NATO, is multinational. EUCOM’s headquarters, which are principally staffed by Americans (and partner country liaison officers), are in Stuttgart, Germany. Without traffic, it’s a six hour drive through Luxembourg from one headquarters to the other. Yes, the SACEUR can fly, but the dual roles and their differences are noteworthy. NATO and EUCOM staffers talk a lot, but they aren’t sitting across from each other.

These practical challenges notwithstanding, as far as US military operations are concerned, NATO and EUCOM are the same, since the same commander is responsible for both. This duplicate structure was deliberately codified into US law and built into American operational design. The US government deliberately put the US in a position where it can’t, and won’t, operate militarily in Europe without NATO partners. NATO was built to be the guarantor of European security; and unless the US Congress rewrites the Goldwater-Nichols Act, it’s all for one and one for all. NATO or nothing.

That’s not bad. NATO and EUCOM do efficient things that aren’t front page news. When units are mobilized, orders flow from one operational command to another and to the units in question. The details of this are (and should always remain) classified.

For budgetary and practical reasons, US Reserve and National Guard units are easier to quickly mobilize and deploy than regular units. Twelve days before Russia invaded, the US troops training Ukrainians to use Javelins weren’t active duty personnel, but 160 soldiers from the Florida National Guard. I may or may not personally know US military reservists who recently received official notice to stand by for deployment to support NATO partners.

How does this fit into the whole-of-government concept? Ukrainians are well beyond whole-of-government—and the Poles, all of Europe, and much of the world is right behind them. There’s a gloriously anarchic whole-of-society effort unfolding and running circles around the wildest imaginations of even the most creative NATO/EUCOM planners in their conference rooms in Mons and Stuttgart. Who needs Cyber Command when Anonymous, the world’s largest hacker collective, declares cyberwar on Russia? What policymaker could have dreamed up a logistics collaboration between Swedish film producers and Lithuanian transport companies? What operational planner would have factored in a Belorussian railroad worker rebellion?

Fortunately, if you’re holding your breath waiting for NATO or America to solve the problem, you needn’t wait for the cavalry. Remember, the art of war is, above all, the human will to fight—and not just through formal state power. Is a free Ukraine worth sacrificing for? Are free Ukrainians worth dying for? Is a Europe whole and free worth saving?

Ultimately, state power doesn’t answer that question. People do.

And answering, they are.

Do you have a question for Tecumseh Court? Of course you do. If you’re a subscriber, send us your questions. Tecumseh Court will answer them next Wednesday.

Tecumseh Court is an American combat veteran.


1 Claire—I know, right? Once you read Part II of WAR 101, you start seeing this everywhere, and it makes so much more sense! Another example: Inside the transfer of foreign military equipment to Ukrainian soldiers. Did anyone else notice that all the supplies fit into the “5B’s,” and did you spot the way the Ukrainian officer’s enthusiasm for “firepower and mobility” fit the operational construct Tecumseh Court described, in PART III, using a chess analogy? I learned more from those three articles about how military people think than I’ve learned in a lifetime of reading military history. I’m really grateful to Tecumseh Court for writing them.
2 This was a longer letter, with two separate questions; I edited it for clarity. Tecumseh Court replied to the questions in reverse order. The response to Mr. FENSTERWASSER’s second question—concerning the fog of war and our response, should Putin do something “unwise” on NATO soil—is here.

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