The right direction - interview with Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges

Lieutenant General Frederick Benjamin "Ben" Hodges is a retired US Army officer, former commanding general of USAREUR, currently working as an expert in think-tank Center for European Policy Analysis. Interview with Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who has become also a new SDirect 24 expert, was conducted by Major General Professor Bogusław Pacek. More information about Lt. Gen. Hodges can be found on CEPA's website: https://www.cepa.org/ben-hodges

source: Maj. Gen. Prof. B. Pacek

SD24: Lieutenant General Frederick Benjamin "Ben" Hodges is widely known in Poland not only as a Polish friend but also as an expert, who exactly knows the condition of security in Poland. What do you think of the possibility of deploying the permanent American military bases in Poland? Is it realistic? Will the United States agree to that, risking the strong replay from Russia?

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges:

THIS IS A VERY GOOD OFFER FROM POLAND AND ONE THAT DESERVES FULL AND CAREFUL CONSIDERATION. US SEC DEF MATTIS HAS DIRECTED SUCH CONSIDERATION. BUT IT IS ALSO OF VITAL IMPORTANCE THAT WE MAINTAIN THE COHESION OF THE ALLIANCE AND SO I THINK THAT THE US GOVT SHOULD CONSULT WITH ALL OF OUR ALLIES AND ENSURE THEIR SUPPORT FOR ANY PERMANENT BASING IN POLAND OR ANY OTHER COUNTRY. RUSSIA WILL SURELY RESPOND…POSSIBLY WITH PUTTING TROOPS IN BELARUS…PART OF THEIR FALSE NARRATIVE THAT THEY ARE BEING THREATENED BY NATO. REGARDLESS, OUR ALLIES WILL HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF WHATEVER THE RUS MIGHT DO SO I THINK, IN THE INTEREST OF PRESERVING COHESION WITHIN THE ALLIANCE, WE SHOULD BUILD ALLIED SUPPORT FOR SUCH BASING. THE DECISION IN JULY 2016 TAKEN AT THE WARSAW SUMMIT BY THE ALLIANCE TO DEPLOY EFP BATTLE GROUPS INTO EST, LVA, LTU, AND POL IS A TERRIFIC EXAMPLE OF THE POWER OF ALLIANCE COHESION. LET’S DO THE SAME THING WITH ANY OTHER DEPLOYMENTS.

ITS ALSO WORTH NOTING THAT THERE ARE OVER 1000 US SOLDIERS IN POLAND ON ANY GIVEN DAY, INCLUDING THE US ARMY DIV FORWARD COMMAND ELEMENT IN POZNAN, THE VERY LARGE US ARMY LOGISTICS HUB AT POWIDZ (ALSO INCLUDES HELICOPTERS, AMMO STORAGE, AND PREPOSITIONED EQUIPMENT), AEGIS ASHORE MISSILE DEFENSE SITE UNDER CONSTRUCTION, US ARMY EFP BATTLE GROUP IN ORSYSZ, AND THE ROTATIONAL ARMORED BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM HAS ITS CENTER OF GRAVITY AND HQ IN WESTERN POLAND. THE US AIR FORCE IS FREQUENTLY OPERATING IN POLAND AS WELL.

SD24:

Since couple of months the US have had new doctrine. The fight against terrorism is not the main priority anymore. The competition with China and Russia has become the most important case. Is it a good direction? Is U.S. strong enough to counter few opponents?

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges: THIS IS EXACTLY THE RIGHT DIRECTION. RUSSIA AND CHINA ARE PEER COMPETITORS AND THEY ARE BOTH ACTING AGGRESSIVELY. THE US IS NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO COUNTER BOTH OF THEM SIMULTANEOUSLY ON OUR OWN WHILE CONTINUING COUNTER-TERRORISM EFFORTS. THAT’S WHY WE MUST WORK CLOSELY WITH ALLIES AND PARTNERS…WE ARE SO MUCH MORE SECURE AND EFFECTIVE WHEN WORKING WITHIN NATO AND OUR OTHER ALLIES AND PARTNERS. COHESION OF THE ALLIANCE IS AS IMPORTANT NOW AS ITS EVER BEEN.

SD24:

The detailed analysis of Chinese, Japanese, Russian or American actions indicates that they have acted as countries preparing to war. The situation in Far East has been escalating. The military exercise Vostok 2018 has made the world to think about security. Is it possible that the war in Asia will come?

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges:

OUR EMPHASIS ON READINESS AND A STRONG ALLIANCE ARE THE TWO KEYS TO ENSURING WE DON’T HAVE A WAR IN ASIA OR ANYWHERE ELSE. MILITARY CAPABILITIES ARE ESSENTIAL TO ENABLE DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS, WHICH MUST BE IN THE LEAD. IN THE END, OUR POTENTIAL ADVERSARIES WILL RESPECT STRENGTH AND CLARITY IN OUR EFFORTS. KEEPING THE ALLIANCE STRONG AND TOGETHER IS THE BEST WAY TO DEMONSTRATE THAT STRENGTH.

SD24: We have recently witnessed the crisis in EU - NATO relations, almost open conflict between U.S. and Germany, Turkish – Hungarian close relations. Has the time come to create new international organizations? Is it the end of NATO and EU?

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges:

NO…THE ALLIANCE IS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ALLIANCE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD AND HAS DEMONSTRATED OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS, SINCE RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE AND THE WALES SUMMIT OF 2014, THAT IT IS AGILE AND CAN ADAPT TO THE CHANGING SECURITY ENVIRONMENT. IT’S NOT PERFECT…AND THE HISTORY OF COALITION WARFARE AND ALLIANCES TELLS US THAT THERE ARE ALWAYS CHALLENGES. BUT AS WINSTON CHURCHILL SAID, “THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN FIGHTING WITH ALLIES IS FIGHTING WITHOUT ALLIES.” OUR SECRETARY GENERAL, JENS STOLLTENBERG, IS AN EXCEPTIONAL LEADER AND HAS DONE A GOOD JOB KEEPING US MOVING FORWARD. THE BRUSSELS SUMMIT ACTUALLY DELIVERED SOME VERY SUBSTANTIVE RESULTS…UNFORTUNATELY THEY WERE OVERSHADOWED BY THE NON-STOP EMPHASIS ON 2%. BUT IMPROVED COMMAND STRUCTURES AND IMPROVED COOPERATION BETWEEN EU AND NATO ARE VERY IMPORTANT ADAPTATIONS FOR NATO AND WILL IMPROVE REINFORCEMENT CAPABILITIES. COOPERATION WITH EU AND PESCO IS THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE MILITARY MOBILITY WHICH IS ESSENTIAL FOR US TO HAVE A CREDIBLE DETERRENT EFFECT.

SD24:

You are very close to Polish issues. You know many people in Poland. How do you see the changes in Polish defense system?

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges:

I’M VERY IMPRESSED WITH OUR POLISH ALLIES. LEADERSHIP FROM PRESIDENT DUDA DOWN THRU THE RANKS HAS GOT POLAND IN A MUCH BETTER PLACE IN TERMS OF ITS OWN SECURITY. MODERNIZATION EFFORTS, INCREASED TRAINING AND OPERATIONAL READINESS, AND EXCELLENT COOPERATION HAVE ALL IMPROVED THE SECURITY OF POLAND AND ITS NEIGHBORS. AMERICAN SOLDIERS LOVE TRAINING AND WORKING WITH POLISH SOLDIERS…THEY’RE BRAVE, PROFESSIONAL, AND DEPENDABLE.

SD24:

Once you pointed the mistakes in European defense system. There was much publicity about Suwalki pass and the lack of ability of army free movement through NATO countries. What has changed in this matter? What should we do to have more secure Europe?

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges:

THE DEPLOYMENT BY GERMANY OF THEIR EFP BATTLE GROUP INTO LITHUANIA, THE WORK DONE BY LITHUANIA AND POLAND, AND THE DEPLOYMENT OF THE US EFP BATTLE GROUP INTO ORSYSZ HAVE ALL COMBINED TO IMPROVE THE SECURITY AND DETERRENT EFFECT OF THE SUWALKI CORRIDOR. AS YOU KNOW, I WORK AT CEPA (CENTER FOR EUROPEAN POLICY ANALYSIS) AND WE RECENTLY PUBLISHED OUR REPORT ON SECURING THE SUWALKI CORRIDOR. AMONG OTHER THINGS, THE REPORT RECOMMENDED INCREASING US LOGISITICS CAPABILITY IN THE AREA TO FACILITATE MORE RAPID REINFORCEMENT AND ALSO SHORAD/AVENGERS AS ‘MOBILE TRIP WIRES’ TO IMPROVE SECURITY THERE.

MORE BROADLY, THE ALLIANCE AND EU NEED TO CONTINUE WORKING TOGETHER TO IMPROVE MILITARY MOBILITY ACROSS EUROPE. THE NETHERLANDS IS THE LEAD NATION, WITHIN THE PESCO CONSTRUCT, FOR THIS EFFORT. I’D ALSO RECOMMEND THAT NATIONS WHO IMPROVE TRANSPORTATION NETWORKS AND CAPABILITIES THAT HAVE DEMONSTRABLE MILITARY VALUE SHOULD GET CREDIT TOWARDS THEIR 2% AS AN INCENTIVE TO IMPROVE THEIR TRANSPORTATION…IT’S ESSENTIAL FOR CREDIBLE DETERRENCE.

I THINK THAT THE LARGE TRANSPORTATION HUB (“CPK”) THAT POLAND INTENDS TO DEVELOP BETWEEN WARSAW AND LODZ IS A VERY IMPORTANT STEP IN IMPROVING OVERALL MILITARY MOBILITY IN EUROPE. IMPROVING RAIL LINKS ACROSS EUROPE AS WELL AS INCRASING THE CAPACITY FOR FREIGHT AND PERSONNEL FLIGHTS ARE ESSENTIAL TO ENSURE A CREDIBLE DETERRENCE AND THE ‘CPK’ WILL HELP SIGNIFICANTLY. IMPROVING RAIL IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT.

WE ALSO NEED A FOCUSED EFFORT ON AIR AND MISSILE DEFENSE.

FINALLY, THE ALLIANCE NEEDS TO PLACE A GREAT DEAL MORE EMPHASIS ON THE BLACK SEA REGION. THE RUSSIAN NAVY’S ILLEGAL ACTIONS IN THE SEA OF AZOV AGAINST THE UKR NAVY AND MERCHANT SHIPS AND THEIR ILLEGAL ANNEXATION OF CRIMEA AND THEIR CONTINUED ILLEGAL OCCUPATIONS IN GEORGIA AND TRANSDNIESTRA ALL INDICATE THE STRATEGIC PRIORITY THEY PLACE ON THE BLACK SEA. SO WE NEED TO DEVELOP A COHERENT STRATEGY THAT ENSURES THE COLLECTIVE SECURITY OF OUR ALLIES THERE (ROU, BGR, TUR) AND OUR PARTNERS (UKR, GEO, MOLDOVA). I THINK A NATO THREE-STAR HQ IN ROMANIA, WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE BLACK SEA REGION, REPORTING TO JFC NAPLES, WOULD BE AN EFFECTIVE STEP TO HELPING TO BUILD THAT COHERENCE. THE US ALREADY HAS NEARLY 1000 SOLDIERS THERE WITH MISSILE DEFENSE AND LOGISTICS AND AN ARMORED BATTALION THERE. NATO’S BLACK SEA AIR POLICING MISSION FLIES OUT OF MK ROMANIA. PERHAPS THE ALLIANCE SHOULD CONSIDER CONVERTING THE AIR POLICING MISSION TO AIR DEFENCE. THAT WOULD REQUIRE A CHANGE TO THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT OF COURSE.

Maj. Gen. Prof. Bogusław Pacek: Thank you very much.

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