Even without the USA, Nato would still win in a fight (2024)

As Nato approaches its 75th anniversary and the prospect of Trump returning to the White House intensifies, discussions are focused on Nato without the United States.

Could Europe cope? Amid whispers of American withdrawal, questions have arisen about the Alliance’s ability to counter threats, especially from Russia.

At first glance, the answer seems straightforward. The collective military capability of Nato members, even without the US, is formidable – dwarfing Ukraine’s 2022 resources that successfully stalled the Russian advance and knocked it back on most fronts.

Facing Russia in 2022, Ukraine’s armed forces, armed with older Soviet-era military hardware, had approximately 850 to 1,000 main battle tanks such as the T-64, T-72, and T-80 models. There were some hundreds of artillery pieces and fewer than 100 operational combat jets. Nonetheless Ukraine’s small forces, stiffened with initially small numbers of advanced Western weapons, were able to throw Russian forces back in most areas and reduced their progress to a grinding crawl in the southeast.

Russia, boasting a mind-bogglingly huge military arsenal with up to 13,000 tanks and over a thousand fighter jets, demonstrated severe weaknesses. These included logistical challenges and massive hardware losses. If Russia couldn’t push Ukraine over, its chance of success against the much bigger and more sophisticated armies of Nato – even without the US – would seem slim.

For the collective military capability of European Nato members is, indeed, vastly superior to what Ukraine had available in 2022. Equipment includes thousands of main battle tanks, including modern models like the Leopard 2, Leclerc, and Challenger 2, and an impressive array of advanced jet fighters such as Eurofighter Typhoons, Dassault Rafales, and SAAB Gripens, European Nato countries possess a significant armoured and aerial advantage over Russia. European nations also possess some advanced US weapons, including limited numbers of F-35 fifth generation fighters and advanced long range precision weapons such as the M57 ATACMS ballistic missile, already in Poland’s armoury, and Britain’s Tomahawk cruise missiles.

In terms of sheer troop numbers, Nato members excluding the United States boast over 1.5 million active military personnel, contrasting Russia’s approximately 1 million active-duty soldiers. While on paper, this suggests a numerical advantage for Nato, the true strength of the Alliance lies beyond headcounts. It’s more complex than that.

The technological sophistication and interoperability of Nato forces significantly amplify their combat effectiveness. European Nato members have invested heavily in next-generation aircraft, precision-guided munitions, state-of-the-art electronic warfare systems, and cyber defence capabilities. These technologies enable Nato forces to conduct highly effective combined operations across vast distances, something Russia cannot do. The conflict in Ukraine has underscored the limitations of relying on numerical superiority alone. Despite their numbers, Russian forces have struggled against technologically sophisticated Ukrainian defences. This has highlighted the importance of modern armed forces doctrines prioritising mobility, flexibility, and precision over sheer force.

Even without the US, Nato’s strength resides in its ability to leverage cutting-edge technology and integrated command structures to conduct operations adaptable to the battlefield’s rapidly changing circ*mstances.

In contrast to Russia, the most critical area in which Nato excels is combined arms operations. Such operations involve using different military branches (infantry, armour, artillery, aviation, and naval forces) to achieve a shared objective. This approach maximises the strengths and mitigates the weaknesses of different unit types, creating a force far more effective than the sum of its parts.

This joined-up thinking contrasts with the Russian military in Ukraine, which has revealed a reliance on outdated Soviet-era tactics, in short, throwing men at a location to hold it without allowing objectives to evolve or change. Despite its size and firepower, Russia has struggled to integrate its forces effectively in Ukraine, its air forces often failing to support its ground forces in any meaningful way. Given Ukraine’s utilisation of Western tactics against Russia and the advanced capabilities of Nato members that taught Ukraine those tactics, it’s unlikely that the Russian military could realistically challenge a fully mobilised Nato force without encountering significant difficulties, even if that force didn’t include the United States.

Yet, despite these strengths, a Nato without the United States would suffer significant operational handicaps. As things stand today, the Alliance heavily relies on the United States for crucial capabilities such as operational intelligence, air-to-air refuelling, missile defence and more. The absence of these “American enablers” would expose gaps in Nato’s defence architecture, challenging its ability to sustain a fight in the long term. For all the tanks and troops available to Nato in Europe, members still need to be able to move those forces around the continent effectively.

Moreover, the strategic significance of the US nuclear umbrella cannot be overstated. Without it, Europe’s nuclear deterrence relies on Britain and France’s strategic systems, which, while capable, do not match the comprehensive coverage provided by American forces and might be considered by Putin to be unable to inflict disabling damage on Russia.

Yes, a European Nato could likely defeat a Russian attack on day one, but what about day one hundred?

Europe must bolster its military capabilities and invest in areas currently underpinned by American support. Simultaneously, diplomatic efforts will be crucial to maintaining unity and a shared commitment among Nato members, as the Alliance’s strength lies not in numbers but primarily in its collective resolve. Having a vast fleet of tanks, planes and ships as a deterrent means very little if everyone knows you won’t use them or that you’ll only use them sometimes.

Even without the USA, Nato would still win in a fight (2024)


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