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NATO standards in former Warsaw Pact countries

  • 2013-10-19
  • From wire reports

U.S. and Bulgarian soldiers participate in training exercises in Germany in March 2012

Former Warsaw Pact countries are steadily adopting NATO standards despite fiscal and industrial constraints, reports news agency Stratfor.

Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa announced Oct. 10 that Romania had signed a 600 million euro (about $815 million) contract for the purchase of retired Portuguese F-16 fighter aircraft. The F-16 aircraft will be modernized to extend their lifespan by 20 years and will steadily replace Romanian MiG-21 fighters upon their arrival in 2015. While the purchase of aging, secondhand aircraft highlights Romania’s fiscal limitations, it also marks another step in the overall move toward NATO standards by ex-Warsaw Pact countries.

NATO standardization is important for both new and old members of NATO for two key reasons. Operationally, NATO forces benefit from having interchangeable infrastructure and a network of supplies and logistics, from small arms ammunition to lighting systems. Utilizing the same communication and procedural doctrine means NATO members can better operate together, whether calling in naval gunfire support or interrogating prisoners of war.
Strategically, NATO standardization enables member states to deploy together in missions such as Operation Odyssey Dawn (the intervention in Libya) while minimizing the challenges that usually accompany multilateral campaigns. This serves to bring the alliance closer through consistent combined service and training.

The adoption of all-volunteer forces was one of the key developments that helped former Warsaw Pact countries move closer to NATO standards. While expensive in the short term, the move enabled the countries to quickly discard vast quantities of excess Soviet or Soviet-derived equipment and facilitated the inclusion of NATO standards in the training of new recruits.

To be sure, even more than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, former Warsaw Pact countries continue to rely - sometimes heavily - on Warsaw Pact equipment. Given the considerable cost associated with the full transition to NATO standards in equipment, logistics and training, the obstacles are significant for many of the fiscally challenged countries.
Furthermore, many of these countries had developed their own significant military industry whose institutional knowledge and setup was geared more closely toward the production of Soviet-derived equipment. In some cases it has been difficult to overcome the entrenched industrial interests, and the overall downsizing of the industry has been painful. For example, in Poland, where the defense industry used to make everything from small arms to helicopters and where it still makes significant equipment such as armored vehicles, the industry had to be reduced from 180,000 workers in 1988 to 85,000 in 1995.

While all these countries have continued to move closer to full NATO standards, progress has been uneven. Bulgaria, and Slovakia in particular, are still heavily dependent on Soviet or Soviet-derived equipment. But even these countries have in many cases upgraded their Cold War-era equipment with NATO-standard components and avionics, and more than 20 years of close cooperation with long-standing NATO armies, and more recently with the NATO Standardization Agency, have better aligned the training and military doctrines of all ex-Warsaw Pact countries (aside from nations of the former Soviet Union). Indeed, the significant contributions that many of these countries have made to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have in many ways accelerated the information sharing process and have helped bind them more closely with NATO.

Fiscal and, in some cases, residual industrial constraints will ensure that overall progress will be inconsistent. However, in the future, and especially as aging Warsaw Pact equipment is steadily replaced and the institutional knowledge of NATO doctrine and standards grows, the former Warsaw Pact countries will increasingly align themselves with NATO standards.