NATO kicked off the largest air force deployment exercise Air Defender 2023, in Germany on June 12. The 10-day exercise is the biggest-ever of its kind in NATO's history, and takes place in the vast areas extending to the Russia-Ukraine border, with Germany as the center. The US even dispatched aircraft including B-1 bombers and F-35 fighter jets to participate in the drill.
It is worth noting that the exercise happened against the backdrop of escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine. As the Ukrainian military was poised for a strategic counterattack, the Nova Kakhovka dam collapsed after several explosions, resulting in a severe humanitarian crisis and environmental disaster. Afterward, some NATO member countries declared that they would provide more medium- and long-range offensive missiles to Ukraine. The US hinted that it might allow Ukraine to attack the mainland of Russia. Some Eastern European countries even claimed that they would bypass NATO and directly deploy troops in Ukraine.
Liu Heping, a Chinese military commentator, believes that NATO launched this large-scale joint air defense exercise because, on the one hand, it intends to pacify some aggressive member states that itch for action and to unify the paces of its member countries; on the other hand, it wants to incite Ukraine to “take bold actions to attack Russia since NATO would back it” while warning Russia not to “escalate the conflict into a nuclear war”.
Previously, Lieutenant General Michael A. Loh, director of the US Air National Guard, told The Wall Street Journal that the exercise went beyond deterrence; it was a true, serious military maneuver and deployment. “The subtext behind his words is that if unexpected situations occur in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, there is a possibility for NATO to be directly involved in the war,” Liu noted. “Perhaps NATO will participate in the war in the form of large-scale air raids and targeted killings. It is unlikely that NATO will deploy ground troops.”
Though not a NATO member, Japan sent its Self-Defense Forces to participate in Air Defender 2023. This was the first time Japan joined NATO's air deployment exercises. Liu pointed out that Japan's participation is unexpected, considering that the country on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean hasn't joined NATO yet and is under the constraint of the Article 9 of its constitution.
He noted that through dispatching its Self-Defense Forces to participate in the exercise, Japan not only tried to fawn on NATO, so as to prepare for introducing NATO into the Asia-Pacific region and establishing the NATO office in Tokyo, but also harbored ulterior motives.
According to Michael A. Loh, the exercise aimed to enable the NATO forces to achieve similar deployments in places as far as the ROK or Japan within hours, instead of months, in the future. Liu commented that this means if NATO is directly involved in the war with Russia, its allied forces will attack Russia from the west, namely Europe, and Japan, the ROK, as well as the US troops stationed in the two countries, will attack Russia from the east, namely Northeast Asia, thus forming a pincer attack.
“In my view, the reason Japan participated in NATO's large-scale joint air defense exercise Air Defender 2023 may be to get prepared to attack Russia from the east once it is involved in the war, and at the same time, this move aimed to offset the influence of Russia's ongoing military drills in the Baltic Sea in the west as well as the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk in the east,” Liu added.
It is likely that Japan intends to gain leverage for the dispute on the Southern Kurils (claimed as the Northern Territories by Japan) by joining NATO's war against Russia. Liu said this explained the rumor that after the end of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Japan and Germany may provide economic compensation to Ukraine in place of Russia, and the latter may have to return some disputed territories to Japan and Germany. Therefore, many countries which have territorial disputes with Russia due to historical reasons are itching for a try.
Editor's note: Originally published on baijiahao.baidu.com, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.