restricted access 4 Failed Rampart
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58 The decision of the Atlantic Council in October 1951 to admit Turkey and Greece into its ranks ostensibly represented a significant expansion of the defense community ’s capabilities and, at the same time, a boon to its two new members. The enlargement made possible the protection of NATO’s vitally important communication lines in the entire Mediterranean and established for the alliance a “Balkan front,” extending its southern flank eastward from the Adriatic to the borders of Soviet Armenia and Georgia. For their part, Turkey and Greece, both recent targets of direct or indirect Soviet pressures, were brought behind NATO’s nuclear security shield and provided with access to the vast economic, industrial, and military resources of the Atlantic community, especially those of the United States.1 Thus, membership in NATO secured their place in the Western world and extended to them enormous benefits. Real protection from external attack, however, remained problematic. Under NATO plans, the principal mission of the Balkan front was to block or at least impede the advance of Soviet forces into the eastern Mediterranean overland through Thrace or the breaching of the Turkish Straits. In addition, Turkey and Greece could assist in securing shipping lanes and communications in the eastern Mediterranean and in supporting operations of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in that area. In the event of a Soviet attack on West-Central Europe, the two Balkan allies were expected to enhance NATO’s operational capabilities by strengthening its southern flank, forcing the dispersion of enemy troops and threatening to exact a heavy price from the left flank of the invading armies. Finally, and most important, the Balkan front was responsible for the defense of Greece and Turkey, specifically against attack from or through Bulgaria. 4 Failed Rampart NATO’s Balkan Front John O. Iatrides nato’s balkan front 59 According to regional military authorities, the tasks outlined above could be achieved if certain key prerequisites were put in place. First, the adoption in the Balkans of a forward defense strategy (defense at the border), which NATO had already instituted for Western Europe, would enable Greece and Turkey to hold western (Greek) and eastern (Turkish) Thrace, the narrow strip of land along the Aegean linking the two neighbors. Second, the establishment of a major NATO naval base in the Aegean would facilitate the ability of fast patrol and torpedo boats to intercept Soviet warships attempting to enter the eastern Mediterranean. Third, in the event of attack through Bulgaria, the cooperation of Yugoslavia’s armed forces would be needed to assist Greece and Turkey in holding the line in Thrace by forming a strong and continuous front.2 As students of NATO know, none of these essential prerequisites materialized. Consequently, almost from its inception the Balkan front consisted of periodic planning sessions and impressive-sounding allied headquarters commanding mostly inadequate and unintegrated national forces. The reasons for this failure are many and can only be briefly outlined here. No Forward Defense In 1952 Greek military planners sought NATO’s formal approval to advance the country’s main defense line closer to the Bulgarian border (along the Nestos River) and implement the strategy of forward defense. Such a move would enable Greece and Turkey to coordinate their efforts closely in defending all of Thrace and protecting the western flank of the Turkish Straits. It would also compel the enemy to concentrate troops on Bulgarian soil in preparation for attack, making them attractive targets for NATO’s air power and projected tactical nuclear weapons . Otherwise, if the Greek defense line remained at its designated position (the Struma River), defending Thrace and eastern Macedonia would be impossible and any nuclear explosions would devastate Greek territory. At the regional level NATO planners were receptive to Greek arguments for the adoptionofforwarddefenseintheBalkansandforaconcertedalliedefforttodefend allofThrace.Preoccupiedwithotherpriorities,however,higherauthoritieswouldnot agree to supply Greece with the requisite weapons for such a difficult undertaking: large numbers of medium tanks, heavy artillery, fighter-bombers, and modern warships . In NATO’s original plans, which adopted American strategic considerations, the primary mission of the Greek armed forces was to provide for internal security; defense against external attack (“repelling an attack by satellite forces augmented by guerrillas”) was viewed as a secondary task.3 From the outset, Greek defense capabilities against external attack (forward defense) required substantial support from NATO. Although the Greek armed forces improved greatly over the years, forward 60 Nato and the warsaw pact defense remained beyond their capabilities. By contrast, the much larger but poorly equipped...


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Subject Headings

  • Soviet Union -- Foreign relations -- Europe, Eastern.
  • Europe, Eastern -- Foreign relations -- Soviet Union.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Europe.
  • Europe -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • Warsaw Treaty Organization -- History.
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cold War.
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