Are bureaucrats and their red tape the best anti-war measure ever?

I wasn’t surprised to read this report – I’ve had more than enough experience with military and civilian bureaucracies to last me a lifetime! – but it highlights one of the more serious issues related to military preparedness during peacetime.

When NATO expanded eastwards a unique set of logistical problems were encountered. These new problems were not fully appreciated until 2015 when the United States decided to send military units by road (and railroad) to the easternmost new NATO members.

. . .

While the armed forces available to NATO far outnumber those of Russia, there is a major impediment to assembling and moving those forces by road to the aid of NATO nations bordering Russia. That enemy is the ancient bureaucracies that control the movement of foreign troops crossing borders, even those forces coming to your aid. This was demonstrated in early 2015 when a U.S. Army mechanized battalion made a very well publicized road march from Poland, Lithuania and Estonia back to its base in Germany. The American battalion required hundreds of hours of effort to complete the paperwork and get the permissions required to cross so many borders in military vehicles.

The pile of paperwork and weeks required to handle it were used as very concrete evidence to persuade the East European nations to streamline the process, a lot, or have themselves to blame if reinforcements did not arrive in a timely fashion. As usual a compromise was worked out and by 2016 six NFIUs (NATO Force Integration Units) were organized, each consisting of 40 troops trained and equipped to handle the paperwork and traffic control measures required to get military convoys across eastern borders as quickly as possible to specific countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania). The NFIU work out of embassies and stay in constant touch with the border control bureaucracies of the East European nations involved. NFIUs also arrange for rest areas and resupply for the convoys.

Thus NFIUs ensure that the routes used have roads and bridges that can handle the heavy trucks and armored vehicles involved. This is a crucial matter in East Europe. Since the 1950s West European nations have constantly upgraded and maintained roads and bridges to handle heavy vehicles, but East Europe had not, at least until the 1990s and the deferred upgrades, after decades of communist misrule, are still underway. The dozens of Russian divisions stationed in East Europe until 1990 were brought in piecemeal over decades, often transporting heavy equipment by ship or rail. Moreover, NATO heavy equipment is heavier than their Russian counterparts so even East European bridges built to handle Russian tanks often cannot deal with heavier M1s and Leopards.

The NFIUs must maintain a new database on 15,000 kilometers of East European roads and hundreds of bridges. Available cross-country routes have also been mapped and put into the database.

. . .

While all these rules and approvals would not stop invading Russians they would, in theory, slow down reinforces from the West. The Russians also know that even with NFIUs the movement of these troops is a slow and frustrating process and are ready to take advantage of it. So NATO continues to battle the bureaucracies to speed up the flow of reinforcements.

There’s more at the link.

I’m not sure who first said something along the lines of “Amateurs study tactics, but professionals study logistics”, but he was a wise man.  Who would have though that NATO’s mission might depend more – at least in its early stages – on dealing with bureaucrats than fighting the enemy?  I reckon that before long, in a real shooting war, the bureaucrats would be dealt with (if necessary the hard way), but initially, they could cause all sorts of problems.

(Of course, it’s also true that war itself gives rise to even bigger bureaucracies.  Just try running an army, or war industries, without armies of civil servants filling out forms, whether paper or electronic!)



  1. I would bet it is 99% keeping track of what roads are suitable to haul an M1 Abrams tank down at best possible speed.

    Did you know that your local fire department is not just joyriding around in their giant trucks when you see them on the road? They are testing the "route cards" (actual cards) that tell them the best way that is clear of obstructions like bridges, low power lines, construction, etc, etc. They try to test them all regularly so that they don't run into problems when they're in a hurry.

    I betcha the NATO guys do the same.

    At least I hope so.


    1. It takes pretty specialized trucks to move modern armored vehicles and stay below appropriate axle weight.

      I shou ld probably add that I am periferally involved in this stuff for work.

  2. Sounds like a viable defensive strategy against Russian invasion would be a coordinated plan to simultaneously and dramatically lower speed limits all across Eastern Europe.

  3. Hey Peter;

    I think it was Napoleon that said that, it was part of his success, he had commented that an army marches on their stomach and he made sure that the logistics were set before a battle.

  4. Bureaucrats and paperwork required when in peacetime.

    If the shooing starts, road marches are easily facilitated by rolling over police blockade who are trying to check papers. The bureaucrats can apologize afterwards.

    Now keeping track of appropriate roads and bridges? Yeah, that does need to be kept up.

    What do you want to bet that those bridges, roads and railroads, or at least critical points of road and railways, are pre-targeted by tactical missiles located in Russia?

  5. "Bureaucrats. Lawyers. Politicians. We really need a hunting season."
    You overlooked some: Media, Main Stream.

    Bag limits/no, wait, make that "bounties" are an important part of it.

  6. bureaucrats who could be paid traitors could gum up the works until too late, then live off their ill gotten gains in some backwater, never facing the music.
    bounties?- yeah there are people who will pay for the privilege of hunting.

  7. Back in WWII, when the infrastructure was even worse, knowing where to get your heavy tanks to the front was a huge problem. The American M4, at under 40 tons, had more routes to cross rivers than did Tigers and Russian Heavy tanks and tank destroyers. The German prototype super heavy Maus tank would have had even more difficulty.

    Of course this was a nice side effect for the M4. The reason it was under 40 tons was that dock cranes were rated for 40 tons. No roll on- roll off ships back then.

  8. Due to my (former) involvement in the Nuclear Industry, I am in awe of the accomplishments of the "Manhattan Project." In December 1942 Fermi and the University of Chicago team proved that a nuclear chain reaction was possible. By July 1945, Three full scale production reactors were and associated processing plants were constructed and placed into production. Enough plutonium was produced by July 1945 for three bombs, one detonated at the Trinity site, one was dropped on Nagasaki, and one was being assembled when the war ended. Today you couldn't get the environmental impact statements completed in that period.

  9. I doubt that they are going to worry about paperwork if an invasion happens. It's possible, but unlikely.
    Imminent death does wonders for concentration.

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