Iconic Photography and Ironic Geography: NATO Chief Launches First Fifth-Generation Aircraft Carrier

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg contrived to have himself photographed aboard the newly-launched British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, now the flagship of the Royal Navy, on May 27. The occasion chosen was the participation of the carrier and its strike group – ultimately en route to points near the Russian and Chinese coasts – in this year’s iteration of Steadfast Defender war games currently being held off the coast of Portugal. The 40-day exercises subsumed ​under the above code name include inaugurating two new NATO commands, Joint Force Command Norfolk and Joint Support and Enabling Command, which are based in Norfolk, Virginia and in Ulm, Germany, respectively.

The mission of the two new commands in the current exercise is, as described by the U.S. Navy, to “test NATO’s capability to secure the strategic and sea lines of communication and move large numbers of troops, equipment and supplies across the Atlantic and Europe in response to the exercise scenario.” And to further elaborate: “The prompt deployment of forces from North America, their movement across the European Continent, and the integration of multinational troops will strengthen the readiness and deterrence posture of Allied Command Operations.” Norfolk also hosts NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (NATO’s Warfare Development Command) and U.S. Navy’s Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world.

The purpose of the second phase is to expedite the rapid movement of military forces across national borders in Europe. In an eastward direction, needless to say.

That is, to move troops and equipment across the Atlantic to Western Europe (to nations like Portugal), and then eastward toward the Russian border for potential, one is tempted to say inevitable, conflict with that nation.

Steadfast Defender 2021, one of 95 scheduled military exercises conducted and supported by NATO this year, highlights Britain’s new aircraft carrier, which is capable of carrying sixty aircraft and is described as being the first carrier specifically designed primarily if not solely to accommodate fifth-generation warplanes.

The U.S. Second Fleet, which is assigned to the East Coast of the U.S. and the North Atlantic Ocean (the rest of the world’s oceans are divided between the Third-to-Seventh Fleets), attempts to deflect attention from its mission in the ongoing war games – moving men and matériel to the Russian border – by claiming the Atlantic component of Steadfast Defender 2021 is concerned with protecting transatlantic cables against the nefarious designs of malign forces (more or less a paraphrase). Norfolk commander U.S. Navy Vice-Admiral Andrew Lewis is quoted as saying: “There are nations are out there mapping those cables. They may be doing something else bad. We have to be aware of that and answer that.” He identified Russia as the main mapping malefactor. Of course.

The NATO forces deployed to “protect cables” include submarines, twenty warships and sixty warplanes. HMS Queen Elizabeth joined the current exercise after engaging in its maiden drills as part of Britain’s biannual Joint Warrior exercise in the Irish Sea this year subsumed under another exercise, Strike Warrior 21, specifically designed for the carrier.

When NATO’s Stoltenberg grandstanded on the deck of the Queen Elizabeth (named after her of the sinking of the Spanish Armada and not the current queen) last week he was accompanied by NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Tod Wolters (also commander of U.S. European Command), the head of NATO’s Military Committee, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach (who recently visited Ukraine and Georgia), Britain’s First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin and Portuguese Defence Minister João Gomes Cravinho. The four appeared less than heroic with their faces covered by paper masks rather than by the visored helmets or crested casques of a more heroic epoch. Hardly a case of Lives of all great men remind us.

NATO photograph

The upshot of his comments were:

“The first aircraft carrier in the world designed to operate fifth generation combat aircraft – from these decks, the Queen Elizabeth projects power to keep us all safe. She carries US Marines. She is protected by a Dutch frigate and she is on her way to the Pacific. So this is a perfect example of Europe and North America working together in NATO for our collective security.”

Deploying the world’s newest and in ways most advanced aircraft carrier and its strike group to the Pacific Ocean is the quintessential example of European and North American member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization working in unison for the defense of “our collective security.”

The exercise will shift from its first, transatlantic, phase to the Black Sea with the deployment of NATO’s 4,000-troop Very High Readiness Joint Task Force to Romania and “the simulated rapid movement of allied forces and equipment across Europe.”

From the world’s largest naval station to Russia’s Black Sea coast. An unparalleled rapid deployment that in Stoltenberg’s words “reflects NATO’s resolve to deter and defend across the Euro-Atlantic area.” And into the Pacific Ocean near China’s coast. Curious notion of geography to be sure.

Rick Rozoff is a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.

Author: Rick Rozoff

Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.