After the fall of the Soviet Union the traditional core of the NATO defense of Europe fell apart. The US, UK, France, and Germany all decided to go “Peace Dividend!!!” and essentially dismantle their armed forces to sizes that were suitable to their individual national security needs. The assumption was that the totality of the alliance would be enough to ensure security in Europe.
Because everyone got smaller, the joint and multinational nature of NATO operations got more and more prevalent. In the link above the NATO AWAC mission is supported by personnel from all over. The fact that the SHAPE Commander moved an AWAC from Germany to Turkey is not in dispute, nor is the ability of the SHAPE Commander to do so.
What is in dispute is that German politicians are getting their panties in a bunch because they weren’t consulted about moving German service members along with the aircraft. Welcome to alliance operations.
By going public with reservations about operating as part of the alliance Germany has given ammunition to Putin’s plans to fracture the NATO alliance. “If Germany won’t even support the deployment of AWACs, with no offensive weapons at all, to Turkey then how will they support Estonia? Or Lithuania? Or Latvia?” The Russian propaganda machine will ask, and ask loudly and repeatedly.
Over the course of conversations with “New Europeans” who gained independence from the Evil Empire, they expect help from other New Europeans and Americans. They expect the Brits to show support, but right now the state of the British military is essentially insignificant as far as expeditionary warfighting capabilities against a modern, mechanized, and competent Russia.
This brings up the problem of the Alliance. It isn’t money, the GDP of Italy is about the size of the GDP of Russia, nor is it total plane or tank or troop numbers. It is the fact that the alliance can’t assemble a cohesive Army, Air Force, or Navy. NATO can certainly assemble a lot of ground troops, a lot of aircraft, and a lot of ships from member nations (save for Iceland which has no military at all). But that force remains untested, mostly undrilled, and struggles to operate below the strategic level of war.
This is why Russia is frisky, because it can be. Russia has little to fear from NATO, but Putin will continue to use NATO as a boogeyman to frighten Russians into supporting his dreams of Empire.
The troubles now are the payment for the “peace dividend” of before coming due.