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Obama seeks $1 billion for new US mission in Europe

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a statement during a defense ministers meeting in Brussels on June 3, 2014.

STUTTGART, Germany — President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he will seek $1 billion to boost the U.S. military presence in eastern Europe as part of an effort to reassure and train allies rattled by recent Russian aggression in the region.

In addition, the U.S. will be moving more military hardware to the region, Obama said.

“Under this effort, and with the support of Congress, the United States will preposition more equipment in Europe,” Obama said during a news conference in Warsaw.

The “European Reassurance Initiative” calls for an intensified rotational mission in eastern Europe, where the U.S. has already stepped up the presence of warships in the Black Sea as well as fighters and other aircraft over the Baltic states and ground troops throughout the region. The initiative, which requires congressional approval, also calls for more security cooperation with non-NATO allies such as Georgia and Moldova, two countries that have been at odds with Moscow.

Poland, which has been in the forefront of those nations calling for a more robust response to Russia, is likely to welcome Obama’s request for additional defense funding. But not all of its partners share Warsaw’s sense of urgency when it comes to Russia, and most have been slashing their defense spending rather than boosting it.

Prepositioning more equipment in Europe could be a precursor to a plan to ramp up the readiness of NATO’s Response Force, which includes troops from a Texas-based Army brigade and thousands of troops from other member states. Top U.S. and NATO military commander Gen. Philip Breedlove has stated that force should be transformed to meet current threats, but that “readiness isn’t free.” So far, the force has been used mainly for training events, but Breedlove has emphasized the need to bolster the unit’s ability to mobilize on short notice.

At the same time, the U.S. continues to analyze its force structure in Europe.

“In addition to this initiative, we are reviewing our force presence in Europe in light of the new security challenges on the continent,” the White House stated. “These efforts will not come at the expense of other defense priorities, such as our commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance.”

For the Pentagon, the challenge is balancing competing needs at a time of limited resources. While the U.S. wants to reassure allies, it also is working on a plan to close and consolidate more bases in Europe. Those plans continue to move forward in seeming contradiction to efforts aimed at reassuring allies.

By beefing up the rotational presence and increasing exercises, the U.S. could be seeking a way to make up the difference.

John Deni, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, says more rotational forces could boost readiness and the military’s ability to partner with allies, but such a program will be efficient only if rotations are over a long duration.

“We do need to be more responsive. So how do you do that in a more cost effective way? It’s not cost-effective to move families (over to Europe),” Deni said. “Deploying rotational forces can be, but it needs to be over 11 or 12 months to avoid enormous transportation costs.”

What isn’t yet clear is how much other nations will be willing to spend to ensure allies are able to more rapidly respond to crises.

“Everyone has the capacity to do their fair share, to do a proportional amount to make sure we have the resources, the planning, the integration, the training in order to be effective,” Obama said.

A long-term plan to ramp up NATO’s military readiness is underway, but political consensus on the details isn’t likely until alliance heads of state assemble for September’s summit in Wales, NATO’s top official said Tuesday.

The crisis in Ukraine — along with a range of other threats, including terrorism, piracy and cybercrime — means the 28-nation alliance must adapt, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

“So we need to make NATO fitter, faster and more flexible,” Rasmussen said at the start of two days of talks with defense ministers in Brussels. ”We will do that through a readiness action plan. To make sure our forces are even more responsive, with the right capabilities, the right training and the right resources. This work is already ongoing, but the crisis makes it more urgent.”

When heads of state from all NATO members meet in Wales in September, Russian aggression around Ukraine is sure to dominate events even as the alliance prepares for a post-combat mission in Afghanistan.

Tensions between the west and Russia are at their highest since the end of the Cold War more than 20 years ago. For its part, the U.S. has signaled that it aims to boost its presence in Europe, at least on a rotational basis, as evidenced by Obama’s plan to seek $1 billion from Congress.

Rasmussen credited the U.S. with taking a lead in ongoing efforts to reassure allies in the east through a series of exercises in the Baltics and Poland.

“The U.S. has reacted swiftly after Russia’s illegal military actions in Ukraine. And I appreciate that other allies have followed,” Rasmussen said.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen also condemned Tuesday’s presidential election in Syria, which he characterized as a farce that “doesn’t fulfill international standards for free, fair, transparent elections.”

“I’m sure no ally will recognize the outcome of these so-called elections,” Rasmussen said.

Anti-missile Patriot batteries from three NATO member states continue to operate in southern Turkey to protect Turkish airspace from any potential incursion from Syria. The U.S., Nether-lands and Germany have been contributors to the mission.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
 

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