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OPINION

US reestablishing strong presence in Europe

By F. CHARLES PARKER IV | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: April 23, 2019

In February I wrote an op-ed here that argued that President Donald Trump really is tough on Russia. The op-ed cited a change in U.S. behavior toward Europe and NATO that began immediately with the administration’s first budget request and continued through Trump’s first two years. Now that the administration has submitted the fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request, and taking account of recent U.S. and NATO military activities, we can see that the effort to bolster NATO and U.S. leadership thereof is continuing for a third year. And the effort is bearing fruit.

The project began as a response to Russian aggression in Ukraine that began in 2014. The Obama administration had withdrawn the last of U.S. armor from Europe in October 2013, making any meaningful NATO ground response impossible. The Obama administration began its reaction to the aggression with a $1 billion one-year program to deploy a rotational force and followed with a $3.4 billion fiscal 2017 budget request for the European Reassurance Initiative focused on continuing a rotational armored presence in Europe.

The Trump administration immediately accelerated and changed the nature of the program from “reassurance” to “deterrence.” The administration began with a $4.8 billion fiscal 2018 request (and changed the name to European Deterrence Initiative) and a $6.3 billion fiscal 2019 request. The fiscal 2020 budget request for EDI is $5.9 billion. While slightly less than the 2019 request, it reflects a move from building capacity to increased activity. Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan explained that nonrecurring costs are complete and now the program is sustaining the level of effort, conducting more exercises and actually deploying more troops. Given the 2013 total withdrawal of U.S. armor, the Army has been the focus of the funding — with the Army funding in each of the three years at $3.24 billion, $4.56 billion and $3.98 billion, respectively.

The amount dedicated specifically to “increased presence” increased in the 2020 budget from $1.87 billion in 2019 to $2.05 billion. The amount dedicated to exercises and training more than doubled from 2019 to 2020 by going from $291 million to $609 million. The budget also includes aid, to include replacement of any weapons already provided, for Ukraine.

The “increased presence” funds sustain an increased number of rotational forces and defer previously planned force reductions. That ensures a U.S. presence across eastern Europe to include the Baltic states, Bulgaria and Romania.

A part of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act (a politically binding agreement that established a mechanism for NATO-Russia consultations) included NATO assurances that, for the foreseeable future, the alliance would not permanently station “substantial” combat forces outside the territory of the then-16 allies. Although there is ample argument to conclude that circumstances have changed, some allies believe NATO should retain the “moral high ground” and continue to honor the pledge. A Polish offer to support with funding infrastructure to help with the permanent stationing of U.S. forces met with a welcoming U.S. response that makes it clear the U.S. does not believe the 1997 act hinders the alliance from doing what is necessary for effective deterrence.

On April 1 of this year, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that NATO would contribute $260 million to fund maintenance and storage of U.S. equipment in central Poland. The U.S. is building a prepostioned Armored Brigade Combat Team in central Poland. The NATO funding makes it clear that this is in support of the alliance and more than a bilateral U.S.-Polish effort. This is not permanent stationing but, in addition to continuous rotational U.S. forces in Poland, is about as close as one can get.

The United States sent a powerful political signal on March 11 when it began to deploy 1,500 soldiers from the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, on a no-notice exercise to the Drawsko Pomorskie training area in Poland. The majority of the soldiers landed in Europe on March 19, fell in on already prepositioned equipment and began training in the field. The United States, with NATO support, ultimately will be able to deploy rapidly a complete ABCT to fall in on prepositioned equipment.

Also this month, the U.S. concluded a comprehensive defense agreement with Lithuania that guarantees the U.S. will continue to deploy troops to Lithuania and help the Lithuanians develop anti-tank and missile systems. Similar agreements with Estonia and Latvia are expected in the near future. The effort also include air and naval measures. The U.S. Air Force B-52s deployed to England, flying to Lithuania and Poland for training missions in March of this year. NATO has also stepped up its presence in the Black sea, a flash point with Russia. In 2018 NATO ships spent 120 days in the Black Sea, up from 80 in 2017.

The U.S. is reestablishing a strong presence in Europe and is again leading a resurgent NATO. This effort began immediately with the accession of the Trump administration and has continued consistently. I call that being tough on Russia.

F. Charles Parker IV is a retired Army colonel who lives in Belgium. He was the head of Arms Control Coordination on the International Staff at NATO for 16 years and is the author of “Vietnam: Strategy for a Stalemate.”

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