Ukraine crisis forces US to keep military in Europe

Ukraine crisis forces US to keep military in Europe

The United States must work with a politically divided Europe to face down Russia. The Ukrainian crisis will force the US to keep a strong presence despite the wish to scale down and focus on its shift towards Asia.

The US Army’s current presence in Europe is approximately 30,000 troops, mainly the 2nd Cavalry in Germany and the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy. At the start of the year the US Army positioned M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2A3/M3A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles in the Grafenwöhr Training Area in Bavaria, Germany.

These forces will play a significant role as the US looks to shore up its support for NATO allies in the face of possible Russian aggression.

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, recently said that Russia still had large number of forces in position along Ukraine’s border, despite assurances of a drawback. As the Pro-Russian insurrection in eastern Ukraine continues with no signs of abating, the US is showing its support for NATO allies. The Obama administration’s European Reassurance Initiative comprises $1 billion for increased military rotational presence, training, and joint exercises.

U.S Military repositioning

While that is a significant number, concerns remain. The US government began scaling down its military posture in Europe in 2012, and the European Reassurance Initiative has so far fallen short of Poland’s expectations. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia still fret that their inclusion in NATO may not matter to the US in the event of war with Russia.

On top of these concerns, Exercise Rapid Trident 14, to take place this July in Ukraine, has been postponed. However, this is due to the Ukrainian army being tied up with the Pro-Russian insurgency in the east rather than any faltering of US commitments.

Despite accusing Moscow of breaking the pact, General Philip Breedlove signaled that NATO would continue to comply with the 1997 NATO-Russia agreement. Yet, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged support to the Ukrainian military and said that NATO had to alter its view of Russia, saying “We must adapt to the fact that Russia now considers us its adversary.”

Permenant American bases proposed

In line with that thinking, and following Obama’s recent speech in Poland, there are advocates for the establishment of new permanent US bases. Two army brigades in Poland and one brigade in the Baltic region, as well as Romania to check Russia’s expansion into the Black Sea would be sufficient to reassure allies.

This would be done to offset Russia’s military spending, which is projected to increase by 18.4 percent in 2014. The Russian government is undertaking a 10-year modernization plan after its military showed shortcomings during the 2008 Georgian War. Rasmussen has voiced concern that while Russia has ramped up defense spending the Western European nations have been cutting back on their military budgets.

Poland has long sought a guarantee for its national security, a permanent NATO garrison in its territory. According to Eugeniusz Smolar, a foreign policy analyst, “something very dramatic has happened: for the first time since the war a European border has been changed by force. Poland wants NATO troops here. They don’t have to be American, but they do have to be from NATO.” Poland, for its part, raised its defense spending to 2 percent of the national GDP.

A coherent strategy to form a united front against Russia’s actions in Ukraine is still lacking. Western firms have a combined total of $35 billion invested in Russia, the world’s fastest growing energy market. There is great resistance in the US and in Europe for further sanctions.

France is moving forward with its $1.6 billion deal to sell Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia, much to the Obama Administration’s dismay. The European energy markets may soon face major disruptions as Russia prepares for a third round of gas war with Ukraine.

Debates in the United States Congress over military budget cuts still loom large. The A-10 Warthog is one close combat support aircraft that may face the axe by the end of this year. Despite concerns at home about the national debt and military spending, the United States remains the key actor to holding the NATO alliance together. Plans to scale down American military forces in Europe will likely be reversed in the face of a resurgent Russia.

Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Chris Solomon

Chris Solomon is a Middle East Analyst and works for a U.S. defense consultancy in the Washington DC Metro Area. He has presented at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, on the U.S. strategy to combat ISIL. Chris’ writing has also appeared on NATO's Atlantic Treaty Association, Raddington Report, Small Wars Journal, and Syria Comment. He holds an MA in International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA). You can follow Chris on Twitter @Solomon_Chris