The NATO is weighing rotating four battalions of troops through Eastern European member states, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday (2 May), in the latest proposal by allies to guard against aggressive behavior by Russia.
The Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – which joined NATO in 2004, have requested greater presence of the alliance, fearing a threat from Russia after it annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
Poland, which will host the NATO Warsaw summit on 8-9 July, has asked the alliance to agree to deploy ‘substantial’ numbers of forces and equipment in Central and Eastern Europe to ensure the region’s security in the face of a more aggressive Russia.
Carter acknowledged NATO deliberations included the deployment of the four battalions to the Baltic states and Poland. The Wall Street Journal said this would likely total about 4,000 troops split between the United States and its allies.
“That’s one of the options that’s being discussed,” Carter told reporters traveling with him at the start of a three-day trip to Germany, declining to enter into details about the deliberations by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“We’re obviously involved in those discussions. I just don’t want to get out in front of where that goes.”
US officials say the goal in Europe is to move increasingly from efforts to reassure allies to broader activity to deter any aggressive moves by Russia.
The United States has already budgeted to sharply boost military training and exercises and last month announced it would deploy continuous rotations of US-based armored brigade combat teams to Europe.
Carter’s trip to Germany will include meetings with Army General Curtis Scaparrotti as he takes over as the next NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, succeeding US Air Force General Philip Breedlove.
Scaparrotti told a Senate hearing last month that a resurgent Russia was displaying “increasingly aggressive behavior that challenges the international norms, often in violation of international law.”
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, 2014, support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine and a Russian military build-up have provided Poland and other eastern NATO members with new arguments with which to press their case for more NATO troops to be stationed permanently in Eastern Europe.
Russia has threatened to retaliate against any such moves and some NATO members, including Germany, are sceptical of the idea for fear of antagonising Moscow.
Instead of permanently stationing troops, the alliance has instead offered to beef up exercises and rotate forces in and out of the region.