The United States has announced plans to double its military presence in Europe as part of a move to support NATO against increasing “Russian aggression”.
The plans are part of the European Reassurance Initiative outlined in the 2017 defense budget, which has been sent to congress for approval.
“We’re going to move to a so-called heel to toe basis, where we’re over there consistently on the ground exercising,” said Under Secretary of Defense Mike McCord in a Feb. 9 briefing, according to a transcript.
The Pentagon requested $800 million for a similar program last year, and they received nearly four-times that amount in this year’s budget, with $3.4 billion. The amount is close to half the $7.5 billion the budget allocates to secure Syria and Iraq.
In earlier remarks on Feb. 2, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the move aims to reinforce the U.S. posture in Europe “to support our NATO allies in the face of Russia’s aggression.”
The funds will be used for more operational U.S. forces in Europe and more training with U.S. allies, as well as for improvements in gear and infrastructure.
Carter said “all of this together by the end of 2017 will let us rapidly form a highly capable combined arms ground force that can respond across that theater, if necessary.”
The European Reassurance Initiative was announced by President Barack Obama on June 3, 2014, just three months after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The initiative was intended to maintain a U.S. military presence in Europe that could respond to threats, and provide security assistance to countries being threatened by Russia—including Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
According to a statement from Obama on Feb. 2, however, previous U.S. military efforts in Europe “were all necessary, but they are not sufficient.”
As the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw draws near, he said, “it is clear that the United States and our allies must do more to advance our common defense in support of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.”
The increased focus on Europe is in line with the overall direction of the new defense budget, which identifies Russia and China as two of the world’s leading security threats.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work in a Feb 9 press briefing said,according to a transcript, “today, we are faced by a resurgent, revanchist Russia and a rising China.”
Work noted that both Russia and China “are becoming more aggressive along their peripheries—Russia on its western borders abutting NATO, and China in its near seas.”
While the United States will continue to keep working with Russia and China “on issues of mutual interest to both countries,” Work said, “we concluded the Department must be prepared for a period of increased competition over the next 25 years.”
Under the new budget the United States will focus on quality over quantity, and the focus, Work said, is to “prioritize strengthening our conventional deterrent against the most advanced potential adversaries.”
European nations are also working out ways to deter growing threats from Russia, alongside the increased U.S. initiative.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb. 9, noting that “over the next two days, NATO defense ministers will make decisions to address the changed security environment we are facing.”
Stoltenberg said the defense officials are looking at threats from Russia to the east, and Islamic extremism to the south. They’re working out a strategy focused on deterrence and defense.
They’re also focused on deterring hybrid attacks, such as the type used by Russia in Ukraine. It used a mix of conventional military force, alongside subversion, cyberattacks, and propaganda.
“I expect ministers to agree to enhance our forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance,” Stoltenberg said. “This will bolster our collective defense, and at the same time send a powerful signal to deter any aggression or intimidation.”
He said the increased U.S. budget for its operations in Europe “is a significant step” that will fund “persistent rotational presence of air, land, and maritime forces and more training and exercises.”