Protecting the Old Continent

The 2017 budget requested by the US Department of Defense shows that there has been a shift in emphasis and that US military engagement on the Old Continent has become a major priority as a logical consequence of the security situation in Eastern Europe.

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Armoured vehicles of 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment manoeuvring in Germany on 20 January 2016. (Credit: U.S. Army Sgt. William A. Tanner)

Faced with the growing threat of Russia, the Pentagon wants to reassure its Atlantic allies by investing more money, personnel and equipment. The European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), set up in June 2014 to reassure its European partners in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, could see its budget quadruple in 2017, moving from $789m to $3.4bn.

We’re going to have to help countries to harden themselves against Russian influence … and also mount — as we did in decades past — staunch defence of our NATO allies,” Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defence, told the Economic Club of Washington on 2 February. An announcement pointing to a reinvestment in the US military presence in Europe after decades of withdrawal.

The growth in the ERI budget “will fund a lot of things: more rotational U.S. forces in Europe, more training and exercising with our allies, more pre-position and war-fighting gear and infrastructure improvements to support all this,” Carter added.

Of the $3.4bn requested for ERI more than half, $1.9bn, will be earmarked to maintain and expand the pre-positioned sets of war-fighting equipment. In a Cold War scenario this Army Prepositioned Stock, as it is known, means that in an emergency the United States only has to fly in extra personnel. Greatly reduced after the fall of the communist regimes, this stocking programme has recently returned to the fore with additional equipment sets, including tanks, heavy artillery, weapons, ammunition and other gear being added in Western Europe, as well as maintaining those already set up in the Baltic States and in Eastern Europe.

Another $1.05bn will go to expanding the permanent deployments. There are currently two armoured brigade combat teams (BCT) in Europe. The addition of a third BCT consisting of 4,000 to 5,000 troops in the rotation means there will be three BCTs on the continent at all times.

The Pentagon also wants to put $217m into improving infrastructure: military bases, training ranges and air fields, notably in Eastern Europe. This will allow the armies concerned to improved their training and receive reinforcements during an emergency.

ERI increased the number and size of exercises and partnership in 2015, a tendency which will be confirmed if the $163m earmarked for this mission is ratified.

Finally, $86m will go to consolidating the resilience of US partners and allies through institutional development and training.

Even if these financial considerations may seem a little remote for European countries, the Pentagon’s request seems to confirm the shift in emphasis and a return to US military presence and power in Europe. While the first two years of ERI were conceived as a one-year or short-term effort, the 2017 budget request points to a long-term commitment.