Rising Russian threat brings about U.S., NATO resurgence
After years of assurance aimed at maintaining European confidence in the U.S., “it’s all about deterrence” again, said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general, U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army.
Hodges was the lead speaker at “An Ocean Closer: Synchronizing Actions and Words from the Baltic to the Black Sea,” an Institute of Land Warfare Forum during the 2016 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition.
Approximately 30,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed across Europe, a fraction of the 300,000 kept there decades ago to deter a Soviet invasion.
Hodges said U.S. troop numbers and capabilities dwindled after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. But with the threat of Russia rising, the 30,000 are trying hard “to look and feel like 300,000,” Hodges said.
U.S. troops aren’t acting alone, Hodges noted. The NATO alliance has been undergoing a resurgence since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and fomented a separatist military campaign in Eastern Ukraine.
Finland Lt. Gen. Seppo Toivonen, commander of the Finnish Army, said Russian aggression in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and Syria as well as Ukraine is causing anxiety across Europe.
“Russia has challenged the essence of security” on the continent, said Toivonen, adding that his country, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, cannot afford to ignore Russian aggression.
The U.S. is preparing for Enhanced Forward Presence, which will increase U.S. forces on the continent. In 2017, the equivalent of an armored brigade combat team will be sent to Europe and remain on a rotational basis.
Prepositioned vehicles, weapons and other war equipment will also be moved to the continent to bolster deterrence.
In January, a full armored brigade combat team is scheduled to arrive in Europe. Part of its deployment is to determine how long it will take to unload tanks and other equipment from ships, load them onto trains and trucks, and move them to key locations to halt a Russian incursion, Hodges said.
During the post-Cold War lull, NATO nations “gave away” critical equipment such as amphibious bridges and mine-laying gear, said Lt. Gen. Jorg Vollmer, chief of staff of the German Army.
Those capabilities must be restored, he said.
Interoperability among NATO allies must also be enhanced. Allies ought to be able to refuel any vehicle in the alliance, Hodges said. Today, they can’t. There is a NATO universal adapter for refueling but so far, only the U.S. and France have it.
Russia isn’t the only threat that challenges the security of Europe, Vollmer said. The Islamic State group and a number of failed states in Africa are contributing to a massive flood of refugees that is unsettling Europe.
Terrorists have struck in France, Belgium, Turkey and elsewhere. NATO must prepare for those threats, too, he said.