WASHINGTON — NATO’s supreme allied commander will present options to the North Atlantic Council on April 15 on how the alliance will reassure eastern European members that NATO is committed to defending them, including military exercises, an alliance spokesman said.
“He’s looking at a wide range of options and has continued to emphasize that NATO nations should look at how its forces are currently configured in light of the current situation,” Army Col. Martin Downie wrote in an email Wednesday, referring to Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, who is also commander of U.S. European Command (EUCOM).
Any decision about increasing the number of U.S. troops in Europe would be made by the Defense Department and National Security Council, said U.S. European Command spokesman Navy Capt. Gregory Hicks.
“If we would require additional forces to support them, then we [EUCOM] would have to look at how we do that and request appropriately via the Joint Staff,” Hicks wrote in an email Wednesday.
Recently, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Bloomberg that the Army could add a brigade combat team to Europe to supplement the two brigades there.
Since February, Russia has annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine and has amassed troops on its border with Ukraine, raising fears that it might seek to incorporate other parts of the country. Dov Zakheim, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic & International Studies, recently suggested that the U.S. should move ground forces into Poland and other NATO members near Russia, the Christian Science Monitor reported on Tuesday.
When asked whether such a move would be a good idea, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said he supports stationing U.S. ground troops in Poland and the Baltics.
“I think it’s simply common sense to have a politically significant, even if not large scale US military presence in the countries you mention,” Brzezinski wrote in an email Wednesday. “A tripwire has the same effect as a fence; it makes for more stable neighborly relations.”
His son Ian, who served as deputy assistant defense secretary for Europe and NATO policy, said moving troops to Poland and other NATO nations would protect them from Russian aggression, but added that such a move would do nothing to stop Russia from taking further moves against Ukraine and Moldova.
NATO’s response so far of sending a ship to the Black Sea, 175 Marines to Romania and aircraft to Poland and the Baltics has has been symbolic, the younger Brzezinski wrote in an email Wednesday.
“At the same time it has refused Ukraine’s requests for military equipment to help defend itself against further Russian aggression and President Obama has asserted publicly that he will not allow a U.S. ‘military excursion’ into Ukraine against Russia, a sentiment that has been reiterated by other allied leaders,” he wrote. “As a result, NATO, under US leadership, has drawn a red line in Europe along NATO’s eastern frontier, a red line that has left Ukraine militarily isolated, fending for itself — a de facto military carte blanche for further Russian military action against Ukraine if not also Moldova.”
In addition to reassuring NATO’s eastern European members, the U.S. government should impose tighter sanctions on Russia to deter it from moving farther into Ukraine, said Barry Pavel, vice president and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.
Russian President Vladimir Putin understands that an attack on a NATO member would be considered an attack on the vital interests of the United States, Pavel said Wednesday.
“Even Putin, who doesn’t exactly have a functional decision-making process, knows there’s a big difference between attacking a NATO member and attacking a non-NATO member,” he said.
Still, U.S. military exercises in Eastern Europe could help to underpin diplomatic efforts to curb Russian ambitions in Ukraine, Pavel said.
“Currently, there are some people calling for re-thinking NATO’s commitment not to station substantial combat forces in some of the new members’ territory, and I think that discussion alone has caused some significant debate and rhetoric by senior Russian leaders who are very concerned about that — and I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “They should be concerned about that.”