US prepares for long-term European security build-up after Russian invasion
But Milley’s recommendation came with a twist: He said he didn’t think the United States needed to permanently station troops on these bases to create an effective deterrent.
“I believe that many of our European allies, especially those like in the Baltics, Poland, Romania or elsewhere, are very, very willing to establish permanent bases,” Milley told lawmakers in testimony at the Congress. “They’ll build them, they’ll pay for them, etc., for us to rotate through them. So you get the effect of a permanent force presence, but the actual individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines are not there. not permanently parked for 2-3 years.”
The Pentagon’s $773 billion budget proposal released last week indicates that the US military still views China as its top strategic challenge. While the budget was largely prepared before the Russian invasion, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said last week that the budget “prioritizes China as a stimulus challenge” while recognizing the “acute threat posed by Russia”.
The two countries present different threats: China’s economy is significantly larger than Russia’s, with economic power to directly challenge the United States, although it is still unclear to what extent Beijing would be willing to use his rapidly expanding army in conflict with another major country. Russia, however, has shown its willingness to use its military to achieve its goals – the full-scale invasion of Ukraine comes after previous military incursions into Ukraine and Georgia.
“We’re in the midst of a two-decade shift from counterinsurgency to near peer-to-peer competition. The idea was that the only big competition would be China, but now we’re looking at two main competitors,” the president said. Senate Armed Forces, Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, told CNN.
It is too early to tell whether the tens of thousands of new American forces that have deployed to Europe over the past two months mark the beginning of a permanent expanded American presence on NATO’s eastern flank to try to prevent future Russian aggression – or whether the current emphasis on Europe will wane at the end of the war, shifting the US military’s primary attention back to the Pacific.
Yet US and NATO officials say things will never go back to how they were before Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine, sparking the biggest ground war in Europe since the Second World War. The influx of military forces into Eastern Europe – and weapons flowing freely from NATO countries to Ukraine for use in the fight against Russian forces – have kick-started what will be likely long-term security and expense commitments by many NATO nations.
Military and Pentagon officials, lawmakers and military experts say that if NATO does its best to stay directly out of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the alliance is going to have to make key decisions about whether it must act in a way that risks aggravating tensions with Russia. , such as the admission of new members such as Sweden or Finland. Last month, Moscow threatened the two countries not to join NATO.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the United States is discussing with NATO what has changed since Russia’s attack on Ukraine and how to deal with it. realize it.
“This unlawful and unprovoked aggression by Putin has the effect of changing the security architecture in the region for some time to come,” Austin said. “We expect that to change our footprint. In terms of how much that changes the American contribution, that remains to be seen.”
“It’s a wake-up call”
Decisions made by the Biden administration regarding the U.S. security posture toward Russia will chart the course of a military moving from 20 years of Middle East wars and counterinsurgency to a new phase focused on military competition with China and Russia. The extent to which the military looks to Europe could help determine the future of an army that is expected to shrink slightly next year and a Marine Corps whose future role in the U.S. military now does. the subject of considerable debate as he prepares a reorganization.
“I think it’s a very protracted conflict,” Milley said of the war in Ukraine. “And I think it’s measured at least in years, I don’t know in decades, but at least in years, for sure. It’s a very wide-ranging conflict that Russia has initiated.”
Austin has added troops and assets to the region since the Russian invasion, increasing the total number of American troops in Europe from 60,000 to around 100,000.
Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command, told a congressional hearing last week that the Russian invasion is an unfortunate catalyst for an overdue reassessment of the continent’s permanent military presence.
“That has to change, and it is certainly an opportunity, following this senseless act on Russia’s part, to re-examine the permanent military architecture that exists not only in Eastern Europe, but also in our air policing activity in the air force and in our permanent navy maritime groups,” Wolters said.
Mark Cancian, a retired Navy colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Biden administration’s initial tendency before the Ukraine war to focus primarily on China is likely to change. .
“I think there was a very strong sense in their strategy that China was the ‘stimulus threat’, as they called it – everything else should be secondary,” he said. “Now that is clearly not the case.”
House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, said he doesn’t think an extra focus on Russia should come at the expense of fighting China. “I think we can do both. That’s what the budget debate and the defense strategy debate will be about,” Smith told CNN. “I think it’s pretty clear that we’re ready for a more robust force posture in Eastern Europe with our NATO partners, no doubt.”
Republicans have accused the Biden administration of cutting its proposed 2023 Pentagon budget, which would increase by about $30 billion from the current fiscal year, saying more funding was needed in part to provide better deterrence against Russia.
“It’s a wake-up call,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “There’s still a lot of liberal people around who don’t think there’s a real threat there. I think that eliminated that.”
A larger permanent European presence
But the alliance still faces tough, potentially fractured choices.
“We have a good dialogue with Finnish political leaders, with the Finnish president, also with Sweden,” Stoltenberg said. “And, of course, it’s up to them. But if they apply, I expect them to be very well received by the 30 allies, and that we find ways to do it in a relatively quickly, to integrate them into the alliance, if they want to.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Russia’s aggression had “refocused” NATO on promoting the security of its core nations. “NATO is in some ways reverting to its original purpose and in some ways becoming a more maintainable organization,” he said.
Wolters, who is also NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, said at last week’s hearing that he believed a new US military presence on the continent would be strongly supported by NATO’s allies. NATO.
This week, Austin approved extended deployments of U.S. service members from the 82nd Airborne Division in Poland, about 7,000 troops and their support elements, and the USS Harry S Truman Carrier Strike Group stationed in the Mediterranean. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the two groups will be staying “a little longer,” during a press briefing last week.
“No matter how this war ends, no matter when it ends, the security environment in Europe is going to be different. And we’re going to have to react to that,” Kirby said. “But we will also remain open to those kinds of conversations, whether there needs to be… a bigger permanent presence on the European continent.”
CNN’s Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.