The US will be moving troops eastward toward Russia’s borders to help “deter” Moscow, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper has said.
“The bottom line is: we basically are moving troops further east, closer to Russia’s border to deter them,” the Secretary said, speaking to Fox News on Sunday.
“Most of the allies I’ve either spoken to, heard from or my staff has spoken to, see this as a good move. It will accomplish all of those objectives that have been laid out. And frankly look, we still have 24,000 plus troops in Germany, so it will still be the largest recipient of US troops. The bottom line is the border has shifted as the alliance has grown,” Esper added.
The secretary also reiterated the Trump White House’s long-standing demand for Germany to “pay their fair share” in defence spending, and said that Berlin should pay even more than 2 percent of GDP outlined by NATO to help the alliance “stand up to the Russians”.
In the interview, Esper also commented on growing US tensions with China, accusing Beijing of failing to “follow international laws, rules or norms,” and of not living up to their commitments, “whether it’s with regard to Hong Kong…or their actions in the South China Sea [where] we have deemed their maritime claims to be unlawful.”
Partial Pullout From Germany Sparks Bipartisan Fury
The Trump administration’s move to reduce the US military presence in Germany from 36,000 personnel to about 24,000 troops sparked criticism from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill late last month, with critics accusing the White House of “straining” the US relationship with its allies and “undermining US national security”. Lawmakers did not present any alternative proposals, presumably indicating that they would prefer to see a large contingent of US troops remain in Germany indefinitely, where they have already been for over 75 years.
Last week, Poland’s Defence Ministry announced that Warsaw had reached a formal agreement with Washington to host an additional 1,000 US troops on its territory at seven different bases, with total US troop numbers expected to grow to at least 5,500.
In addition to holding major drills and gradually building up troop numbers, the US has also stationed dual-use missile launch sites in Romania and Poland which Moscow fears could be easily converted from missile defence facilities to offensive nuclear-tipped Tomahawk cruise missiles with a flight time of just several minutes to Moscow and other key military command centres. On Friday, the Russian General Staff released a policy paper warning that any missile attack on Russia by a nuclear armed adversary would be considered a strategic nuclear one and responded to accordingly.