‘Still Need More’: NATO’s No. 2 General Says Alliance Needs to Beef Up Eastern Europe Deployment
19:51 GMT 30.03.2022 (Updated: 19:53 GMT 30.03.2022)
© AP Photo / Andreea AlexandruServicemen of the "Fighting Eagles" 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, walk by tanks that arrived via train to the US base in Mihail Kogalniceanu, eastern Romania, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017.
© AP Photo / Andreea Alexandru
In response to Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) doubled its battle groups in Eastern Europe last week to eight, sending the four new groups to southeastern members of the alliance.
Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, US Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and NATO’s second-highest-ranking general, said the alliance will likely need to increase its deployments in Eastern Europe, which the alliance commonly calls its “Eastern Flank.”
"What we need to do from a US force perspective is look at what takes place in Europe following the completion of the Ukraine-Russia scenario and examine the European contributions, and based off the breadth and depth of the European contributions, be prepared to adjust the US contributions," Wolters told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"Obviously, there's always a mix between the requirement of permanent versus rotational, and there are pluses and minuses of each one," he added. "We'll have to continue to examine the European contributions to make a smart decision about where to go in the future."
The US has rushed thousands of troops to Europe since late February, when Russia launched a special operation in Ukraine aimed at neutralizing the country’s military and rendering it unable to become a forward position from which NATO could attack Russia. While the alliance has declined to defend Ukraine, which is not yet a member, it has vowed to defend the territory of its members, several of which border Ukraine.
Wolters revealed the scale of that escalation on Tuesday, telling lawmakers that the US troops under his command had increased from 60,000 to 102,000. By comparison, at the end of the Cold War the US had 305,000 troops in Europe, most of which were deployed in West Germany, according to Pentagon records.
That total comes as NATO doubled its Enhanced Forward Presence deployment to Eastern Europe last week, sending four new battle groups to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. The other four battle groups were already deployed in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; together the eight battalion-sized units consist of roughly 10,000 troops.
As per a 1997 agreement with Russia, NATO is barred from "permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” on its Eastern Flank. However, the alliance maintains its garrisons there via the legal fiction of "rotational deployments."
NATO’s eastward expansion has been a major foreign policy concern of the Russian Federation since the end of the Cold War. The alliance was formed in 1949 by several Western European capitalist states who banded together to jointly resist either a Soviet invasion or a socialist revolution in one of their own countries. Although it claimed to be an alliance in defense of democracies, from the beginning that claim was made farcical by the inclusion of Portugal, which was ruled by the Estado Novo dictatorship of Antonio Salazar.
The socialist states of Eastern Europe, led by the Soviet Union, formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955 to counter NATO once it added a remilitarized West Germany to its membership. However, the Warsaw Pact was abolished in 1991 when the socialist republics were overthrown and Western-friendly capitalist governments came to power. The Soviet Union also dissolved itself, splintering into 15 republics, including the legal successor state of the Russian Federation. NATO leaders pledged not to expand the alliance further east, but that promise was short-lived, and in 1999, former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary were admitted to NATO.
NATO again expanded eastward in the 2000s, when Romania, Bulgaria, several former Yugoslav republics, and the Baltic States joined; the latter were considered particularly provocative, as they had previously been part of the USSR itself. Ukraine and Georgia, two other former Soviet Republics, have also grown increasingly close to NATO and after the 2014 US-backed coup in Kiev, the new Ukrainian government made the goal of joining NATO a priority and even added it to the Ukrainian Constitution in 2019.
In recent negotiations to end the Russian operation, Kiev has signaled it is willing to give up its NATO membership ambitions and become a politically neutral state.