The Buzz

America's Master Plan to Defend Europe From Russian Aggression

U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter is hoping that America’s NATO allies will contribute their full share toward the cost of defending Europe from a resurgent Russian threat. In the years since the Cold War ended, most of the burden for defending Western interests has fallen squarely on the United States, with European defense spending hovering at near all-time lows.

Speaking to reporters on his way to a NATO summit in Brussels this week, Carter said that the alliance would have to shift its posture in light of Moscow’s recent actions. “We'll be discussing a number of things, but a central one will be moving from—NATO in its posture moving from reassurance, which is where we started two years ago, to a full deterrence posture in Europe of aggression, whether it be outright aggression or so-called hybrid warfare, and basically putting resources behind what I call NATO before—a new playbook for NATO,” Carter said. “It's not going to look like it did back in Cold War days, but it will constitute in today's terms a strong deterrent.”

The United States is set to quadruple its funding for the Pentagon’s European Reassurance Initiative up to $3 billion. Carter also said that at the summit he would be further describing America's increased rotational force presence in Europe to counter Russian moves. The Pentagon will be positioning more equipment—and newer upgraded hardware at that—in Europe. That also means that the United States will need to upgrade facilities there and fund more exercises on the continent.

Carter said that the initiative will go beyond the training exercises and troop deployments announced six months ago. “This is another step,” he said, “this permanently prepositioned heavy equipment of the kind that U.S. forces could fall in on in an emergency.”

While the United States will be investing more money to defend Europe, America’s NATO allies also have to step up to the plate. The first, most important step, is to develop clear expectations. “I'm going to be sharing the operational plan that goes with the campaign plan, so that they can see what contributions it makes—so I hope that they both are able to share, at this meeting, contributions they've already decided they're prepared to make,” Carter said. “They'll get some ideas that they might not have had yet about where capability is needed that might match their own resources, and also their own authorities.”

Ultimately, the United States needs NATO allies to demonstrate that they are prepared to increase their contributions to defend their continent. “I'll be looking for others at NATO to echo in our investment, “ Carter said.

In the past, American leaders have implored their NATO allies to increase their defense outlays to no avail. As then defense secretary Robert Gates warned in 2011, “if current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future U.S. political leaders—those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me—may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost.” Only time will tell if Carter will be more successful, even as the Russian bear looms in the background.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Flickr/U.S. Army.