Returning Tanks Reassure Europeans
As the Obama Administration concluded its tenure, major reversals were required to undo the extraordinary foreign and defense policy errors that were committed over the past eight years in Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific and within the Western hemisphere.
Without warning to the general public, the White House withdrew all American tanks from Europe in 2014. It was an unprecedented move. American armor had been in place in Europe since the end of World War 2. Russia, no longer faced with a credible deterrent, increased its level of belligerency to exceptional levels. Now, American armor is hastily being returned. Russian sources are using the return to incorrectly allege that tensions are being ramped up by NATO.
A cold war era storage facility was opened in the Netherlands in December to accommodate the return. According to former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, U.S. tanks will be used on a “rotational” basis. The first rotational brigade will come from Colorado.
“It will have an initial exercise in Poland. After that, the brigade will send company-sized units to Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states,” Carter had previously told reporters. “Companies will then remain in the Baltics until the NATO battalions arrive.” In June, the brigade will conduct exercise Saber Strike in Poland and throughout the Baltic states, and in July, it will move to Bulgaria and Romania for exercises Swift Response and Saber Guardian, during which one tank company will transit the Black Sea to Georgia to participate in exercise Noble Partner, he said.The secretary said he appreciate the countries that will host the brigade. Carter said the United States will also lead a battalion in Poland as part of NATO’s new enhanced forward presence.
The 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team has already arrived in Poland, a move described by U.S. Army General Curtis M. Scaparrotti as “a significant moment in European deterrence and defense.”
Scaparrotti also serves the NATO supreme allied commander-Europe. The arrival of the 3rd ABCT’s 3,500 soldiers and its equipment marks the beginning of the presence of such a unit and back-to-back rotations of U.S. troops and equipment in Europe.
This effort is part of the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) to maintain persistent, rotational presence of air, land, and sea forces in Central and Eastern Europe. The ERI, originally proposed in Warsaw on June 3, 2014, was made necessary both by Moscow’s attack on the Ukraine and on the growing perception that the Obama administration was not dedicated to U.S. defense commitments. Significant doubts were raised by a decreasing defense budget, the failure to respond in any significant way to the Kremlin’s takeover of Crimea, and the failure of the Obama Administration to come to the aid of the Philippines following China’s incursion into Manila’s offshore Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Department of Defense describes the ERI as an effort “reassure our NATO allies and bolster the security and capacity of our partners. The United States, along with its NATO allies, will continue to take actions that increase the capability, readiness, and responsiveness of NATO forces to address any threat or destabilizing action…DoD would also seek to help shore up the defenses of NATO members, as well as other non-NATO partners in the region, that feel most threatened by Russia’s actions against Ukraine. The DoD would continue pursuing several lines of effort to accomplish the purposes of this initiative, including: (1) continued increased U.S. military presence in Europe; (2) additional bilateral and multilateral exercises and training with allies and partners; (3) improved infrastructure to allow for greater responsiveness; (4) enhanced prepositioning of U.S. equipment in Europe; and (5) intensified efforts to build partner capacity for newer NATO members and other partners.
According to the Department of Defense “Russian malign influence and aggression against NATO and its allies is a key factor in Europe’s instability and drastic changes in its strategic environment. Following Russia’s attempt to annex Crimea and its activities in Ukraine…the potential for Russia to ‘further advance its military adventurism into NATO countries has demanded a strong response…As we continue to see a malign influence and a Russia acting to upset international norms, we have transitioned beyond purely assurance to serving as a strong deterrent against Russian aggression…because of the changed atmosphere, Eucom [the U.S. European Command] is planning and executing a stronger deterrent to Russian aggression.”
According to the Associated Press and military.com “Poles waved and held up American flags as U.S. troops in tanks and other vehicles crossed into southwestern Poland from Germany and headed toward the town of Zagan, where they will be based.”
Originally published on New York Analysis of Policy and Government.