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Assurance and Deterrence in Europe – A Cold War Redux

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In February 2016, the United States took a considerable step towards repositioning Russia as a long-term threat to U.S. and European national security interests, with the White House requesting $3.4 billion—roughly four times the amount requested for 2016—in funding for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI). This request comes nearly two years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and demonstrates a shift away from President Obama’s attempted reset with Russia.

Established in fiscal year 2015, the ERI was intended to serve as a temporary emergency response to increased Russian aggression in Ukraine and to reassure U.S. allies in Eastern Europe. The new request, however, makes countering Russia a longer-term budget priority for the United States and represents an increasing investment in European security, especially after several years of divestment and withdrawal from NATO’s military posture in the region.[i]

The proposed expansion would provide greater funding for what the Department of Defense refers to as “Assurance and Deterrence Initiatives,” and would increase assistance across five lines of support: 1) increasing the presence of US troops in Europe; 2) enabling greater U.S. engagement in training exercises with NATO allies and other partner nations; 3) increasing the amount of prepositioned air equipment, combat vehicles, and other defense equipment; 4) improving military infrastructure in partnered and allied nations; and 5) helping build partners’ defense and security capacities, including through enhanced border security and increased oversight of defense apparatuses.[ii]

The majority of the requested funds would go towards bolstering U.S. troop presence and expanding pre-positioned military stocks, with the greatest increase for prepositioning. The 2017 budget request calls for roughly $1.9 billion to be allocated to increasing the amount of military equipment stored in the region. This represents about a 97% increase from the $57 million allocated for the current budget year. This expansion comes after Poland and the Baltic States called for a permanent NATO presence in 2015 to counter Moscow’s increased military activity in the region.[iii] These calls largely stemmed from concerns of potential Russian incursion in their respective countries, with many Eastern European countries feeling particularly vulnerable due to their large ethnic Russian populations and the success of the type of hybrid warfare used so effectively in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Last year, Russian officials responded to potential NATO expansion by stating that if NATO military presence in Eastern Europe did increase, Moscow would “have no option” but to respond by building up its own forces along its western border.[iv] It is unclear to what extent, if any, Russia has responded to the recent budget proposal, but should the Russian government respond as it has claimed it will, it could hold implications for conventional arms control agreements in the region.

Currently, conventional arms control in Europe, particularly between NATO countries and former members of the Warsaw Pact, is guided by a number of agreements such as the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Vienna Document, and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). These agreements were established as arms controls and confidence building measures to promote peace, security, and stability following the conclusion of the Cold War. However, Russia suspended implementation of the CFE in 2007 and subsequently halted its participation in the treaty’s Joint Consultative Group in March 2015.[v] A growing military presence in Europe might prompt Moscow to reconsider its participation in the other agreements to which it is still a party.

The United States’ recent budget proposal, and Russia’s potential response, may result in additional shifts away from these confidence-building measures that could, in turn, further deteriorate the post-Cold War security environment. As tensions between the United States and Russia increase, only time will tell if augmented U.S. funding for NATO and European security will increase the likelihood for future instability or conflict.

This piece originally appeared in Georgetown Security Studies Review, March 11, 2016

Photo credit: U.S. Government Work via Flickr

[i] Jan Techau, “The Politics of 2 Percent: NATO and the Security Vacuum in Europe,” Carnegie Europe: Brussels, Belgium, September 2015, accessed February 22, 2016,http://carnegieendowment.org/files/CP_252_Techau_NATO_Final.pdf; Thom Shanker and Steven Erlanger, “U.S. Faces New Challenge of Fewer Troops in Europe,” New York Times, January 13, 2012, Accessed February 26, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/14/world/europe/europe-weighs-implications-of-shrinking-us-troop-presence.html?_r=1.

[ii] Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), European Reassurance Initiative: Department of Defense Budget Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, February 2016, accessed February 20, 2016, comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2017/FY2017_ERI_J-Book.pdf.

[iii] Wiktor Szary, “Poland to lobby NATO for more forces to deter Kremlin,” Reuters, May 14, 2015, accessed February 20, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-poland-nato-exclusive-idUSKBN0NZ18P20150514.

[iv] Gabriela Baczynska, “Russia says NATO plan for eastern Europe may have ‘dangerous consequences’,”Reuters, June 15, 2015, accessed February 20, 2016, http://uk.businessinsider.com/r-russia-to-boost-forces-in-western-flank-if-us-stations-arms-in-east-europe-ifax-2015-6?r=US&IR=T.

[v] Kingston Reif, “Russia Completes CFE Treaty Suspension,” Arms Control Today, April 2015, accessed February 20, 2016, https://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/2015_04/News-Briefs/Russia-Completes-CFE-Treaty-Suspension.

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