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US looks to trim budget for deterring Russia in Europe, increase ‘burden-sharing’ with allies

Brig. Gen. Benjamin T. Watson, right, commanding general, Marine Corps Installations East, greets Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Elaine McCusker on Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, Feb. 27, 2019. McCusker visited Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, MCAS New River and Camp Johnson to assess damaged facilities and the impact they have had on current operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Isaiah Gomez)

The Pentagon plans to slash by nearly 10 percent its budget for deterring Russian aggression in Europe, where the U.S. wants allies to pick up the funding slack.

The Defense Department’s 2020 budget calls for $5.9 billion to fund the European Deterrent Initiative, down from $6.5 billion a year earlier. The funds support the rotation of U.S.-based troops into Europe to beef up NATO’s eastern flank, the prepositioning of weapons stockpiles and improvements in infrastructure, such as airfields in the east.

The troop rotations will continue but the cutbacks mean fewer military infrastructure initiatives because much of the work is already done, the Pentagon’s deputy comptroller Elaine McCusker said during a Pentagon budget briefing Tuesday.

McCusker also said the U.S. wants allies to do more when it comes to deterrent efforts.

“We’re also looking at increased burden-sharing,” she said. “We’re always looking for new ways to partner … with our partners out there.”

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For the Trump administration, getting allies in Europe to shoulder more of the security burden has been a top priority even as the U.S. has increased the number of its own troops on the Continent during the past two years.

However, the EDI reduction would be the first cut to the fund since it was established in 2014 as a response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Originally called the European Reassurance Initiative, the program was designed to show solidarity with allies like those in the Baltics and Poland, who were concerned about a more aggressive Russia. The original price tag was $1 billion and it has steadily climbed in the years since, with a heavier focus on bolstering capabilities aimed at deterring potential Russian military adventurism on NATO territory.

U.S. European Command, in a statement following the Pentagon’s budget release, signaled no dissatisfaction with the level of funding for 2020.

The EDI funds “will allow our leaders to more adequately meet emerging threats to the security and territorial integrity of our NATO allies,” EUCOM said.

Last week, EUCOM chief Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti told lawmakers that allies in Europe are prepared to do more when it comes to improving the infrastructure militaries rely on, like rail lines and airfields. The European Union plans to spend $7 billion on logistics and infrastructure over the next five years, Scaparrotti said.

“We’ve got to follow-up and make sure that that investment goes to the right places and actually makes a difference in — in military mobility,” Scaparrotti said.

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Pentagon officials said the plan to scale back EDI shouldn’t be taken as a sign that it sees less of a threat posed by Russia.

“No, absolutely not … we are continuing to be committed to our NATO partnership. And as you see from the strategy, you know, we’re very much preparing for great power competition,” McCusker said.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.