The Pentagon is making long-term plans for Europe during the Russian-Ukrainian war

The ongoing war in Ukraine has called into question the Pentagon’s long-term planning, and senior US defense officials are expected to rethink ways to deploy troops in Eastern Europe and the Baltics amid growing concerns about Russia’s broader ambitions.

General Mark A. Millie, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that he was in favor of establishing permanent bases for U.S. troops in the region, but deploying staff there rotationally, “so you get a permanence effect” at lower cost, so that costs such as family housing and schools are not involved.

“I believe that many of our allies, especially those in the Baltics, Poland or Romania, are very ready to set up permanent bases,” Millie told the House Armed Services Committee. “They will build and pay for them.”

In a testimony before the same committee last week, Air Force General Todd D. Walters, who heads the US European Command, said that the current policy of rotating NATO troops through Eastern Europe “must change” and that countries there “very much want” to take over forever. NATO.

High-level discussions are taking place at a time when Russian forces have stopped trying to seize most of Ukraine’s major cities, including the capital Kyiv. As a result, US officials have assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is reconsidering his goals, intending to give more fighting power in eastern Ukraine.

The Putin quagmire in Ukraine echoes the Soviet failure in Afghanistan

The Pentagon has dramatically increased the number of US troops in Europe, from about 60,000 to more than 100,000 as a result of the build-up of Russian troops around Ukraine and the subsequent invasion. At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, the U.S. military presence across Europe was more than 400,000.

Senior US defense officials have cautiously described the path they will take, describing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a generational event that has overturned the world order. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said last week that the United States would consult with its allies “just in time” to decide what the proper security stance in Europe would be, “no matter how this war ends,” and that the Biden administration open to discussing whether a “greater permanent presence” is needed.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Lloyd Austin said the issue was likely to be discussed at a NATO summit in June.

“Our goal,” Austin said, “is to make sure we continue to reassure our allies and partners, especially those on the eastern flank, and especially our allies in the Baltic region, in the Baltic region.”

The talks are complicated by U.S. assessments that China, rather than Russia, is a more significant long-term U.S. security concern.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s plans, said in an interview that the war in Ukraine would “change the situation in Europe,” and “some may include a U.S. presence.” ». But Eastern Europe will also be strengthened by troops from other NATO countries, which calculate what will be needed to deter Russia in the coming months and years, the official said.

“Right now, I think we will be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and make the Indo-Pacific Theater a priority theater, realizing that we need to … increase a little bit in Europe,” the official said.

Russia’s failures in Ukraine give the Pentagon newfound confidence

Elbridge Colby, a former defense official in the Trump administration, said it was a “really serious concern” what trend line might be in maintaining extra strength in Europe as a result of Russia’s invasion, given that the United States is doing poorly ». military balance in Asia ”.

While the Pentagon relies heavily on the U.S. military to bolster security in Eastern Europe and is likely to rely on the Navy and Air Force in the Pacific, there is more overlap than people realize, Colby said. The 82nd Airborne Division, which has thousands of soldiers stationed in Poland, requires air support and other high capabilities that are also needed elsewhere, he said.

“I think, frankly, the president has this idea: ‘We are America.’ We can do anything, ”Colby said of President Biden. “But there are very real and immediate limitations. We must confront them and adapt, not ignore them. “

The United States is “not quite at the moment” when it could decide to build a new base or bases in Eastern Europe, but the issue is clearly “in the wind,” said Jim Townsend, a former Obama administration official who studies NATO security. issues.

After the Russian invasion in 2014 and the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, U.S. defense officials carefully examined whether to deploy U.S. troops permanently in Eastern Europe, Townsend said. The idea, which brought significant costs, was eventually presented, but recent developments could change that view, he said.

“Now we are in a different day and era,” Townsend said. “I think we need them there.”

Although the Pentagon is likely reluctant to steadily build up U.S. forces in Eastern Europe, given its concerns about China, it will find it increasingly difficult to withdraw them because of external pressure from allies and internal pressure from supporters who believe that the U.S. military presence is broader. across Europe is required, said Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Center for Europe of the Atlantic Council.

“The right is that the eastern allies will calm down more and more,” Rizzo said. “The fly is that we can return to the scenario when there will be just a huge number of American troops on the European continent again. We are not there yet, but there is something to think about. “

Karun Demirjian and Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.

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