U.S. boosting military presence in Europe amid Russia threat

Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Posted Wednesday, June 29, 2022 3:27 PM EDT

Last updated Wednesday, June 29, 2022 6:44 PM EDT

MADRID (AP) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the United States would dramatically expand its military presence in Europe, the latest example of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reshaped the continent’s security plans. and prompted reinvestment in NATO.

Among the changes will be a permanent American garrison in Poland, creating for the first time a lasting American presence on the eastern flank of the alliance. Biden also said the US would send two more squadrons of F-35 fighter jets to the UK and more air defenses and other capabilities to Germany and Italy.

“The United States will strengthen our force posture in Europe and respond to the changing security environment while strengthening our collective security,” he said during a meeting with the Secretary General of the United States. NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, at the annual alliance leaders’ summit in Madrid.

The dry language belied the dramatic shift underway as the United States prepares to keep 100,000 troops in Europe for the “foreseeable future,” down from 80,000 before the war in Ukraine began.

Stoltenberg, who said earlier Wednesday that the alliance faces its biggest challenge since World War II due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, welcomed Biden’s announcement.

“This really demonstrates your decisive leadership and strength in the transatlantic bond,” Stoltenberg said, thanking Biden for “the unwavering support from you and the United States to Ukraine.”

The expanding US military presence is still a far cry from its numbers during the Cold War, when about 300,000 US troops, on average, were stationed in the region. But it signals a renewed interest in European security. And the American announcement is reinforced by other commitments made by allies on the continent.

NATO plans to increase the size of its rapid reaction force from 40,000 to 300,000 troops by next year. Although the troops are based in their home country, they are reportedly ready to deploy further east, where the alliance will stockpile equipment and ammunition.

Max Bergmann, a former State Department official who is director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it was “a defining year” for the continent and the alliance.

“It’s an extremely important turning point, and one that historians will look into,” he said.

He described the decision to move US forces further east as particularly noteworthy.

“We will defend the line,” he said. “We’re not just going to have a tripwire. We won’t give anything away. »

Biden said the United States would step up temporary troop deployments to Romania and the Baltic region, in addition to permanently stationing the U.S. Army’s V Corps forward command in Poland.

Celeste Wallander, US undersecretary of defense for international affairs, told reporters that a long-term presence in Poland would be essential to help NATO navigate the new security environment in Europe caused by the invasion. Russian. The United States provides the bulk of NATO’s military power.

Polish President Andrzej Duda, present in Madrid, said on Twitter that the permanent presence of the American military command structure was an “extremely important decision” and a “decision we were waiting for”.

US officials stressed that the permanent base applied only to staff units, not combat troops, and was therefore in line with a 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia in which the alliance agreed not to permanently base combat troops in Eastern Europe as it aimed to build more constructive forces. links in the post-Cold War environment.

The combat units Biden is sending to Romania and the Baltic region are on rotating deployments, rather than permanent assignments, to stay in compliance with this agreement.

“There has been no communication with Moscow about these changes, nor is there any obligation to do so,” said John Kirby, spokesman for Biden’s National Security Council.

Biden announced after arriving at the summit on Tuesday that the United States would base two more destroyers at its naval base in Rota, Spain, bringing the total number to six.

Biden predicted this week’s meetings would be a “historic climax” as leaders were expected to approve a new strategic framework, announce a series of measures to increase their defense spending and capabilities and pave the way for Finland and the Historically neutral Sweden. join NATO.

Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin thought NATO members would split after invading Ukraine, but got the opposite response.

“Putin was looking for the Finnishization of Europe,” Biden said. “You are going to have the NATOisation of Europe. And that is exactly what he did not want, but exactly what must be done to guarantee the security of Europe.

Turkey, the last remaining country to approve the Nordic countries’ membership in NATO, reached an agreement on Tuesday evening to back their addition to the 30-nation alliance.

While the White House has said the United States is not a direct party to the negotiations, a senior administration official said Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan on Tuesday to encourage him to pave the way for Sweden and Finland to join.

The two leaders met on Wednesday and Biden praised ErdoÄŸan for his support for NATO expansion. They also discussed ways to export Ukrainian grain to alleviate food shortages around the world.

“You are doing a great job, I just want to thank you,” Biden said.

Not all of the NATO summit talks were about European security.

Biden spoke on Wednesday with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who were attending the conference as the alliance seeks to strengthen ties in the Indo-Pacific region and address the challenges of China.

The three leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which Biden said the three found “deeply concerning.”

Biden called “trilateral cooperation” essential and said the meeting was an opportunity for leaders to coordinate a joint response as U.S. officials say the isolated nation could soon conduct another nuclear test.

At the leaders’ dinner on Wednesday, Biden attended with two of his granddaughters, Finnegan and Maisy, instead of his wife, Jill. The American president presented them to his Turkish and Spanish counterparts.

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani and Chris Megerian in Washington and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this report.

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