STUTTGART, Germany, January 5, 2016 —
For two decades, the United States “hugged the bear” in Europe, but that has to change, the commander of U.S. European Command said.
Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who also serves as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, has advocated for more U.S. forces in Europe to counter growing Russian capabilities and capacity. He spoke to reporters traveling with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States and its allies saw an opportunity to try to make Russia a partner. But a strategy document signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week names the United States and the expansion of the NATO alliance as threats to his country. Breedlove said the policy document merely codified Russian actions for several years.
A ‘Revanchist Russia’
“What I would offer is that if you look at Russia’s actions all the way back to ’08 – in Georgia, in Nagorno-Karabakh, in Crimea, in the Donbass, and now down in Syria – we see what most call a revanchist Russia that has put force back on the table as an instrument of national power to meet their objectives,” the general said.
This means there has to be changes in the way U.S. military forces operate in Europe, he added, noting that for 20 years, U.S. military decisions were guided by the effort to make Russia a partner.
“Across that time … we have changed our force structure, we have changed our [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] allocations, we’ve changed our analytical allocations, [and] we’ve downsized the forces in all the media here in Europe,” he said.
Now, Breedlove said, U.S. military officials look at Russian capabilities and capacity and have to adjust.
More U.S. Capability in Europe
Breedlove has advocated more U.S. service members and more capabilities in Europe, and that is beginning to happen. A fourth destroyer has arrived in Spain, for example, and the Army is rotating a brigade-sized unit to Europe, he said.
But it is more than simply building up numbers, he added. For 13 years, he said, Eucom was focused on training other nations to join the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan.
“We are really good at counterinsurgency targeting,” Breedlove said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve done an air campaign the size of Iraq 1 or Iraq 2, or even in the opening days of Afghanistan. We need to get back to those high-end skills to ensure we have the depth of bench for that fight.
“As Afghanistan drew down, we were prescient,” he continued. “We decided … that we needed to train to high-end Article 5 capabilities. That was our plan, even before Crimea.” Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that an attack on one NATO ally will be considered an attack on all allies.
Redeveloping High-End Capability
Russia’s actions validate the decision, the general said. “Now every soldier, sailor, airman or Marine that comes to European Command will be focused on redeveloping that high-end kinetic fighting capability,” he added.
All exercises and training will stress these capabilities, the general said, and Eucom also will exercise at division and corps level in the future.
Breedlove said he cannot tell what Putin intends to do with the military he has re-equipped and retrained.
“Many people ask me, ‘What is Putin thinking?’ or ‘What do you think he’s thinking?’” he said. “I’m not sure what he’s thinking, but I can look at what he’s doing and derive from that what we should be thinking about on our side.”