Over the past year, America’s reengagement with Europe continued. The resurgence of Russia, brought into starkest relief in Ukraine, and the continued fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, Syria, and Libya brought Europe back into the top tier of U.S. international interests, and the U.S. increased its financial and military investment in support of European deterrence. The 51 countries in the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) area of responsibility include approximately one-fifth of the world’s population, 10.7 million square miles of land, and 13 million square miles of ocean.
Some of America’s oldest (France) and closest (the United Kingdom) allies are found in Europe. The U.S. and Europe share a strong commitment to the rule of law, human rights, free markets, and democracy. During the 20th century, millions of Americans fought alongside European allies in defense of these shared ideals—the foundations on which America was built.
America’s economic ties to the region are likewise important. A stable, secure, and economically viable Europe is in America’s economic interest. For more than 70 years, the U.S. military presence has contributed to regional security and stability, economically benefiting both Europeans and Americans. The economies of the member states of the European Union (EU), now 28 but soon to be 27,1 along with the United States, account for approximately half of the global economy. The U.S. and the members of the EU are also each other’s principal trading partners.
Europe is also important to the U.S. because of its geographical proximity to some of the world’s most dangerous and contested regions. From the eastern Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East, up to the Caucasus through Russia, and into the Arctic, Europe is enveloped by an arc of instability. The European region also has some of the world’s most vital shipping lanes, energy resources, and trade choke points.
European basing for U.S. forces provides the ability to respond robustly and quickly to challenges to U.S. economic and security interests in and near the region. Russian naval activity in the North Atlantic and Arctic has necessitated a renewed focus on regional command and control and has led to increased U.S. and allied air and naval assets operating in the Arctic. In addition, Russia’s strengthened position in Syria has led to a resurgence of Russian naval activity in the Mediterranean that has contributed to “congested” conditions.2
Threats to Internal Stability. In recent years, Europe has faced turmoil and instability brought about by high government debt, high unemployment, the threat of terrorist attacks, and a massive influx of migrants. Political fragmentation resulting from these pressures, disparate views on how to solve them, and a perceived lack of responsiveness among politicians threaten to erode stability even further, as centrist political parties and government institutions are seen as unable to deal effectively with the public’s concerns.
Economic Factors. While Europe may finally have turned a corner with reasonable growth in 2017 (the eurozone grew by 2.5 percent), growth slowed again in the first quarter of 2018.3 Unemployment across the 19-country eurozone bloc stands at 8.5 percent; for all 28 EU members, it averages 7.1 percent.4 Greece has the EU’s highest unemployment rate: 20.6 percent; Spain’s is 16.1 percent, and Italy’s is 11 percent.5 Average youth unemployment across the eurozone is even greater, standing at 17.3 percent.6
In addition to jobless youth, income disparities between older and younger Europeans have widened. A January 2018 International Monetary Fund report noted that “[i]nequality across generations…erodes social cohesion and polarizes political preferences, and may ultimately undermine confidence in political institutions.”7 High government debt is another obstacle to economic vitality.8 Italy’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 131.8 percent. Greece’s is even higher at 178.6 percent, and Portugal’s is 125.7 percent. In addition, Europe’s banking sector is burdened by $1.17 trillion in nonperforming loans.9 The Italian banking sector’s woes are especially troubling, followed by those of French and Spanish banks.10
The interconnectedness of the global economy and global financial system means that any new economic crisis in Europe will have profound impacts in the U.S. as well. Asked whether things were going in the right direction in the European Union, 49 percent of Europeans responded that they are going in the wrong direction, and 35 percent responded that they are headed in the right direction.11
Migrant Crisis. The biggest political issue in Europe and the most acute threat to stability is migration. An Ipsos Institute poll released in September 2017 found that 78 percent of Turks, 74 percent of Italians, 66 percent of Swedes, 65 percent of Germans, and 58 percent of French citizens believed that the number of migrants in their nations had become too large over the previous five years.12 Conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well as open-door policies adopted by several European nations—importantly, Germany and Sweden in 2015—led large numbers of migrants from across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to travel to Europe in search of safety, economic opportunity, and the benefits of Europe’s most generous welfare states. Russia also sought to weaponize migrant flows by intentionally targeting civilians in Syria “in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”13
Germany registered 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015, 280,000 in 2016, and 186,644 in 2017.14 Today, one in eight people living in Germany is a foreign national, and half are from non-EU nations.15 Other European nations such as Austria, Italy, and Sweden have also taken in large numbers of migrants. Italy, for instance, has seen 600,000 migrants arrive since 2014.16
The impact of the migrant crisis is widespread and will continue for decades to come. Specifically, it has buoyed fringe political parties in some European nations and has imposed steep financial, security, and societal costs. The impact on budgets is significant. Germany reportedly plans to “spend close to $90 billion to feed, house and train refugees between 2017 and 2020.”17 The costs of this crisis, which affect both federal and state governments in Germany, include processing asylum applications, administrative court costs, security, and resettlement for those migrants who accept; in Germany, families receive up to $3,540 to resettle back in their home countries.18 For a host of reasons, integrating migrants into European economies has fallen flat.19 “In Sweden and Norway, foreigners are three times more likely to be jobless than local people.”20
A tenuous agreement with Turkey in March 2016 has largely capped migrant flows through the Balkans and Greece, but arrivals have not stopped altogether. Rather, they have decreased and shifted to the central and western Mediterranean. In May 2018, the EU Commission proposed that the EU’s border force be increased from 1,200 to 10,000.21 Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden have reintroduced and continue to maintain temporary border controls.22 An April 2018 YouGuv survey that asked “What are the top two issues facing the EU right now?” found immigration to be the top issue for people in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, with terrorism the second most important issue cited in every country but Italy.23
A perceived lack of responsiveness from political elites has led to a loss of support among established political parties in many European countries.
In France, in the first round of 2017’s presidential elections, about half of voters cast their ballots for candidates espousing anti-EU views. In the second round, 9 percent cast a blank ballot (a protest vote), the highest level in the history of the Fifth Republic.24
In Austria, Sebastian Kurz of the People’s Party became prime minister in December 2017 promising tighter immigration controls.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) coalition and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) lost seats in Parliament following elections in September 2017.25 The nationalist, anti-immigrant AFD entered Parliament for the first time, winning 94 seats.26 Nearly 1 million former CDU/CSU voters and nearly 500,000 SPD voters voted for the AFD.27
In Italy, the trend of eroding established parties continued in the March parliamentary elections, which saw the populist Five Star Movement emerge as the largest single party, followed by the nationalist Lega party, which campaigned heavily on the issue of immigration.
The migrant crisis has had a direct impact on NATO resources as well. In February 2016, Germany, Greece, and Turkey requested NATO assistance to deal with illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean Sea.28 That month, NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2 deployed to the Aegean to conduct surveillance, monitoring, and reconnaissance of smuggling activities, and the intelligence gathered was sent to the Greek and Turkish coast guards and to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.29 NATO Strategic Direction South, a new NATO hub in Naples with a focus on threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa region, was scheduled to become operational in July 2018.30
Terrorism. Terrorism remains all too familiar in Europe, which has experienced a spate of terrorist attacks in the past two decades. March 2018 attacks in Carcassonne and Trèbes, France, cost four innocent lives31 and left 15 injured.32 The migrant crisis has increased the risk and exacerbated the already significant workload of European security services. In Germany alone, the estimated number of Salafists has doubled to 11,000 in just five years.33 In May 2017, the U.S. Department of State took the rare step of issuing a travel alert for all of Europe, citing the persistent threat from terrorism.34 Today, the State Department warns Americans to exercise increased caution in a number of Western European countries.35
Although terrorist attacks may not pose an existential threat to Europe, they do affect security and undermine U.S. allies by increasing instability, forcing nations to spend more financial and military resources on counterterrorism operations, and jeopardizing the safety of U.S. servicemembers, their families, and facilities overseas. In 2017, noting the challenges presented by an increasingly complex and fluid security situation in Europe, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) concluded that “[a]s a result of this blending of internal and external security tasks, the requirement for closer cooperation between civilian and military actors emerged as a more comprehensive challenge for domestic security than was anticipated.”36
U.S. Reinvestment in Europe. Continued Russian aggression has caused the U.S. to turn its attention back to Europe and reinvest military capabilities on the continent. General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Supreme Allied Commander and EUCOM Commander, has described the change as “returning to our historic role as a warfighting command focused on deterrence and defense.”37
In April 2014, the U.S. launched Operation Atlantic Resolve (OAR), a series of actions meant to reassure U.S. allies in Europe, particularly those bordering Russia. Under OAR and funded through the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), the U.S. has increased its forward presence in Europe, invested in European basing infrastructure and prepositioned stocks and equipment and supplies, engaged in enhanced multinational training exercises, and negotiated agreements for increased cooperation with NATO and Baltic states.
European Deterrence Initiative. As cataloged by The Heritage Foundation, “Initial funding for the EDI in FY 2015 [when it was known as the European Reassurance Initiative] was $985 million.” Funding was renewed in FY 2016, but “the $789 million authorization was $196 million less than in FY 2015.” The Obama Administration asked for a substantial increase in FY 2017, and funding “jumped to $3.4 billion for the year.” Under the Trump Administration, funding once again rose significantly to nearly $4.8 billion in FY 2018, and the DOD requested $6.5 billion for FY 2019.38
Testifying in March 2018, General Scaparrotti was clear about the importance of EDI funding in returning to a posture of deterrence:
These resources, in addition to the base budget funding that supports USEUCOM, enable our headquarters and Service components to: 1) increase presence through the use of rotational forces; 2) increase the depth and breadth of exercises and training with NATO allies and theater partners; 3) preposition supplies and equipment to facilitate rapid reinforcement of U.S. and allied forces; 4) improve infrastructure at key locations to improve our ability to support steady state and contingency operations; and 5) build the capacity of allies and partners to contribute to their own deterrence and defense.39
Forward Presence. In September 2017, the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, replaced the outgoing BCT in a “heel to toe” rotation schedule. The BCT deployed to sites across Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, with the largest portion of the forces stationed in Poland.
In November 2017, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley emphasized the value of ground forces in deterrence: “The air [and] maritime capabilities are very important, but I would submit that ground forces play an outsize role in conventional deterrence and conventional assurance of allies. Because your physical presence on the ground speaks volumes.”40
In addition to back-to-back rotations of armor, the U.S. has maintained a rotational aviation brigade in Europe since February 2017.41 Although the brigade is based in Illesheim, Germany, five Black Hawk helicopters and 80 soldiers were forward deployed to Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia, five Black Hawks and 50 soldiers were forward deployed to Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania, and 100 soldiers along with four Black Hawks and four Apache helicopters were forward deployed to Powidz, Poland, as of October 2017.42 The 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, was scheduled to take over the aviation brigade in August 2018.43
In addition to rotational armored and aviation brigades, the U.S. has beefed up its presence in Norway. A 330-Marine rotational deployment will remain in Vaernes, Norway, through the end of 2018 to train and exercise with Norwegian forces.44 In June, the Norwegian government invited the U.S. to increase its presence to 700 Marines beginning in 2019, deploying on a five-year rotation and basing in the Inner Troms region in the Arctic rather than in central Norway.45 Operation Atlantic Resolve’s naval component has consisted in part of increased deployments of U.S. ships to the Baltic and Black Seas. Additionally, the Navy has taken part in bilateral and NATO exercises. In May 2018, the Navy announced the reestablishment of the Second Fleet, covering the northern Atlantic, including the GIUK gap, formerly disbanded in 2011.46
Prepositioned Stocks. The U.S. Army has prepositioned additional equipment across Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. A prepositioning site in Eygelshoven, Netherlands, opened in December 2016 and will store 1,600 vehicles including “M1 Abrams Tanks, M109 Paladin Self-Propelled Howitzers and other armored and support vehicles.”47 A second site in Dülmen, Germany, opened in May 2017 and will hold equipment for an artillery brigade.48 Other prepositioning sites include Zutendaal, Belgium; Miesau, Germany; and Powidz, Poland. The Polish site, which has been selected by the Army for prepositioned armor and artillery, is expected to cost $200 million (funded by NATO) and will open in 2021.49
Equipment and ammunition sufficient to support a division will continue to arrive in Europe through 2021.50 The U.S. Air Force, Special Forces, and Marine Corps are beefing up prepositioned stocks; the Marine Corps Prepositioning Program in Norway is emphasizing cold-weather equipment.51
Infrastructure Investments. The U.S. plans to use $214.2 million of FY 2018 EDI funds to upgrade air bases in Europe.52 The U.S. plans additional temporary deployments of fifth-generation aircraft to European air bases. According to EUCOM, “we continuously look for opportunities for our fifth-generation aircraft to conduct interoperability training with our allies and partners in the European theater.”53 Construction of hangers at Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland for U.S. P-8 sub-hunter aircraft will constitute a $14 million investment.54 The U.S. has stated that it still has no plans for permanent basing of forces in Iceland and that the P-8s, while frequently rotating to Keflavik, will remain permanently based at Sigonella in Italy.55
Multinational Training. In FY 2017, according to General Scaparrotti, “USEUCOM conducted over 2,500 military-to-military engagements, including over 700 State Partnership Program events in 22 countries, and under Section 1251 authority, USEUCOM trained nine allies in 22 exercises.”56 The combat training center at Hohenfels, Germany, is one of a very few located outside of the continental United States at which large-scale combined-arms exercises can be conducted, and more than 60,000 U.S. and allied personnel train there annually.
U.S.–European training exercises further advance U.S. interests by developing links between America’s allies in Europe and National Guard units back in the U.S. At a time when most American servicemembers do not recall World War II or the Cold War, cementing bonds with allies in Europe is a vital task. Currently, 22 nations in Europe have a state partner in the U.S. National Guard.57
In addition to training with fellow NATO member states, the U.S. Joint Multinational Training Group–Ukraine (JMTG–U) will train up to five Ukrainian battalions a year through 2020.58 Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the U.K. also participate in JMTG-U.59
U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe. It is believed that until the end of the Cold War, the U.S. maintained approximately 2,500 nuclear warheads in Europe. Unofficial estimates put the current figure at between 150 and 200 warheads based in Italy, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.60
All of these weapons are free-fall gravity bombs designed for use with U.S. and allied dual-capable aircraft. The bombs are undergoing a Life Extension Program that is expected to add at least 20 years to their life span.61 In 2018, the U.S. will carry out tests of a new B61-12 gravity bomb, which Paul Waugh, Director of Air-Delivered Capabilities at the Air Force’s nuclear division, says “ensures the current capability for the air-delivered leg of the U.S. strategic nuclear triad well into the future for both bombers and dual-capable aircraft supporting NATO.”62 The B61-12, according to U.S. officials, is intended to be three times more accurate than earlier versions.63
Important Alliances and Bilateral Relations in Europe
The United States has a number of important multilateral and bilateral relationships in Europe. First and foremost is NATO, the world’s most important and arguably most successful defense alliance.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO is an intergovernmental, multilateral security organization that was designed originally to defend Western Europe from the Soviet Union. It anchored the U.S. firmly in Europe, solidified Western resolve during the Cold War, and rallied European support following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Since its creation in 1949, NATO has been the bedrock of transatlantic security cooperation, and it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
The past year saw continued focus on military mobility and logistics in line with NATO’s 2014 Readiness Action Plan (RAP). The RAP was designed to reassure nervous member states and put in motion “longer-term changes to NATO’s forces and command structure so that the Alliance will be better able to react swiftly and decisively to sudden crises.”64
NATO Response Force. Following the 2014 Wales summit, NATO announced the creation of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) as part of the RAP to enhance the NATO Response Force (NRF).65 The VJTF is “a new Allied joint force that will be able to deploy within a few days to respond to challenges that arise, particularly at the periphery of NATO’s territory.”66 A rotational plan for the VJTF’s land component was established to maintain this capability through 2023.67
The VJTF also represents a significant improvement in deployment time. Part of the VJTF can deploy within 48 hours, which is a marked improvement over the month that its predecessor, the Immediate Response Force, needed to deploy.68 According to an assessment published by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, the entire NRF will undergo “a much more rigorous and demanding training program than the old NRF. Future NRF rotations will see many more snap-exercises and short notice inspections.”69
This does not mean, however, that the VJTF and NRF are without their problems. Readiness remains a concern. For instance, NATO reportedly believes that the VJTF would be too vulnerable during its deployment phase to be of use in Poland or the Baltics.70 Another concern is the 26,000-strong Initial Follow-on Forces Group (IFFG), which makes up the rest of the NRF and would deploy following the VJTF. The IFFG reportedly would need 30–45 days to deploy in the event of a conflict.71
Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom have a combined 334 battalions, but only nine (three British, three French, and three German) could be combat ready within 30 days, and only five battalions from Italy (which is leading the land component of the NRF in 2018)72 could be combat ready within 10 days.73
Enhanced Forward Presence. The centerpiece of NATO’s renewed focus on collective defense is the four multinational battalions stationed in Poland and the Baltic States as part of the alliance’s Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP).
- The U.S. serves as the framework nation in Orzysz, Poland, near the Suwalki Gap. The U.S.-led battlegroup consists of 795 American troops74 augmented by 72 from Croatia, 120 from Romania, and 130 from the United Kingdom.75
- In Estonia, the United Kingdom serves as the framework nation with 800 troops in an armored infantry battalion along with main battle tanks and artillery and 200 troops from Denmark and one Coast Guard officer from Iceland.76
- In Latvia, Canada is the framework nation with 450 troops and armored fighting vehicles augmented by 18 troops from Albania, 160 from Italy, 169 from Poland, 49 from Slovenia, 322 from Spain, and two headquarters staff officers from Slovakia.77
- In Lithuania, Germany serves as the framework nation with 699 troops augmented by another 187 from Croatia, 266 from France, 224 from the Netherlands, and 28 from Norway.78
EFP troops are under NATO command and control; a Multinational Division Headquarters Northeast located in Elblag, Poland, coordinates the four battalions.79 In February 2017, the Baltic States signed an agreement to facilitate the movement of NATO forces among the countries.80
In addition, NATO has established eight Force Integration Units located in Sofia, Bulgaria; Tallinn, Estonia; Riga, Latvia; Vilnius, Lithuania; Bydgoszcz, Poland; Bucharest, Romania; Szekesfehervar, Hungary; and Bratislava, Slovakia.81 These new units “will help facilitate the rapid deployment of Allied forces to the Eastern part of the Alliance, support collective defence planning and assist in coordinating training and exercises.”82
At the Warsaw summit, NATO also agreed to create a multinational framework brigade based in Craiova, Romania, under the control of Headquarters Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest.83 The HQ became operational in June 2017.84 Reportedly, “the force will initially be built around a Romanian brigade of up to 4,000 soldiers, supported by troops from nine other NATO countries, and complementing a separate deployment of 900 U.S. troops who are already in place.”85 Unfortunately, the U.S. and allied naval presence in the Black Sea has declined significantly since 2014.
In February 2018, Canada announced that it was rejoining the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), which it had announced it was leaving in 2011, “with operational standdown coming in 2014.”86 Addressing a NATO capability gap, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway are jointly procuring eight A330 air-to-air refueling aircraft, to be deployed from 2020–2024.87
This past year has seen a significant refocusing on logistics issues within the alliance. An internal alliance assessment in 2017 reportedly concluded that NATO’s “ability to logistically support rapid reinforcement in the much-expanded territory covering SACEUR’s (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) area of operation has atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”88 NATO established two new commands in 2018: a joint force command for the Atlantic and a logistics and military mobility command.89 These commands consist of a combined total of 1,500 personnel, with the logistics headquartered in Ulm, Germany.90
In recent years, the shortfalls in the alliance’s ability to move soldiers and equipment swiftly and efficiently have occasionally been glaring. In January 2018, German border guards stopped six U.S. M109 Paladin howitzers en route from Poland to multinational exercises in Bavaria because the trucks being used to transport the artillery were allegedly too wide and heavy for German roadways. In addition, contractors driving the trucks were missing paperwork and trying to transport the howitzers outside of the allowed 9:00 p.m.–5:00 a.m. window.
Training Exercises. In order to increase interoperability and improve familiarity with allied warfighting capabilities, doctrines, and operational methods, NATO conducts frequent joint training exercises. NATO has increased the number of these exercises from 108 in 2017 to 180 in 2018.91
The broad threat that Russia poses to Europe’s common interests makes military-to-military cooperation, interoperability, and overall preparedness for joint warfighting especially important in Europe, yet they are not implemented uniformly. For example, day-to-day interaction between U.S. and allied officer corps and joint preparedness exercises have been more regular with Western European militaries than with frontier allies in Central Europe, although the situation has improved markedly since 2014.
Cyber Capabilities. Another key area in which NATO is seeking to bolster its capabilities is development of a robust response to increasing cyber threats and threats from space. In 2017, senior NATO officials stated that the alliance plans to spend $3.24 billion “to upgrade its satellite and computer technology over the next three years.”92 The alliance is seeking ways to work more closely with the EU on cyber issues, but “despite political-level agreement to work together, EU–NATO cyber cooperation remains difficult and the institutional options often limited.”93
Nevertheless, cyber is recognized as a critical area of competition, and NATO is expanding its efforts to gain greater expertise and capability in this area. In 2018, Japan and Australia became the first non-NATO countries outside of the EU to join the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn.94
Ballistic Missile Defense. NATO announced the initial operating capability of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system in 2016.95 An Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu, Romania, became operational in May 2016.96 Other components include a forward-based early-warning BMD radar at Kürecik, Turkey, and BMD-capable U.S. Aegis ships forward deployed at Rota, Spain.97 A second Aegis Ashore site in Redzikowo, Poland, which broke ground in May 2016, was expected to be operational in 2017,98 but Poland announced in March 2018 that construction of the site would be delayed two years, which means that it would not become operational until 2020.99 Ramstein Air Base in Germany hosts a command and control center.100
In January 2017, the Russian embassy in Norway threatened that if Norway contributes ships or radar to NATO BMD, Russia “will have to react to defend our security.”101 Denmark, which agreed in 2014 to equip at least one frigate with radar to contribute to NATO BMD and made further progress in 2016 toward this goal, was threatened by Russia’s ambassador in Copenhagen, who stated, “I do not believe that Danish people fully understand the consequences of what may happen if Denmark joins the American-led missile defense system. If Denmark joins, Danish warships become targets for Russian nuclear missiles.”102A new Danish Defence Agreement announced in early 2018 reiterated the nation’s planned contribution to BMD.103
The Dutch will equip four Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates with a SMART-L Multi-Mission/Naval (MM/N) D-band long-range radar, which is “capable of detecting exo-atmospheric targets up to 2,000 kilometers away.”104 In December 2016, the German Navy announced plans to upgrade radar on three F124 Sachsen-class frigates in order to contribute sea-based radar to NATO BMD.105
The U.K. operates a BMD radar at RAF Fylingdales in England. In November 2015, the U.K. stated that it plans to build new ground-based BMD radar as a contribution.106 It expects the new radar to be in service by the mid-2020s.107 The U.K. reportedly will also “investigate further the potential of the Type 45 Destroyers to operate in a BMD role.”108
It also has been reported that Belgium intends to procure M-class frigates that “will be able to engage exo-atmospheric ballistic missiles.”109 Belgium and the Netherlands are jointly procuring the frigates.
In October 2017, the U.S. and allies from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom took part in a three-and-a-half-week BMD exercise Formidable Shield off the Scottish Coast.110 It is intended that Formidable Shield will be a yearly exercise.111
Quality of Armed Forces in the Region
As an intergovernmental security alliance, NATO is only as strong as its member states. A 2017 RAND report found that France, Germany, and the U.K. would face difficulty in quickly deploying armored brigades to the Baltics in the event of a crisis. The report concludes that getting “deployments up to brigade strength would take…a few weeks in the French case and possibly more than a month in the British or German case” and that “[a] single armored brigade each appears to represent a maximum sustainable effort.” In addition, there are “questions regarding their ability to operate at the level required for a conflict with the Russians, whether because of training cutbacks, neglected skills, or limited organic support capabilities.” The report further states that “the faster British, French, and German forces needed to get to the Baltics, the more direct assistance they would need from the United States in the form of strategic airlift.”112
Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, and Turkey are procuring A400M air transports from Airbus; however, a report published in February 2018 noted an agreement that Airbus had signed to allow it to negotiate deals with individual nations to opt out of including features deemed too difficult to include.113 Additionally, “the agreement recognizes that Airbus needs more time to deliver the plane than originally planned and paves the way for negotiations over a new delivery schedule.”114
Article 3 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, NATO’s founding document, states that at a minimum, members “will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”115 Regrettably, only a handful of NATO members are living up to their Article 3 commitment. In 2017, four countries spent the required 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense—Estonia (2.08 percent); Greece (2.36 percent); the United Kingdom (2.12 percent); and the United States (3.57 percent)—and Poland spent almost the required amount (1.99 percent).116 During the past year, however, NATO defense spending continued to trend upward:
In 2017, the trend continued, with European Allies and Canada increasing their defence expenditure by almost 5%. Many Allies have put in place national plans to reach 2% [of GDP] by 2024 and are making progress towards that goal. In real terms, defence spending among European Allies and Canada increased by 4.87% from 2016 to 2017, with an additional cumulative spending increase of USD 46 billion for the period from 2015 to 2017, above the 2014 level.117
Germany. Germany remains an economic powerhouse that punches well below its weight in terms of defense. In 2017, it spent only 1.24 percent of GDP on defense and 13.75 percent of its defense budget on equipment.118 In February 2018, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen stated, “We will need significantly more funds in coming years so the Bundeswehr (armed forces) can accomplish the missions and assignments that parliament gives it.”119 However, lackluster defense spending is unlikely to change; Germany plans to “lift its defence budget from €38.75bn this year to €42.65bn in 2021. With the economy set for continued expansion, military spending would still account for less than 1.5 per cent of GDP four years from now.”120
Federal elections in September 2017 led to months of negotiations on forming a coalition. The resulting three-party coalition made up of the Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union, and Social Democratic Party will not mean a significant change in terms of defense spending.121 Although Germany is beginning to take on a larger role within NATO as the framework nation for the NATO EFP in Lithuania and has taken some decisions to strengthen its military capabilities, its military remains underfunded and underequipped. An April 2017 RAND report stated that Germany “has only two battalions with equipment modern enough to serve as a worthy battlefield adversary for Russia.”122
In addition to stationing troops in the Baltics, Germany is the second largest contributor to NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission123 and the second largest contributor to the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.124 In March 2018, the Bundestag approved a bill that increased the maximum number of German troops that can deploy in support of Resolute Support by one-third, raising it to 1,300.125 The Bundestag also extended the mandate for Germany’s participation in NATO’s Sea Guardian maritime security operation, as well as deployments in support of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali and South Sudan and participation in the counter-ISIS coalition.126
In March 2018, the German government also announced that it was planning to cut the number of German troops fighting ISIS in Iraq from 1,200 to 800 and expand its military training mission to include the Iraqi Army in addition to the Peshmerga.127 In addition to training, through the summer of 2017, Germany supplied Kurdish Peshmerga forces with 1,200 anti-tank missiles and 24,000 assault rifles as they fought against ISIS.128
German troops contribute to NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, as well as to Baltic Air Policing.129 Germany will take over the rotating head of the VJTF in January 2019. However, an ominous internal Ministry of Defense report leaked in February 2018 questioned the readiness and ability of the brigade that will lead the VJTF, citing a lack of equipment. According to reports, “the brigade had only nine of 44 Leopard 2 tanks, and three of the 14 Marder armored personnel carriers that it needs. It is also missing night vision goggles, support vehicles, winter clothing and body armor.”130
The myriad examples of the deleterious state of Germany’s armed forces are worrisome. At one point in late 2017 and early 2018, the German Navy had no working submarines; all six of its Type 212 class submarines were in dry-dock awaiting repairs or not ready for active service.131 In December 2017, Germany’s F-125 Baden-Württemberg–class frigate failed sea trials because of “software and hardware defects.”132 In addition, the frigate reportedly had “problems with its radar, electronics and the flameproof coating on its fuel tanks. The vessel was also found to list to the starboard,”133 and lacked sufficiently robust armaments, as well as the ability to add them.134 Germany returned the ship to the shipbuilder following delivery.135
The Luftwaffe faces similar problems. At the end of 2017, for instance, none of the German air force’s 14 transport aircraft were available for deployment.136 In 2017, according to a report from the German Defense Ministry, only 39 of 128 Eurofighters on average were available, usually for lack of spare parts and long maintenance periods.137 An even grimmer report in a German magazine in May 2018 found that a lack of missiles and problems with the Eurofighter air defense systems, which alerts pilots to potential attacks,138 meant that only four are ready for actual combat missions.139 Among other examples, only 26 of 93 Tornadoes are ready for action.140
Germany’s army is similarly ill equipped and understaffed, with 21,000 vacant positions in its officer corps.141 In February 2018, only 95 of 244 Leopard 2 tanks were in service.142 In December 2017, the Army outsourced helicopter training to a private company because the condition of its own helicopters prevented pilots from getting enough flight time.143 In 2017, one-tenth of Germany’s military helicopter pilots lost their licenses for lack of adequate flying time.144
Germany is seeking a replacement for its 90 Tornado aircraft, set to be retired in 2030. In April 2018, three companies submitted bids to deliver the replacement, which the Luftwaffe plans will “enter service in about 2025.”145 The Tornado replacement will need to be able to carry both nuclear and conventional weapons, as the Tornadoes are dual-capable aircraft equipped to carry B61 tactical nukes in addition to conventional payloads.146
Germany’s military faces institutional challenges to procurement that include an understaffed procurement office with 1,300 vacancies, which is equal to 20 percent of its entire workforce,147 and the need for special approval by a parliamentary budget committee for any expenditure of more than €25 million.148
In February 2017, Germany and Norway announced joint development and procurement of naval anti-surface missiles.149 In October 2017, Germany announced plans to purchase five corvettes for its Navy at a total cost of €1.5 billion.150
The Bundeswehr plans to add 5,000 new soldiers to its ranks along with 1,000 civilians and 500 reservists by 2024.151 In April 2017, the Bundeswehr established a new cyber command, which initially will consist of 260 staff but will number around 13,500 by the time it becomes fully operational in 2021.152
In February 2017, Germany decided to replace its short-range air defense systems. Once complete, this upgrade, which could cost as much as €3.3 billion by 2030, will help to close a gap in Europe’s short-range air defense weapons that was identified in 2016.153 Continued problems with the procurement of A400M cargo aircraft have raised questions about whether Germany will have replacement transport aircraft ready before its C-160 fleet is due to be retired in 2021. According to one account, a “confidential German military report said there was a ‘significant risk’ that the A400M would not meet all its tactical requirements” in time to replace the aging C-160.154
France. France sees itself as a global power, remains one of the most capable militaries within the NATO alliance, and retains an independent nuclear deterrent capability. Although France rejoined NATO’s Integrated Command Structure in 2009, it remains outside the alliance’s nuclear planning group. France spent 1.79 percent of GDP on defense in 2017 and 24.17 percent of defense spending on equipment, attaining one of two NATO benchmarks.155 The outlook for defense investment has improved following initial defense cuts under President Emmanuel Macron that led the Chief of Defense to resign in protest.
In July 2018, President Macron signed a law increasing defense spending over six years, including a $2.1 billion increase for the current year, with France spending 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2025. One-third of the planned increases will not take effect until 2023, after the next French general election. Much of the increased spending will be used for intelligence and military procurement, including “the acquisition of more than 1,700 armored vehicles for the Army as well as five frigates, four nuclear-powered attack submarines and nine offshore patrol vessels for the Navy.” Procurements for the Air Force would include “12 in-flight refueling tankers, 28 Rafale fighter jets and 55 upgraded Mirage 2000 fighters.”156
France is upgrading its sea-based and air-based nuclear deterrent. “It is estimated the cost of this process will increase from $4.4bn in 2017 to $8.6bn per year in 2022–2025,” according to the IISS, “but decrease thereafter—with these outlays likely to come at the expense of conventional procurements.”157 France opened a cyber-operational command in December 2016. The Army plans to employ 2,600 cyber soldiers supported by 600 cyber experts, along with 4,400 reservists, and to invest €1 billion in this effort by 2019.158
France withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, although all French combat troops had left in 2012. As of April 2017, France had 1,100 soldiers deployed in the campaign against the Islamic State, along with 10 Rafale fighter jets and four CAESAR self-propelled howitzers.159 By September 2017, French planes operating from bases in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and occasional maritime platforms had flown 7,136 missions, including 1,375 strikes and 2,152 targets neutralized.160 French artillery has taken part in supporting the ground offensive against the IS since September 2016,161 and France has helped to train Iraqi forces. Around 40 French Special Operations Forces on the ground are actively engaged in tracking down and locating some of the 1,700 French nationals that have joined ISIS.162
The September 2017 death of a Special Forces soldier was the first combat death in Operation Chammal (French operations in Iraq).163 In April 2018, France joined the U.S. and U.K. in targeting the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons.164 According to French Air Force Chief of Staff Andre Lanata, the pace of Operation Chammal is having a deleterious impact on French forces. In addition to such other problems as a shortage of drones and refueling tankers, Lanata has stated that he is “having a hard time (recruiting and retaining personnel) in a number of positions, from plane mechanics to intelligence officers, image analysts and base defenders.”165
In Europe, France’s deployment of 266 troops, along with armored fighting vehicles, to Lithuania166 contributes to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. The French military is very active in Africa, with over 4,000 troops taking part in anti-terrorism operations in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane.167 France also has over 1,450 troops in Djibouti and troops in Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, and Senegal.168 In addition, France has a close relationship with the United Arab Emirates and stations 850 troops in the UAE; a 15-year defense agreement between the countries came into force in 2012.169
France recently added 11,000 soldiers to its Army.170 Operation Sentinelle, launched in January 2015 to protect the country from terrorist attacks, is the largest operational commitment of French forces and accounts for some 13,000 troops.171 Operation Sentinelle soldiers helped to foil an attack near the Louvre museum in February 2017 and an attempted attack on a soldier patrolling Orly Airport in March 2017.172 In October, Sentinelle soldiers killed a terrorist who had killed two people at a train station in Marseille.173
Frequent deployments, especially in Operation Sentinelle, have placed significant strains on French forces and equipment.174 “In early September 2017,” according to the IISS, “the chief of defense staff declared that the French armed forces have been used to ‘130% of their capacities and now need time to regenerate.’”175 To counteract the strain on soldiers, the government both extended deployment pay to soldiers taking part in and created a new “medal for Protection of the Territory” for troops deployed for 60 days in Operation Sentinelle.176
The United Kingdom. America’s most important bilateral relationship in Europe is the Special Relationship with the United Kingdom.
In his famous 1946 “Sinews of Peace” speech—now better known as his “Iron Curtain” speech—Winston Churchill described the Anglo–American relationship as one that is based first and foremost on defense and military cooperation. From the sharing of intelligence to the transfer of nuclear technology, a high degree of military cooperation has helped to make the Special Relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. unique. U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made clear the essence of the Special Relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. when she first met U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984: “I am an ally of the United States. We believe the same things, we believe passionately in the same battle of ideas, we will defend them to the hilt. Never try to separate me from them.”177
In 2015, the U.K. conducted a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), the results of which have driven a modest increase in defense spending and an effort to reverse some of the cuts that had been implemented pursuant to the previous review in 2010. Through 2015, defense spending had dropped to 2.08 percent of GDP,178 and U.K. forces suffered as a consequence. In 2016, the U.K. moved to repair the damage in capability and capacity by increasing spending to 2.17 percent of GDP, with 22.56 percent of this devoted to equipment purchases.179 In 2017, the U.K. spent 2.14 percent of GDP on defense and 22.03 percent of GDP on equipment.180 In recent years, it has increased funding for its highly respected Special Forces.
Funding procurement is an issue. As noted by the Royal United Services Institute, “The 2015 SDSR bridged the gap between a 5% increase in the total budget and a 34% increase in procurement spending by promising substantial efficiency savings over its first five years.”181 Those efficiencies were insufficient, and this led to a funding gap of £4.9 billion and £21 billion for the Ministry of Defence’s decade-long procurement plans.182 A widely anticipated defense review, the Defence Modernisation Programme, is due out in mid-2018 and will take a fresh look at U.K. capabilities, requirements, and funding.
Though its military is small in comparison to the militaries of France and Germany, the U.K. maintains one of the most effective armed forces in European NATO. Former Defense Secretary Michael Fallon stated in February 2017 that the U.K. will have an expeditionary force of 50,000 troops by 2025.183 However, an April 2018 report from the National Audit Office found that the military was 8,200 people (5.7 percent) short of its required level, a shortfall that it will take at least five years to rectify.184 The same report also found a gap of 26 percent for intelligence analysts.185
By 2020, if funding is sustained, the Royal Air Force (RAF) will operate a fleet of F-35 and Typhoon fighter aircraft, the latter being upgraded to carry out ground attacks. While the U.K. is committed to purchasing 138 F-35s, rising acquisition costs and defense budget pressure have led some, including the Deputy Chief of the U.K. Defence Staff, to raise the possibility that the number of F-35s acquired might have to be cut.186
The RAF recently brought into service a new fleet of air-to-air refuelers, which is particularly noteworthy because of the severe shortage of this capability in Europe. With the U.K., the U.S. produced and has jointly operated an intelligence-gathering platform, the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft, that has already seen service in Mali, Nigeria, and Iraq and is now part of the RAF fleet.
The U.K. operates seven C-17 cargo planes and has started to bring the European A400M cargo aircraft into service after years of delays. The 2015 SDSR recommended keeping 14 C-130Js in service even though they initially were going to be removed from the force structure. The Sentinel R1, an airborne battlefield and ground surveillance aircraft, originally was due to be removed from the force structure in 2015, but its service is being extended to at least 2025, and the U.K. will soon start operating the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The U.K. has procured nine P-8A maritime patrol aircraft, which will come into service in 2019.187 A £132 million facility to house the P-8s is under construction at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland,188 to be completed in 2020.189 In the meantime, the U.K. has relied on allied MPAs to fill the gap. In 2017, 17 MPAs from the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, and Norway deployed to RAF Lossiemouth.190
The Royal Navy’s surface fleet is based on the new Type-45 Destroyer and the older Type-23 Frigate. The latter will be replaced by the Type-26 Global Combat Ship sometime in the 2020s. In total, the U.K. operates only 19 frigates and destroyers, which most experts agree is dangerously low for the commitment asked of the Royal Navy (in the 1990s, the fleet numbered nearly 60 surface combatants). In December, 12 of 13 Type-23 Frigates and all six Type-45 Destroyers were in port, leaving only one Royal Navy frigate on patrol.191
The U.K. will not have an aircraft carrier in service until the first Queen Elizabeth-class carrier enters service in the 2020s. This will be the largest carrier operated in Europe. Two of her class will be built, and both will enter service. The Queen Elizabeth underwent sea trials in June 2017192 and was commissioned in December.193 By the end of 2017, the U.K. had taken delivery of 14 F-35Bs, the variant that will be operated jointly by the RAF and the Royal Navy.194 Additionally, the Royal Navy is introducing seven Astute-class attack submarines as it phases out its older Trafalgar-class. Crucially, the U.K. maintains a fleet of 13 Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs) that deliver world-leading capability and play an important role in Persian Gulf security contingency planning.
Perhaps the Royal Navy’s most important contribution is its continuous-at-sea, submarine-based nuclear deterrent based on the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine and the Trident missile. In July 2016, the House of Commons voted to renew Trident and approved the manufacture of four replacement submarines to carry the missile. However, the replacement submarines are not expected to enter service until 2028 at the earliest.195 In March 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a £600m increase for procurement of the new Dreadnought-class submarines, stating that the extra funds “will ensure the work to rebuild the UK’s new world-class submarines remains on schedule.”196
The U.K. remains a leader inside NATO, serving as framework nation for NATO’s EFP in Estonia and as a contributing nation for the U.S.-led EFP in Poland. In March, the U.K. announced the first operational deployment of four Lynx Wildcat reconnaissance helicopters to Estonia for a period of four months.197 The Royal Air Force has taken part in Baltic Air Policing four times, including most recently from April–August 2016.198 Four RAF Typhoons were deployed to Romania for four months in May 2017 to support NATO’s Southern Air Policing mission,199 and another four were deployed from May–September 2018.200 “In the face of an increasingly assertive Russia,” U.K. Defence Minister Gavin Williamson has stated, “the UK has significantly stepped up its commitment to Europe and today I can confirm a further package of support, showing how we remain at the forefront on European security.”201
The U.K. also maintains a sizeable force of 500 troops in Afghanistan202 as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission and contributes to NATO’s Kosovo Force,203 Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, and Mine Countermeasures Group Two.204 U.K. forces are an active part of the anti-ISIS coalition, and the U.K. joined France and the U.S. in launching airstrikes against the Assad regime in April 2018 over its use of chemical weapons against civilians.205
Turkey. Turkey remains an important U.S. ally and NATO member, but the increasingly autocratic presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a recent thaw in relations between Turkey and Russia have introduced troubling challenges. Turkey has been an important U.S. ally since the closing days of World War II. During the Korean War, it deployed a total of 15,000 troops and suffered 721 killed in action and more than 2,000 wounded. Turkey joined NATO in 1952, one of only two NATO members (the other was Norway) that had a land border with the Soviet Union. Today, it continues to play an active role in the alliance, but not without difficulties.
Turkey is vitally important to Europe’s energy security. It is the gateway to the resource-rich Caucasus and Caspian Basin and controls the Bosporus, one of the world’s most important shipping straits. Several major gas and oil pipelines run through Turkey. As new oilfields are developed in the Central Asian states, and given Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, Turkey can be expected to play an increasingly important role in Europe’s energy security.
On July 15, 2016, elements of the Turkish armed forces reportedly attempted a coup d’état against the increasingly Islamist-leaning leadership of President Erdogan. This was the fourth coup attempt since 1960 (the fifth if one counts the so-called postmodern coup in 1997). In each previous case, the military was successful, and democracy was returned to the people; in this case, however, Erdogan immediately enforced a state of emergency and cracked down on many aspects of government, the military, and civil society. Following the failed coup attempt, thousands of academics, teachers, journalists, judges, prosecutors, bureaucrats, and soldiers were fired or arrested. As of April 2018, “More than 150,000 people have been detained and 110,000 civil servants dismissed since the coup attempt.”206
The post-coup crackdown has had an especially negative effect on the military. In April 2018, Erdogan announced the firing of an additional 3,000 military officers; more than 11,000 military members have been fired since the 2016 coup attempt.207 Turkey’s military is now suffering from a loss of experienced generals and admirals as well as an acute shortage of pilots, and NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Scaparrotti has stated that Erdogan’s military purges have “degraded” NATO’s capabilities.208
The failed plot has enabled Erdogan to consolidate more power. A referendum that was approved by a narrow margin in April 2017 granted the president’s office further powers—such as eliminating the position of prime minister in the government—that came into effect following the June 2018 general election.209 An interim report by election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found an “unlevel playing field” and stated that the two sides of the campaign “did not have equal opportunities.”210 Erdogan’s response to the coup has further eroded Turkey’s democracy, once considered a model for the region.
Senior government officials’ erratic and at times hyperbolic statements alleging U.S. involvement in the coup, combined with Erdogan’s rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have brought U.S.–Turkish relations to an all-time low. In December 2017, Turkey signed a $2.5 billion agreement with Russia to purchase S-400 air defense systems.211 In April 2018, President Erdogan announced that delivery of the S-400s would be brought forward from 2020 to July 2019 and raised the possibility of additional defense cooperation with Russia.212
In April 2017, former Turkish Defense Minister and current Deputy Prime Minister Fikri Işık stated that no S-400s would be integrated into the NATO air defense systems.213 U.S. officials pointed out the ineffectiveness of older Russian-made air defenses in Syria, which failed to intercept any of the 105 missiles launched by U.S. and allied forces in retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in April 2018.214 Radars on Russia’s newer S-400 systems deployed to Syria were active but did not engage the incoming strikes.215 Turkey, however, has stated that the purchase of the S-400s is a “done deal.”216
Also in April 2018, construction began on a $20 billion nuclear power plant in Mersin Province on Turkey’s south central coast. The plant is being built by the Russian state corporation Rosatom. In March 2018, Turkey condemned the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil217 but demurred from either naming Russia as the perpetrator or expelling Russian diplomats from Turkey.218 Despite warmed relations, Turkish and Russian interests do not always neatly align, especially in Syria, where Turkey remains very much the junior player. In February 2018, for instance, Russia was assisting the Assad regime’s targeting of forces that were supported by Turkey.219
The U.S. decision in May 2017 to arm Syrian Kurds of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) further angered Turkey, which considers the YPG to be connected to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), long viewed by Ankara as its primary threat.220 In January 2018, Turkey launched a major offensive military operation near the Syrian city of Afrin. At issue was the creation of a “30,000-strong border security force in north-east Syria, built around the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces]. In Ankara’s eyes, this offers the YPG permanent title to the land it has carved out. Mr. Erdogan vowed to ‘drown’ and/or ‘strangle’ this ‘army of terror before it is born.’”221 U.S. officials have expressed public consternation at Turkey’s military engagement in Syria and coordination with Russia. In April, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell voiced that uneasiness: “The ease with which Turkey brokered arrangements with the Russian military to facilitate the launch of its Operation Olive Branch in Afrin District, arrangements to which America was not privy, is gravely concerning.”222
Nevertheless, U.S. security interests in the region lend considerable importance to America’s relationship with Turkey. Turkey is home to Incirlik Air Base, a major U.S. and NATO air base, but it was reported early in 2018 that U.S. combat operations at Incirlik had been significantly reduced and that the U.S. was considering permanent reductions.223 In January, the U.S. relocated an A-10 squadron from Incirlik to Afghanistan to avoid operational disruptions. According to U.S. officials, “Turkey has been making it harder to conduct air operations at the base, such as requesting the U.S. suspend operations to allow high-ranking Turkish officials to use the runway. Officials said this sometimes halts U.S. air operations for more than a day.”224
In addition to a drawdown in operations in the Middle East, Germany’s decision to leave the base also has soured American views on Incirlik,225 although U.S. officials sought to downplay tensions with Turkey after reports surfaced. An official at EUCOM, for example, stated that “Incirlik still serves as [a] forward location that enables operational capabilities and provides the U.S. and NATO the strategic and operational breadth needed to conduct operations and assure our allies and partners.”226
One cause for optimism has been NATO’s decision to deploy air defense batteries to Turkey and increased AWACS flights in the region after the Turkish government requested them in late 2015.227 In January 2018, deployments of NATO air defense batteries to Incirlik were extended until June.228 In addition, after an initial period of vacillation in dealing with the threat from the Islamic State, a spate of IS attacks that rocked the country has led Turkey to play a bigger role in attacking the terrorist group, with NATO AWACS aircraft, for example, that are taking part in counter-ISIS operations flying from Turkey’s Konya Air Base.229 Turkey also hosts a crucial radar at Kurecik, which is part of NATO’s BMD.230
While visiting Turkey in April, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that “Turkey is a highly valued NATO Ally, and Turkey contributes to our shared security, our collective defence, in many different ways.”231 Stoltenberg also referenced the significant financial investment NATO was making in the upgrading of Turkey’s military infrastructure.232 The U.S. reportedly designated $6.4 million to build out a second undisclosed site (site K) near Malatya, which is home to an AN/TPY-2 radar with a range of up to 1,800 miles.233
The Turks have deployed thousands of troops to Afghanistan and have commanded the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) twice since 2002. Turkey continues to maintain more than 500 troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, making it the sixth-largest troop contributor out of 39 nations.234 The Turks also have contributed to a number of peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, still maintain 307 troops in Kosovo,235 and have participated in counterpiracy and counterterrorism missions off the Horn of Africa in addition to deploying planes, frigates, and submarines during the NATO-led operation in Libya.
Turkey has a 355,200-strong active-duty military,236 making it NATO’s second largest after that of the United States. Major current procurement programs include up to 250 new Altay main battle tanks, 350 T-155 Fırtına 155mm self-propelled howitzers, six Type-214 submarines, and more than 50 T-129 attack helicopters.237 Turkish submarine procurement has faced six-year delays, and the first submarine will not be delivered until 2021.238 Turkey has also upgraded its M60A3 main battle tanks and its M60T tanks.239 M60Ts taking part in Operation Olive Branch near Afrin were reportedly “equipped with laser warning receivers, situational awareness systems, and remotely operated weapon stations forming part of an indigenous upgrade package.”240
In February, President Erdogan expressed a desire to utilize internal military procurements and upgrades, declaring that Turkey “will not buy any defence products, software, and systems from abroad that can be designed, produced, and developed in the country except those required urgently.”241
Geographically and geopolitically, Turkey remains a key U.S. ally and NATO member. It has been a constructive and fruitful security partner for decades, and maintaining the relationship is in America’s interest. The challenge for U.S. and NATO policymakers will be to navigate Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic leadership, discourage Ankara’s warming relations with Russia, and square differing goals in Syria without alienating Turkey.
The Baltic States. The U.S. has a long history of championing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Baltic States that dates back to the interwar period of the 1920s. Since regaining their independence from Russia in the early 1990s, the Baltic States have been staunch supporters of the transatlantic relationship. Although small in absolute terms, the three countries contribute significantly to NATO in relative terms.
Estonia. Estonia has been a leader in the Baltics in terms of defense spending and was one of five NATO members to meet the 2 percent of GDP spending benchmark in 2017.242 Although the Estonian armed forces total only 6,600 active-duty service personnel (including the army, navy, and air force),243 they are held in high regard by their NATO partners and punch well above their weight inside the alliance. Between 2003 and 2011, 455 served in Iraq. Perhaps Estonia’s most impressive deployment has been to Afghanistan: more than 2,000 troops deployed between 2003 and 2014, sustaining the second-highest number of deaths per capita among all 28 NATO members.
In 2015, Estonia reintroduced conscription for men ages 18–27, who must serve eight or 11 months before being added to the reserve rolls.244 The number of Estonian conscripts will increase from 3,200 to 4,000 by 2026.245
Estonia has demonstrated that it takes defense and security policy seriously, focusing on improving defensive capabilities at home while maintaining the ability to be a strategic actor abroad. Procurements are expected to rise to $210 million by 2020.246 One recent joint procurement is with neighboring Finland to acquire 12 South Korean–built howitzers by 2021.247 Estonia has purchased 44 used infantry fighting vehicles from the Netherlands, the last of which were delivered in 2018.248 In June 2018, Estonia signed a $59 million deal to purchase short-range air defenses, with Mistral surface-to-air missiles to be delivered starting in 2020.249 According to Estonia’s National Defence Development Plan for 2017–2026, “the size of the rapid reaction structure will increase from the current 21,000 to over 24,400.”250
Estonia has a Cyber Defence League, a reserve force that relies heavily on expertise found in the civilian sector, and is planning “to create our own full spectrum cyber command, from defence to offence.”251 In 2017, Estonia and the U.S. strengthened their bilateral relationship by signing a defense cooperation agreement that builds on the NATO–Estonia Status of Forces Agreement to further clarify the legal framework for U.S. troops in Estonia.252 In 2019, the U.S. “intends to spend more than $15 million to improve working conditions for special operations forces on missions in the Baltics” by upgrading operations and training facilities at an undisclosed site in Estonia.253
Latvia. Latvia’s recent military experience also has been centered on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside NATO and U.S. forces. Latvia has deployed more than 3,000 troops to Afghanistan and between 2003 and 2008 deployed 1,165 troops to Iraq. In addition, it has contributed to a number of other international peacekeeping and military missions. These are significant numbers considering that only 5,310 of Latvia’s troops are full-time servicemembers; the remainder are reserves.254 In 2018, Latvia added 710 soldiers to its armed forces.255
Latvia’s 2016 National Defense Concept clearly defines Russia as a threat to national security and states that “[d]eterrence is enhanced by the presence of the allied forces in Latvia.”256 The concept aims to strengthen the operational capability of the armed forces through “further integration of the National Guard within the Armed Forces, strengthening the Special Tasks Unit (special operations forces), as well as boosting early-warning capabilities, airspace surveillance and air defense.”257
Latvia plans that a minimum of 8 percent of its professional armed forces will be deployed at any one time but will train to ensure that no less than 50 percent will be combat-ready to deploy overseas if required. In 2018, Latvia met the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of GDP spent on defense, and it will also spend 43 percent of its defense budget on procurement in 2018.258 Also in 2018, Latvia received the first of three TPS-77 Multi-Role radars,259 along with two unmanned aircraft systems, from the U.S.260 In addition, Latvia is procuring “second-hand M109 self-propelled artillery pieces from Austria and has selected the Stinger man-portable air-defense system.”261 In January, Latvia announced plans to invest $61.7 million through 2021 on military infrastructure, including the expansion of training areas.262
Lithuania. Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic States, and its armed forces total 18,350 active-duty troops.263 It reintroduced conscription in 2015.264 Lithuania has also shown steadfast commitment to international peacekeeping and military operations. Between 2003 and 2011, it sent 930 troops to Iraq. Since 2002, around 3,000 Lithuanian troops have served in Afghanistan, a notable contribution that is divided between a special operations mission alongside U.S. and Latvian Special Forces and command of a Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Ghor Province, making Lithuania one of only a handful of NATO members to have commanded a PRT. Lithuania continues to contribute to NATO’s KFOR and Resolute Support Missions.265
In 2018, Lithuania reached the NATO benchmark of 2 percent GDP devoted to spending on defense.266 The government’s 2018 National Threat Assessment clearly identifies Russia as the main threat to the nation.267 Lithuania is dedicating significant resources to procurement with a focus on land maneuver, indirect fire support, air defense radars, anti-tank weapons systems, and ground-based air defense.268
Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has identified modernization as the armed forces’ “number-one priority.”269 Specifically, “Lithuania’s government aims to acquire Boxer infantry fighting vehicles, PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers and the Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System” by 2021 and “is also mulling plans to purchase transport and perhaps combat [helicopters].”270 In 2016, Lithuania reached an agreement to acquire 88 Boxer Infantry Fighting Vehicles, to be delivered by 2021.271
Lithuania has also taken steps to mitigate the threat from Russia by reducing its dependence on Russian energy. Its decision to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import facility at Klaipėda has begun to pay dividends, breaking Russia’s natural gas monopoly in the region. In 2016, Norway overtook Russia as the top exporter of natural gas to Lithuania.272 In June 2017, a Lithuanian energy company signed an agreement to buy LNG directly from the U.S.273 In May 2017, the Baltic States agreed to connect their power grids (currently integrated with Belarus and Russia) with Poland’s with the goal of creating a link to the rest of Europe and decreasing dependence on Russian energy.274
Russian cyber aggression against Lithuania in 2018 targeted “Lithuanian state institutions and the energy sector. In addition to these traditional cyber activities, a new phenomenon has been observed—a large-scale spread of ransomware programmes.”275
Poland. Situated in the center of Europe, Poland shares a border with four NATO allies, a long border with Belarus and Ukraine, and a 144-mile border with Russia alongside the Kaliningrad Oblast. Poland also has a 65-mile border with Lithuania, making it the only NATO member state that borders any of the Baltic States, and NATO’s contingency plans for liberating the Baltic States in the event of a Russian invasion reportedly rely heavily on Polish troops and ports.276
Poland has an active military force of 105,000, including a 61,200-strong army with 937 main battle tanks.277 In November 2016, Poland’s Parliament approved a new 53,000-strong territorial defense force to protect infrastructure and provide training in “unconventional warfare tactics.”278 The new force will be established by 2019279 and is the fifth branch of the Polish military, subordinate to the Minister of Defense.280 The territorial defense force will tackle hybrid threats, linking “the military closely to society, so that there will be someone on hand in the event of an emergency to organize our defenses at the local level.”281
The prioritization of this new force has ignited controversy in Polish defense circles.282 Ninety percent of General Staff leadership and 80 percent of Army leadership left or were replaced following military reforms in 2016, introducing a measure of volatility into defense planning.283
In 2017, Poland spent 1.99 percent of GDP on defense and 22.14 percent on equipment, essentially reaching both NATO benchmarks.284 In April, the Ministry of National Defence stated that its goal is to raise defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030.285 Poland is looking at major equipment purchases and is planning to spend an additional $55 billion on modernization over the next 14 years.286
In March 2018, Poland signed a $4.75 billion deal for two Patriot missile batteries, the largest procurement contract in the nation’s history.287 In addition, “Warsaw is negotiating with Washington to buy more Patriots, a new 360-degree radar and a low-cost interceptor missile as part of a second phase of modernization.”288 In February, Poland joined an eight-nation “coalition of NATO countries seeking to jointly buy a fleet of maritime surveillance aircraft.”289 Additionally, Warsaw has “established a fund to bolster the defence-modernisation ambitions of neighbors under the Regional Security Assistance Program.”290
Although Poland’s focus is territorial defense, it has 247 troops deployed in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.291 In 2016, Polish F-16s began to fly reconnaissance missions out of Kuwait as part of the anti-IS mission Operation Inherent Resolve.292 Approximately 60 soldiers deployed to Iraq in 2015 as trainers.293 Poland’s air force has taken part in Baltic Air Policing seven times since 2006, most recently from September 2017.294 Poland also is part of NATO’s EFP in Latvia and has 262 troops taking part in NATO’s KFOR mission.295
Current U.S. Military Presence in Europe
Former head of U.S. European Command General Philip Breedlove has aptly described the role of U.S. basing in Europe:
The mature network of U.S. operated bases in the EUCOM AOR provides superb training and power projection facilities in support of steady state operations and contingencies in Europe, Eurasia, Africa, and the Middle East. This footprint is essential to TRANSCOM’s global distribution mission and also provides critical basing support for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets flying sorties in support of AFRICOM, CENTCOM, EUCOM, U.S. Special Operations Command, and NATO operations.296
At its peak in 1953, because of the Soviet threat to Western Europe, the U.S. had approximately 450,000 troops in Europe operating across 1,200 sites. During the early 1990s, both in response to a perceived reduction in the threat from Russia and as part of the so-called peace dividend following the end of the Cold War, U.S. troop numbers in Europe were slashed. Today, around 65,000 active U.S. forces remain in Europe,297 an 85 percent decrease in personnel and 75 percent reduction in basing from the height of the Cold War.298
Until 2013, the U.S. Army had two heavy brigade combat teams in Europe, the 170th and 172nd BCTs in Germany; one airborne Infantry BCT, the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy; and one Stryker BCT, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Germany, permanently based in Europe. Deactivation of the 170th BCT in October 2012, slightly earlier than the planned deactivation date of 2013, marked the end of a 50-year period during which U.S. combat soldiers had been stationed in Baumholder, Germany. Deactivation of the 172nd BCT took place in October 2013. In all, this meant that more than 10,000 soldiers were removed from Europe. The U.S. has returned one armored BCT to Europe as part of continuous rotations; according to General Breedlove, “[t]he challenge EUCOM faces is ensuring it is able to meet its strategic obligations while primarily relying on rotational forces from the continental United States.”299
As of April 2014, according to General Breedlove, the U.S. had only 17 main operating bases left in Europe,300 primarily in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Spain. In April 2017, EUCOM announced that additional closures proposed under the 2015 European Infrastructure Consolidation effort have been postponed while EUCOM conducts a review of U.S. force posture and future requirements.301 Currently, the U.S. Army is scouting sites in lower Saxony in northern Germany for the potential basing of an additional 4,000 troops.302
EUCOM’s stated mission is to conduct military operations, international military partnering, and interagency partnering to enhance transatlantic security and defend the United States as part of a forward defensive posture. EUCOM is supported by four service component commands and one subordinate unified command: U.S. Naval Forces Europe (NAVEUR); U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR); U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE); U.S. Marine Forces Europe (MARFOREUR); and U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR).
U.S. Naval Forces Europe. NAVEUR is responsible for providing overall command, operational control, and coordination for maritime assets in the EUCOM and Africa Command (AFRICOM) areas of responsibility. This includes more than 20 million square nautical miles of ocean and more than 67 percent of the Earth’s coastline.
This command is currently provided by the U.S. Sixth Fleet based in Naples and brings critical U.S. maritime combat capability to an important region of the world. Some of the more notable U.S. naval bases in Europe include the Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy; the Naval Support Activity Base in Souda Bay, Greece; and the Naval Station at Rota, Spain. Naval Station Rota is home to four capable Aegis-equipped destroyers.303
In 2017, the U.S. allocated over $21 million to upgrade facilities at Keflavik Air Station in Iceland to enable operations of P-8 Poseidon aircraft in the region.304 With a combat radius of 1,200 nautical miles, the P-8 is capable of flying missions over the entirety of the GIUK (Greenland, Iceland, and United Kingdom) Gap, which has seen an increase in Russian submarine activity. The U.S. Navy expects to complete the replacement of P-3s with P-8s by FY 2019.305
The U.S. Navy also keeps a number of submarines in the area that contribute to EUCOM’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capacities, but with increased Russian naval activity, more are needed. Testifying in March 2018, General Scaparrotti stated that Russia’s Arctic buildup and naval investments could put it in a position to control northern sea-lanes within three years.306 General Scaparrotti testified in 2017 that he did “not have the carrier or the submarine capacity that would best enable me” to address EUCOM requirements.307
U.S.–U.K. military cooperation helps the U.S. to keep submarine assets integrated into the European theater. The British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, for example, frequently hosts U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. Docking U.S. nuclear-powered submarines in Spain is problematic and bureaucratic, making access to Gibraltar’s Z berths vital. Gibraltar is the best place in the Mediterranean to carry out repair work. U.S. nuclear submarines also frequently surface in Norwegian waters to exchange crew or take on supplies.
In addition, last year saw a significant uptick in U.S. and allied nuclear submarine port-calls in Norway, with the number of submarines reaching “3 to 4 per month.”308 The U.S. Navy also has a fleet of Maritime Patrol Aircraft and Reconnaissance Aircraft that operate from U.S. bases in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Turkey and complement the ISR capabilities of U.S. submarines.
U.S. Army Europe. USAREUR was established in 1952. Then, as today, the U.S. Army formed the bulk of U.S. forces in Europe. At the height of the Cold War, 277,000 soldiers and thousands of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and tactical nuclear weapons were positioned at the Army’s European bases. USAREUR also contributed to U.S. operations in the broader region, such as the U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1985 when it deployed 8,000 soldiers for four months from bases in Europe. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, USAREUR continued to play a vital role in promoting U.S. interests in the region, especially in the Balkans.
USAREUR is headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany. Its core is formed around the permanent deployment of two BCTs: the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany, and the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy, with both units supported by the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Ansbach, Germany. In addition, the U.S. Army’s 21st Theater Sustainment Command has helped the U.S. military presence in Europe to become an important logistics hub in support of Central Command.
The 2nd Cavalry Regiment Field Artillery Squadron began training on a Q-53 radar system in 2017. The radar has been described as a “game changer.”309 The unit is the first in the European theater to acquire this system, which is expected to help the Army monitor the border between NATO and Russia more effectively. In April 2018, the U.S. deployed the National Guard’s 678th Air Defense Artillery Brigade to Europe, the first such unit since drawdowns following the end of the Cold War.310
U.S. Air Forces in Europe. USAFE provides a forward-based air capability that can support a wide range of contingency operations. USAFE originated as the 8th Air Force in 1942 and flew strategic bombing missions over the European continent during World War II.
Headquartered at Ramstein Air Base, USAFE has seven main operating bases along with 88 geographically separated locations.311 The main operating bases are the RAF bases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall in the U.K., Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases in Germany, Lajes Field in the Azores, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and Aviano Air Base in Italy. These bases provide benefits beyond the European theater. For example, U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian has said that “any actions by Turkey to shut down or limit U.S. air operations out of Incirlik would be disastrous for the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign.” Incirlik is “absolutely invaluable,” and “the entire world has been made safer by the operations that have been conducted there.”312 Approximately 39,000 active-duty, reserve, and civilian personnel are assigned to USAFE along with 200 aircraft.313
The 2018 EUCOM posture statement describes the value of EDI funding for USAFE:
In the air domain, we leverage EDI to deploy theater security packages of bombers as well as 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft to execute deterrence missions and train with ally and partner nation air forces. We are building prepositioned kits for the Air Force’s European Contingency Air Operation Sets (ECAOS) and making improvements to existing Allied airfield infrastructure, which will afford us the ability to rapidly respond with air power in the event of a contingency.314
U.S. Marine Forces Europe. MARFOREUR was established in 1980. It was originally a “designate” component command, meaning that it was only a shell during peacetime but could bolster its forces during wartime. Its initial staff was 40 personnel based in London. By 1989, it had more than 180 Marines in 45 separate locations in 19 countries throughout the European theater. Today, the command is based in Boeblingen, Germany, and 140 of the 1,500 Marines based in Europe are assigned to MARFOREUR.315 It was also dual-hatted as Marine Corps Forces, Africa (MARFORAF), under U.S. Africa Command in 2008.
In the past, MARFOREUR has supported U.S. Marine units deployed in the Balkans and the Middle East. It also supports the Norway Air Landed Marine Air Ground Task Force, the Marine Corps’ only land-based prepositioned stock. The Marine Corps has enough prepositioned stock in Norway to “to equip a fighting force of 4,600 Marines, led by a colonel, with everything but aircraft and desktop computers,”316 and the Norwegian government covers half of the costs of the prepositioned storage. The stores have been utilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom and current counter-ISIS operations, as well as humanitarian and disaster response.317 The prepositioned stock’s proximity to the Arctic region makes it of particular geostrategic importance. In 2016, 6,500 pieces of equipment from the stock were utilized for the Cold Response exercise.318 The U.S. is currently studying whether equipment for 8,000 to 16,000 Marines could be stored in Norway and whether equipment could be stored in ways that would make it possible to deploy it more rapidly.319 Norway must approve any U.S. request to increase the amount of prepositioned material in the country.320
Crucially, MARFOREUR provides the U.S. with rapid reaction capability to protect U.S. embassies in North Africa. The Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force–Crisis Response–Africa (SPMAGTF) is currently located in Spain, Italy, and Romania and provides a response force of 1,550 Marines. Six of the unit’s 12 Ospreys and three of its C-130s were sent back to the U.S. to bolster Marine capabilities in the U.S.321 Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, current Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, said in 2016 that this reduction in strength “does reduce the [unit’s] flexibility, it reduces the depth.”322 The SPMAGTF helped with embassy evacuations in Libya and South Sudan and conducts regular drills with embassies in the region.
In July 2015, Spain and the United States signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.–Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation, which allows the U.S. Marine Corps to station up to 2,200 military personnel, 21 aircraft, and 500 nonmilitary employees permanently at Morón Air Base. The Defense Department stated that “a surge capability was included in the amendment of another 800 dedicated military crisis-response task force personnel and 14 aircraft at Morón, for a total of 3,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel and 35 aircraft.”323
The Marine Corps also maintains a Black Sea Rotational Force (BSRF) composed of approximately 400 Marines, based in Romania, that conduct training events with regional partners.
U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. SOCEUR is the only subordinate unified command under EUCOM. Its origins are in the Support Operations Command Europe, and it was initially based in Paris. This headquarters provided peacetime planning and operational control of special operations forces during unconventional warfare in EUCOM’s area of responsibility. SOCEUR has been headquartered in Panzer Kaserne near Stuttgart, Germany, since 1967. It also operates out of RAF Mildenhall. In June 2018, U.S. Special Operations Command Chief General Tony Thomas stated that the U.S. plans to “move tactical United States special operations forces from the increasingly crowded and encroached Stuttgart installation of Panzer Kaserne to the more open training grounds of Baumholder,”324 a move that is expected to take a few years.
Due to the sensitive nature of special operations, publicly available information is scarce. However, it has been documented that SOCEUR elements participated in various capacity-building missions and civilian evacuation operations in Africa; took an active role in the Balkans in the mid-1990s and in combat operations in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and most recently supported AFRICOM’s Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. SOCEUR also plays an important role in joint training with European allies; since June 2014, it has maintained an almost continuous presence in the Baltic States and Poland in order to train special operations forces in those countries.
The FY 2019 DOD budget request included just under $200 million for various special operations programs and functions through EDI.325 This funding is intended to go to such projects as enhancement of special operations forces’ staging capabilities and prepositioning in Europe, exercise support, enhancement of intelligence capabilities and facilities, and partnership activities with Eastern and Central European allies’ special operations forces.
EUCOM has played an important role in supporting other combatant commands such as CENTCOM and AFRICOM. Of the 65,000 U.S. troops based in Europe, almost 10,000 are there to support other combatant commands. The facilities available in EUCOM allowed the U.S. to play a leading role in combating Ebola in western Africa during the 2014 outbreak.
In addition to CENTCOM and AFRICOM, U.S. troops in Europe have worked closely with U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) to implement Department of Defense cyber policy in Europe and to bolster the cyber defense capabilities of America’s European partners. This work has included hosting a number of cyber-related conferences and joint exercises with European partners.
Cyber security in Europe has improved. This improvement includes operationalization of EUCOM’s Joint Cyber Center in 2017. EUCOM has also supported CYBERCOM’s work inside NATO by becoming a full member of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia.
Key Infrastructure and Warfighting Capabilities
One of the major advantages of having U.S. forces in Europe is the access to logistical infrastructure that it provides. For example, EUCOM supports the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) with its array of air bases and access to ports throughout Europe. EUCOM supported TRANSCOM with work on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which supplied U.S. troops in Afghanistan during major combat operations there. Today, Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania is a major logistics and supply hub for U.S. equipment and personnel traveling to the Middle East region.326
Europe is a mature and advanced operating environment. America’s decades-long presence in Europe means that the U.S. has tried and tested systems that involve moving large numbers of matériel and personnel into, inside, and out of the continent. This offers an operating environment that is second to none in terms of logistical capability. For example, there are more than 166,000 miles of rail line in Europe (not including Russia), and an estimated 90 percent of roads in Europe are paved. The U.S. enjoys access to a wide array of airfields and ports across the continent.
EDI has supported infrastructure improvements across the region. One major EDI-funded project is a replacement hospital at Landstuhl in Germany. When completed in 2022, the new permanent facility “will provide state-of the-art combat and contingency medical support to service members from EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM.”327 EDI funds are also contributing to creation of the Joint Intelligence Analysis Center, which will consolidate intelligence functions formerly spread across multiple bases and “strengthen EUCOM, NATO and UK intelligence relationships.”328
Some of the world’s most important shipping lanes are also in the European region. In fact, the world’s busiest shipping lane is the English Channel, through which pass 500 ships a day, not including small boats and pleasure craft. Approximately 90 percent of the world’s trade travels by sea. Given the high volume of maritime traffic in the European region, no U.S. or NATO military operation can be undertaken without consideration of how these shipping lanes offer opportunity—and risk—to America and her allies. In addition to the English Channel, other important shipping routes in Europe include the Strait of Gibraltar; the Turkish Straits (including the Dardanelles and the Bosporus); the Northern Sea Route; and the Danish Straits.
The biggest danger to infrastructure assets in Europe would be any potential NATO conflict with Russia in one or more of NATO’s eastern states. In such a scenario, infrastructure would be heavily targeted in order to deny or delay the alliance’s ability to move the significant numbers of manpower, matériel, and equipment that would be needed to retake any territory lost during an initial attack.
Overall, the European region remains a stable, mature, and friendly operating environment. Russia remains the preeminent threat to the region, both conventionally and nonconventionally, and the impact of the migrant crisis, continued economic sluggishness, threat from terrorism, and political fragmentation increase the potential for internal instability. The threats emanating from the previously noted arc of instability that stretches from the eastern Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East and up to the Caucasus through Russia and into the Arctic have spilled over into Europe itself in the form of terrorism and migrants arriving on the continent’s shores.
America’s closest and oldest allies are located in Europe. The region is incredibly important to the U.S. for economic, military, and political reasons. Perhaps most important, the U.S. has treaty obligations through NATO to defend the European members of that alliance. If the U.S. needs to act in the European region or nearby, there is a history of interoperability with allies and access to key logistical infrastructure that makes the operating environment in Europe more favorable than the environment in other regions in which U.S. forces might have to operate.
The past year saw continued U.S. reengagement with the continent both militarily and politically along with modest increases in European allies’ defense budgets and capability investment. Despite initial concerns by allies, the U.S. has increased its investment in Europe, and its military position on the continent is stronger than it has been for some time. NATO’s renewed focus on collective defense resulted in a focus on logistics, newly established commands that reflect a changed geopolitical reality, and a robust set of exercises. NATO’s biggest challenges derive from continued underinvestment from European members, a tempestuous Turkey, disparate threat perceptions within the alliance, and the need to establish the ability to mount a robust response to both linear and nonlinear forms of aggression.
Scoring the European Operating Environment
As noted at the beginning of this section, various considerations must be taken into account in assessing the regions within which the U.S. may have to conduct military operations to defend its vital national interests. Our assessment of the operating environment utilized a five-point scale, ranging from “very poor” to “excellent” conditions and covering four regional characteristics of greatest relevance to the conduct of military operations:
- Very Poor. Significant hurdles exist for military operations. Physical infrastructure is insufficient or nonexistent, and the region is politically unstable. The U.S. military is poorly placed or absent, and alliances are nonexistent or diffuse.
- Unfavorable. A challenging operating environment for military operations is marked by inadequate infrastructure, weak alliances, and recurring political instability. The U.S. military is inadequately placed in the region.
- Moderate. A neutral to moderately favorable operating environment is characterized by adequate infrastructure, a moderate alliance structure, and acceptable levels of regional political stability. The U.S. military is adequately placed.
- Favorable. A favorable operating environment includes good infrastructure, strong alliances, and a stable political environment. The U.S. military is well placed in the region for future operations.
- Excellent. An extremely favorable operating environment includes well-established and well-maintained infrastructure; strong, capable allies; and a stable political environment. The U.S. military is exceptionally well placed to defend U.S. interests.
The key regional characteristics consist of:
a. Alliances. Alliances are important for interoperability and collective defense, as allies would be more likely to lend support to U.S. military operations. Various indicators provide insight into the strength or health of an alliance. These include whether the U.S. trains regularly with countries in the region, has good interoperability with the forces of an ally, and shares intelligence with nations in the region.
b. Political Stability. Political stability brings predictability for military planners when considering such things as transit, basing, and overflight rights for U.S. military operations. The overall degree of political stability indicates whether U.S. military actions would be hindered or enabled and considers, for example, whether transfers of power in the region are generally peaceful and whether there have been any recent instances of political instability in the region.
c. U.S. Military Positioning. Having military forces based or equipment and supplies staged in a region greatly facilitates the United States’ ability to respond to crises and, presumably, achieve successes in critical “first battles” more quickly. Being routinely present in a region also assists in maintaining familiarity with its characteristics and the various actors that might try to assist or thwart U.S. actions. With this in mind, we assessed whether or not the U.S. military was well positioned in the region. Again, indicators included bases, troop presence, prepositioned equipment, and recent examples of military operations (including training and humanitarian) launched from the region.
d. Infrastructure. Modern, reliable, and suitable infrastructure is essential to military operations. Airfields, ports, rail lines, canals, and paved roads enable the U.S. to stage, launch operations from, and logistically sustain combat operations. We combined expert knowledge of regions with publicly available information on critical infrastructure to arrive at our overall assessment of this metric.
For Europe, scores this year remained steady, with no substantial changes in any individual categories or average scores. The 2018 Index again assesses the European Operating Environment as “favorable”:
- Alliances: 4—Favorable
- Political Stability: 4—Favorable
- U.S. Military Positioning: 3—Moderate
- Infrastructure: 4—Favorable
- Leading to a regional score of: Favorable
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