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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

PETER KORZUN -- US Army Deploys Tanks to Europe Ratcheting Up Tensions with Russia

US Army Deploys Tanks to Europe Ratcheting Up Tensions with Russia
PETER KORZUN | 20.12.2016 | WORLD

US Army Deploys Tanks to Europe Ratcheting Up Tensions with Russia

On December 16, US tanks and armor vehicles arrived in the Netherlands to be deployed in a storage depot located in the province of Limburg. The facility, the former Eygelshoven military base near Kerkrade, will be used to keep and maintain tanks, armored vehicles and heavy artillery pieces for a US armored brigade combat team. In January, the US Army in Europe is due to deploy a total of 4,000 American troops and around 2,000 military vehicles on a rotational basis to Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic nations. NATO forces will move to the Baltic States in early spring. In an overtly provocative move, an American battalion will be stationed in Poland near the border with Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic enclave.
The US Army is implementing the annual defense authorization act which approved a $3.4 billion spending plan to boost NATO forces, including reopening or creating five equipment-storage sites in the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and two locations in Germany. In September, the US Army began to assemble more Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) for permanent storage in Europe. The additional combat equipment will give the Army the option for another heavy armored brigade. Presently, it has only two light brigades in Europe: 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.
The US military has over 62,000 permanently assigned service members in Europe.
According to Lieutenant General Frederick Benjamin «Ben» Hodges, the US Army Commander in Europe, the prepositioned stocks would give US leaders a range of options to respond to a developing crisis. Pulling out the equipment from the Eygelshoven warehouses and putting it on a train toward a trouble spot could be a sign of American resolve that could help diffuse a crisis. The US forces plan to conduct more than 90 maneuvers with NATO allies and European partners next year, including Swift Response 17 in July to test the NATO rapid response units. The Swift Response exercise is designed to demonstrate NATO's ability to respond to a crisis «within 18 hours of notification».
The deployment breaches the Russia-NATO Founding Act (1997). By signing the document NATO pledged not to seek »additional permanent stationing of substantial ground combat forces» in the nations closer to Russia «in the current and foreseeable security environment». Signed 20 years ago, the agreement appears all but dead amid the alliance's push to beef up its military presence on its eastern flank.
The argument that the forces are being deployed on temporary basis holds no water. Every combat unit goes through rotation; each has its own operational cycle. The plans in question are nothing else but a permanent military presence of substantial forces.
There are other provocative plans to boost NATO’s presence near Russia’s borders.
NATO is pushing ahead with its military «Schengen zone» in Europe to do away with travel restrictions on the movement of NATO forces and equipment across the continent. There will be no need to ask for permissions while crossing national borders. The sovereignty of member states will be reduced to facilitate cross-continent operations.
Meanwhile, 300 US Marines are moving to their new home in Norway. They will be deployed at the Værnes military base near Trondheim to bolster the readiness of new pre-positioned tanks and weaponry stored throughout the year in underground caves. Værnes lies about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the Russian-Norwegian frontier.
The October 26-27 NATO defense ministers agreed to boost the Black Sea presence. Romania and Bulgaria will host forces designed to carry out surveillance missions over the Black Sea. The UK, Canada and Poland will send aircraft to be based in the Romanian southeastern Mihail Kogalniceanu air base. Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are also expected to come forward with a plan to increase naval and air patrols in 2017. The US supports Romania’s initiative to establish a multinational naval brigade in the region.
With the naval brigade on the agenda, Bulgaria has agreed to participate with 400 troops in the multinational brigade in Romania. The unit is intended to facilitate the deployment of reinforcements. Georgia and Ukraine will be fully involved in the plans.
Non-Black Sea NATO members cannot stay in the Black Sea more than 21 days, according to the Montreux Convention. Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian and Georgian navies have limited capabilities. It brings to the fore the possibility of major NATO sea powers hand over some of their own warships to them. The ships could be reflagged under the three Black Sea members’ flags to beef up permanent naval capabilities in the theater. Lumping NATO and non-NATO ships under one operational control is a highly provocative step towards Russia.
US destroyers and cruisers visit the Black Sea from time to time to provide NATO with long range first strike capability. The Black Sea is on the way to become a region of uncontrollable arms race.
In addition, Romania already hosts a ballistic missile defense (BMD) with the plans underway to have another operational BMD system deployed on Polish soil in 2018. The Romania-based Aegis Ashore BMD system uses the Mk-41 launcher capable of firing Tomahawk long-range precision-guided missiles against land assets in violation of the INF Treaty.
These systems will be upgraded. After the nuclear agreement with Iran was reached, the US Defense Department awarded a contract to Boeing to «define a concept» for a multiple-kill vehicle or multiple-object kill vehicle (MKV). According to the plans, the vehicle is to engage multiple targets at once, including decoys. The Pentagon aims for the MKV to go online by 2020.
The US decision to increase military presence in Europe comes along with the rise of Donald Trump, who has disparaged the NATO alliance as a drain on US resources.
NATO undertakes one provocative step after another with Western media spreading around concocted stories about “Russian aggression”. The European security is greatly threatened. A spark is enough to kindle a big fire.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would take countermeasures in response to NATO expansion. He noted that he was «concerned» about what NATO is doing and put into question the bloc’s decision-making process. The president emphasized that NATO members could hardly resist the pressure of the United States.
In September, Russia came up with a proposal to reach an agreement of flight safety in the region with all military planes flying with their transponders on, emitting an identifying signal in response to other radio signals. The proposal was rejected by NATO.
It was reported in late November that Russia had deployed Bastion mobile coastal defense missiles to Kaliningrad. It is to deploy S-400 air missile defense systems and Iskander mobile short-range surface-to-surface missiles in that region.
With tensions running high, there is an urgent need to address these burning problems. With Donald Trump in office, there is a hope to address the issue of European security in a positive way.
In November, a group of European states supported Germany’s initiative to launch discussions with Russia on a new arms control agreement. German Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, nominated to become German president next year, called for a deal to avoid an escalation of tensions in Europe.
In 2009 the Western powers rejected Russia’s proposal to discuss a new European Security Treaty. Now reality makes them reconsider their stand. The rejection of the plans to boost the US military presence in Europe would be a sigh that Europe is serious about the arms control talks. But if the US continues its plans to beef up military presence to threaten Russia, Europe will find itself plunged into an uncontrolled arms race. NATO has to make a choice.

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