U.K. to Send Formidable Force to Eastern Europe
The U.K. said it would deploy tanks and drones alongside 800 troops in Eastern Europe, the first of several expected moves by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to help counter growing fears about Russia in the region.
The U.K. troops will deploy in the spring and will be joined in Estonia by forces from France and Denmark, said Michael Fallon, the British defense secretary. The force, he said, would likely include tactical drones, Challenger 2 main battle tanks and Warrior armored infantry fighting vehicles. “That battalion will be defensive in nature, but it will be fully combat-capable,” he said in an interview.
In July, NATO approved a plan to position troops from four nations in Poland and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Canada, Germany and the U.S. are also expected to release details of their planned NATO deployments when alliance defense officials gather Wednesday to discuss strengthening their defenses against Russia. Britain had previously committed to deploying a battle group but hadn’t said precisely how many troops it would send or what kind of weaponry they would be equipped with.
By placing heavy, well-armed units in the Baltic Sea region, Mr. Fallon said, NATO was trying to show it wasn’t simply positioning a small unit to trigger a larger alliance involvement, but building a force that could mount a real defense of the area. The U.K. had previously announced it would lead a battalion in Estonia but hadn’t disclosed what it planned to deploy.
“This is about two things: reassurance, and that needs to be done with some formidable presence, and deterrence,” Mr. Fallon said. “This is not simply a trip-wire….This is a serious military presence.”
The NATO meetings come amid ever growing tensions with Russia, focused both on Russian deployments of nuclear-capable missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave bordering on Poland and Lithuania, as well as Russia’s naval buildup in the eastern Mediterranean.
The U.S. is deploying a battalion of Stryker armored vehicles from the Germany-based 2nd Calvary Regiment to Poland as part of the NATO force. It will alsoUnlike tanks, Strykers are wheeled vehicles, but they are armored and some variants have large main guns.But the U.S. be sending additional heavy units to supplement the NATO force. The U.S. will rotate the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, equipped with Abrams tanks and other heavy-infantry equipment, to different parts of Eastern Europe including a headquarters unit in Poland.
The U.S. is also sending a force of 330 Marines to a base in Norway, a deployment approved Monday by the Norwegian government.
“We expect a sustained challenge from the East, from Russia, by way of its military activities,” said Douglas Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO.
Alliance members have also requested another meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, the main channel for consultation between the alliance and Moscow.
While some allies are pushing for stepped-up dialogue to balance the deterrent measures, others are skeptical that such discussions will make much difference. “We have to be very careful, we only agreed on a NATO-Russia Council on the basis that it cannot be business as usual,” Mr. Fallon said.
In Brussels this week, NATO defense ministers are expected to also discuss stepped-up coordination with the European Union, as well as French-German proposals to build up European defense capabilities.
Despite its opposition to a military headquarters, Mr. Fallon said the U.K.’s commitment to send a battalion along with heavy weaponry should be a sign to Europe that Britain won’t abandon its commitment to the continent’s defense.
“Although we are leaving the European Union, we remain committed to European security. This is our continent and we will keep on working to help keep it safe,” he said. “We are not stepping away.”