How NATOs Military Buildup Will Test Russia


How NATOs Military Buildup Will Test Russia

Nikolas K. Gvosdev

As expected, the Russian government has reacted to U.S. plans to quadruple its planned military spending. The spending increase, announced this week, is intended to support greater U.S. deployments in eastern and central Europe by expanding the equipment stationed there and by rotating American troops in order to maintain, at any given point, the equivalent of a full armored combat brigade in the area. Moscow’s response is to suggest that Washington is violating the spirit of the NATO-Russia Act, which was meant to reassure Moscow that there would be no permanent basing of U.S. forces in the former Soviet bloc. Moscow also suggests that the military increase is destabilizing overall European security by returning to a more Cold War–style posture. Beyond the diplomatic complaints, however, what will the Putin administration do?

One question is whether the U.S. announcement will become front and center in a new domestic political campaign, one suggesting that Russia faces hostile encirclement from the West. By this logic, planned slowdowns (or cuts) in Russian defense procurement, due to the crises that arose from sanctions and falls in prices for energyand other commodities, need to be reversed. For the Russian military-industrial complex, a resumption in the pre-2014 tempo of state orders would be a welcome result. In recent months, there have been clear signs that belt-tightening in Russia, and the need to prevent further cuts in social spending, would eventually lead to a levelling-off in defense spending.

Moscow may also seek to determine how serious the U.S. announcement is. America is, after all, at the start of a budget cycle, and this is not settled policy but rather part of a budget request that must still make its way through Congress. Given the ongoing mantra of “doing more with less,” ambitious budget announcements in February may be scaled back as the year progresses. This is also a short-term proposal which does not, as of yet, represent any long-term commitment.

It will also be important to see how European allies react. Despite all the worry about an imminent Russian threat, most European states have not committed to undertaking even modest increases in their defense spending. A U.S. announcement of increased defense spending for Europe that is met in European capitals with sighs of relief that the American cavalry is returning and is not met by concurrent increases across the board in Europe (or even provides cover for further cuts) will end up minimizing its impact.

Russia, after all, has the home-field advantage along its western borders. America can always make temporary increases in central and eastern Europe, but at the end of the day, Russia retains the capacity to surge forces at short notice; Moscow’s ability to cloak its intentions using snap exercises and readiness drills has dramatically improved in recent years. Some experts have argued that nothing short of a permanent deployment of two full armored brigades, accompanied by more naval and air assets, will provide a real deterrent. They would argue that this current plan is more an effort to send signals rather than to take on the real burdens of rebuilding an American conventional strategic deterrent in Europe.

Courtesy: The National Interest

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