The fighting in Ukraine may lead to a rethinking of the US’s military posture in Europe that could lead to a buildup of US forces in the region not seen since the end of the Cold War.
According to Stars and Stripes, the US currently has 100,000 troops operating in Europe, the highest number since 2005. Troop numbers spiked recently as President Biden ordered more deployments amid heightened tensions and since Russia invaded Ukraine. In January, there were 80,000 US troops on the continent.
Germany still hosts the most US troops in Europe, but US military leaders are looking to send more forces further east. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is due to meet with other NATO military leaders in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss reinforcing the military alliance’s so-called “eastern flank.”
Ahead of the meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said allies should be prepared for a “major increase” in military spending. “On land, this could include substantially more forces on the eastern part of the alliance,” he said.
Stoltenberg said the alliance will also “consider major increases to our air and naval deployments, strengthening our integrated air and missile defense, reinforcing our cyber defenses, and holding more and larger exercises.” Later this month, President Biden will attend an “extraordinary summit” with NATO leaders in Brussels, which is scheduled for March 24.
In recent months, the US has sent more troops to countries bordering Russia and Ukraine, including Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. According to numbers from US European Command, Poland currently has 10,000 US troops, Romania has 2,400, and 2,500 are spread out across the Baltics.
The US and NATO are reinforcing these countries in the name of deterring Russia. But NATO’s eastward expansion since the end of the Cold War and its presence near Russia’s borders has significantly escalated tensions in the region and is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main justifications for attacking Ukraine.