US DEFENSE CHIEF: NATO PONDERS GROUND FORCE IN BALTICS

Washington Times on May 2, 2016, published an AP report reporting that the NATO alliance is considering establishing a rotational ground force in the Baltic states and possibly Poland, reflecting deepening worry about Russian military assertiveness, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. Excerpts below:

“That is one of the ideas that’s under discussion,” Carter told reporters flying with him from Washington to Stuttgart, Germany, where he is to preside May 3 at a ceremony installing a new commander of U.S. European Command. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti is to replace Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, who has frequently and publicly cautioned that Russia poses a potential threat to European stability.

Carter said the allies are considering a rotational ground force of four battalions, which would mean about 4,000 troops. That would be in addition to, and separate from, a recently announced unilateral U.S. decision to send a U.S. armored brigade of about 4,200 troops to Eastern Europe next February.

Carter said the idea of a separate NATO rotational ground force is likely to be further discussed at a NATO meeting in June.

Speaking more broadly of U.S. and NATO relations with Russia, Carter said Moscow has chosen to move away from integration with the West. “Therefore, we have no alternative but to do what we’re doing, which is stand strong,” by improving the U.S. military posture in Europe and collaborating closely with NATO allies, he said.

In his remarks en route to Stuttgart, Carter also called the buzzing of U.S. Navy ships and aircraft in the Baltics “unprofessional,” adding that it seems to be happening more frequently.

“This kind of unprofessional behavior by its nature creates a dangerous circumstance,” he said.

At the Pentagon on May 2, the Navy’s top officer said the Russian actions in the Baltics are escalating tension between the two nations.

“My hope is that we can stop this sort of activity,” Adm. John M. Richardson, the chief of naval operations, told reporters.

The Defense Department said a Russian SU-27 conducted a barrel roll April 29 over a U.S. Air Force RC-135 that was flying a reconnaissance mission above the Baltic Sea. The RC-135 is an intelligence-gathering aircraft.

In mid-April, a Russian jet flew about 50 feet from the wing tip of a U.S. aircraft. Also in April, two Russian jets flew close to the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the Russian actions and said the Navy ship could have opened fire.

Comment: 4,000 troops is not enough for the Baltic states and Poland. The next US administration should also reconsider placing missile shields in Poland and Czechia to protect against Iranian missiles and a warning that NATO does not accept Russian aggression on its borders in the West. Further threats to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will increase pro-NATO support in Sweden and Finland.

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