NATO's Missile Defense Plans Remain the Issue
April 19, 2014 • 7:45PM

Even as NATO continues its eastward expansion, the prime issue, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 17, remains NATO's missile defense plans for Eastern Europe. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel indicated as much, himself, during his April 17 joint press conference with Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak. When asked whether or not the construction of the NATO missile defense system should be sped up in view of Russia's supposed "aggression," Hagel said that NATO would continue with the schedule it's currently on to complete the Romanian installation by 2015 and the Polish installation by 2018, but "we will adjust where we need to adjust."

Hagel also went out of his way to describe the system as "defensive" and having nothing to do with Russia, which Putin had already addressed in his remarks earlier the same day. Putin pointed out that if that were true, there's no reason for NATO to have turned down Russia's proposal to sign a legally binding document saying that the system is purely defensive and not aimed at Russia. One of the notable qualities of the Western news media coverage of Putin's April 17 Q & A session, is that there has been no coverage to speak of of Putin's comments on the missile defense issue.

Meanwhile, the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook, the first element of the new NATO missile defense system to be deployed in Europe, continues to sail in the Black Sea.

Behind the missile defense issue, is NATO's eastward expansion, which is receiving major coverage in the Military Times newspapers and the New York Times. The Military Times has features a special report on its website, the lead article of which is entitled "US Military Shifting Gears in Europe: 'Center of Gravity' Heads East Amid New Tensions." The main page of the feature includes a map of Europe showing the old NATO bases—running on a line from the UK down to Italy—and the new NATO bases, in Lithuania, Poland and Romania plus two in Spain—Rota, where the USS Donald Cook is now home-ported; and Moron, where the US Marines have stationed a quick reaction force—plus Cyprus, from where NATO's naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea is supported. The first article reports NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove saying that the new forces will reinforce the "north, center and south" along NATO's eastern border, but his specific recommendations about what forces will go where and what they will do won't be announced publicly until after NATO gives its full approval of his plan.

Polish Defense Minister Siemoniak, immediately after his meeting with Defense Secretary Hagel on April 17, told the Washington Post that next week the U.S. will announce the deployment of U.S. ground forces to Poland. He went on to call for the Obama administration, which has announced a "pivot" to Asia, to realize that "events show that what is needed is a re-pivot" to Europe.

At this point, US and NATO officials are saying, that the increased US presence in eastern Europe will be rotational, rather than permanent "suggesting that deployments to new Eastern European posts will be temporary missions lasting for several weeks or months, and will come from units already based in EUCOM's traditional garrison posts rather than from the US." Three other articles from the Military Times special report a great deal of information on the US force posture in Europe, how the Air Force and the Army plan to engage in Eastern Europe, and a whole list of upcoming exercises in the Baltics, Poland, and elsewhere in Europe that will be led by US Army Europe.