NATO Looks at Stationing More Troops Along Eastern Flank

US soldiers training in Lithuania, March 2, 2015NATO countries are discussing increasing the number of troops stationed in members bordering Russia and putting them under formal alliance command, part of a new effort to deter aggression from Moscow, according to diplomats and military officers.

Under one plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would have a battalion in Poland and each of the three Baltic states—roughly 800 to 1,000 soldiers in each unit. A more modest version would have a single NATO battalion in the area.

While the U.S. and other allies are supportive, however, German officials in particular have expressed reservations, telling the allies in private discussions that they don’t want treat Moscow as a permanent enemy or lock it out of Europe, despite the frictions over Ukraine and other provocations.

NATO officials say Berlin is unlikely to back the biggest deployment, but could support the more modest increase….

U.S. officials have said they are willing put the 150 U.S. soldiers currently in each of the Baltic states and in Poland under NATO command, and are open to rotating in additional troops from the U.S.

The plan would also require other countries that have deployed troops there to agree to a NATO command. The U.K. has about 150 troops there and Germany is deploying up to 200 soldiers….

However, it isn’t clear whether Germany would block such a move. NATO officials say Berlin is eager to avoid any public discussion of additional troops in the Baltic states at a moment when the cease-fire in the Ukrainian conflict is holding and relations with Russia are in flux….

U.S. officials remain opposed to a permanent base, arguing they don’t have the funding for an expensive new instillation or long-term deployment.

Privately, Pentagon officials have also told Polish defense officials that building a permanent base would take far too long, requiring years of approvals and construction. But U.S. officials told Polish counterparts that boosting the rotational forces could be done quickly….

Officials insist that because the troops would rotate in and out, and be smaller than a regular brigade, the new deployment wouldn’t violate a 1994 agreement with Russia not to station substantial numbers of combat troops on its border.

While the alliance has said Russia has repeatedly violated the agreement, the U.S., Germany and other members have insisted that the alliance continue to abide by it.

NATO has never defined what a substantial force would be. In negotiations over the accord, Russian officials suggested defining substantial as a brigade-size force, usually between 3,000 and 5,000 troops. NATO officials in the early 1990s insisted on keeping the language vague.

Image: US soldiers training in Lithuania, March 2, 2015 (photo: Sgt. Pablo Piedra/US Army)