Even though Russia has annexed Crimea, is fighting a proxy war in what’s left of Ukraine, and has invaded Georgia, NATO is still far from rebuilding back up to previous levels of deterrent force, former NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said Tuesday. Talking with reporters in Washington, D.C., Vershbow noted that in 1997, the US had about 100,000 troops based in Europe, whereas today, even with the European Reassurance Initiative, “we have … less than half” that number. He also noted that “the scale of recent exercises … is smaller than it looked,” and NATO is trying to “present strength and power with not-so-big a force.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO shifted toward being an “expeditionary force” with a “substantially smaller” number of troops, but at its Warsaw Summit in July the Alliance called for rebuilding its deterrent capability. “The command structure needs to be revamped if not re-tooled,” he said, and even though deterrent forces are most important, “we still have to be ready for expeditionary missions. We still have to be able to project power at a distance,” Vershbow asserted. He also noted that the “R” in the ERI “is as much about us as it is about them.”
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.