BRUSSELS — As the NATO Ministerial meetings kick off today, the early focus is on how nations can use forward presence to deter Russia from further actions in Europe.
In his opening remarks, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the need for forward forces as key to any deterrence strategy.
"Increased readiness and increased forward presence of forces is a response and something which underlines that NATO is ready to defend all allies against any threat, regardless of where it comes from," Stoltenberg said. "Our deterrence is based on this combination of forward presence, combined with a strong ability to reinforce if needed. What we are doing now is we are both increasing our forward presence and at the same time increasing our ability to reinforce."
He later added that "the forward presence of multinational forces is also a strong signal of the unity and the collective defense of the alliance."
His comments echo those of US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who pledged $3.4 billion in the Pentagon's fiscal 2017 budget request for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI).
"It's a substantial addition, necessary one relative to last year," Carter said en route to Brussels Feb. 9. "As it moves from a reassurance phase to a more robust deterrence phase, and that's where the alliance is going to be going in general, and that will be the principal topic discussed [by] the NATO ministers in the first part of the trip."
"I think the heart of it is going to be the deterrence posture of NATO in Europe and moving from reassurance to a deterrence posture and the United States' substantial investment in this budget today in that very matter," he added.
Speaking Feb. 8, a senior defense official said the $3.4 billion will "help us, in terms of on a bilateral basis, to have more of a force presence" along the border with Russia.
Of the ERI funding, $1.8 billion will cover putting prepositioned equipment to include an armored brigade combat team (ABCT) in theater, so from now on, there will be a Stryker brigade, an infantry brigade and an armored brigade in Europe 24/7 on a rotational basis.
In addition, $727 million will go toward "increased presence" in Europe while $50 million will fund building "partner capacity." A total of $89 million will pay for additional bilateral and multilateral exercises and training.
That helps support the Readiness Action Plan established by NATO at the 2014 Wales summit, the senior official noted.
"A strong deterrence has got to be based on a strong force presence, and on a bilateral basis the $3.4 billion helps us do that, and at the ministerial we're going to try and find ways other allies can be trying to fill in the presence as well," the official said.
Jen Judson in Washington contributed to this report