WASHINGTON — The European Deterrence Initiative, a Pentagon fund to support the defense of allies in Europe, is dropping by roughly 10 percent in the Trump administration’s fiscal 2020 budget request.
That money will go to “increased U.S. military presence in Europe, additional exercises and training with allies and partners, enhanced prepositioning of U.S. equipment in Europe, improved infrastructure for greater readiness, and building allied and partner capacity,” per a budget summary. The majority of that funding will go to the Army, although the Air Force is investing in military construction for Iceland ($57 million) and Poland ($232 million).
An amount of $250 million of the EDI is tabbed specifically for assistance to Ukraine, which includes replacement of “any weapons or defensive articles provided” from the U.S.
Asked if the cut means that the U.S. no longer sees a major threat from Russia in the region, Elaine McCusker, acting comptroller, said “absolutely not.” Instead, she put the cut in context as a result of work done in the previous years.
“What you saw last year as pretty significant investment in EDI. and part of that was to posture ourselves and our equipment in that theater. We are now moving into our exercises and the other things that we do in that account, with the [military construction] and positioning done. and we’re also looking at increased burden sharing.”
Later, McCusker added that ’I think when you look at the EDI in general, it really has five lines of effort, and only one of those lines of effort is really decreasing in the FY20 budegt, and that’s the infrastructure, because we’ve really done a lot of that work to this point."
Reached for comment, one European defense official responded: “It was more or less to be expected at this stage. It’s not a game changer.”
“Of course, it’s not a positive signal either, but at this stage I’m thinking the Congress will raise it from that, perhaps even higher than last year,” the official added. “It’s still early days.”
The EDI had grown dramatically in the first two years of the Trump administration, and has remained popular with Congress, where Republicans have routinely sided with NATO.
Last week, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who serves as head of U.S. European Command and as the NATO supreme allied commander for Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it will take more armored units as well as U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers, carrier strike groups and amphibious strike groups to stay ahead of Russia’s growing and modernizing forces.
European defense is set to remain a political football domestically going forward, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., inviting NATO head Jens Stoltenberg to speak in front of a joint session of Congress this April to celebrate the alliance’s 70th anniversary.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.