President Joe Biden has decided to deploy 3,000 U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, adding to fears of war amidst a Russian troop buildup along the borders of Ukraine.
The president’s move was heralded by members of the foreign policy establishment in both parties, while those still focused on preventing war with Russia over a country insignificant to U.S. interests were smeared with accusations of spreading Russian disinformation. Critics say the president’s troop deployment offers no strategic advantage to the United States while needlessly increasing tensions.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced about 1,000 U.S. troops will be moved from bases in Germany to Romania, which shares a border with Ukraine, to reinforce America’s existing presence there. Biden’s decision to deploy troops, which he hinted at last week without giving a clear timeline, came at Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recommendation. Last week, Austin negotiated the deployment with Romania’s Ministry of National Defense.
Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby said the troops being sent to Romania are part of a Stryker infantry unit “designed to deploy in short order and to move quickly” and “to deter aggression and enhance our defensive capabilities and frontline allied states’.”
The other 2,000 troops will be deployed from the U.S. to Europe in the coming days, most of them to Poland, including part of the 82nd Airborne Division. Others, including members of the 18th Airborne Corps, will be sent to Germany. Once there, the 18th Airborne is tasked with organizing a joint task force-capable headquarters.
Kirby said this troop deployment is “not permanent,” and that they “are not going to fight in Ukraine. They are going to maintain the robust defense of our NATO allies.”
The 3,000 troops who will be repositioned in Europe are separate from the 8,500 Austin put on “heightened alert” last month to assist NATO if tensions continued to build in Ukraine—which they have.
The United States is indeed driving much of NATO’s and Western Europe’s response to Russia’s buildup on Ukraine’s borders, though these transatlantic partners have been unable to display a united front in response to Russia’s actions. France, following America’s lead, has also decided to deploy forces to Romania under NATO Command. Kirby also thanked Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom for providing their own troops to reinforce NATO’s far-eastern front.
The deployment of U.S. and allied forces to Poland and Romania effectively expands NATO’s “Enhanced Forward Presence” mission, which has brought troops closer to what Russia calls its “near abroad” since 2017, predominantly in Poland and the Baltic states.
Currently, NATO operations in Romania, part of Tailored Forward Presence (Enhanced Forward Presence’s sister operation) which positioned rapid-response units on NATO’s southeastern front, include a land-troop operations headquarters in Craiova, as well as the Human Intelligence Centre of Excellence in Oradea, the Multinational Division Southeast Headquarters in Bucharest, and the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system at Deveselu Airbase.
The president had his predictable defenders in the Washington establishment this week. Among them was Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), who suggested the U.S. should be doing more than deploying just a few thousand troops to Europe. “Economic sanctions should be starting right now, and the military airlift that we have with supplies going there should be heightened and expanded,” Blumenthal claimed. “So I think much more robust and aggressive action should be pursued immediately.”
Biden’s actions against Russia have also found support from a bipartisan group of senators currently working on a sanctions package to be imposed if Russia were to invade Ukraine. The group is led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), who also chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the group of eight senators working on the package have broad-based agreement, but are continuing to nail out the details.
To no surprise, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) also tweeted his support of Biden’s decision to deploy U.S. troops:
I completely support the Biden Administration’s decision to send more U.S. troops to bolster NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression.
It is imperative that NATO meet the moment and that we stand firmly against Putin’s efforts to divide the alliance.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) said the Biden administration’s escalation is a “bad idea” and a “mistake.” On Wednesday, Hawley sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken arguing that doubling down on the prospect of future NATO membership for Ukraine undermines U.S. interests not only in Europe but throughout the world.
Hawley’s letter said the U.S. “should urgently deliver to Ukraine assistance it needs to defend itself against Russia’s military buildup and other threats.” But Hawley added that “our interest is not so strong, however, as to justify committing the United States to go to war with Russia over Ukraine’s fate. Rather, we must aid Ukraine in a manner that aligns with the American interests at stake and preserves our ability to deny Chinese hegemony in the Indo-Pacific.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded by saying Hawley’s disapproval of Biden’s troop deployment could be chalked up to “digesting Russian misinformation and parroting Russian talking points” from “Russian propagandist leaders.”
But Hawley is correct. The Biden administration has claimed the 3,000 troops deployed to NATO’s eastern front will not engage in battle with Russia over Ukraine. What, then, is the strategic and diplomatic advantage of sending troops to Romania and Poland? The administration claims the troops are being sent there to reinforce NATO’s presence, which suggests the U.S. and NATO fears Russia will take not only Ukraine, but attack NATO members who have the protection of Article 5 commitments.
Such a suggestion is ludicrous. A full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia seems to be off the table, to say nothing of a move to take Romania or Poland. Russia is well aware of the constraints it would face if it were to encroach on Ukrainian territory, as evidenced by the number of troops currently stationed on Ukraine’s border. There simply are not enough to effectively take control of all of Ukraine. Even if Russia tried to go beyond the eastern oblasts, they’d likely find themselves bogged down in western regions of Ukraine where they have no real prospects of installing proper governance if they were to prevail.
Thus, the purpose of the U.S. deployment is merely symbolic and “should be seen as empty posturing on the part of the U.S. and NATO,” according to Quincy Institute Senior Research Fellow Anatol Lieven. Biden hopes to use U.S. troops as bargaining chips for a mutual withdrawal from Ukraine’s border in further negotiations with Russia. Russia is unlikely to take the bait, given the aforementioned factors and the disparities in deployment size, which Biden even acknowledged last Friday when he hinted at a U.S. troop deployment.
Biden has chosen the worst of all paths: further escalation by deploying troops without any real capabilities to deter Russia, all while distracting from more important issues of national security. What could go wrong?