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GUEST EDITORIAL: Curious timing for US and NATO border buildup

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TNS

The United States is in the process of beefing up its and NATO’s military presence on the border of Russia, whatever may be the politics of the move.

U.S. Army units began arriving in Germany on Friday, for deployment in the seven NATO countries near Russia. The units are from the 4th Infantry Division, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team.

With 6,000 additional troops will come 87 M1A1 tanks, 144 Bradley fighting vehicles, artillery and aircraft. Headquarters will be in Germany but the forces will ultimately be deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Their first exercise will be with Polish troops at the end of this month.

This increase, part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, is the largest since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In principle, forces from other NATO countries, including Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and the United Kingdom will also be added to the new force in Eastern Europe, even though there is some resistance to the move within NATO.

The action is being cast by the administration of President Barack Obama as a reaction to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, including continuing combat in the east of Ukraine, and its annexation of the Crimea in 2014. It is also being portrayed as enabling a more rapid NATO response to any further Russian military encroachments into Eastern European countries on its borders that President Vladimir Putin may be contemplating.

Given that most of the actions in Ukraine that ostensibly have provoked the U.S. enhancement of its forces and their activities along the Russian border took place nearly three years ago, the question must be asked to what degree recent U.S. intelligence assessments of Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections played a role in Obama’s decision to strengthen U.S. forces in the region.

The other question that must be asked is whether Obama cleared the augmentation of the U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe, on Russia’s borders, with President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Such an action would seem to be contradictory to the so-far stated position of Trump toward Putin and Russia. If one of Trump’s early actions as president after Jan. 20 would be to roll back the increase in forces in Eastern Europe, it would be difficult to gauge in advance the impact of such a move on America’s NATO allies and Russia, not to mention the Pentagon’s budget and planning function.

In that context, the wisdom of the timing of the U.S. military increase in American forces in the sensitive Eastern European region two weeks before the inauguration of a new U.S. president is very much worth questioning. The deployment of U.S. personnel and military assets should not be used by anyone as a domestic political tool.