General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, US Army, is the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). As the senior military man in NATO, he shoulders the responsibility for making certain the alliance can defend its member-states from outside aggression. If SACEUR says he needs additional forces placed under his command to counter Russia, Brussels and Washington should listen carefully.
Yesterday, while testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Scaparrotti warned of the growing Russian military threat and made it clear that he is not satisfied with the “deterrent posture” of the US troop presence in Europe. Put simply, the general is saying that he does not have enough troops on hand to defend the Baltic states, and Poland if the balloon goes up. Although it’s fair to say that no general officer is ever satisfied with the amount of forces under his command, and always calls for more troops, Scaparrotti’s comments yesterday were far from hyperbole. Last month this blog discussed the balance between US and Russian forces in Europe and many of the points made there are evident in Scaparrotti’s testimony. Next week I will wrap up the series and talk about this more, but for now it is SACEUR’s comments about Ukraine that need to be looked over right now.
The general also wants to bolster the Ukrainian military’s defenses. Along with the Javelin anti-tank missiles sold by the US last year, Scaparrotti supports providing other advanced systems to Kiev. Presidential elections will be held in Ukraine at the end of March, and there is growing concern that Russia will attempt to destabilize the elections. Perhaps by instigating a flare-up between the separatist forces it supports and Ukrainian troops in the east. The ceasefire there continued to hold, but only by a thread. It would not take much to push the region into a major conflict whether intentionally or not.
Scaparrotti views strengthening Ukraine’s forces as a safeguard against Russian action in the east. SACEUR also wants to increase the US and NATO naval presence in the Black Sea. In November 2018, Russian warships opened fire on Ukrainian vessels near the entrance to the Sea of Azov, opening a naval phase to the conflict. He wants additional guided-missile destroyers to be made available to patrol the Black Sea. Beyond providing a larger presence at sea, there’s little NATO can do to aid Ukraine’s fledgling naval forces.
In any event, Ukraine is not an alliance member and SACEUR’s main concern is defending NATO members from Russian aggression. However, Scaparrotti is perceptive enough to understand that the longer Russia remains tied down in Ukraine, the less time Moscow will have to consider new adventures against the Baltics or Poland.