Shaky Funding Puts European Initiative at Risk

By Vivienne Machi
Estonian Defense Forces take part in Operation Heatwave.

Photo: Air Force

A Pentagon initiative that enhances key defense and security capabilities between the United States and its European allies could be at risk due to uncertain funding, according to a recent report.

The Defense Department’s Inspector General in August issued a report titled, “Evaluation of the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI).” It examined the sustainability of the effort, which was developed during the Obama administration to increase interoperability and capacity between U.S. European Command and its Operation Atlantic Resolve partners, which seek to deter Russian aggression. Those countries include Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

For the past three years, lawmakers have used overseas contingency operations funds for the initiative, with increases from $789 million in fiscal year 2015 to a requested $4.8 billion for 2018.

That money is allocated on a yearly cycle, unlike other Pentagon program budgets, which are planned on a five-year timeline. The lack of multiyear predictability could negatively impact the U.S. and European allies’ strategy, according to the report.

“As a result, USEUCOM and OAR countries may be unable to sustain [the] ERI’s contribution to allied and partner military capabilities,” the report said.

Planned personnel reductions as well as transportation and infrastructure challenges contribute to the risks faced by the initiative, it added.

The report recommended that the office of the deputy secretary of defense develop options for changes to the initiative’s budget cycle “to better align with and support allied and partner-nation training and capacity-building activities.” The commander of EUCOM should also consider ways to assess the impact of funding on exercises and training, infrastructure improvement and activities that support building allied and partner capacity, it said.

Tom Karako, a senior fellow with the international security program at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the inspector general’s report appears to indicate a disconnect between what it will take for the United States to continue to curb Russian aggression and support European allies, and the resources currently available to fulfill that mission.

“It is a little bit of a wake-up call” for the United States to continue to prioritize funding for the European Reassurance Initiative, he said.

The ERI is “all about getting enough forces … and enough credible capability” to deter Russian aggression with European allies, he added. This is “a message to appropriators and to the Pentagon that we’re going to have to resource that effort in an appropriate way.”

The OCO budget has actually acquired “a fair degree of consistency,” Karako noted, adding that it is more important to consider the top line budget overall, and the political will to add to the initiative’s budget no matter how it is categorized.

Karako said lawmakers might have an appetite to increase its resourcing in the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

“It’s a very shrewd concept to put mixtures of many countries from across NATO into the Baltics and into Poland, so that in a very real way, that tripwire is pulled even tighter,” he said. An attack on any one of the countries involved is going to draw in multiple members of NATO, he added.

“It’s a smart deployment concept, and we need to make sure that we don’t fail to sustain it,” he said.

If the initiative is not funded, the stakes include “a communication to Russia that [the United States] is a paper tiger,” Karako added. “We don’t want to do that.”


Topics: Global Defense Market, International

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