Invisible Virus Causes World’s Mightiest Armies to Retreat

March 17th, 2020 - by John Vandiver / Stars and Stripes & Tord Björk / Activists for Peace &

Coronavirus Fears Force Pentagon to Curtail Large Defender-Europe 20 Exercise

John Vandiver / Stars and Stripes

(March 16, 2020) — The Pentagon has ordered a halt to the deployment of forces for Defender-Europe 20, which would have been the military’s largest exercise on the Continent in a generation, because of concerns about the coronavirus, US European Command said Monday.

Parts of the exercise have been completely eliminated including Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response, which involved paratroops dropping into the Republic of Georgia and the Baltics, officials said.

“As of March 13, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased. The health, safety and readiness of our military, civilians, and family members is our primary concern,” EUCOM said.

Forces already deployed to Europe for exercises will return to the United States, EUCOM said.

Schedules for future troops rotations in support of Atlantic Resolve – the Pentagon’s effort to deter Russian aggression in Europe – are also likely to be adjusted, officials said.

Defender would have been the culmination of several years of military build-up on the Continent and was intended to showcase the military’s ability to mobilize large numbers of forces quickly.

In addition to testing combat skills, Defender also was an exercise in large-scale logistics. The $340 million exercise started in January when units loaded up combat equipment and shipped it across the Atlantic Ocean.

Around 20,000 US-based troops were to take part in Defender, joining thousands of other American and allied forces already based in places like Poland, Germany and the Baltic States. The exercise was to run through June.

Now, the military will need to figure out a schedule for returning troops and equipment that had already arrived in Europe,

The exercise was designed to be a 21st-century version of the Cold War-era “REFORGER” drills that were held regularly to demonstrate to the Soviet Union the mobility of American forces.

Since January, the Army has deployed about 6,000 soldiers from the US to Europe, including a division headquarters and an armored brigade combat team.  It also moved 9,000 vehicles and pieces of equipment from Army prepositioned stocks and 3,000 pieces of equipment via sea from the United States to the Continent, EUCOM said.

EUCOM said it hoped an armored brigade combat team already deployed to Europe will still be able to conduct gunnery and other combined training events as part of a smaller exercise, dubbed Allied Spirit.

The announcement that the scope of Defender was being reduced because of the coronavirus follows a string of exercise cancellations for the same reason. Last week, a large cold weather exercise underway in Norway was canceled and, earlier this month, a major EUCOM air defense drill in Israel was called off, both because of the coronavirus.

Defender’s downsizing comes days after the World Health Organization said Europe was the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic amid a spike in the number of people testing positive for the virus. Several countries, including Germany and Poland, which would have been the main hubs for the Defender exercises, have shut their borders to try to stem the spread of the virus.

Nine people with connections to the US military in Europe, including three service members, have tested positive for coronavirus so far. In Stuttgart, which is home to an American military community of around 28,000, 100 people are in isolation awaiting test results, military officials said.

Military schools and scores of on-base services across installations in Europe have shut down to try to stop the virus from spreading further.

Twelve people have died in Germany and 4,838 have contracted the virus as of Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute said on its website. In Italy, where the health ministry said 1,809 people have died after contracting the virus, US bases have joined the rest of the country and locked down. Italy has had 24,747 cases of coronavirus disease since the first cases of the infection were reported at the end of January in a pair of Chinese tourists.

Defender-Europe 20 Reduced in Size and Scope, but Much More is Urgently Needed

Tord Björk / Activists for Peace

All resources are needed for humanity, not for war games. Remember to support our call to cancel all military exercises in Europe and the world in the wake of the corona virus outbreak. Sign here and don’t forget to share the call.

(March 16, 2020) — Today March 16, EUCOM (The United States European Command) announced that Defender Europe 20 is, due to the outbreak of the corona virus and recent guidelines by the Secretary of Defense, modified in size and scope.

Military exercises linked to Defender Europe 20 are discontinued and this includes Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting AssessmentSaber Strike (the Baltic States) and Swift Response, which involved paratroopers dropping into the Republic of Georgia and the Baltics.

EUCOM, however, also indicates that some exercises still are on. As part of a modified Allied Spirit exercise, they expect that an armor brigade combat team already deployed to Europe will conduct gunnery and other combined training together with Allies.

From Friday, March 13, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased. EUCOM states that ”the health, safety and readiness of our military, civilians, and family members is our primary concern” and that ”forces already deployed to Europe for other linked exercises will return to the United States.

The purpose of Defender Europe 2020 is expressed as ”to build strategic readiness by deploying a combat credible force to Europe in support of NATO and the US National Defense Strategy.” All movement of soldiers and material from the United States to Europe and within Europe already conducted is in this context proclaimed to have ”exercised the Army’s ability to coordinate large scale movements with Allies and partners.

EUCOM states that changes are anticipated to the deployment timelines of soldiers already in Europe and redeployment of equipment today stationed in the United States. Schedules for future troops rotations in support of Atlantic Resolve are also likely to be adjusted at the same time as they are now ”maximizing their efforts to advance their alliances and partnerships.”

We welcome the decision to reduce Defender Europe 20 since it includes discontinuation of related exercises. However, we see an urgent need for much more to be done.

Already deployed American soldiers are said to be on their way back to the United States at the same time as other American soldiers stationed in Europe — as part of, for instance, Atlantic Resolve — are not mentioned more than that their rotation is likely to be adjusted. Atlantic Resolve is explicit to have a purpose to “deter Russian aggression in Europe” and it’s obvious that the United States is planning to further militarize Europe.

This is not what is needed in these difficult times. As countries around the world appeal to their citizens to return to their home countries, the American soldiers who are deployed based on an imaginary threat (as opposed to the corona virus) are allowed to — together with certain other deployed soldiers — stay in Europe and they are also planned to increase in the future. Some of the deployed soldiers are even expected to conduct military training in the midst of the corona virus outbreak. This is incorrect use of resources.

In parallel, preparations for Aurora 20 is continuing according to plan. Aurora 20 – the largest military exercise in years, which also means a debut for the American Patriot system in Sweden — due to take place in Sweden from May 11 to June 7. This military exercise is scheduled to start in less than two months and preparations already include transport of equipment and soldiers to Sweden. NATO has, for example, a large military base in Norway and even if Norway recently closed its border, the border is still open to both Sweden and Finland at the same time as Sweden’s borders are fully open.

In a time when people’s mobility is reduced, the military’s mobility should not be an exception. At the same time, all military resources should be put to work for humanity by combating the corona virus, not some imaginary enemy. The best way to achieve this is to discontinue all military exercises — both ongoing and planned ones — and allocate all resources for humanity.

That’s why we say:

  • Stop Defender 20, Aurora 20 and other large scale military exercises in Europe and elsewhere
  • End rearmament and invest in peace, welfare, health and the environment
  • If you agree, don’t forget to sign and share our call to cancel all military exercises in Europe and the world after corona outbreak. You can find it below.

Tord Björk is with Activists for Peace: Götgatan 7 A, 29133 Kristianstad, Sweden.

ACTION ALERT: Cancel All Military Exercises in Europe and the World after Corona Outbreak

Activists for Peace and

Petition to Kanzlerin der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Angela Merkel (CDU) and others

We call for cancellation of all large-scale military exercises in Europe and elsewhere. To continue carrying out the largest combination of training of military in a war situation in 25 years is damaging our capacity of addressing the Corona crisis. From the Arctic Sea along the border of Russia all the way to Georgia this combination of simultaneous exercises under names as Defender 20 in Central in Eastern Europe and Aurora 20 in Sweden must be stopped together with military exercises elsewhere.

The exercise Cold Response 2020 in Norway with 14 000 soldiers from Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, UK and USA was cancelled March 11. It was announced by Lieutenant General Rune Jakobsen, Chief of the operational staff at the Joint Operative Headquarters, at a press conference were he stated: “What is new since yesterday is that the corona virus is out of control in society. We want to preserve the armed forces’ ability to fight so that we are able to support society in the complex period that will follow”.

This response came late. When the exercise already had started, a soldier was tested positive for Coronavirus on March 5. Finland withdraw their soldiers already March 8.

On March 10, at least two top European military commanders tested positive for corona after they, together with other senior military representatives, attended a conference on an American military base in Germany. During the meeting it was discussed how to protect soldiers participating in Defender Europe 20 form the corona virus. No decisions were made.

Countries like China, Singapore and South Korea show that it is possible to stop the growth of number of people infected by the corona virus by acting fast and decisive. Unfortunately, Italy and some other countries did not. Today China helps Italy by sending medical experts and offering 10 000 pulmonary ventilators, 2 million face-masks, and 20 000 protective suits. This gesture is gratefully received in Italy after EU members failed to respond to Italy’s request for urgent assistance.

We call for a change in the way Europe and others worldwide address vulnerability. Rather than starting an arms race and foment enemy images we see the need of cooperation across borders. What we need is peace and welfare to address the common threats to our health, social security and global environment. Not as Western State leaders at the Munich security conferences make China and Russia their adversary.

The large scale exercises bringing together tens of thousands of soldiers from different countries as part of a drastic increase in military expenditure show how out of touch with today’s realities the present policies are. These exercises not only pose and immediate threat in terms of risk for disseminating the corona virus, they are also a misuse of our common resources for addressing the problems in the world today. What we need is not further escalation and polarization between West and East but addressing of social, health and environmental concerns of importance to all of humanity.

This is why we say:

  • Stop Defender 20, Aurora 20 and other large scale military exercises in Europe and elsewhere
  • End rearmament and invest in peace, welfare, health and the environment

If you agree on our call to cancel all military exercises in Europe and elsewhere, please sign this petition.