Coronavirus Cancels Major Military Drills, Gives Europe Reprieve from NATO Warmongering
(March 17, 2020) — NATO’s massive military exercise ‘Defender Europe 2020’ has been effectively canceled over the covid-19 pandemic. Instead of hype about Russia, perhaps the alliance should address the actual danger to Europe, analysts tell RT.
The Pentagon had already deployed some 6,000 troops and 3,000 pieces of equipment to Europe by March 13, when the transfers were halted amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus. The decision to cancel the drills actually improved European security, since the risk of covid-19 transmission among the troops — and from them to civilians — was unacceptably high, former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and international security commentator Scott Ritter told RT.
Social Distancing Is Impossible in Military Formations
Canceling the exercise was “the most prudent action possible” from the political standpoint, said Ritter, as the fallout from US troops infecting civilians with the coronavirus would have made future such exercises “problematic.”
“The exercise was more political than practical, a show of force designed to deter Russian ‘aggression’ in the Baltics,” Ritter added.
Poland and the Baltic states have clamored for a bigger NATO — mainly US — presence in their territory since 2014, hyping the threat of “Russian aggression” by pointing to the conflict in Ukraine. The US has happily obliged, even under the Trump administration, while NATO maintained its increased deployments on the Russian border were entirely defensive in nature. Needless to say, Moscow is not buying it.
“There’s no actual military threat to Europe. Nobody is going to attack it,” Konstantin Sokolov, geopolitics expert and research fellow with Russia’s Academy of Natural Sciences, told RT.
Political relations within NATO have been fraying for months, with unilateral actions in Syria by the US and Turkey prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to describe the alliance as “brain dead.”
“The crisis of political relations between the US and its allies is getting worse in the current situation, which is aggravated by selfishness of all sides,” Sokolov told RT. The US and its European allies have been acting on their own to cope with the virus, shutting down borders and implementing strictly national policies.
The main threat to Europe is the coronavirus, not Russia, says Vladimir Batyuk, a senior fellow at the Russian Institute for US and Canadian Studies.
“In Italy alone, the virus has killed several hundred people. Russian military action didn’t hurt a single person from European NATO member states in the last three decades,” Batyuk told RT. There were 2,500 recorded deaths from the coronavirus in Italy as of Tuesday.
Rick Rozoff, peace activist at StopNato International, thinks it’s incredibly ironic that a virus seems to have derailed, however temporarily, NATO’s strategic priority to expand to the Russian border.
“This is a tactical retreat, in the face of nature,” he told RT. “I’m going to have to assume that, if and when the coronavirus is brought under control, that we’ll see the resumption of such military provocations, large-scale military exercises on Russia’s western border.”
Rozoff pointed out that the Atlantic Council — the alliance’s massive think-tank and lobbying arm — had just called for an increased US troop presence in Europe under the pretext of fighting the coronavirus, same as they’ve done with anything from terrorism to climate change and women’s rights over the years.
Some of those US troops may be more urgently needed at home, he added, as over 1,000 National Guard personnel have already been called up to help with the pandemic.
‘Defender Europe 2020’ was supposed to be the largest NATO exercise in 25 years, encompassing smaller exercises that were scheduled to take place in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia starting in April and continuing into May.
US Halts Deployment and Recalls Troops from NATO’s Biggest Drill ‘Defender Europe 2020’ Due to Coronavirus Threat
(March 17, 2020) — The Pentagon has announced it will drastically reduce the “size and scope” of its participation in the NATO ‘Defender Europe 2020’ exercise, stopping just short of calling quits on the much-touted drill set to run until May.
Some 20,000 American soldiers, who were expected to form the backbone of the massive 37,000-strong drill involving forces from 18 NATO member states, will now either stay home or — for those already moved into Europe — return to the US.
“As of March 13, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased,” US Army Europe confirmed in a press release on Monday. “As we make the appropriate adjustments, the linked exercises to Exercise Defender-Europe 20 — Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response — will not be conducted.”
Forces already deployed to Europe for other linked exercises will return to the United States.
Press Release — In response to the current outbreak of the #COVID19 virus and recent guidance by @EsperDoD, we have modified exercise #DefenderEurope 20 in size and scope: https://www.eucom.mil/news/pressrelease/41095/exercise-defender-europe-20-update … Read the full press release here.
The US European Command carefully avoided spelling out the number of troops that would take part in the scaled-down exercise, saying that “many details [are] still being worked and discussed with our Allies and partners.” However, it expressed hope that at least “the armored brigade combat team already deployed to Europe will conduct gunnery and other combined training events with Allies as part of a modified Allied Spirit exercise.”
Instead, the Pentagon emphasized its unprecedented commitment to “alliances and partnerships” and boasted of 6,000 soldiers and 3,000 pieces of equipment it had already moved to Europe — while admitting that “changes are anticipated to the deployment timelines” now, due to the abrupt need to send everything back.
The health, safety and readiness of our military, civilians, and family members is our primary concern
According to earlier reports, the Patriot carrier vessel — a cargo ship supposedly delivering US military equipment to Europe for the drills — has already changed its route and is returning to the States. Satellite data on its position last released on March 13 showed it was sailing east of the Azores Archipelago and was still on its way to Belgium. Two other ships involved in transporting US military equipment as part of the drill have been docked in the Dutch port of Vlissingen for quite some time — yet, they have not been unloaded.
Meanwhile, other nations also followed suit, as Germany said it would reduce its participation by 250 soldiers and opt out of certain drills in April.
Initially, Defender Europe was expected to be the largest NATO exercise in 25 years, with the bulk of the drills scheduled for April and May. The training should have taken place in six European states — Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The goal was to practice a US troop deployment to Europe, as well as fending off a potential large-scale aggression. The US military and top officials in NATO said that the maneuvers are not directed against any particular country. Still, the drills were criticized by Moscow, which called them provocative.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier said that Russia does not foresee any problems in the Baltics that would require a military solution, adding that the exercise only showed that NATO’s unwillingness to ease tensions with Moscow.
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