What is the next step after the cold war’s biggest military exercise?
Robert siegel, host:
After Russia annexed Crimea three years ago, the United States began to reverse the military withdrawal from eastern Europe. This summer, America’s largest army has been manoeuvring for years with NATO Allies in eastern Europe. It is part of a shift from appeasing Allies to deterring Russia during the Obama administration. NPR’s David Welna is in Romania, the biggest war game since the end of the cold war. This is his report.
DAVID WELNA, wired: in a pastoral valley in the carpathian mountains of Romania, sheep flock to the hillside. All of a sudden, all hell broke loose.
Werner: the stryker armored vehicle fires a fireball at the hollow part below the rocket.
COLONEL JEFF SHOEMAKER: this is the 3rd brigade of the 4th infantry division in Carson city, colo. This is a well-trained brigade of the American army.
Werner: that’s colonel Jeff shumaker of the U.S. army. He is responsible for all American training, preparation and exercise programs in Europe. He said the armored combat brigade arrived in nearly 100 abrams tanks earlier this year as part of Washington’s efforts to strengthen the European deterrent. They are conducting live-fire drills with troops from Romania and other countries.
SHOEMAKER: my mother and father in Douglasville, Georgia, USA might call it a war game. I think a better term is that we are doing operational exercises, which will be relative to how we will fight for our country and win the battle or war.
Werner: but you have no enemies here.
SHOEMAKER: so we create a scene where we can paint a fictional invasion force and give us an enemy without being provoked.
Werner: maybe the enemy is imaginary, but clearly there is a rival. For Ben Hodges, who commands all U.S. army units in Europe, Russia is the reason for these exercises.
The black sea is the border between Romania and the Russian federation. Of course, Russia has moved the region further west because of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
Werner: hodges said it was no coincidence that Russia grabbed Crimea after the United States withdrew all its tanks and two troops from Europe.
HODGES: when we look weak, we are not connected, and when we are not prepared, what can escalate tensions. This is inviting aggression. During the 40 years of the cold war, we had huge armies facing each other. Forty years of peace.
Werner: romanian President Klaus Iohannis is watching the fire.
Chairman Klaus ionis: this is proof that our soldiers are not just talking together. They can fight together when necessary.
Werner: can they stop Russia?
IOHANNIS: sure. I think they do.
Werner: but general nicola kuka, Romania’s top military official, is not so optimistic.
You’re on the shore of the black sea. The same is true of Russia. How worried are you about Russia?
NICOLAE CIUCA: I’m as worried as the alliance. We are not out of the league.
Werner: but is there any reason to worry?
CIUCA: there is always a reason to worry. We are not living in a complete peaceful environment.
Werner: it’s an attack on the other side of the Danube, on the other side of the river, on land and river. It is being described by the romanian commander of the operation.
Unidentified person: early in the morning, an enemy airborne battalion was put into the second infantry area and controlled the Danube main bridge to support the offensive operation.
Werner: it’s the American ambassador to Romania, Hans clem.
HANS KLEMM: if you see the Danube here, you will see a lot of Romania naval capabilities, river, because they worry that the worst is that the russians will enter the Danube.
Werner: if it seems to be hypothetical, consider that the kremlin is preparing for a larger show of force in neighboring belarus. Alexander weisbaugh is a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary general of NATO.
ALEXANDER VERSHBOW: they’re going to have a big annual exercise called West or Zapad 2017 in September. They are expected to pretend to be anywhere from 15,000 to 200,000 people, but this is essentially a rehearsal for a full-time exercise and a massive war with NATO.
Werner: that’s part of the reason why general hodges is happy. Congress has added $1 billion over the next year to strengthen America’s power in Europe.
HODGES: that’s obviously important. It demonstrates America’s continued commitment to security and stability in Europe, even under the new government. I mean, everything that was promised last year happened this year.
Mr. Wilner: President trump has done nothing to stop the U.S. influence in Europe, though he has spoken to Moscow. David welna, NPR news, Bucharest, Romania.