The most immediate way NATO allies can contribute to the collective defense of Europe is to provide logistical support for U.S. troops stationed there, according to Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of Army Europe.
Europe is home to the United States’ “best and most reliable allies,” Hodges said June 20 at a breakfast hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army at its headquarters outside Washington, D.C. President Donald Trump, during and since the 2016 campaign has been less than ardent about U.S. commitment to NATO, if not outright berating to member states for failing to meet a voluntary goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense.
“We put a lot of effort into sustaining the trust of our allies,” Hodges said. “They are a little puzzled right now.”
“Should they be doing more? Hell yeah. Absolutely.” he said. “Every president has said the allies should do more. I agree.”
NATO member states agreed to move toward that defense spending objective by 2024 but are not obligated to do so. With Russia rattling the sabre along its eastern frontier, the alliance – especially members who were formerly behind the Iron Curtain – are nervous and looking to the United States for assurance.
Hodges aired what he said was an “informal shopping list” for European allies to choose from as a way to quickly up contributions to the alliance. He envisioned a “2 percent thermometer” posted outside each NATO member’s defense ministry that filled to the top when more money is spent on that nation’s defense.
Topping the list are transport trucks capable of moving a combat-rigged M1 Abrams tank without violating European Union per-axle weight restrictions. The Army’s current Heavy Equipment Transport (HET) trailers are not legal on European roads, so the Army is leasing 18 British trailers so it can move its newly-deployed armor around the Continent. Hodges said the U.S. will provide the tanks and other vehicles and NATO host nations can provide in-theater transportation.
“The way to make that 2-percent thermometer go up very quickly: Buy some HETs. Provide transportation for us. Guarantee rail access – 48 hours, enough rail to move a brigade,” he said. “Somebody else should pay for that. I shouldn’t being for 18 British HETs … Anything that improves freedom of movement, those are quick ways.”
He also suggested that allies buy fuel and ammunition for Army units stationed in Europe and provide storage sites for those commodities and other combat equipment.
“In other words, I’m not looking for more German tank battalions or more British artillery battalions,” he said. “Countries are doing that, but the way they can contribute to the alliance … is improve infrastructure.”
The Army has expanded its presence in Europe dramatically in the past few years as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The deterrence mission now has its own fund, called the European Reassurance Initiative, which is budgeted $4.8 billion for fiscal year 2018. That has paid for, among other equipment and personnel, a rotational armored brigade combat team, a rotational combat aviation brigade and a 95-soldier mission command element.
“The Army has leaned into us in a big way,” Hodges said.