ABOARD THE NATIONAL AIRBORNE OPERATIONS CENTER – Secretary of Defense Ash Carter over the next two days will push for NATO countries to adhere to their pledges to set aside at least 2 percent of their gross domestic products to defense, primarily so each can pull its relative weight in deterring Russian aggression.

Carter is on his way to a series of meetings with his NATO counterparts at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. He and other NATO defense ministers are finalizing their planned contributions to deterring Russian aggression in Eastern Europe ahead of a major alliance meeting in Warsaw in July.

The U.S. military is in the midst of bolstering allied defenses against Russia under the European Reassurance initiative and is keen to ensure that the allies it has committed to defending also are chipping in for the collective defense of the alliance.

“A continuing theme of here and in Warsaw will be for the need for more countries to meet their 2-percent pledge, and in some cases more,” Carter told reporters during a meeting with reporters in route to Brussels. “Absolutely, for sure, I will be emphasizing that.”

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to reporters June 13 aboard the National Airborne Operations Center in route to Brussels. Photo by Dan Parsons
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to reporters June 13 aboard the National Airborne Operations Center in route to Brussels. Photo by Dan Parsons

During a marathon series of bi- and trilateral meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, Carter will meet with the defense ministers of several allied and partner nations including Turkey, France, Great Britain and Ukraine. He also will attend meetings of NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group, North Atlantic Council and the Ukraine Commission.

The United States already has agreed to be the “framework” nation for one of four battalions that will immediately take up position in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland. Providing the framework means the United States will provide the majority of personnel and capabilities and possibly all, Carter said. Germany and the U.K. have committed to fronting a battalion each. Securing a commitment for a fourth nation will be a focus of the week’s meetings and the summit in Warsaw. There the various member nations are expected to agree on a collective strategy of deterring Russia from further adventurism in the vein of its annexation of Crimea.

Where the U.S. battalion will draw its troops and equipment is not settled. The unit will enter the Baltics in addition to a heavy infusion of U.S. troops to the Continent, including the continuous presence of a Stryker brigade combat team, a combat aviation brigade and an armored brigade combat team. Another armored brigade’s worth of equipment will be cached at various locations in Europe for troops to “fall in” on in case of an emergency.

“We’re still conferring with ourselves and our allies about how to source that” unit, Carter said. He did not elaborate on the necessary capabilities the unit should field in the Baltics.

The Baltics are squarely in the crosshairs of Russian anti-access, area-denial capabilities based in Kaliningrad that could keep U.S. and allied forces from entering the Baltic Sea in the event of a crisis.

The Baltic nations are looking to the U.S. and other NATO countries to bolster their deterrent stance against Russia, which has engaged in a series of unannounced military exercises along their Eastern borders in the past two years. The largest, in 2014, mustered almost 100,000 troops in a strategic-level exercise that officials believe could have been a dress rehearsal for a westward invasion.

Baltic defense officials have asked for increased fighter presence in the region to expand the air patrols currently being flown by a handful of U.K. Eurofighter Typhoons and Portuguese F-16s. They also are in the market for medium-range air defense missile systems like those built by Norwegian company Kongsberg and U.S. missile manufacturer Raytheon [RTN].

Carter said meetings this week will focus on “strengthening deterrence with a stronger NATO posture” in Europe and in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. NATO as a collective can provide capabilities like Airborne Warning and Command and Control (AWACS) that are difficult for individual nations to field.

“We’ll continue to ask for more from everybody,” he said.