British defense secretary: UK to send tanks to Estonia (10)
The force that the UK will deploy in Estonia next spring as a part of NATO deterrence measures will likely include tactical drones, Challenger 2 main battle tanks and Warrior armored infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) along 800 troops, British Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon said in a recent interview.
"That battalion will be defensive in nature, but it will be fully combat-capable," Fallon said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, adding that the British troops will deploy in the spring and be joined in Estonia by forces from France and Denmark.
Canada, Germany and the US are also expected to release details of their planned NATO deployments when alliance defense officials gather Wednesday to discuss strengthening their defenses against Russia. The UK had previously committed to deploying a battle group but had not indicated precisely how many troops it would send or with what kind of weaponry they would be equipped.
By placing heavy, well-armed units in the Baltic Sea region, NATO was trying to show that it wasn't simply positioning a small unit in order to trigger a larger alliance invlvement, but rather building a force that could mount a real defense of the region, said Fallon.
The UK had previously announced that it would lead a battalion in Estonia but hadn't disclosed what it planned to deploy.
"This is about two things: reassurance — and that needs to be done with some formidable presence — and deterrence," Fallon said. "This is not simply a trip-wire... This is a serious military presence."
Meeting with Russia cannot be 'business as usuall'
The NATO meetings come amid ever-growing tensions with Russia, focused both on Russian deployments of nuclear-capable missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave located betwen Poland and Lithuania as well as its naval buildp in the eastern Mediterranean.
The US is deploying a battalion of Stryker armored vehicles from the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment to Poland as part of the NATO force there and will rotate the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, know as the "Iron Brigade" and equipped with Abrams tanks and other heavy-infantry equipment, to different parts of Eastern Europe including a headquarters unit in Poland.
The US will also be sending a force of 330 Marines to a base in Norway, a deployment approved Monday by the Norwegian government.
"We expect a sustained challenge from the East, from Russia, by way of its military activities," said US Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute.
Alliance members have also requested another meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, the primary channel for consultations between NATO and Moscow.
While some allies are seeking increased dialogue to balance out deterrence measures, other member states remain skeptical that such discussions will bear much fruit. "We have to be very careful, we only agreed on a NATO-Russia Council on the basis that it cannot be business as usual,” said the British defense secretary.
UK still dedicated to European security
In Brussels this week, NATO defense ministers are expected to also discuss stepped-up coordiation with the EU, as well as French-German proposals to build up European defense capabilities.
The UK and Eastern European countries have opposed a move for the EU to create any sort of common army units or a military headquarters, however. European defense officials have said that the current plans would focus on a small civilian military planning group to oversee African operations — an initiative that wouldn't replicate NATO's European military branch, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).
Despite its opposition to a military headquarters, Fallon said that the UK's commitment to sending a battalion along with heavy weaponry should be a sign to Europe that the country won't abandon its commitment to the continent's defense.
"Although we are leaving the EU, we remain committed to European security," said Fallon. "This is our continent and we will keep on working to help keep it safe. We are not stepping away."