The U.S. wishes to create flexible deterrence on NATO's eastern flank in order to prevent a crisis before it happens, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, said at the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn on Saturday.
The way to deter a crisis is through speed of recognition, speed of political decision and speed of assembly, Hodges told journalists on the fringes of the conference.
"Unity of NATO and unity of the EU are absolutely necessary for deterrence," he said. "There is no room for miscalculation."
According to Hodges, improving the capacity to move quickly under peacetime rules provides etter options for political leadership in the event of a crisis. "Better rail transport is an important way for countries to facilitate movement between allied countries," he said.
The commander said he believed that EU member states that are doing as much as Estonia in terms of seeing to their independent defense capability, or Article 3 of the NATO treaty, should put pressure on other members to do more. "Estonia is front and center in living up to NATO Article 3," he highlighted.
Hodges also said that the large-scale Zapad military exercise to be held by Russia later this year should meanwhile be as transparent as Western exercises.
"There is nothing wrong with Russia having exercises; we all do it," he pointed out. "This time there seems to be more interest throughout Europe about Zapad and what it consists of. Our recommendation is that Russia should offer to be as transparent as the Western exercises are."
Hodges noted that every time NATO conducts an exercise, they have invited people to oberve it. "We have had Russian inspectors come to our exercises, like Anaconda last year," he noted.
"I would call on the Russians, if they are genuinely interested in lowering the temperature and anxiety, to invite journalists from the West to come to Zapad and watch what it is they are doing," Hodges said.
"For us our, posture will be what we always do — we are always professional, always ready. Doing exercises that are already scheduled we will not be trying to mirror Zapad; we will be out doing what we do, which is providing deterrence."
He also underscored the importance of the unity of NATO and the EU in deterring Russia specifically, especially when it comes to sanctions.
2017 U.S. military's year of execution
"The previous U.S. administration in 2016 made decisions with other allies to transition from reassurance to deterrence," Hodges told journalists. "And the U.S. made some decisions that complement that decision by the alliance. We changed administrations, but everything we agreed upon in 2016 is happening in 2017."
The commander pointed out that the multinational Saber Strike exercise to be held in Poland and the Baltic states in June will involve the multinational battle groups recently stationed in each country as well as the Multinational Corps Northeast. In less than 11 months, NATO had advanced from a decision to establish the battle groups to holding exercises, he said, describing this as "lightning speed."
A rotational U.S. armored brigade combat team is in Europe and the next one has been announced and will be arriving in September. A rotational combat aviation brigade arrived in February as well, to be replaced in the fall.
Hodges added that the U.S. has also deployed two logistics battalions to Europe. "We have established warehouses for prepositioned equipment in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Poland," he noted.
Editor: Aili Vahtla