Recent events in Ukraine, a resurgent Russia, and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya have brought Europe back into the top tier of U.S. international interests. It is clear why the region matters to the U.S. The 51 countries in U.S. European Command (EUCOM) area of responsibility include approximately one-fifth of the world’s population, 10.7 million square miles of land, and 13 million square miles of ocean. EUCOM’s area has physical borders with Russia, the Arctic, Iran, Asia Minor, the Caspian Sea, and North Africa. Most of these areas have long histories of instability and a potential for future instability that could directly affect the security interests and economic well-being of the United States.

Some of America’s oldest (France) and closest (the United Kingdom) allies are found in Europe. The U.S. and Europe share a strong commitment to the rule of law, human rights, free markets, and democracy. Many of these ideas, the foundations upon which America was built, were brought over by the millions of immigrants from Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. U.S. sacrifice for Europe has been dear. During the course of the 20th century, millions of Americans fought for a free and secure Europe, and hundreds of thousands died.

The economic ties are important as well. A stable, secure, and economically viable Europe is in America’s economic interest. Regional security means economic viability and prosperity. For more than 70 years, the U.S. military presence in Europe has contributed to European stability, which has economically benefited both Europeans and Americans. The economies of the 28 member states of the European Union, along with the United States, account for approximately half of the global economy. The U.S. and the members of the European Union (EU) are each other’s principal trading partners.

Geographical Proximity. Europe is important to the U.S. because of its geographical proximity to some of the world’s most dangerous and contested regions. To the south of Europe, from the eastern Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East and up to the Caucasus through Russia and into the Arctic, is an arc of instability. This region is experiencing increasing instability from demographic pressures, increased commodity prices, interstate and intrastate conflict, tribal politics, competition over water and other natural resources, religious tension, revolutionary tendencies, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and “frozen conflicts” (i.e., conflicts in which active combat has ended but no real effort is made to resolve the conflict). The European region also has some of the world’s most vital shipping lanes, energy resources, and trade choke points.

The basing of U.S. forces in Europe generates benefits outside of Europe. Recent instability in North Africa, most notably ISIS operations in Libya, has shown the utility of basing robust U.S. military capabilities near potential global hot spots. For example, when ordered to intervene in Libya against Muammar Qadhafi, U.S. commanders in Europe were able to act effectively and promptly because of the well-established and mature U.S. military footprint in southern Europe.

The same can be said of the Baltic region in light of the crisis in Ukraine. Soon after Russia annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, the U.S. quickly deployed 600 U.S. soldiers to the Baltics and Poland from U.S. bases in Italy. The F-15s and F-16s (including their crews, maintenance staff, fuel, spare parts, etc.) that the U.S. Air Force initially sent to the region after the invasion of Ukraine were deployed to Eastern Europe from U.S. air bases in the United Kingdom and Italy, respectively. Without this forward presence in Europe, these deployments would have been costlier and slower.

The Arctic. The 2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength identified the Arctic as an important operating environment in Europe. This has not changed in the 2016 edition. If anything, tension in the region is increasing as a result of Russian activity.

The Arctic region encompasses the lands and territorial waters of eight countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States) spread across three continents. Unlike in the Antarctic, there is no Arctic landmass covering the North Pole—just ocean. The region is home to some of the world’s roughest terrain and waters and some of its harshest weather. The Arctic region is rich in minerals, wildlife, fish, and other natural resources and, according to some estimates, contains up to 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and almost one-third of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves.

The region represents one of the world’s least populated areas, with sparse nomadic communities and very few large cities and towns. Although official population figures are nonexistent, the Nordic Council of Ministers estimates the figure to be 4 million1 —making the Arctic’s population slightly bigger than Oregon and slightly smaller than Kentucky. Approximately half of the Arctic population lives in Russia, which is ranked 143rd out of 178 countries in the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom.2 The melting of Arctic ice during the summer months presents challenges for the U.S. in terms of Arctic security, but it also provides new opportunities for economic development. Less ice will mean new shipping lanes, increased tourism, and further natural resource exploration. Many of the shipping lanes currently used in the Arctic are a considerable distance from search and rescue facilities, and natural resource exploration that would be considered routine in other locations in the world is complex, costly, and dangerous in the Arctic.

The economic incentives for exploiting these shipping lanes are substantial and will drive Arctic nations to press their interests in the region. For example, using the Northern Sea Route (NSR) along the Russian coast cuts the distance between Rotterdam and Shanghai by 22 percent and saves hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel costs per ship. Unlike in the Gulf of Aden, no pirates are currently operating in the Arctic, and piracy is unlikely to be a problem in the future. But there is still a long way to go before the NSR becomes a viable option. In 2014, a total of 23 ships made the journey over the top of Russia (compared with the more than 17,000 that transited the Suez Canal) and carried 274,000 tons of cargo. By comparison, in 2013, 71 vessels or  1,355,000 tons shipped along the route, indicating the unpredictability of future shipping trends in the Arctic.3

Of course, the U.S. has an interest in stability and security in the Arctic because the U.S. is one of the eight Arctic nations. The American commitment to NATO is also relevant because four of the five Arctic littoral powers are in NATO.4

Economic Turmoil. In recent years, the economic situation in Europe has brought turmoil and instability. Taken as a whole, the European region is undergoing a tumultuous and uncertain period that is epitomized by the ongoing sovereign debt crisis in Europe’s southern countries. These countries have not made the structural reforms needed for long-term adjustment. The eurozone’s overall economic freedom is seriously undermined by the excessive government spending required to support elaborate welfare states. Economic policies being pursued by many eurozone countries hinder productivity growth and job creation, causing economic stagnation and rapidly increasing levels of public debt.

Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain have received multibillion-euro aid packages financed by their eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). European leaders are desperately seeking a way to keep the eurozone together without addressing the root causes of the crisis. Recipient countries have adopted stringent austerity measures in exchange for aid, but their populations oppose any spending cuts.

Many among Europe’s political elite believe that deeper European integration, not prudent economic policies, is the answer to Europe’s problem. However, there has been a public backlash against deeper political and economic integration across much of Europe. As a result, nationalism is on the rise in a way not seen since the 1930s.

A perfect example of the rise of nationalism across Europe is the January 2015 Greek elections. After campaigning on an anti-austerity platform, the far-left Coalition of the Radical Left, commonly known as Syriza, won the most seats and formed a small coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks. It is also worth pointing out that the third highest number of votes was won by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.

At the end of 2014, economic growth in the eurozone was just under 1 percent, but economic activity is still well below the peak it reached in 2008 before the full onset of the financial crisis. Nor has this relatively meager economic growth translated into rapid job growth. Unemployment across the 19-country bloc stands at 11.2 percent, down from 11.8 percent at the end of 2013. At nearly 26 percent, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union; youth unemployment in the eurozone is 23 percent, reaching 51 percent in Spain and 42 percent in Italy.5 Some members of the eurozone, such as Greece, are still on the verge of a sovereign default, while a few, such as the three Baltic States, have bucked the trend and are enjoying strong economic growth.

The potential impact of the current eurozone crisis on the U.S. makes European economic stability more important than ever. The eurozone crisis could turn into a security crisis. For example, political instability in Greece could spill over to other places in southeastern Europe—already one of Europe’s most unstable regions. Less than 24 hours after the Greek elections, the Russian ambassador to Greece was seen entering the headquarters of Syriza.6 Greek–Russian relations could become close under the Syriza government at a time when European unity is required to stand up to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Syriza has also questioned whether Greece should remain in NATO.7

American banks hold some eurozone debt and would take a hit in the event of any default, but the deepest effects would likely be felt through the interconnected global financial system. In a lagging European economy, for example, U.S. exports to European markets would start to fall off and would decline.

The economic case also illustrates the importance of the greater European region to energy security and the free flow of trade. Some of the most important energy security and trade corridors are on the periphery of Europe—as are some of the world’s most dangerous and unstable regions. European economies depend on oil and gas transported through the volatile Caucasus and several maritime choke points.

On top of these difficulties, Europe has been trying to deal with an immigration crisis, as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq propel large numbers of refugees westward in search of safety and a better life.

The South Caucasus

One of the most important energy corridors for Europe is through Turkey and the South Caucasus. Fortunately, Europe has a very strong partner in the South Caucasus: the Republic of Georgia. Georgia sits at a crucial geographical and cultural crossroads that for centuries has proven strategically important for military and economic reasons; today, its strategic location is also important to the U.S. and Europe. Georgia is modernizing key airports and port facilities, and a major railway project from Azerbaijan to Turkey through Georgia opened in 2015.

The transit route through Georgia provides one of the shortest and potentially most cost-effective routes to Central Asia. This is particularly important in meeting the need to bring alternative sources of oil and natural gas to the European market. In view of Russia’s willingness to use energy resources as a tool of foreign policy, this could not come at a more important time for Europe.

In 2015, construction began on two key natural gas pipelines: the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The TANAP will run 1,150 miles through the Caucasus and Turkey; the TAP will run from the Turkish–Greek border to Italy via Albania and the Adriatic Sea. It is expected that both will be completed by 2018. When constructed, both pipelines will link up with the existing South Caucasus Pipeline, which connects Turkey to the Azerbaijani gas fields in the Caspian Sea through Georgia. Together, all three pipelines will form the so-called Southern Gas Corridor.8

Not to be outdone, Russia announced in early 2015 that its South Stream project has been cancelled and replaced by a so-called Turkish Stream pipeline that will bring Russian gas across the Black Sea to Turkey to then link up with TAP. Already, 10,000 oil tankers a year pass through the Turkish Straits. The Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan oil pipeline brings oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. These new pipelines reaffirm Turkey’s desire to serve as a regional energy hub.

Important Alliances and Bilateral Relations in Europe

The United States has a number of important multilateral and bilateral relationships in Europe. First and foremost among these relationships is NATO, the world’s most important and arguably most successful defense alliance. Other relationships, however, also have a strong impact on the U.S.’s ability to operate in and through the European region.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO is an intergovernmental, multilateral security organization originally designed to defend Western Europe from the Soviet Union. It is the organization that anchored the U.S. firmly in Europe, solidified Western resolve during the Cold War, and rallied European support following the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

During the Cold War, the threat from the Soviet Union meant that the alliance had a clearly defined mission. Today, NATO is still trying to determine its precise role in the post–Cold War world. The 1990s saw NATO launch security and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans when the European Union was unable to act. Since 2002, NATO has been engaged in Afghanistan, counterpiracy operations off the Horn of Africa, and an intervention in Libya that led to the toppling of Muammar Qadhafi.

Since its creation in 1949, NATO has remained the bedrock of transatlantic security cooperation, and it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. With the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan finished and with an increasingly bellicose Russia on Europe’s doorstep, there is a growing recognition that NATO must return to its raison d’être: collective security.

The Russian threat is discussed in more detail in the next chapter; however, it is worth noting that many in NATO view Moscow as a threat. In a way that seemed inconceivable to Western Europeans before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, it is now clear that NATO’s Eastern European members face legitimate security concerns: For those NATO members that lived under the iron fist of the Warsaw Pact or that were absorbed into the Soviet Union after World War II, Russia’s bellicose behavior today is seen as a threat to their existence.

Given the broad threat that Russia poses to Europe’s common interests, military-to-military cooperation, interoperability, and overall preparedness for joint warfighting are especially important in Europe, yet they are not uniformly implemented. For example, day-to-day interaction between U.S. and allied officer corps and joint preparedness exercises were more regular with Western European militaries than with frontier allies in Central Europe, although the crisis in Ukraine has led to new exercises with eastern NATO nations. In the event of a national security crisis in Europe, first contact with an adversary might still expose America’s lack of fluency with allied warfighting capabilities, doctrines, and operational methods.

Furthermore, NATO needs to shift training in Europe from counterinsurgency operations to collective security operations. For the past several years, training has focused on NATO’s counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan—and rightly so. Now that the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan has ended, the alliance should also get back to carrying out regular training exercises for its NATO Treaty Article 5 mission of collective self-defense. Regular training exercises are a key element of collective security and ensuring continued defense cooperation.

There are also non-military threats to the territorial integrity of NATO countries for which the alliance is completely unprepared. The biggest threat to the Baltic States, for example, may come not from Russian tanks rolling into a country but from Russian money, propaganda, establishment of NGOs, and other advocacy groups—all of which undermine the state. Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine have proven how effective these asymmetrical methods can be at creating instability, especially when coupled with conventional power projection.

The combat training center at Hohenfels, Germany, is one of a very few located outside of the continental United States, and more than 60,000 U.S. and allied personnel train there annually. U.S.–European training exercises further advance U.S. interests by developing links between U.S. allies in Europe and National Guard units back home. In a time when most American servicemembers do not recall World War II or the Cold War, cementing bonds with America’s allies in Europe becomes a vital task. Currently, 22 nations in Europe have a state partner in the U.S. National Guard.9

Many NATO Countries Spend Less on Defense Than the NYPDTraining Exercises. General Phillip Breedlove, Commander, U.S. Forces Europe, has described NATO forces as being “at a pinnacle of interoperability.” He further states that for NATO to sustain these levels of interoperability, “We need to continue to build the capabilities and capacities to be a credible and effective Alliance and we need to sustain our interoperability through rigorous and sustained training, education and exercises.”10

In June 2014, the U.S. announced a $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative that is meant to bolster transatlantic security. A portion of the funding will “increase exercises, training, and rotational presence across Europe but especially on the territory of our newer allies.”11 While the additional funding is a step in the right direction, it is not a long-term solution; the need to sufficiently fund training programs remains unresolved. Funding for this initiative was included in the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) budget—generally considered to be a budget for temporary, not permanent, priorities—a fact that did not escape the attention of NATO allies, with the Poles referring to it as “insufficient.”12 The 2016 Defense Budget Proposal requested an additional $789 million for an extension of the European Reassurance Initiative but once again includes the additional funding as part of OCO funding.13

Quality of Allied Armed Forces in the Region: A Declining Europe Means a Declining NATO

When it comes to effective international combined operations, the investments of U.S. partners matter just as much, and it is clear that Europe is not pulling its weight. Investment in defense across Europe has declined since the end of the Cold War. For most EU countries, the political will to deploy troops into harm’s way when doing so is in the national interest has all but evaporated. During the recent Libya operation, for example, European countries were running out of munitions.14 In Mali and the Central African Republic, European countries were having difficulty scraping together mere hundreds of soldiers for training missions and static security operations in a semi-permissive operating environment.

As an intergovernmental security alliance, NATO is only as strong as its member states. Of NATO’s 28 members, 26 are European. European countries collectively have more than 2 million men and women in uniform, yet by some estimates, only 100,000 of them—a mere 5 percent—have the capability to deploy outside national borders.15

Article 3 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, NATO’s founding document, states that members, at a minimum, will “maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”16 Only a handful of NATO members can say that they are living up to their Article 3 commitment. Defense spending has been decreasing over the years to the point that New York City spends more on policing than 14 NATO members each spend on national defense. Since 2008, Russian defense spending has increased 31 percent, while defense spending in Europe has decreased 15 percent.

In 2014, just four of the 28 NATO members—the United States, Estonia, Britain, and Greece—spent the NATO-required 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. The U.K. is meeting the 2 percent benchmark because of expenditures on combat operations in Afghanistan. However, the current government has committed to the 2 percent benchmark only through the end of the current Parliament, and it is possible that even America’s number one ally will not meet the NATO threshold in 2015.17

As a result of this lack of investment, even smaller campaigns like the 2011 operation in Libya floundered. What began as a military operation inspired by France and Britain had to be quickly absorbed into a NATO operation because the Europeans had neither the political will nor the military capability (without the U.S.) to complete the mission. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates summed up Europe’s contribution to the Libya operation:

[W]hile every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission. Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there.18

The lack of defense investment by Europeans has also had a direct impact on recent overseas operations. At the height of the combat operations in Afghanistan, many European NATO members were having difficulty deploying just dozens of troops at a time. The Europeans’ contribution to the air campaign against the Islamic State has been meager considering the size of their air forces. When Europeans do send troops, many are often restricted by numerous nationally imposed limitations on their activities (commonly called “caveats”). In Afghanistan, examples included no flying at night or no combat patrols beyond a certain distance from a base that limits their usefulness to the NATO commander.19 In the campaign against the Islamic State, the few European countries that are conducting air strikes will do so only in Iraq even though the terrorist group is very active (and has its headquarters) in Syria.

This lack of capability is mainly the result of a decrease in defense investment by the members of NATO since the end of the Cold War and a lack of political will to use military capability when and where it is needed.

Germany. Germany decreased defense spending by 800 million euros in 2014, remaining (at 1.3 percent of GDP) well below the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of GDP on defense spending.20 In March 2014, the German government announced plans to boost defense spending by 6.2 percent or 1.2 billion euros over the next five years.21 This is a much-needed increase as the German military struggles with equipment that is in disrepair or short supply. According to news descriptions of a Bundestag report, only seven of 43 German naval helicopters are flightworthy, and only one of four German submarines is operational. The report also states that only 70 of 180 GTK Boxer Armored Vehicles are fit for deployment.22
(accessed March 18, 2015).The air force faces similar challenges; less than half of Germany’s fighter jets were ready for use, according to a 2014 parliamentary report.23

The German forces participating in a NATO training exercise in Norway substituted broomsticks for machine guns that they did not have.24 The units involved are assigned to the Spearhead force, which was created as a key element in NATO’s response to Russian aggression against Ukraine at the Wales summit.25 German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has admitted that Germany is currently unable to meet NATO’s readiness targets.26

Germany will spend 240 million euros to keep dual-capable Tornado aircraft, an important piece of NATO’s nuclear deterrent, flying until 2024.27 It is also, however, cutting procurement and decommissioning certain specific capabilities, a reality that will fall primarily on its Army and Air Force. Germany has announced procurement of 18 Sea Lion-variant helicopters and 82 tactical transport helicopters from Airbus, reportedly to compensate for cancelled and reduced procurement elsewhere.28

At the United Nations in September 2014, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for greater German engagement in the world, but he focused principally on diplomatic rather than military engagement.29 However, Germany has supplied weapons to Kurdish troops fighting ISIS in Iraq, including rifles and MILAN anti-tank guided missiles and Panzerfaust 3 rockets,30 and the German Parliament has approved a maximum of 100 instructors to take part in training missions through January 2016.31 Whether Germany decides to continue these training missions after January 2016 remains to be seen.

Germany is attempting to increase its military participation abroad, but cautiously. German trainers on the ground are not allowed to engage in offensive operations. Germany also has not taken part in the air campaign to bomb ISIS targets. In Afghanistan, 850 Germans remain as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. A contributor to Baltic Air Policing, Berlin committed 500 troops to take part in NATO training exercises in Lithuania across 2015.32

Hemmed in by public reluctance to support stronger military engagement overseas, and with little being done to build out real defense capabilities, Germany will continue to be an economic powerhouse with mismatched military capabilities.

France. Although France rejoined NATO’s Integrated Command Structure in 2009, it remains outside the alliance’s nuclear planning group. France’s defense budget is anticipated to stay at 1.5 percent of GDP in 2015.33 While the country kept a NATO summit commitment to protect defense from further budget cuts, its defense spending remains well below 2 percent of GDP, and the government had to take unusual measures to fill a shortfall of 2.2 billion euros in its 2015 budget. “The French defense ministry is preparing to sell and lease back as many as six Airbus A400M airlifters and two or three FREMM multipurpose frigates this year.”34 France withdrew the last of its troops in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, although all French combat troops had left in 2012. All told, France lost 89 soldiers and 700 wounded in Afghanistan.35 In September, France launched Operation Chammal, the name given to the French contribution to the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq. In February 2015, the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle joined the operation, halving the flying time needed for French fighters to strike targets in Iraq. Previously, all of France’s fighters had flown from bases in the United Arab Emirates or Jordan.36 France has 12 Mirage fighter jets, one air-to-air refueling plane, and two maritime patrol aircraft in addition to the aircraft on the Charles De Gaulle involved in operations against ISIS.37

Additionally, the French military is active in Africa, with over 3,000 troops taking part in anti-terrorism operations in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane.38 France also has over 1,500 troops in Djibouti, along with Mirage fighters,39
and troops in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso,40 Ivory Coast, Central African Republic,41 Gabon, and Senegal.42

France remains politically and militarily dedicated to retaining an independent nuclear deterrent. In February 2015, President Francois Hollande reiterated the French commitment to maintaining this deterrent: “The international context does not allow for any weakness…. [T]he era of nuclear deterrence is therefore not over.”43

However, a sputtering economy and an enormous debt are having a large impact on French defense, and even though the French military remains one of Europe’s most capable, cuts in personnel and extension of aging equipment will be a reality. A 2013 French white paper on defense called for reductions in forces, including the elimination of 24,000 jobs from the Ministry of Defense.44

The political and economic importance of the defense industry in France serves as a strong impediment to even deeper cuts, but the government is still finding ways to reduce defense spending. The government has not cancelled key procurements, but it has cut orders, delayed payments, and renegotiated contracts on equipment.45 So important is the defense industry that the government waited months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to suspend indefinitely delivery to Russia of two Mistral warships. Putin claimed that France’s not delivering the Mistrals “has no importance.”46
Russia is reported to have told France that it no longer wants the warships, and negotiations on refunding money to Russia are ongoing.47 In February 2015, France signed a deal with Egypt to export 24 Rafale fighter jets, the first foreign order for the planes.48

The United Kingdom. America’s most important bilateral relationship in Europe is the Special Relationship with the United Kingdom. Culturally, both countries value liberal democracy, a free-market economy, and human rights at a time when many other nations around the world are rejecting those values. The U.S. and the U.K. also face the same global security challenges: a resurgent Russia, the rise of the Islamic State, increasing cyber attacks, and nuclear proliferation in Iran.

In his famous 1946 “Sinews of Peace” speech—now better known as his “Iron Curtain” speech—Winston Churchill described the Anglo–American relationship as one that is based, first and foremost, on defense and military cooperation. From intelligence sharing to the transfer of nuclear technology, a high degree of military cooperation has helped to make the Special Relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. unique. Then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher made clear the essence of the Special Relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. when she first met the then-President of the U.S.S.R. Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984:

…I am an ally of the United States. We believe the same things, we believe passionately in the same battle of ideas, we will defend them to the hilt. Never try to separate me from them.49

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United Kingdom has proven itself to be America’s number one military partner. For example, Britain provided 46,000 troops for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At the height of this commitment, the U.K. deployed 10,000 troops to one of the deadliest parts of Afghanistan—an area that, at its peak, accounted for 20 percent of the country’s total violence—while many other NATO allies operated in the relative safety of the North.

In 2010, the U.K. held its first defense review in 12 years. Due to the dire economic situation inherited by the Conservative-led coalition government, the U.K. announced defense cuts of close to 7.5 percent. Consequently, the British are cutting the size of their regular army by 20,000 personnel to 82,000, less than half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps. In addition, both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy have removed an additional 5,000 personnel each from their rolls.

Even with recent defense cuts, the U.K. still maintains the most effective armed forces in European NATO. In recent years, it increased funding for its highly respected Special Forces. By 2020, the RAF will operate a fleet of F-35 and Typhoon fighter aircraft—the latter being upgraded to carry out ground attacks. The RAF recently brought into service a new fleet of air-to-air refuelers, which is particularly noteworthy because of the severe shortage of this capability in Europe. With the U.K., the U.S. produced and has jointly operated an intelligence-gathering platform, the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft, which has already seen service in Mali, Nigeria, and Iraq and is now part of the RAF fleet.

The U.K. recently purchased its seventh U.S.-built C-17 and has started to bring the European A400M cargo aircraft into service after years of delays. It has been reported that the decision to cut C-130s from the force structure might be delayed due to the niche capability this rugged and combat-proven cargo aircraft brings to special operations. The Sentinel R1, an airborne battlefield and ground surveillance aircraft, was originally due to be removed from the force structure in 2015, but its service is being extended.

The Royal Navy’s surface fleet is based on the new Type-45 Destroyer and the older Type-23 Frigate. It is expected that the latter will be replaced by the Global Combat Ship sometime in the 2020s. In total, the U.K. operates only 19 frigates and destroyers, which most experts agree is dangerously low for the commitment asked of the Royal Navy. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy still delivers a formidable capability.

The U.K. will not have an aircraft carrier in service until around 2020 when the first Queen Elizabeth-class carrier enters service. This will be the largest carrier operated in Europe. In total, two of her class will be built. Additionally, the Royal Navy is introducing seven Astute-class attack submarines as it phases out its older Trafalgar-class. Crucially, the U.K. maintains a fleet of 13 Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMV) that deliver world-leading capability and play an important role in Persian Gulf security contingency planning.

Perhaps the Royal Navy’s most important contribution is its continuous-at-sea, submarine-based nuclear deterrent based on the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine and the Trident missile. Currently, there are plans to replace the aging Vanguard-class boats, although the final decision is scheduled for 2016.

Turkey. Turkey has been an important U.S. ally since the closing days of World War II. During the Korean War, it deployed a total of 15,000 troops and suffered 721 killed in action and more than 2,000 wounded. Turkey joined NATO in 1952, one of only two NATO members (the other was Norway) that had a land border with the Soviet Union. Today, Turkey continues to play an active role in the alliance, but not without challenges. The low point in U.S.–Turkish relations came in 2003 when the Turkish parliament voted by a small margin (264 to 250) to deny the U.S. access to its territory for an invasion of Iraq. Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has been a challenging partner for the West, but it remains an important partner and NATO member.

Turkey is vitally important to Europe’s energy security. It is the gateway to the resource-rich Caucasus and Caspian Basin and controls the Bosporus, one of the most important shipping straits in the world. Several major gas and oil pipelines run through Turkey. As new oilfields are developed in the Central Asian states, and given Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, Turkey can be expected to play an increasingly important role in Europe’s energy security.

It is in America’s interest for Turkey to remain an important security partner. Turkey is home to Incirlik Air Base, a major U.S. and NATO air base. Turkey has largely been sitting on the fence in dealing with the threat from the Islamic State, but its military contribution to international security operations still sets it apart from many of the nations of Western Europe. The Turks have deployed thousands of troops to Afghanistan and have commanded the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) twice since 2002. Turkey continues to maintain more than 500 troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission, making it the fifth-largest troop contributor out of 40 nations. The Turks have also contributed to a number of peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, still maintain almost 400 troops in Kosovo, and have participated in counterpiracy and counterterrorism missions off the Horn of Africa. They also deployed planes, frigates, and submarines during the NATO-led operation in Libya.

Turkey’s 510,000-strong active-duty military is NATO’s second-largest after that of the United States. A number of major procurement programs in the works include up to 250 new Altay main battle tanks, 350 T-155 Fırtına 155mm self-propelled howitzers, six Type-214 submarines, and more than 50 T-129 attack helicopters.50

With respect to procurement, the biggest area of contention between Turkey and NATO is Turkey’s selection of a missile defense system. In September 2013, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) for a $3.44 billion deal to provide the system. NATO has said that no Chinese-built system could be integrated into any NATO or American missile defense system. U.S. officials also have warned that any Turkish company that acts as local subcontractor in the program would face serious U.S. sanctions because CPMIEC has been sanctioned under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act.51 After increased pressure from NATO allies, Ankara opened parallel talks with the European Eurosam, maker of the Aster 30, and the U.S. Raytheon/Lockheed Martin, offering the Patriot system. As of October 9, 2015, a final decision had not been made.

The Baltic States. The U.S. has a long history of championing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Baltic States that dates back to the interwar period of the 1920s. Since regaining their independence from Russia in the early 1990s, the Baltic States have been staunch supporters of the transatlantic relationship. Although small in absolute terms, the three Baltic States contribute significantly to NATO in relative terms.

Estonia. Estonia has been a leader in the Baltics in terms of defense spending. Although the Estonian Armed Forces total only 3,800 service personnel (including the Army, Navy, and Air Force), they are held in high regard by their NATO partners and punch well above their weight inside the alliance. Since 1996, almost 1,500 Estonian soldiers have served in the Balkans. Between 2003 and 2011, 455 served in Iraq. Perhaps Estonia’s most impressive deployment has been to Afghanistan: more than 2,000 troops deployed between 2003 and 2014 and the second-highest number of deaths per capita of all 28 NATO members.

Estonia has also demonstrated that it takes defense and security policy seriously, focusing its defense policy on improving defensive capabilities at home while maintaining the ability to be a strategic actor abroad. Over the next few years, Estonia will increase from one to two the number of brigades in the order of battle. The goal is to see 50 percent of all land forces with the capability to deploy outside national borders. Mindful of NATO’s benchmark that each member should spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, there is a planning assumption inside the Estonian Ministry of Defense that up to 10 percent (approximately 380 troops) of the armed forces will always be deployed overseas. Estonia is also making efforts to increase the size of its rapid reaction reserve force from 18,000 to 21,000 troops by 2022. This increase and modernization includes the recently created Cyber Defence League, a reserve force that relies heavily on expertise found in the civilian sector.

Latvia. Latvia’s recent military experience has also been centered on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside NATO and U.S. forces. Latvia has deployed more than 3,000 troops to Afghanistan, and between 2003 and 2008, it deployed 1,165 troops to Iraq. In addition, Latvia has contributed to a number of other international peacekeeping and military missions. These are significant numbers considering that only 5,500 of Latvia’s 17,000 troops are full-time servicemembers; the remainder are reserves.

Latvia’s 2012 Defense Concept is an ambitious document that charts a path to a bright future for the Latvian National Armed Forces if it is followed closely and resourced properly. Latvia plans that a minimum of 8 percent of its professional armed forces will be deployed at any one time but will train to ensure that no less than 50 percent will be combat-ready to deploy overseas if required. The government has stated that the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of GDP in defense spending will be met by 2020, and spending will be increasing steadily until then. Each year, no less than 20 percent of the Latvian defense budget will be allocated to modernizing and procuring new military equipment. Latvian special forces are well respected by their American counterparts.

Lithuania. Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic States, and its armed forces total 7,800 professional troops. Lithuania has also shown steadfast commitment to international peacekeeping and military operations. Between 1994 and 2010, more than 1,700 Lithuanian troops were deployed to the Balkans as part of NATO missions in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. Between 2003 and 2011, Lithuania sent 930 troops to Iraq. Since 2002, just under 3,000 Lithuanian troops have served in Afghanistan.

Lithuania’s notable contribution in Afghanistan was divided between its special operations mission alongside U.S. and Latvian special forces and its command of a Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Ghor Province, making Lithuania one of only a handful of NATO members to have commanded a PRT. Although Lithuania does not meet the NATO goal of 2 percent of GDP spent on defense, like Latvia, it has pledged to do so by 2020.

Current U.S. Military Presence in Europe

At its peak in 1953, the U.S. had approximately 450,000 troops in Europe operating across 1,200 sites due to the Soviet threat to Western Europe. During the early 1990s, in response to a perception at that time of a reduced threat from Russia and as part of the so-called peace dividend following the end of the Cold War, U.S. troop numbers in Europe were slashed. Between 1990 and 1993, the number of U.S. soldiers in Europe decreased from 213,000 to 122,000, but their use actually increased. During that same period, from 1990 to 1993, the U.S. Army in Europe supported 42 deployments that required 95,579 personnel.

Until 2013, the U.S. Army had two heavy BCTs (Brigade Combat Teams) in Europe, the 170th and 172nd BCTs in Germany; one airborne Infantry BCT, the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy; and, one Stryker BCT, the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment in Germany, permanently based in Europe. The deactivation of the 170th BCT took place in October 2012—slightly earlier than the planned date of 2013—marking the end of 50 years of having U.S. combat soldiers in Baumholder, Germany. The deactivation of the 172nd BCT took place in October 2013. In all, this meant that more than 10,000 soldiers were removed from Europe. These two heavy brigades constituted Europe’s primary armored force. Their deactivation left a significant capability gap not only in the U.S. ground forces committed to Europe, but also in NATO’s capabilities, a concern noted by the 2005 Overseas Basing Commission, which warned against removing a heavy BCT from Europe.

When the decision was announced in 2012 to bring two Brigade Combat Teams home, the Obama Administration said that the reduction in capability would be offset with a U.S.-based BCT that, when necessary, would rotate forces, normally at the battalion level, to Europe for training missions. This decision unsettled America’s allies because a rotational battalion does not offer the same capability as two BCTs permanently based in Europe. According to General Breedlove, “Permanently stationed forces are a force multiplier that rotational deployments can never match.”52 Today, only 65,000 U.S. troops remain permanently based in Europe.53

The U.S. is on pace to have only 17 main operating bases left on the continent,54 primarily in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Spain. The number of U.S. installations in Europe has declined steadily since the Cold War when, for example, in 1990, the U.S. Army alone had more than 850 sites in Europe. Today, the total number for all services is approximately 350. In January 2015, the Department of Defense announced the outcome of its European Infrastructure Consolidation review, which will see the closure of 15 minor sites across Europe.55
The U.S. has three different types of military installations in the European Command’s (EUCOM)area of responsibility:

  • Main operating bases are the large U.S. military installations with a relatively large number of permanently based troops and well-established infrastructure.
  • Forward-operating sites are intended for rotational forces rather than permanently based forces. These installations tend to be scalable and adaptable depending on the circumstances.
  • Cooperative security locations have little or no permanent U.S. military presence and are usually maintained by contractor or host-nation support.

EUCOM’s stated mission is to conduct military operations, international military partnering, and interagency partnering to enhance transatlantic security and defend the United States as part of a forward defensive posture. EUCOM is supported by four service component commands and one subordinate unified command: U.S. Naval Forces Europe (NAVEUR); U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR); U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE); U.S. Marine Forces Europe (MARFOREUR); and U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR).

U.S. Naval Forces Europe. NAVEUR is responsible for providing overall command, operational control, and coordination for maritime assets in the EUCOM and Africa Command (AFRICOM) areas of responsibility. This includes more than 20 million square nautical miles of ocean and more than 67 percent of the Earth’s coastline.

This command is currently provided by the U.S. Sixth Fleet based in Naples and brings critical U.S. maritime combat capability to an important region of the world. Some of the more notable U.S. naval bases in Europe include the Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy; the Naval Support Activity Base in Souda Bay, Greece; and the Naval Station at Rota, Spain. Naval Station Rota will soon be home to four capable Aegis-equipped destroyers. In addition, the USS Mount Whitney, a Blue Ridge-class command ship, is permanently based in the region. This ship provides a key command-and-control platform, which was successfully employed during the early days of the recent Libyan operation.

The U.S. Navy also keeps a number of submarines in the area that contribute to EUCOM’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capacities. The British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, for example, frequently hosts U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. Docking U.S. nuclear-powered submarines in Spain is problematic and bureaucratic, making access to Gibraltar’s Z berths vital. Gibraltar is the best place in the Mediterranean to carry out repair work. Strong U.S.–U.K. military cooperation assists the U.S. in keeping submarine assets integrated into the European theater. The U.S. Navy also has a fleet of P-3 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and EP-3 Reconnaissance Aircraft operating from U.S. bases in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Turkey. They complement the ISR capabilities of U.S. submarines.

U.S. Army Europe. USAREUR was established in 1952. Then, like today, the U.S. Army formed the bulk of U.S. forces in Europe. At the height of the Cold War, 277,000 soldiers and thousands of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and tactical nuclear weapons were positioned at the Army’s European bases. USAREUR also contributed to U.S. operations in the broader region, such as the U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1985, when it deployed 8,000 soldiers for four months from bases in Europe. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, USAREUR continued to play a vital role in promoting U.S. interests in the region, especially in the Balkans.

USAREUR is headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany. The core of USAREUR is formed around two BCTs and an aviation brigade located in Germany and Italy. In addition, the U.S. Army’s 21st Theater Sustainment Command has helped the U.S. military presence in Europe to become an important logistics hub in support of Central Command.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe. USAFE provides a forward-based air capability that can support a wide range of contingency operations ranging from direct combat operations in Afghanistan and Libya to humanitarian assistance in Tunisia and Israel. USAFE originated as the 8th Air Force in 1942 and flew strategic bombing missions over the European continent during World War II. In August 1945, the 8th Air Force was redesignated USAFE with 17,000 airplanes and 450,000 personnel.


U.S. Bases in Europe Provide Support Beyond Region


Today, USAFE has seven main operating bases along with 114 geographically separated locations.56 The main operating bases are the RAF bases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall in the U.K.; Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases in Germany, Lajes Field in the Azores, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and Aviano Air Base in Italy. As part of the European Infrastructure Consolidation process, RAF Mildenhall, which houses KC-135 Stratotankers and 3,900 American military personnel, is expected to close in the next few years. By 2020, RAF Lakenheath will be the home of two squadrons of F-35s, making it the first location in Europe for the USAF’s new fighter jets.57 Approximately 39,000 active-duty, reserve, and civilian personnel are assigned to USAFE.58

U.S. Marine Forces Europe. MARFOREUR was established in 1980. It was originally a “designate” component command, meaning that it was only a shell during peacetime but could bolster its forces during wartime. Its initial staff was 40 personnel based in London. By 1989, it had more than 180 Marines in 45 separate locations in 19 countries throughout the European theater. Today, the command is based in Boeblingen, Germany, and has approximately 1,500 Marines assigned to support EUCOM, NATO, and other operations, such as Operation Enduring Freedom.59 It was also dual-hatted as the Marine Corps Forces, Africa (MARFORAF) under Africa Command in 2008.

In the past, MARFOREUR has supported U.S. Marine units deployed in the Balkans and the Middle East. MARFOREUR also supports the Norway Air Landed Marine Air Ground Task Force, the Marine Corps’ only land-based prepositioned stock. The Marine Corps has enough prepositioned stock in Norway to support a force of 13,000 Marines for 30 days, and the Norwegian government covers half of the costs of the prepositioned storage. The prepositioned stock’s proximity to the Arctic region makes it of particular geostrategic importance.

Crucially, MARFOREUR provides the U.S. with rapid reaction capability to protect U.S. embassies in North Africa. The Special-Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa (SPMAGTF) is currently located in Spain, Italy, and Romania and provides a response force of 1,550 Marines.60 Spain recently agreed to allow the U.S. Marine Corps to station up to 3,000 Marines permanently at Morón Air Base.61 This has been particularly important since the tragic events of September 2013 when the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others were killed in Benghazi and due to the rise of the Islamic State terrorists in North Africa.

U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. SOCEUR is the only subordinate unified command under EUCOM. Its origins are in the Support Operations Command Europe, and it was initially based in Paris. This headquarters provided peacetime planning and operational control of special operations forces during unconventional warfare in EUCOM’s area of responsibility. In 1955, the headquarters was reconfigured as a joint task force, and it was renamed Support Operations Task Force Europe (SOTFE) and later Special Operations Task Force Europe. When French President Charles de Gaulle forced American troops out of France in 1966, SOTFE relocated to its current headquarters in Panzer Kaserne near Stuttgart, Germany, in 1967. It also operates out of RAF Mildenhall. In 1982, it was redesignated for a fourth time as U.S. Special Operations Command Europe.

Due to the sensitive nature of special operations, publicly available information is scarce. However, it has been documented that SOCEUR elements participated in various capacity-building missions and civilian evacuation operations in Africa; took an active role in the Balkans in the mid-1990s and in combat operations in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and, most recently, supported AFRICOM’s Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. SOCEUR also plays an important role in joint training with European allies; since June 2014, it has maintained an almost continuous presence in the Baltic States and Poland in order to train special operations forces in those countries.62

EUCOM has played an important role in supporting other combatant commands, such as CENTCOM and AFRICOM. Out of the 65,000 U.S. troops based in Europe, almost 10,000 are there to support other combatant commands. The facilities available in EUCOM allowed the U.S. to play a leading role in combating Ebola in western Africa during the 2014 outbreak.

In addition to CENTCOM and AFRICOM, U.S. troops in Europe have worked closely with U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) to implement Department of Defense cyber policy in Europe and to bolster the cyber defense capabilities of America’s European partners. This work has included hosting a number of cyber-related conferences and joint exercises with European partners.

In the past year, there have been significant advancements in improving cyber security in Europe. EUCOM’s first Cyber Combat Mission Team (CMT) and Cyber Protection Team (CPT) recently reached initial operational capability. These teams will provide the U.S. with new capabilities to protect systems, information, and infrastructure.63EUCOM has also supported CYBERCOM’s work inside NATO by becoming a full member in the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia.

NATO’s cyber defense capability is only as strong as its weakest member state. Considering that NATO members Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and NATO allies Georgia and Ukraine have been targeted by cyber attacks, U.S. interests are best served by ensuring that EUCOM and CYBERCOM work closely with NATO on this issue.

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe

In addition to the French and British nuclear capabilities, the U.S. maintains tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Until the end of the Cold War, the U.S. is believed to have maintained around 2,500 nuclear warheads in Europe. Unofficial estimates put the current figure at between 150 and 200 warheads based in Italy, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.64 All of these weapons are free-fall gravity bombs designed for use with U.S. and allied dual-capable aircraft.

Russia remains a potent nuclear weapons power—a fact that should concern both the U.S. and Europe. Encouraged by the Obama Administration’s policy of reducing the U.S. nuclear weapons inventory, some in NATO have suggested that American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are a Cold War anachronism and should be removed from the continent. Inside the alliance, there has been an ongoing debate on the future of these weapons. This debate has been carried out under the auspices of NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR).

The U.S. needs to ensure that tactical nuclear weapons remain part of the alliance’s nuclear strategy—an important and often overlooked part of alliance burden sharing. As the 2014 NATO Wales Summit Declaration stated:

Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional, and missile defence capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. The strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States, are the supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies. The independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France have a deterrent role of their own and contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the Alliance.65

Key Infrastructure and Warfighting Capabilities

Perhaps one of the major advantages to having U.S. forces in Europe is the access it provides to logistical infrastructure. For example, EUCOM supports the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) with its array of airbases and access to ports throughout Europe.

EUCOM supported TRANSCOM with work on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which supplied U.S. troops in Afghanistan during major combat operations there. For example, in 2011, when the security situation in Pakistan did not allow passage for NATO supplies, EUCOM’s Deployment and Distribution Operations Center moved 21,574 containers and 32,206 tons of equipment through Europe to Afghanistan over the NDN. EUCOM could not support these TRANSCOM initiatives without the infrastructure and relationships established by the permanent U.S. military presence in Europe.

Europe is a mature and advanced operating environment. America’s decades-long presence in Europe means that the U.S. has tried and tested systems that involve moving large numbers of matériel and personnel into, inside, and out of the continent. This offers an operating environment second to none in terms of logistical capability. For example, there are more than 166,000 miles of rail line in Europe (not including Russia), and an estimated 90 percent of roads in Europe are paved. The U.S. enjoys access to a wide array of airfields and ports. Major ports the U.S. military uses in Europe include Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Bremerhaven, Germany; and Livorno, Italy. The Rhine River also offers access into the heartland of Europe. As mentioned earlier, the U.S. also operates or has access to a number of key airfields across the continent.

More often than not, the security interests of the United States will coincide with those of its European allies. This means that access to bases and logistical infrastructure is usually guaranteed. However, there have been times when certain European countries have not allowed access to their territory for U.S. military operations.

In 1986, U.S. intelligence connected the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in West Germany to the Libyan government and responded with an air strike. Consequently, on April 15, 1986, the U.S. Air Force in Europe struck a number of Libyan military assets in retaliation. Because France, Spain, and Italy prohibited use of their airspace due to domestic political concerns, the U.S. aircraft flew around the Iberian Peninsula, which required multiple in-flight refuelings.66

In 2003, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Turkish Parliament voted to prevent the U.S. from using Turkish territory to open a northern front. Thankfully, the U.S. had access to excellent logistical infrastructure in Italy. The 173rd Airborne Brigade had moved all of its equipment by rail to the port of Livorno for movement to Kuwait by sea. Despite the Turkish decision to refuse use of its country for offensive operations, the brigade was still able to move it all back rapidly by rail to Aviano Air Base so that it could be parachuted into Northern Iraq.

Some of the world’s most important shipping lanes are also in the European region. In fact, the world’s busiest shipping lane is the English Channel, through which 500 ships a day transit, not including small boats and pleasure craft. Approximately 90 percent of the world’s trade travels by sea. With the high volume of maritime traffic in the European region, no U.S. or NATO military operation can be undertaken without consideration of how these shipping lanes offer opportunity—and risk—to America and her allies. In addition to the English Channel, other important shipping routes in Europe include the Strait of Gibraltar; the Turkish Straits (including the Dardanelles and the Bosporus); the Northern Sea Route; and the Danish Straits.

Strait of Gibraltar. The Strait of Gibraltar connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean and separates North Africa from Gibraltar and Spain on the southernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula. The strait is about 40 miles long and approximately eight miles wide at its narrowest point. More than 200 cargo vessels pass through the Strait of Gibraltar every day, carrying cargoes to Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

The strait’s proximity to North Africa, combined with its narrowness, has presented security challenges for U.S. and allied warships. In 2002, Moroccan security forces foiled a plot by al-Qaeda to attack U.S. and U.K. naval ships in the Strait of Gibraltar using the same tactics that had been used in the USS Cole attack. A 2014 article in the al-Qaeda English-language publication Resurgence urged attacks in oil tankers and cargo ships crossing the Strait of Gibraltar as a way to cause “phenomenal” damage to the world economy.67

The Turkish Straits (including the Dardanelles and the Bosporus). These straits are long and narrow—40 and 16 miles long, respectively, with the narrowest point in the Bosporus, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, only 765 yards in width. Approximately 46,000 ships each year transit the strait, including more than 5,600 tankers.68

The 1936 Montreux Convention gave Turkey control of the Bosporus and placed limitations on the number, transit time, and tonnage of naval ships from non–Black Sea countries that can use the strait and operate in the Black Sea.69 This places limitations on U.S. Navy operation in the Black Sea. However, even with these limitations, the U.S. Navy had a presence on the Black Sea for 207 days in 2014.70

The Northern Sea Route. As ice dissipates during the summer months, new shipping lanes offer additional trade opportunities in the Arctic. As mentioned earlier, the Northern Sea Route along the Russian coast reduces a trip from Hamburg to Shanghai by almost 4,000 miles, cuts a week off delivery times, and saves approximately $650,000 in fuel costs per ship. However, the full potential of the Northern Sea Route lies far in the future. In 2013, only 71 ships made the journey.71

The Danish Straits. Consisting of three channels connecting the Baltic Sea to the North Sea via the Kattegat and Skagerrak seas, the Danish Straits are particularly important to the Baltic Sea nations as a way to import and export goods. This is especially true for Russia, which has increasingly been shifting its crude oil exports to Europe through its Baltic ports.72 Approximately 125,000 ships per year transit these straits.73

The biggest danger to infrastructure assets in Europe pertains to any potential NATO conflict with Russia in one or more of NATO’s eastern states. In such a scenario, infrastructure would be heavily targeted in order to deny or delay the alliance’s ability to move significant manpower, matériel, and equipment necessary to retake any territory lost during an initial attack. In such a scenario, the shortcomings of NATO’s force posture would become obvious.


Overall, the European region remains a stable, mature, and friendly operating environment. The main security and political challenges in the region derive from unfinished business in the Balkans or potential threats on Europe’s periphery in the Southern Caucasus and Russia. The Arctic remains peaceful, and the threat of armed conflict is low, but Russian designs on the region might someday threaten its stability.

America’s closest and oldest allies are located in Europe. The region is incredibly important to the U.S. for economic reasons. Perhaps most important, the U.S. has treaty obligations through NATO to defend the 26 European members of that alliance. This is especially important as Russia becomes more assertive in Central and Eastern Europe, increasingly utilizing economic, political, and diplomatic means in addition to military power to assert itself.

The biggest challenges facing the U.S. in the European region do not come from inside Europe but from around Europe. From North Africa, across the Levant, through the Caucasus and Russia, and into the Arctic, there is a region of unpredictability if not instability. These threats have potential to spill over into Europe itself. If the U.S. needs to act in the European region or nearby, there is a history of interoperability with allies and access to key logistical infrastructure that makes the operating environment in Europe more favorable than the environment in other regions in which U.S. forces might have to operate. However, the European nations’ diminishment of their military forces poses a substantial threat to all of this. NATO is only as strong as its member states, and while some have taken steps to increase defense spending, the situation remains a source of concern, especially in light of U.S. defense cuts.

Scoring the European Operating Environment

As noted at the beginning of this section, there are various aspects of regions within which the U.S. may have to conduct military operations to defend its vital national interests against threats. Our assessment of the operating environment utilized a five-point scale, ranging from “very poor” to “excellent” conditions and covering four regional characteristics of greatest relevance to the conduct of military operations:

  1. Very Poor. Significant hurdles exist for military operations. Physical infrastructure is insufficient or nonexistent, and the region is politically unstable. In addition, the U.S. military is poorly placed or absent, and alliances are nonexistent or diffuse.
  2. Unfavorable. A challenging operating environment for military operations is marked by inadequate infrastructure, weak alliances, and recurring political instability. The U.S. military is inadequately placed in the region.
  3. Moderate. A neutral to moderately favorable operating environment is characterized by adequate infrastructure, a moderate alliance structure, and acceptable levels of regional political stability. The U.S. military is adequately placed.
  4. Favorable. A favorable operating environment includes good infrastructure, strong alliances, and a stable political environment. The U.S. military is well placed in the region for future operations.
  5. Excellent. An extremely favorable operating environment includes well-established and -maintained infrastructure, strong capable allies, and a stable political environment. The U.S. military is exceptionally well placed to defend U.S. interests.

The key regional characteristics consisted of:

    1. Alliances. Alliances are important for interoperability and collective defense as allies would be more likely to lend support to U.S. military operations. Various indicators give insight into the strength or health of an alliance. These include whether the U.S. trains regularly with countries in the region, has good interoperability with the forces of an ally, and shares intelligence with nations in the region.
    2. Political Stability. Political stability brings predictability for military planners when considering such things as transit, basing, and overflight rights for U.S. military operations. The overall degree of political stability indicates whether U.S. military actions would be hindered or enabled and considers, for example, whether transfers of power in the region are generally peaceful and whether there been any recent instances of political instability in the region.
    3. U.S. Military Positioning. Having military forces based or equipment and supplies staged in a region greatly facilitates the United States’ ability to respond to crises and, presumably, more quickly achieve successes in critical “first battles.” Being routinely present in a region also assists in maintaining familiarity with its characteristics and the various actors who might act to assist or thwart U.S. actions. With this in mind, we assessed whether or not the U.S. military was well-positioned in the region. Again, indicators included bases, troop presence, prepositioned equipment, and recent examples of military operations (including training and humanitarian) launched from the region.
    4. Infrastructure. Modern, reliable, and suitable infrastructure is essential to military operations. Airfields, ports, rail lines, canals, and paved roads enable the U.S. to stage, launch operations from, and logistically sustain combat operations. We combined expert knowledge of regions with publicly available information on critical infrastructure to arrive at our overall assessment of this metric.74

For Europe, we arrived at these average scores (rounded to the nearest whole number):

  • Alliances: 3.6 (4) – Favorable
  • Political Stability: 4.2 (4) – Favorable
  • U.S. Military Positioning: 2.8 (3) – Moderate
  • Infrastructure: 4.2 (4) – Favorable 

Leading to a regional score of: Favorable

Operating Environment for U.S. Forces in Europe


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  2. Terry Miller and Anthony B. Kim with James M. Roberts, Bryan Riley, and Ryan Olson, 2015 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington: The Heritage Foundation and Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 2015), pp. 369–370.  

  3. Trude Pettersen, “Northern Sea Route Traffic Plummeted,” Barents Observer, December 16, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  4. The four NATO members are the U.S., Canada, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland). The non-NATO Arctic sea power is Russia.  

  5. News release, “January 2015: Euro Area Unemployment Rate at11.2%, EU28 at 9.8 %,” Eurostat, March 2, 2015, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

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  23. Rick Noack, “Germany’s Army Is So Under-equipped That It Used Broomsticks Instead of Machine Guns,” The Washington Post, February 19, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  24. Ibid.  

  25. Luke Hurst, “Germany ‘Can’t Explain’ Use of Broomsticks Instead of Guns in NATO Exercise,” Newsweek, February 19, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  26. Deutsche Welle, “Germany’s von der Leyen Admits Major Bundeswehr Shortfalls,”, September 27, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  27. The Local, “US Nuclear Bombs Will Remain in Germany,” September 5, 2012,
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  30. Till Rimmele, “German Advisers Train Kurdish Troops with Battle Rifles,” War Is Boring, February 7, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  31. Ibid.  

  32. Agence France-Presse, “Germany to Send 500 Troops to Drill in Lithuania,” DefenseNews, March 17, 2015, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  33. Sam Jones, “Nato Spending Promises Largely Ignored,” Financial Times, February 26, 2015, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  34. Giovanni de Briganti, “France to Sell, Lease Back Major Weapons to Raise Cash for Defense,” , February 11, 2015.,-leaseback-of-major-kit-to-raise-cash.html (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  35. RFI, “Last French Troops Handover in Afghanistan,” December 31, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  36. Agence France-Presse, “French Aircraft Carrier Joins Anti-Isis Mission in Gulf,” The Guardian, February 23, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  37. AIRheadsFLY, “French Aircraft Carrier Stats Ops Over Iraq,” February 23, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  38. Jeremy Bender, “France’s Military Is All Over Africa,” Business Insider, January 22, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  39. French Ministry of Defense, “Les forces françaises stationnées à Djibouti,” August 23, 2012, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  40. Eric Schmitt, “Leading Role for France as Africa Battles Back,” The New York Times, March 15, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  41. Reuters, “France Starts Pulling Troops from Central African Republic,” Voice of America, December 4, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  42. Liesl Louw-Vaudran, “Africa ‘Ready’ to Fight Its Own Battles,” Mail & Guardian, December 19, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  43. Agence France-Presse, “Nuclear Deterrent Important in ‘Dangerous World’, Says Hollande,” February 19, 2015, (accessed May 9, 2015).  

  44. Dorothée Fouchaux, “French Hard Power: Living on the Strategic Edge,” American Enterprise Institute National Security Outlook No. 1,
    February 4, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  45. Ibid.  

  46. Agence France-Presse, “France, Russia Negotiating Deal on Mistrals,” April 19, 2015,
    (accessed June 22, 2015).  

  47. Agence France-Presse, “France’s Second Russian-bought Warship Tested at Sea,” March 16, 2015, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  48. Agence France-Presse, “France Signs Deal with Egypt for Export of Jets,” February 16, 2015,
    (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  49. Interview of Lady Thatcher, The Margaret Thatcher Foundation, January 8, 1990, (accessed September 16, 2015).  

  50. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2015: The Annual Assessment of Global Military Capabilities and Defence Economics (London: Routledge, 2015), pp. 157–158.  

  51. Tulay Karadeniz, “Turkey Eyes Deal with China on Missile Defense Despite NATO Concern,” Reuters, February 18, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  52. Statement of General Philip Breedlove, Commander, U.S. Forces Europe, before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives, February 25, 2015, p. 3, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  53. Ibid.  

  54. Statement of General Philip Breedlove before Senate Committee on Armed Services, April 1, 2014.  

  55. News release, “DoD Announces European Infrastructure Consolidation Actions and F-35 Basing in Europe,” U.S. Department of Defense, January 8, 2015, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  56. United States European Command, “U.S. Air Forces in Europe,”
    (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  57. Tony Osborne, “USAF Names RAF Lakenheath as F-35A Base, Unveils Closures,” Aviation Week, January 8, 2015, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  58. United States Air Force, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, “Units,” (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  59. United States Marine Corps, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, “History of United States Marine Corps Forces, Europe,” (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  60. James Sanborn, “Lejeune Marines Deploy to Support European, African Ops,” Marine Corps Times, January 27, 2015, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  61. “Spain Makes US Rapid Force at Morón Base Permanent,” Stars and Stripes, May 29, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2015).  

  62. Statement of General Philip Breedlove before House Committee on Armed Services, February 25, 2015. 

  63. Ibid. 

  64. Malcolm Chalmers and Simon Lunn, “NATO’s Tactical Nuclear Dilemma,” Royal United Services Institute Occasional Paper, March 2010, p. 1, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  65. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “Wales Summit Declaration,” September 5, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  66. Jaglavak Military, “Operation El Dorado Canyon 1986 Libya,” YouTube video, September 16, 2008, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  67. James Fielding, “EXCLUSIVE: Al Qaeda Targets Oil Tankers in Gibraltar,” Express, October 26, 2014, (accessed March 19, 2015).  

  68. Bosphorus Strait News, “Yearly Ship Statistics of Bosphorus Strait—2013,” March 13, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  69. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “World Oil Transit Chokepoints,” August 22, 2012, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  70. Joshua Kucera, “U.S. Navy Keeps Up Steady Black Sea Presence, Russia Keeps Watching,” EurasiaNet, February 10, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  71. Trude Pettersen, “Fifty Percent Increase on Northern Sea Route,” Barents Observer, December 3, 2013, (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  72. U.S. Department of Energy, “World Oil Transit Chokepoints.”  

  73. Danish Defence, “Facts & Figures,” September 18, 2014,
    (accessed March 18, 2015).  

  74. One example of a very accessible database is World Bank, “Logistics Performance Index: Quality of Trade and Transport-Related Infrastructure (1=Low to 5=High),” (accessed March 18, 2015).