The resurgence of Russia, brought into starkest relief in Ukraine, 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 with some force after a decade of attempted disengagement. It is clear why the region matters to the U.S. The 51 countries in the 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.

America’s economic ties to the region 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 both Europe and the U.S. For more than 70 years, the U.S. military presence in Europe has contributed to European stability, economically benefiting both Europeans and Americans. The economies of the 28 (soon to be 271) member states of the European Union (EU), along with the United States, account for approximately half of the global economy. The U.S. and the members of the 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. From the eastern Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East and up to the Caucasus through Russia and into the Arctic, an arc of instability is increasingly unsettled by demographic pressures, rising 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. 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 2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength identified the Arctic as an important operating environment in Europe. This has not changed in the 2017 edition. If anything, tension continues to increase 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. 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 its 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 that the figure in 2013 was slightly in excess of 4 million,2 making the Arctic’s population slightly bigger than Oregon’s and slightly smaller than Kentucky’s. Approximately half of the Arctic population lives in Russia, which is ranked 153rd out of 178 countries in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom.3

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 exploration for natural resources. 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 2015, a total of 18 ships4 made the journey over the top of Russia (compared with the more than 17,000 that transited the Suez Canal) and carried only 39,586 tons of cargo.5 By comparison, in 2013, 71 vessels carrying a total of 1,355,000 tons of cargo shipped along the route, indicating the unpredictability of future shipping trends in the Arctic.6

In June 2015, Russia adopted an Integrated Development Plan for the Northern Sea Route 2015–2030. The plan outlines expectations that NSR shipping volume will reach 80 million tons by 2030.7 However, the current reality casts doubt on these projections.

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.8

Threats to Internal Stability. In recent years, Europe has faced turmoil and instability brought about by economic uncertainty, epitomized by the ongoing sovereign debt crisis in Europe’s southern countries. Recently, a large influx of migrants and the continued threat from terrorism have added more instability points to Europe.

Economically, 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. Underperforming countries have not made the structural reforms needed for long-term adjustment.

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. In a June 2016 referendum on EU membership, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. In April 2016, Dutch voters voted against approving an EU–Ukraine Association agreement in a countrywide referendum, largely seen as a protest vote against the EU. Dissatisfaction with the EU affects France and Germany as well. According to a 2016 Pew Poll, only 38 percent of people in France have a favorable view of the EU; in 2004, 69 percent did. In Germany, only half of Germans have a favorable view of the EU.9

In 2015, the Eurozone grew by 1.7 percent,10 only a marginal improvement over 2014 growth rates. Relatively meager economic growth translated into small job gains, but unemployment remains an albatross around the neck of many European nations. Unemployment across the 19-country bloc stands at 10.1 percent, the lowest rate since July 2011 but still stubbornly high.11 At 23.3 percent, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the EU; Spain has an unemployment rate of 19.9 percent.12 Youth unemployment in the eurozone is 20.8 percent but reaches 47.4 percent in Greece, 45.8 percent in Spain, 36.5 percent in Italy, and 30.1 percent in Croatia.13

The potential impact of this 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, made worse by a large influx of migrants, could spill over to other places in southeastern Europe—already one of Europe’s most unstable regions. 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 continue to decline.

The economic situation 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 a large-scale migrant crisis. Conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well as open-door policies adopted by several European nations—importantly, Germany and Sweden in 2015—have led large numbers of refugees from across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to travel to Europe in search of safety, economic opportunity, and a better life in Europe’s most generous welfare states.

The European Union’s Frontex border agency documented 1,820,000 detections of illegal border crossings along the external borders of the EU in 2015.14 The real number is far higher. The migrant crisis and the response of European governments have led in part to some increased instability, have buoyed fringe political parties in some European nations, and already have imposed financial, security, and societal costs on the continent.

For example, one study found that the cost in Germany to house, provide benefits for, and work to assimilate migrants will equal €50 billion by 2017.15 Greece expects to spend €600 million, 0.3 percent of its GDP, on the migrant crisis in 2016.16 In April 2016, Sweden’s Finance Ministry announced projections that the migrant crisis will cost the nation €6.1 billion yearly until 2020.17 In an era of fiscal austerity and tight budgets, the unexpected and generational cost of this migrant crisis will affect European budgets for decades.

The migrant crisis has had a direct impact on NATO resources as well. In February 2016, Germany, Greece, and Turkey requested NATO assistance against illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean Sea.18 That month, NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2 deployed to the Aegean to conduct surveillance, monitoring, and reconnaissance of smuggling activities, and the intelligence gathered was sent on to Greek and Turkish coast guards and to Frontex.19 In February 2016, former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General Philip Breedlove accused Russia of using migrants as a weapon against Europe.20

Finally, Europe has suffered a string of terrorist attacks, many of them Islamist inspired, including attacks in Belgium, France, Germany, and Turkey during the past year alone. While terrorist attacks do not pose an existential threat to Europe, they do affect security by increasing instability, and forcing nations to spend more manpower and financial resources on counterterrorism activities.

Following attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, for example, France launched Operation Sentinelle, utilizing French soldiers to guard 682 sensitive tourist attractions, schools, and religious institutions.21Following multiple terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, President Francois Hollande increased the number of troops taking part in Operation Sentinelle to 10,000.22 Of the French military deployed for military operations, half have been deployed domestically to guard against terrorist attacks.23 The deployment is reportedly having a deleterious impact both on morale among soldiers and on readiness.24 In addition to manpower strains, Operation Sentinelle costs France $1.06 million a day,25 and early estimates from the French Treasury suggest that terrorism will ultimately cost the French economy $2.1 billion.26

In addition, Belgium deployed over 500 soldiers to its streets to guard against terrorist attacks following the November attacks in Paris.27 In February 2015, Italy deployed 4,800 soldiers domestically to guard against terrorist attacks.28 There has even been a discussion in Germany of allowing for greater deployment of the German Bundeswehr to guard against terrorist attacks. Under the current German constitution, the army can be deployed domestically only “in cases of national emergency.”29

The migrant crisis in Europe has exacerbated the threat from terrorism. General Breedlove testified in March 2016 that “what we have seen growing in the past months and year is that in that flow of refugees we see criminality, terrorism and foreign fighters.”30 James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, testified similarly in February 2016 that ISIS is “taking advantage of the torrent of migrants to insert operatives into that flow. As well, they also have available to them and are pretty skilled at phony passports so they can travel ostensibly as legitimate travelers as well.”31

While terrorism in Europe may undermine U.S. allies by siphoning financial and military resources toward counterterrorism operations, it also can jeopardize the safety of U.S. servicemembers, their families, and U.S. facilities overseas. In April 2016, for example, an ISIS sympathizer was convicted in the U.K. of planning to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. military personnel stationed in the U.K.32

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 sits at a crucial geographical and cultural crossroads that for centuries has proven to be strategically important, both militarily and economically; 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.33

In July 2015, Russia took de facto control of a 1.6-kilometer section of the British Petroleum–operated Baku–Supsa pipeline when it moved border markers from Russian-controlled South Ossetia 300 meters (980 feet) further south. Russia’s creeping annexation in Georgia has expanded its territorial control in the nation and placed border markers within close range of Georgia’s main highway linking Azerbaijan and the Black Sea.34

Georgia has been a strong partner of NATO and the U.S. It retains 861 troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, the third-largest contribution after the U.S. and Germany,35 and also trains with NATO nations. In May 2016, 650 U.S. soldiers, 150 from the U.K., and 500 Georgians took part in training exercise Noble Partner in Georgia.36 Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli described Noble Partner as “one of the biggest exercises that our country has ever hosted…the biggest number of troops on the ground, and the largest concentration of military equipment.”37

Important Alliances and 
Bilateral Relations in Europe

The United States has a number of important multilateral and bilateral relationships in Europe. First and foremost 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. In the 1990s, NATO launched security and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans when the EU was unable to act. Since 2002, it has been engaged in Afghanistan, counterpiracy operations off the Horn of Africa, an intervention in Libya that led to the toppling of Muammar Qadhafi, and (most recently) efforts to stop illicit trafficking in people, drugs, weapons, and other contraband in the Mediterranean.

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 defense.

Today, many NATO countries 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 is seen as a threat to their existence.

The broad threat that Russia poses to Europe’s common interests makes military-to-military cooperation, interoperability, and overall preparedness for joint warfighting 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 familiarity with allied warfighting capabilities, doctrines, and operational methods.

Following the 2014 Wales summit, NATO announced its intent to create a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), “a new Allied joint force that will be able to deploy within a few days to respond to challenges that arise, particularly at the periphery of NATO’s territory.”38 However, mustering the 5,000-strong force has proven to be difficult.39 In addition, NATO reportedly believes the VJFT would be too vulnerable during its deployment phase to be utilized in Poland or the Baltics.40 At the Warsaw summit in July 2016, NATO agreed to an enhanced forward presence of one rotational battalion in each of the Baltic States and Poland, beginning in 2017. Canada, Germany, the U.S., and the UK have promised to serve as framework nations for the battalions.

For its part, in June 2014, the U.S. announced a $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) meant to bolster transatlantic security. For fiscal year (FY) 2017, the U.S. proposed an increase in ERI funding to $3.4 billion. A portion of the funding was set aside to “increase exercises, training, and rotational presence across Europe but especially on the territory of our newer allies.”41 Additional funding for training exercises constituted $40.6 million of ERI funding in FY 2015, increased to $108.4 million in FY 2016, and is anticipated to increase to $163 million in FY 2017.42 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 priorities—a fact that did not escape the attention of NATO allies, with the Poles dismissing it as “insufficient.”43

There also are non-military threats to the territorial integrity of NATO countries that the alliance has only recently begun to find ways to address. The most likely threat to the Baltic States, for example, may come not from Russian tanks rolling into a country but from Russian money, propaganda, and establishment of pro-Russia NGOs and other advocacy groups—all of which can be leveraged to undermine the state. Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine have proven how effective these asymmetrical methods can be in 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 America’s allies in Europe and National Guard units back in the U.S. In a time when most American servicemembers do not recall World War II or the Cold War, cementing bonds with allies in Europe becomes a vital task. Currently, 22 nations in Europe have a state partner in the U.S. National Guard.44

General Breedlove has described NATO forces as being “at a pinnacle of interoperability.” But he also has cautioned that if NATO is 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.”45

In 2014, the U.S. launched Operation Atlantic Resolve, a series of continuous exercises meant to reassure U.S. allies in Europe, particularly those bordering Russia. Operation Atlantic Resolve included among other initiatives 150 troops temporarily deployed to the Baltic States and Poland for training exercises.46 The troops were members of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy and Germany.47 There have been some reports that U.S. soldiers stationed in the Baltics have been on the receiving end of “intimidatory approaches” from Russian intelligence officers.48 In March 2015, a U.S. convoy of 600 soldiers and 120 vehicles, including Strykers, took part in a 1,100-mile “Dragoon Ride” across the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland before returning to base in Vilseck, Germany.49

The naval component of Operation Atlantic Resolve has consisted in part of increased deployments of U.S. ships to the Baltic and Black Seas. Additionally, the Navy has taken part in bilateral and NATO exercises. For example, BALTOPS 2015 was a 15-day exercise across the Baltic Sea region that involved 5,600 troops from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.50

In addition to training with fellow NATO member states, the U.S., in conjunction with Canada, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom,51 has undertaken a program to train five Ukrainian army battalions and an additional battalion of special operations forces52 at the Joint International Peacekeeping Security Center near Yavoriv, Ukraine. U.S. training for Ukrainian forces began with border and national guards but has expanded to include regular army units.53 Ukraine has received additional training from NATO members that includes counter-IED training, flight safety, military police, and medical training.54 In September 2015, the U.S. and Ukraine cohosted the multinational maritime exercise Sea Breeze 2015 in the Black Sea.55


Quality of Armed Forces in the Region

When it comes to effective international combined operations, , 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 Libya operation, for example, European countries were running out of munitions.56 More recently, munition stocks in the Netherlands are reported to have only five days’ worth of ammunition on hand.57

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 beyond their national borders.58

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.”59 Only a handful of NATO members can say that they are living up to their Article 3 commitment. In 2015, only five of 28 NATO member states (Estonia, Greece, Poland, the U.S., and the U.K.) spent the required 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. Recently, NATO total defense expenditures have moved in an upward direction. In 2016, the annual real change in defense outlays for Canada and European NATO members is estimated at 1.5 percent, a $3 billion increase.60 When cuts have occurred, they have been significantly less than in recent years. In 2015, 19 NATO members stopped cuts in defense spending, and 16 of those 19 also increased their defense spending in real terms.61

Nevertheless, the lack of overall investment in substantial amounts has caused even smaller campaigns like the 2011 operation in Libya to flounder. What began as a military operation inspired by France and Britain had to be absorbed quickly 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.62

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.63 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. Lack of naval investment is also problematic. Jamie Shea, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, stated in May 2016 that a “lack of ships” is a growing problem for the alliance.64This 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. In 2015, Germany announced plans to increase defense spending by 6.2 percent over five years.65 In 2016, its defense budget increased by €1.2 billion.66 The planned increase will raise the overall defense budget from €34.3 billion in 2016 to €39.2 billion by 2020.67 However, at 1.2 percent of GDP in 2015, German defense spending is still well below the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of GDP.68 Germany reportedly will focus increased defense euros “on cyber defense and naval capabilities as well as aerial surveillance.”69

The German military struggles with equipment that is in disrepair or short supply. In 2015, Germany spent only 13.3 percent of its defense budget on equipment,70 well below the 25 percent, 23.4 percent, and 26.1 percent spent by France, the U.K., and the U.S., respectively. The results of this underinvestment are evident. According to news descriptions of a Bundestag report, for example, only seven of 43 German naval helicopters are flightworthy, only one of four German submarines is operational, and only 70 of 80 GTK Boxer Armored Vehicles are fit for deployment.71

The air force faces similar challenges. In 2014, according to a parliamentary report, less than half of Germany’s fighter jets were ready for use,72 and in December 2015, a defense ministry report revealed that the situation had further deteriorated to the point where only 29 of 66 German Tornadoes were airworthy.73 Worse still, the Tornadoes currently flying surveillance missions over Iraq and Syria cannot “fly night missions because of a glare problem involving cockpit displays and pilots’ goggles.”74 Germany continues to utilize a 50-year-old transport plane because of a five-year delay in delivery of new Airbus A400M transports.75

In September 2015, the German government announced plans to phase out the army’s standard G36 rifle starting in 2019 after embarrassing reports that the G36 loses accuracy when sustaining fire in hot temperatures.76 Funding for equipment for the army, however, was increased by 8.4 percent in 2015.77

The German forces participating in a NATO training exercise in Norway substituted broomsticks for machine guns that they did not have.78 The units involved are assigned to the Spearhead force, which was created at the Wales summit as a key element in NATO’s response to Russian aggression against Ukraine.79 German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has admitted that Germany is currently unable to meet NATO’s readiness targets.80 In an especially embarrassing episode, German soldiers taking part in the Cold Response 2016 exercise in Norway in February and March 2016 had to leave early after 12 days because they had exceeded their overtime limits.81

The German army, buoyed by conscription, was 585,000 strong in 1990 at the end of the Cold War.82 Today, the Bundeswehr has only 177,000 members.83 Germany will add 7,000 new positions by 2023.84 The decision marks the first time since the end of the Cold War that the German army has added troops to its ranks. Additionally, civilian personnel in the army will rise from the current 56,000 to 60,400, an addition of 4,400 civilians on top of the 7,000 increase in soldiers.85 In May 2016, the German Defense Minister announced that the government would seek parliamentary approval to remove the 185,000-person cap for the Bundeswehr.86

Germany will spend 240 million euros to keep dual-capable Tornado aircraft, an important piece of NATO’s nuclear deterrent, flying until 2024.87 However, it is also cutting procurement and decommissioning certain specific capabilities, a burden 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.88

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.89 Germany has supplied weapons to Kurdish troops fighting ISIS in Iraq, including rifles and MILAN anti-tank guided missiles and Panzerfaust 3 rockets.90 In 2016, it also increased the number of trainers it has on the ground in Iraq, but they are not allowed to engage in offensive operations.91

Overall, Germany has been increasing its military participation abroad. As of December 2015, 2,696 German soldiers were deployed overseas.92 Included in this number are contributions to NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and NATO’s Operation Active Fence in Turkey.93 In early 2016, Germany also increased its troop contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan to 980 soldiers, the second-largest contribution after the U.S.94 Germany participates in the EU Training Mission in Mali and in 2016 sent an additional 500 soldiers to support the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.95 Germany has elected not to participate in the air campaign to bomb ISIS targets, although in 2016 it did send six Tornadoes to fly reconnaissance missions over Iraq and Syria, as well as a frigate to assist in protecting the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.96 From September 2015–January 2016, Germany contributed four Typhoons to Baltic Air Policing. It also has pledged 1,000 troops for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), the spearhead force created after the NATO Wales summit.97

Despite increased engagement overseas, however, Germany has pushed back against NATO efforts to base troops and heavy weapons permanently in Eastern Europe.98 Germany is hemmed in by a largely historical legacy of public reluctance to support stronger military engagement beyond its borders. A Bertelsmann Foundation poll in April 2016 found that only 31 percent of Germans would support sending German troops to defend the Baltic States or Poland from Russian attack.99 As a result, German military contributions to NATO remain limited. Budget increases are still modest, and with much more time and money needed to build 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 spent 1.8 percent of GDP on defense in 2015, spending a quarter of its defense budget on equipment (only Luxembourg, Poland, Turkey, and the U.S. spend a higher percentage on equipment).100 France had a defense budget of €31.4 billion in 2015; by 2019, the budget is expected to total €34 billion.101 While the country kept a NATO Wales summit commitment to protect defense from further budget cuts, its defense spending remains well below 2 percent of GDP. François Heisbourg has likened French defense spending under President Hollande and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy to “slow erosion, rather than severe cuts.”102

Despite this erosion, France maintains a competent, professional military with robust capabilities. France has a 209,000-strong active military force103 that includes 200 tanks; one aircraft carrier; 10 submarines, four of which are ballistic missile submarines; 202 combat aircraft; and 80 transport aircraft.104 France also remains politically and militarily dedicated to retaining an independent nuclear deterrent. Approximately one-fourth of France’s defense acquisition budget is spent on the nation’s nuclear deterrent.105 In February 2015, President 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.”106

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.107 In September 2014, France launched Operation Chammal, its 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.108 The Charles de Gaulle left the Persian Gulf in April 2015 but returned to the eastern Mediterranean in late November 2015 to strike targets in Syria.109 In September 2015, a year after the commencement of Operation Chammal, France launched its first air strikes against targets in Syria.110

France has 1,000 soldiers,111 one frigate, eight Mirage and six Rafale fighter jets, one air-to-air refueling plane, one AWACS, and one maritime patrol aircraft,112 in addition to the approximately 26 aircraft on the Charles De Gaulle, involved in operations against ISIS.113 In December 2015, a French commander aboard the Charles de Gaulle took command of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s Task Force 50, overseeing naval strike operations against ISIS.114 It was the first time a French officer had ever commanded a U.S. Navy task force.115

The French military is also active in Africa, particularly in countries where France maintains cultural and historical ties. France has over 3,000 troops, 17 helicopters, 200 tanks, and six fighter jets involved in anti-terrorism operations in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane.116 In 2016, France will end Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic (CAR), begun in 2013, but 300 of France’s 900 troops currently in the CAR will remain as part of the U.N. Peacekeeping mission and EU training mission there.117 France also continues to take part in the EU’s ATALANTA anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia and its own anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Guinea118 in addition to a host of smaller U.N. and EU peacekeeping and training missions in Africa and Lebanon.119

The French economy continues to sputter along, growing by 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016;120 an enormous debt hampers an economy in need of structural reforms. Many analysts believe that under the current reality, “it is unlikely that France will be able to return to sustained economic growth and thus broaden its budget base.”121 The lagging economy has put further pressure on investments in defense. However, in November, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, President Hollande announced that planned cuts in defense personnel will be deferred through 2019.122

The political and economic importance of the defense industry in France impedes deep defense cuts but does not prevent them altogether. The defense industry is so important, both in terms of cash flow to France’s coffers and to its prestige as a significant supplier of arms and advanced equipment, that the government waited months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to suspend indefinitely its delivery to Russia of two Mistral warships. The sale was finally cancelled in August 2015,123 and France sold the mistrals to Egypt.124 (The Egyptian navy is slated to take delivery of the mistrals by September 2016,125 and France is reported to have paid Russia $1.1 billion for cancellation of the sale.126) In February 2015, France signed a deal with Egypt to export 24 Rafale fighter jets, the first foreign order for the planes.127 In March 2016, Qatar and France signed a $7.5 billion deal for 24 Rafale jets and an undisclosed number of MBDA missiles, including training for 36 pilots and 100 mechanics.128 In April 2016, the French group DCNS won a contract from Australia to build 12 submarines worth an estimated €34 billion.129 According to the French defense industry group GIFAS, orders were 2.3 percent higher in 2015 than in 2014.130

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 the sharing of intelligence 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-U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made clear the essence of the Special Relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. when she first met then-U.S.S.R. President 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.”131

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. also 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 2015, the U.K. conducted a defense review, the results of which have driven a modest increase in defense spending and an effort to reverse some of the cuts that had been implemented pursuant to the previous review in 2010. Though its military is small in comparison to the militaries of France and Germany, the U.K. maintains the most effective armed forces in European NATO. In recent years, it has increased funding for its highly respected Special Forces. By 2020, the Royal Air Force (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. operates seven C-17 cargo planes and has started to bring the European A400M cargo aircraft into service after years of delays. The 2015 defense review recommended keeping 14 C-130Js in service even though they initially were going to be removed from the force structure. The Sentinel R1, an airborne battlefield and ground surveillance aircraft, originally was due to be removed from the force structure in 2015, but its service is being extended to at least 2025, and the U.K. will soon start operating the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. The U.S. and U.K. are in discussions with regard to filling the U.K.’s antisubmarine gap until the new P-8s come into service in 2019.132 In November 2015, a French maritime patrol aircraft had to assist the Royal Navy in searching for a Russian submarine off the coast of Scotland.133

The Royal Navy’s surface fleet is based on the new Type-45 Destroyer and the older Type-23 Frigate. The latter will be replaced by the Type-26 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. Two of her class will be built, and both will enter service. 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 (MCMVs) 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. In July 2016, the House of Commons voted to renew Trident, approving the manufacture of four replacement submarines. However, the replacement submarines are not expected to enter service until 2028 at the earliest.134

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, it continues to play an active role in the alliance, but not without challenges. A significant 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 the leadership of President 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.

On July 15, 2016, elements of the Turkish armed forces attempted a coup d’état against the increasingly Islamist-leaning leadership of President Erdogan. This was the fourth coup since 1960 (the fifth if one counts the so-called post-modern coup in 1997). In each previous case, the military had been successful, and democracy was returned to the people; in this case, however, Erdogan immediately enforced a state of emergency and cracked down on many aspects of government, the military, and civil society. Tens of thousands of civil servants, judges, and academics have been arrested, dismissed, or banned from international travel. Approximately one-third of all general officers in the Turkish military have been dismissed. Although all opposition parties condemned the coup attempt, the failed plot has enabled Erdogan to consolidate more power. His response to the coup has further eroded Turkey’s democracy, once considered a model for the region. Senior government officials’ erratic and at times hyperbolic statements alleging U.S. involvement in the coup, combined with Erdogan’s rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have brought U.S.–Turkish relations to an all-time low.

Notwithstanding the fallout from the coup, U.S. security interests in the region lend considerable importance to America’s relationship with Turkey . Turkey is home to Incirlik Air Base, a major U.S. and NATO air base. After an initial period of vacillation in dealing with the threat from the Islamic State, a spate of ISIS attacks that rocked the country has led Turkey to play a bigger role in attacking the terrorist group, and Turkey’s 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 also have 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 510,600-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.135

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 a 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.136 After increased pressure from NATO allies, Ankara opened parallel talks with Eurosam, the European maker of the Aster 30, and Raytheon/Lockheed Martin, the U.S. company offering the Patriot system. As of October 9, 2015, a final decision had not been made.

The challenge for U.S. and NATO policymakers will be to determine whether the aftermath of the coup represents a long-term shift in Turkey’s foreign policy or whether Erdogan’s leadership of Turkey is simply an anomaly in an otherwise constructive and fruitful security relationship that has lasted for decades.

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 countries contribute significantly to NATO in relative terms.

Estonia. Estonia has been a leader in the Baltics in terms of defense spending and is one of five NATO members to meet the 2 percent of GDP spending benchmark.137 Although the Estonian armed forces total only 5,750 active duty service personnel (including the army, navy, and air force),138 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 among all 28 NATO members. In 2015, Estonia reintroduced conscription for men ages 18–27, who must serve eight or 11 months before being added to the reserve rolls.139

Estonia has 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 beyond 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 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 5,310 of Latvia’s troops are full-time servicemembers; the remainder are reserves.140

Latvia’s 2012 Defense Concept is an ambitious document that charts a path to a bright future for the Latvian National Armed Forces if 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 2018,141 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. Latvia has continued to upgrade its ground-based air defense system, ordering seven new Sentinel radars from the U.S. in 2015.142

Lithuania. Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic States, and its armed forces total 16,400 active duty troops, an increase of 50 percent from the previous year.143 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, a notable contribution divided between a special operations mission alongside U.S. and Latvian Special Forces and 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 2018.144 In 2017, Lithuania plans to spend €725 million on defense, approximately 1.8 percent of GDP.145 In addition, Lithuania’s decision to build a liquefied natural gas import facility at Klaipėda has begun to pay dividends, breaking Russia’s natural gas monopoly in the region. In 2016, Norway will overtake Russia as the top exporter of natural gas to Lithuania.146

Poland. Situated in the center of Europe, Poland shares a border with four NATO allies, a long border with Belarus and Ukraine, and a 144-mile border with Russia alongside the Kaliningrad Oblast. Poland also has a 65-mile border with Lithuania, making it the only NATO member state that borders any of the Baltic States, and NATO’s contingency plans for liberating the Baltic States in the event of a Russian invasion are reported to rely heavily on Polish troops and ports.147 Poland has an active military force of almost 100,000,148 including a 48,000-strong army with 971 main battle tanks.149 Poland’s Defense Minister has declared that “we envisage a fundamental increase in the army, by at least 50 percent over the coming years, including the creation of three brigades for the territorial defense of the country on the eastern flank.”150

While Poland’s main focus is territorial defense, the country has 198 troops deployed in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.151 Additionally, Poland has discussed the possibility of sending F-16s to Syria to fly reconnaissance missions.152 Poland’s air force has taken part in Baltic Air Policing six times since 2006 and most recently in the first half of 2015. In April 2016, Poland and the remaining three Visigrád Group nations announced plans, starting in 2017, to begin rotating units of 150 soldiers to the Baltics for three months.153

Current U.S. Military Presence in Europe

Former head of U.S. European Command General Philip Breedlove has aptly described the role of U.S. basing in Europe:

The mature network of U.S. operated bases in the EUCOM AOR provides superb training and power projection facilities in support of steady state operations and contingencies in Europe, Eurasia, Africa, and the Middle East. This footprint is essential to TRANSCOM’s global distribution mission and also provides critical basing support for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets flying sorties in support of AFRICOM, CENTCOM, EUCOM, U.S. Special Operations Command, and NATO operations.154


At its peak in 1953, because of the Soviet threat to Western Europe, the U.S. had approximately 450,000 troops in Europe operating across 1,200 sites. During the early 1990s, both in response to a perceived reduction in the 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. Their use, however, actually increased; during that same period, the U.S. Army in Europe supported 42 deployments that required 95,579 personnel.

Until 2013, the U.S. Army had two heavy 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. Deactivation of the 170th BCT in October 2012—slightly earlier than the planned date of 2013—marked the end of a 50-year period during which U.S. combat soldiers had been stationed in Baumholder, Germany. Deactivation of the 172nd BCT took place in October 2013. In all, this meant that more than 10,000 soldiers were removed from Europe. Moreover, because 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 BCTs 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, in the words of General Breedlove, “[p]ermanently stationed forces are a force multiplier that rotational deployments can never match.”155 Today, with only 65,000 U.S. troops permanently based in Europe,156 “[t]he challenge EUCOM faces is ensuring it is able to meet its strategic obligations while primarily relying on rotational forces from the continental United States.”157

The U.S. is on pace to have only 17 main operating bases left on the continent,158 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, under which 15 minor sites across Europe will be closed.159

The U.S. has three different types of military installations in the European Command’s 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 is home to four capable Aegis-equipped destroyers.160 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 that was employed successfully during the early days of the recent Libyan operation.

In 2016, the Navy requested funds to upgrade facilities at Keflavik Air Station in Iceland to enable operations of P-8 Poseidon aircraft in the region. The P-8, with a combat radius of 1,200 nautical miles, is capable of flying missions over the entirety of the GIUK (Greenland, Iceland, and United Kingdom) gap, which has seen an increase in Russian submarine activity.

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 helps the U.S. to keep 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 as 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.

In June 2015, the U.S. announced the reintroduction into Europe of vehicles and equipment for one armored BCT. In December 2015, U.S. Army Europe and Army Materiel Command began to store the European Activity Set (EAS) in prepositioned sites in Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Romania.161 The EAS equipment will remain in Europe; after it is upgraded and repaired, it will be transitioned into the core of the static Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS), first announced in February 2016.162 The APS will be stored in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.163 According to General Breedlove, while the U.S. plans to utilize preexisting locations for APS upgrades and storage, “new locations…may be needed given the 80% reduction of European infrastructure over the past 25 years and NATO’s expansion along its eastern boundary.”164

The U.S. plans continuous troop rotations of U.S.-based armored brigade combat teams (ABCTs) to Europe. The additional rotational BCT in Europe will be in place by February 2017.165 The ABCTs will be on nine-month rotations and will travel with their assigned equipment to Europe to demonstrate an ability to deploy troops and equipment from the U.S. to Europe.166

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.

Today, USAFE has seven main operating bases along with 114 geographically separated locations.167 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 home to two squadrons of F-35s, making it the first location in Europe for the USAF’s new fighter jets.168 Approximately 39,000 active-duty, reserve, and civilian personnel are assigned to USAFE.169

As part of ERI, in August 2015, the United States temporarily deployed F-22 Raptors to Europe for the first time, as four were deployed to Spangdahlem Air base170 in Germany for training exercises. The planes flew direct from Tyndall Air Force Base FL to Germany to showcase an ability to quickly reintroduce air power to Europe.171 In August 2015, two F-22s172 flew briefly to Poland and Estonia as a test of ability to get in and out of airbases in eastern member states.173 The planes returned to the U.S. in mid-September 2015.174

In April and May 2016, 12 F-22s from Tyndall AFB were deployed to RAF Lakenheath for additional exercises.175 In April 2016, Romania’s Mihail Kogalniceanu Airport hosted two F-22s briefly for a NATO training exercise. The exercise to showcase rapid deployments to forward operating bases marked the first time F-22s had landed in Romania.176 Two F-22s also deployed briefly from Lakenheath to Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania.177 General Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces in Africa, said that the deployment was conducted to “test our infrastructure, aircraft capabilities and the talented Airmen and allies who will host these aircraft in Europe.”178

Additionally, in 2015, the U.S. sent three Theater Security Packages (TSPs) to Europe. The first consisted of 12 A-10C Thunderbolts from Arizona, deployed for six months from Spangdahlem, RAF Lakenheath, and Poland from February–August 2015.179 In April 2015, the second TSP, consisting of 12 F-15C fighters from Florida and Oregon, was deployed to Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands before being deployed to Bulgaria.180 Nine of the F-15Cs returned to the U.S. at the end of June 2015.181 In September 2015, a third TSP, consisting of 12 A-10s from Georgia, was deployed for six months to Amari Air Base in Estonia for training exercises.182

In April 2016, the U.S. deployed a fourth TSP, consisting of 12 F-15C Eagles, to Europe for six months. Six F-15s were deployed to Leeuwarden in the Netherlands and took part in Exercise Frisian Flag. The remaining six F-15s deployed to Keflavik, Iceland, to take part in NATO’s Air Policing mission there.183 The F-15s will forward deploy temporarily to Bulgaria, Estonia, and Romania184 and remain in Europe until September 2016.185 Six F-15s and 100 members of Oregon’s National Guard deployed to Finland in May 2016.186

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.187 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.188 In July 2015, Spain and the United States signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.–Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation, which allows the U.S. Marine Corps to station up to 2,200 military personnel, 21 aircraft, and 500 non-military employees permanently at Morón Air Base.189 The Defense Department states that “a surge capability was included in the amendment of another 800 dedicated military crisis-response task force personnel and 14 aircraft at Moron, for a total of 3,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel and 35 aircraft.”190 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 the rise of the Islamic State, both in Libya as a result of the power vacuum left in the overthrow of the Qadhafi regime and elsewhere in North Africa. The Defense Department also states that the Morón Air Base deployments have led in part to a 50 percent increase in joint training exercises over the past two years.191

The Marine Corps also maintains a Black Sea Rotational Force (BSRF) composed of rotational units sent to the Black Sea region to conduct training events with regional partners. In FY 2017, the BSRF is expected to receive $18 million to “increase the volume and scope of engagements with NATO Allies and partners conducted from Mihail Kogălniceanu (MK) Air Base, Romania and Novo Selo, Bulgaria.”192

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 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.193SOCEUR is expected to receive an additional $25 million in FY 2017 for an increased presence in Eastern Europe. The initiative will help allies to “counter malign influence” while expanding partnerships between U.S. National Guard units and European allies’ special operations forces.194

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.195 EUCOM has also supported CYBERCOM’s work inside NATO by becoming a full member of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia.

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe

In addition to the French and British nuclear capabilities, the U.S. maintains tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. It is believed that until the end of the Cold War, the U.S. maintained approximately 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.196 All of these weapons are free-fall gravity bombs designed for use with U.S. and allied dual-capable aircraft. The bombs are undergoing a Life Extension Program that it is anticipated will add at least 20 years to the weapons’ life span.197

While some in NATO have suggested that American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are a Cold War anachronism and should be removed from the continent, NATO’s 2012 Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) affirmed that “nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence alongside conventional and missile defence forces.”198 As if to underscore NATO’s continued concern about sustaining a nuclear deterrent capability, Russia has acted in ways that highlight its status as a potent nuclear weapons power with an extensive nuclear weapons modernization program. Further, it has repeatedly violated a host of arms control agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which is particularly relevant for the European allies.

Key Infrastructure and 
Warfighting Capabilities

Perhaps one of the major advantages of 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 there 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 across the continent. Major European ports used by the U.S. military include Rotterdam, the Netherlands; Bremerhaven, Germany; and Livorno, Italy. The Rhine River also offers access to the heartland of Europe. General Gorenc has described plans to use additional funds from the ERI to further develop airfields in Eastern Europe, citing the Baltics, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria as potential projects.199 Such airfield infrastructure projects could help to make airfields in Eastern Europe “an easier place to go to accomplish what I call high-volume/high velocity kind of operations.”200

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. 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.201

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. Given 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 an al-Qaeda plot 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 on oil tankers and cargo ships crossing the Strait of Gibraltar as a way to cause “phenomenal” damage to the world economy.202 The Spanish enclave of Ceuta off the coast of North Africa is less than 18 miles across the strait from Gibraltar. This past year, Ceuta has seen several arrests of ISIS recruiters and suppliers of bomb-making equipment and weapons. In April 2015, Spanish officials claimed to have uncovered Europe’s first all-female jihadi ring in Ceuta.203 Ceuta is frequently utilized by the Russian Navy as a stopover and resupply point. Since 2011, over 50 Russian Navy vessels have stopped there.204

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 wide. Approximately 46,000 ships each year transit the strait, including more than 5,600 tankers.205

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.206 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 2014.207


The Northern Sea Route. As ice dissipates during the summer months, new shipping lanes offer additional trade opportunities in the Arctic. 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, realization of the NSR’s full potential lies far in the future. In 2015, only 18 ships made the journey.208

GIUK Gap. This North Atlantic naval corridor between Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom is strategically vital. During the Cold War, Soviet submarines, bombers, and reconnaissance aircraft traversed the GIUK Gap frequently to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean from the Northern Russian coast. Recent increased Russian activity through and near the GIUK Gap has led the U.S. to return military assets to Keflavik in southwest Iceland.

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 increasingly has been shifting its crude oil exports to Europe through its Baltic ports.209 More than 125,000 ships per year transit these straits.210

Geostrategic Islands in the Baltic Sea. Three other critically important locations are the Åland Islands (Finnish); Gotland Island (Swedish); and Borholm Island. The Åland Islands have been demilitarized since the 1856 Treaty of Paris ending the Crimean War and have always been considered the most important geostrategic piece of real estate in the Baltic Sea. Gotland Island is strategically located halfway between Sweden and Latvia in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Sweden maintained a permanent military garrison on the island for hundreds of years until 2005. At the height of the Cold War, 15,000–20,000 Swedish military personnel were stationed on Gotland.211 Today, Sweden is standing up a 300-strong Battle Group Gotland, to be fully established on the island by 2018.212 The military facilities will need to be reconstituted, as most were sold off for civilian use after 2005. Bornholm Island is strategically located at the mouth of the Baltic Sea.

In March 2015, Russia carried out a large-scale training exercise with up to 33,000 soldiers, which included the capture of these three islands as part of its scenario. Reinforcing the Baltic region would be nearly impossible without control of these islands.

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 the significant numbers of manpower, matériel, and equipment that would be needed 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. Russia remains the preeminent threat to the region, both conventionally and non-conventionally, and the ongoing migrant crisis, continued economic sluggishness, and consistent threat from terrorism increase the potential for internal instability. The threats emanating from the previously noted arc of instability that stretches from the eastern Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East and up to the Caucasus through Russia and into the Arctic have spilled over into Europe itself in the form of terrorism and migrants arriving on the continent’s shores.

The United States, however, begun to reverse some of its recent disengagement from Europe, reintroducing troops and equipment to the continent, albeit not permanently. The U.S. has also increased the number and consistency of exercises, especially with NATO partners, in large part through funding made available in the ERI, and defense spending by many European NATO members has finally begun to move incrementally in an upward direction.

America’s closest and oldest allies are located in Europe. The region is incredibly important to the U.S. for economic, military, and political reasons. Perhaps most important, the U.S. has treaty obligations through NATO to defend the 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. 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’ diminished military forces and lack of political will to take on a greater portion of the security burden pose 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 considerations that must be taken into account in assessing the 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. 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 well-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:

  • 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 provide 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.
  • 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 have been any recent instances of political instability in the region.
  • 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 that might try 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.
  • 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.213

For Europe, scores this year moved in a positive direction largely as a result of increases in the alliance score and U.S. military positioning score. Scores for political stability in Europe turned slightly downward. However, none of these changes was large enough to affect the overall average scores in the 2017 Index:

Alliances: 4—Favorable

Political Stability: 4—Favorable

U.S. Military Positioning: 3—Moderate

Infrastructure: 4—Favorable

Leading to a regional score of: Favorable


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  88. Gareth Jennings, “Germany Begins NH90 Sea Lion Production, Retrofits for TTH Variant,” IHS Jane’s 360, December 2, 2015, (accessed September 7, 2016). 

  89. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Minister of Foreign Affairs, summary of speech to General Assembly of the United Nations, September 27, 2014, (accessed March 18, 2015). 

  90. Till Rimmele, “German Advisers Train Kurdish Troops with Battle Rifles,” War Is Boring, February 7, 2015, (accessed March 18, 2015). 

  91. Agence France-Presse, “Germany to Send 550 More Troops to Mali, Iraq Missions,” Defense News, January 6, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  92. Deutsche Welle, “Germany Announces Plan to Increase Troops Deployed to Afghanistan,” December 11, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  93. Ibid. 

  94. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “Resolute Support Mission (RSM): Key Facts and Figures, Troop Contributing Nations” 
May 2016, 
(accessed September 5, 2016). 

  95. Agence France-Presse, “Germany to Send 550 More Troops to Mali, Iraq Missions.” 

  96. Agencies, “Germany Joins Fight Against Isil After Parliament Approves Military Action in Syria,” The Telegraph, December 4, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  97. Wagstyl, “German Military No Longer Standing at Ease as Security Fears Grow.” 

  98. Ibid. 

  99. Julian E. Barnes and Anton Troianovski, “NATO Allies Preparing to Put Four Battalions at Eastern Border with Russia,” The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  100. News release, “Defence Expenditures of NATO Countries (2008–2015),” p. 6. 

  101. Tom Kington, “Russian Aggression Drives Increase in European Defense Spending,” Defense News, February 19, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  102. Giampaolo Di Paola, François Heisbourg, Patrick Keller, Richard Shirreff, Tomasz Szatkowski, and Rolf Tamnes, Alliance at Risk: Strengthening European Defense in an Age of Turbulence and Competition, Atlantic Council, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, February 2016, p. 13, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  103. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2016: The Annual Assessment of Global Military Capabilities and Defence Economics (London: Routledge, 2016), p. 95. 

  104. French Ministry of Defense, Defence Key Figures, 2015 Edition, pp. 19–21, 
(accessed September 5, 2016). 

  105. Di Paola et al., Alliance at Risk, p. 11. 

  106. Agence France-Presse, “Nuclear Deterrent Important in ‘Dangerous World’, Says Hollande,” February 19, 2015,
(accessed September 5, 2016). 

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

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

  109. Pierre Tran, “France Sends Charles de Gaulle Carrier Against ISIS,” Defense News, November 18, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  110. Ben Brumfield and Margot Haddad, “France Launches Its First Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria,” CNN, September 27, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  111. French Ministry of Defense, “Operations: Iraq–Syria, Maps, Operation Chammal,” August 2016, (accessed September 5, 2016). 

  112. Ibid. 

  113. France 24, “French Aircraft Carrier to Move to Gulf ‘in a Few Days’, Says Hollande,” December 4, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  114. Naval Today, “France Assumes Command of US Task Force 50,” December 8, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  115. Commander, Naval Forces Central Command, Public Affairs, “NAVCENT Commander Welcomes Charles de Gaulle to 5th Fleet,” December 19, 2015, (accessed September 5, 2016). 

  116. French Ministry of Defense, “Opération Barkhane,” July 2016, (accessed September 7, 2016). 

  117. France 24, “France to End Central African Republic Military Mission in 2016,” March 30, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  118. French Ministry of Defense, Defence Key Figures, 2015 Edition, pp. 17–18. 

  119. Ibid., p. 17. 

  120. Michel Rose, “France Sees Economic Growth Spurt from Consumers and Business,” Reuters, April 29, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  121. Di Paola et al., Alliance at Risk, p. 14. 

  122. Frida Garza, “The French Military Is Experiencing an ‘Unprecedented’ Recruiting Surge,” Defense One, November 23, 2015, 
(accessed June 6, 2016). 

  123. Kim Willsher, “France Looking for Warship Buyers After Cancelling Mistral Deal with Russia,” The Guardian, August 6, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  124. Ryan Maass, “France Canceled Mistral Sale to Russia Under NATO Pressure,” UPI, October 2, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  125. Oscar Nkala, “Egyptian Navy to Receive Mistral Warships by September,” Defense News, February 25, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  126. Pierre Tran, “Pressure for Mistral Repayment May Affect French Defense Budget,” Defense News, September 6, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  127. Agence France-Presse, “France Signs Deal with Egypt for Export of Jets,” Al Arabiya, February 16, 2015,
(accessed September 6, 2016). 

  128. Awad Mustafa, “Qatar, France Complete Dassault Rafale Fighter Jet Deal,” Defense News, March 29, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  129. Government of France, “Australia Chooses French Group DCNS to Build 12 Submarines,”, April 27, 2016, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

  130. Richard Tomkins, “French Report: Banner Year for Aerospace, Defense,” UPI, May 4, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  131. Transcript of Geoffrey Smith interview with Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, January 8, 1990, (accessed September 5, 2016). 

  132. Aaron Mehta, “US, UK Still Discussing Anti-Sub Gap Options,” Defense News, April 19, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  133. Ben Farmer, “Britain Calls in French to Hunt Russian Sub Lurking off Scotland,” The Telegraph, November 22, 2015, (accessed November 22, 2015). 

  134. Reuters, “Trident: UK Parliament Backs Nuclear-Armed Submarine Fleet Renewal,” July 18, 2016, 
(accessed September 4, 2016). 

  135. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2016, pp. 147–148. 

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

  137. News release, “Defence Expenditures of NATO Countries (2008–2015),” p. 6. 

  138. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2016, p. 91. 

  139. Simon Newton, “Why NATO’s Military Might Is Focused on Estonia,” Forces TV, November 5, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  140. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2016, pp. 114–115. 

  141. Jaroslaw Adamowski, “Latvia, Lithuania to Raise Defense Spending,” Defense News, July 30, 2015, (accessed July 20, 2016). 

  142. Nicholas de Larrinaga, “Latvia Overhauls Radar Capabilities,” IHS Jane’s 360, October 8, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  143. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2016, p. 116. 

  144. Ryan Browne, “NATO Chief: 4 Battalions to Eastern Europe Amid Tensions with Russia,” CNN, June 13, 2016, (accessed July 20, 2016). 

  145. Andrius Sytas, “Spooked by Russia, Lithuania Spares No Money for Defense,” Reuters, April 29, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  146. Reuters, “Norway to Surpass Russia as Lithuania’s Top Gas Supplier in 2016,” February 8, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  147. Daniel Kochis, “Poland: The Lynchpin of Security on NATO’s Front Lines,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4455, 
August 17, 2015, 

  148. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2016, p. 127. 

  149. Ibid. 

  150. Radio Poland, “Defence Minister Says Polish Army Will Be 50 Percent Larger,” April 20, 2016,,Defence-Minister-says-Polish-army-will-be-50-percent-larger#sthash.bn6QccUf.dpuf (accessed September 5, 2016). 

  151. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “Resolute Support Mission (RSM): Key Facts and Figures, Troop Contributing Nations,” May 2016. 

  152. Jacek Siminski, “Poland to Deploy F-16 Combat Planes to Syria in Reconnaissance Role,” The Aviationist, February 15, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  153. Estonian Public Broadcasting, “Troops from Visegrád Four to Be Deployed on Rotation to Baltics,” April 27, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  154. Breedlove, statement before Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 1, 2016, pp. 18–19. 

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

  156. Ibid. 

  157. Breedlove, statement prepared for Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 1, 2016, p. 20. 

  158. Breedlove, statement prepared for Senate and House Committees on Armed Services, April 1, 2014, p. 25. 

  159. 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). 

  160. U.S. Naval Forces Europe–Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, “USS Carney Joins Other FDNF Ships in Rota, Spain,” September 25, 2015, (accessed September 5, 2016). 

  161. “Fact Sheet: The FY2017 European Reassurance Initiative Budget Request,” The White House, February 2, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016); U.S. European Command, “Operation Atlantic Resolve – Fact Sheet 2016,” current as of April 15, 2016, 
p. 4, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

  162. U.S. European Command, “EUCOM Announces European Reassurance Initiative Implementation Plan,” March 30, 2016, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

  163. Ibid. 

  164. Breedlove, statement before Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 1, 2016, p. 11. 

  165. U.S. European Command, “EUCOM Announces European Reassurance Initiative Implementation Plan.” 

  166. U.S. European Command, “Operation Atlantic Resolve – Fact Sheet 2016,” p. 2. 

  167. U.S. European Command, “U.S. Air Forces in Europe,” (accessed September 6, 2016). 

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

  169. United States Air Force, “U.S. Air Forces in Europe & Air Forces Africa, Units,” 
(accessed September 6, 2016). 

  170. Reuters, “Two U.S. F-22 Fighter Jets Arrive in Poland as Part of European Training Mission,” August 31, 2015, (accessed September 5, 2016). 

  171. Tyler Rogoway, “F-22 Raptors Descend on Europe in Historic Deployment,” Foxtrot Alpha, August 29, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  172. Reuters, “Two U.S. F-22 Fighter Jets Arrive in Poland.” 

  173. Jennifer H. Svan, “F-22 Raptors Make Symbolic Day Trip to Estonia,” Stars and Stripes, September 6, 2015, (accessed September 7, 201`6). 

  174. David Cenciotti, “Tanker Problem Forces US-Bound F-22 Raptors to Return to Germany,” The Aviationist, September 11, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  175. Oriana Pawlyk, “F-22 Raptors Are Back in Europe,” Air Force Times, April 11, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  176. Clarissa Ward, Antonia Mortensen, and Alex Platt, “U.S. Sends F-22 Warplanes to Romania,” CNN, April 26, 2016, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

  177. Oriana Pawlyk, “Air Force F-22s Wrap up European Deployment ,” Air Force Times, May 9, 2016, 
(accessed June 6, 2016). 

  178. Ibid. 

  179. Elmer van Hest, “US Theater Security Packages by the Numbers,”, January 6, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  180. David Cenciotti, “The U.S. Air Force Is Deploying 12 F-15 Jets to Europe as First Air National Guard Theater Security Package,” The Aviationist, March 27, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  181. Derek Gilliam, “A Happy Landing; National Guard 125th Fighter Wing Home from Bulgaria Deployment,” The Florida Times Union, June 30, 2015, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  182. Jeff Schogol, “12 A-10s from USAF ‘Flying Tigers’ Arrive in Estonia,” Air Force Times, September 22, 2015,–10s-usaf-flying-tigers-arrive-estonia/72633628/ (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  183. David Cenciotti, “U.S. Air National Guard F-15s Deploying to Iceland and the Netherlands ‘to Deter Further Russian Aggression’,” The Aviationist, March 31, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  184. Ibid. 

  185. Zachary Cohen, “U.S. F-15s Deployed to Iceland,” CNN, April 2, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  186. Oriana Pawlyk, “F-15s to Finland as USAF Boosts Europe Deployments to Deter Russia,” Air Force Times, February 12, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

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

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

  189. Cheryl Pellerin, “U.S., Spain Agree to Make U.S. Crisis Force Deployment Permanent,” U.S. Department of Defense, June 18, 2015, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

  190. Ibid. 

  191. Ibid. 

  192. U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Defense Budget, Fiscal Year (FY) 2017: European Reassurance Initiative, p. 3. 

  193. Breedlove, statement before House Committee on Armed Services, February 25, 2015, p. 12. 

  194. U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Defense Budget, Fiscal Year (FY) 2017: European Reassurance Initiative, p. 9. 

  195. Ibid. 

  196. Malcolm Chalmers and Simon Lunn, “NATO’s Tactical Nuclear Dilemma,” Royal United Services Institute Occasional Paper, 
March 2010, p. 1, 
(accessed September 6, 2016). 

  197. Geoff Ziezulewicz, “B61-12 Life Extension Program Receives NNSA Approval,” UPI, August 2, 2016, (accessed August 18, 2016). 

  198. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “Deterrence and Defense Posture Review,” May 20, 2012, (accessed September 7, 2016). 

  199. Oriana Pawlyk, “Air Force Wants More Temporary Airfields in Eastern Europe, General Says,” Air Force Times, April 6, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  200. Jon Harper, “U.S. Air Force Preparing for ‘High Volume’ Operations in Europe,” National Defense, April 5, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

  201. Jaglavak Military, “Operation El Dorado Canyon 1986 Libya,” YouTube video, uploaded September 16, 2008, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

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

  203. Lauren Frayer, “In a Spanish Enclave, Women Recruit Women to Join ISIS,” NPR, April 12, 2015, 
(accessed June 6, 2016). 

  204. Miguel González, “Ceuta: An Unofficial Russian Naval ‘Base’ in the Strait of Gibraltar?,” El País, March 28, 2016, (accessed June 6, 2016). 

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

  206. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “World Oil Transit Chokepoints,” last updated August 22, 2012, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

  207. Joshua Kucera, “U.S. Navy Keeps Up Steady Black Sea Presence; Russia Keeps Watching,” EurasiaNet, February 10, 2015, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

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

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

  210. Defence Command Denmark, “Facts & Figures,” last updated April 14, 2016, (accessed September 6, 2016). 

  211. Paul Adams, “Russian Menace Pushes Sweden Towards Nato,” BBC, February 4, 2016, (accessed August 27, 2016). 

  212. Johannes Ledel and Josefine Owetz, “Provisoriska lösningar nödvändiga för Gotlands nya förband,” Sverige Radio, 
November 11, 2015, (accessed August 27, 2016). 

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