SecDef: 'There Will Be a Lot More American Troops in Europe in Coming Years'

By Susan Jones | February 18, 2016 | 9:35am EST
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaks at a news conference at the Pentagon, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. (AP File Photo)

( - President Obama's fiscal 2017 budget quadruples defense spending on the U.S. "presence and posture" in Europe, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told PBS on Tuesday.

"We're putting in heavy equipment into Eastern Europe. We are putting forces in now -- not on a permanent basis, but a persistent, rotational basis.

"There will be a lot more American troops in Europe in coming years than there were past years. So we're doing a lot. Sadly, Russian conduct in Europe and elsewhere makes that necessary."

Carter noted that after the Soviet Union fell, there were many years when the U.S. Defense Department didn't have to think about Russia "as a competitor."

But that changed in 2014, when Russia backed an armed separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, and after a referendum not recognized by the West, annexed Crimea. Russia’s intervention prompted U.S. and European Union sanctions, completely negating the Obama-Hillary Clinton attempt to "re-set" relations.

Carter told PBS on Tuesday that as long as Vladimir Putin is running Russia, "we are going to have a competitor in Russia."

"That has meant for us in Defense and for the Europeans and for NATO having to create a new play book that we haven't had for a quarter century, which is one of territorial defense, deterrents against aggression of Russia into Europe, not just by traditional means, but also by what is called hybrid warfare -- the little green men kind of phenomenon."

"Little green men" refers to Russian troops who went into Ukraine disguised as native insurgents. There were fears at the time that those "little green men" might also show up in NATO countries.

"How do we meet the challenge of little green men?" PBS host Charlie Rose asked Carter.

"Two ways," Carter replied. "First of all, you help the societies to harden themselves, the ones that are particularly affected by it. That means in terms of their border controls, intelligence sharing, cyber protection, protection of their critical infrastructure and so forth so that they are not as easily subverted as Ukraine two years ago.

"And secondly, it's by stiffening the NATO response. We're doing that -- this budget which we're submitting now quadruples our spending on European presence and posture."

Carter conceded that Russia is "somewhat" bigger and stronger than it has been in recent years, but he also said it's "turned more truculent, more backward-looking" under Putin.

"[H]e seems to be headed in a direction of self-isolation where he doesn't care about the economic penalties associated with self-isolation and with...behaving in a way that isolates him around the world. But that's what he's doing, and our approach is a strong one. It's a balanced one. We'll continue to work with Russia where we can, but we need to be strong in Europe."

Elsewhere in the interview, Carter said that "deterrence means that somebody who starts a conflict with you will regret that they did so. Our military power is part of the way that we underwrite that threat."

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