By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The Pentagon has launched a new naval command to bolster the U.S. and NATO presence in the northern Atlantic Ocean, citing an increased Russian presence in those waters.
“The return to great power competition and a resurgent Russia demands that NATO refocus on the Atlantic to ensure dedicated reinforcement of the continent and demonstrate a capable and credible deterrence effect,” Johnny Michael, a Pentagon spokesman, said on May 4.
The new NATO command “will be the linchpin of trans-Atlantic security,” he said. Outlines of the plan were approved at a February meeting of NATO defense ministers as part of a broader effort to ensure the security of the sea lanes and lines of communication between Europe and North America.
The Pentagon’s decision reflects growing worries across Europe and within NATO about Russia’s increased military presence and patrols in the Atlantic region.
Russia has increased its patrols in the Baltic Sea, the North Atlantic, and the Arctic, NATO officials say, although the size of its navy is smaller now than during the Cold War era.
Despite evidence that Russia’s weak economy forced Moscow to slash military spending by 20 percent last year, Czech Army General Petr Pavel, the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, told RFE/RL in an interview that NATO still must build up its defenses.
“Russian military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear, are significant,” he said. “And we simply cannot be blind to an increase of defense capabilities in all services, all domains. That’s why we have to react.”
Under the new plan, the United States will set up NATO’s new Atlantic Command headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, where the Pentagon is also offering to host a proposed NATO Joint Force Command.
Russia ‘More Assertive’
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in February that “we have seen a much more assertive Russia, we have seen a Russia which has over many years invested heavily in their military capabilities, modernized their military capabilities, which are exercising not only conventional forces but also nuclear forces.”
He said the new Atlantic Command will be vital for the alliance to be able to respond. NATO also created a new logistics command, which is expected to be located in Germany.
At the same time, the U.S. Navy is re-establishing its 2nd Fleet command, which was eliminated in 2011 in a move to save costs.
Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said the move comes as the security environment “continues to grow more challenging and complex” now that “we’re back in an era of great power competition.”
The Navy said the command will oversee ships, aircraft, and landing forces on the East Coast and northern Atlantic Ocean, and will be responsible for training forces and conducting maritime operations in the region.
Restarting the command was one of several recommendations in a Navy study done following two deadly ship collisions last year that killed a total of 17 sailors.
The command will begin operations July 1. It will report to U.S. Fleet Forces, and will initially include 11 officers and 4 enlisted personnel. Those numbers will eventually increase to more than 250 personnel, the Pentagon said.