Exclusive: U.S. may turn to Canada for help with new NATO force in east Europe

Thu Jun 9, 2016 9:14am EDT
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By Robin Emmott and Wiktor Szary

BRUSSELS/WARSAW (Reuters) - The United States could turn to Canada to help it establish a new NATO force in eastern Europe as a deterrent against Russia because it is struggling to win support from its European allies, diplomats say.

Despite its show of force with a military exercise across eastern Europe this month that involved more than 20 NATO and partner countries, the alliance is moving slowly in its efforts to build a rotating force of 4,000 troops on its eastern flank in Poland and the Baltics.

Only Britain and Germany have said they are willing to contribute, by providing a battalion of about 1,000 troops each. The United States will provide a third battalion, leaving NATO requiring one more country to provide a fourth.

"European allies have reasons why they can't come forward. They're thinly stretched, at home, in Africa, in Afghanistan. They just don't have the money," said a senior NATO diplomat involved in the discussions.

The reluctance of some European governments to help the military build-up, the biggest since the end of the Cold War, reflects internal doubts over whether the alliance should be more focused on combating militant groups and uncontrolled flows of migrants, mainly from the Middle East and North Africa.

"There are divisions within NATO," said Sophia Besch, a European defense expert at the London-based Centre for European Reform think tank. "Some allies feel the focus should be on the south."

Unity is crucial for NATO as Moscow and Washington accuse one another of intimidation close to the NATO-Russia border. NATO and Russia feel threatened by each other's large military drills and are at odds over the crisis in Ukraine.

Any sense in the United States that Europe is unwilling to pay for its own defense could be damaging. U.S. President Barack Obama has suggested European powers were "free riders" during the 2011 Libya air campaign, and U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has accused them of not paying their fair share.   Continued...

A NATO flag flies at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels during a NATO ambassadors meeting on the situation in Ukraine and the Crimea region, March 2, 2014. REUTERS/Yves Herman