WASHINGTON (AP) – Sweden and Finland’s efforts to join NATO will not require the deployment of more US ground forces in any country, the US general nominated to take over the European command told senators on Thursday. But Army General Christopher Cavoli said military exercises and occasional U.S. troop rotations are likely to increase.
Cavoli, who currently serves as commander of the U.S. Army’s Europe and Africa, said the increased military focus is likely to remain in Eastern Europe – where nations are more concerned about potential Russian aggression and the possible spread of the war against Ukraine.
“The focus of NATO forces has shifted eastward,” Cavoli told the Senate Armed Forces Committee during his nomination hearing. “Depending on the outcome of the conflict, we may need to continue with it for a while.”
Cavoli was asked about the US troop presence in Europe, which has grown from less than 80,000 to about 102,000 since the build-up to Russia’s invasion. He said that the increase has no connection to the recent moves of Finland and Sweden to apply for membership in NATO.
Sweden and Finland submitted their written applications to join NATO last week in one of the most significant geopolitical consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Cavoli noted that the United States already has strong military ties with both countries, and that further exercises and other engagements are likely to grow.
If confirmed, Cavoli will be the key when the Pentagon assesses its military structure across Europe. Defense officials have noted that historic troop concentrations in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom may well shift and spread to other eastern countries, such as Poland and the Baltics.
Eastern European countries have called for more American weapons and troops, as a protection against Russia. Cavoli said the United States must also continue to strike a delicate balance and ensure that its actions in Europe do not inflame relations with Russia and trigger a broader conflict.
“One must not shy away from activity in order to remain strong and describe our priorities,” he said, but the United States must also be careful “not to delay it and create a problem where there was nothing.”
Cavoli’s nomination for the United States’ top commander in Europe includes his job as NATO’s top commander, giving him a crucial role in the Russian war against Ukraine. Committee members expressed support for his nomination, which is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate.
Cavoli has extensive expertise in Russia. He served as a foreign area officer focusing on Eurasia, spent time in Russia and speaks Russian, Italian and French. He was also the head of Russia in the joint staff. He would replace General Tod Wolters, who currently leads the European Command but ends his three-year tour there.
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