Armor: Welcome to East Europe Where History Repeats Itself

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August 31, 2016: In 2016 Lithuania began receiving 200 refurbished military trucks from the Netherlands. These vehicles are Mercedes Benz G-Wagen, the German equivalent to the American hummer. A lot of inexpensive Cold War surplus has been heading for East Europe lately. Since the 1990s West European NATO countries have been reducing their armed forces and often offering used, but modern military equipment to East European nations that had recently joined NATO. These were bargains for the new NATO members because the equipment was “NATO standard” and often free or at less cost than it would fetch on the world market. The G-Wagen deal cost Lithuania about $40,000 per truck. Lithuania needs these trucks to replace elderly Cold War era stuff that was mostly produced in Russia and Russian occupied East Europe.

As many East European nations feared Russia has gone from former occupier to current threat and Lithuania needs to upgrade its military as quickly as its limited budget will allow. In 2015 Lithuania increased the 2016 defense budget by 35 percent. This made defense spending 1.48 percent of GDP. All this is eerily similar to what happened after World War I when France and Britain tried to help protect newly created (from the wreckage of the Russian and Austrian empires) countries like Poland and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) with cheap World War I surplus weapons and promises of aid if Russia should seek to rebuild its fractured empire. The Russians did, and now that bit of history seems to be repeating itself. The newly liberated nations of East Europe are seeking some new solutions to avoid repeating old history.

Thus in early 2016 Poland and the Baltic States also asked for some American troops. Not enough to halt a Russian invasion, just enough to ensure that the Americans and their NATO allies (or at least some of them) will intervene if Russia does attack. These four nations already have a mutual defense guarantee from NATO in the form of NATO membership. But that is not enough and what has been asked for, and granted, are some American troops in each of these nations. The response is an offer to send one reinforced battalion per country. That means about 4,000 troops overall.

These four East European countries join a growing list of nations who, threatened by dangerous neighbors, have agreed (and often asked) to host American troops. The first and most obvious examples of this are South Korea, Japan and Germany. This form of defense has been quietly followed by a number of nations in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). All of these Persian Gulf nations want the Americans around to keep the Iranians out. But it is not just the Iranians. Inside Iraq there have been American troops in northern Iraq to protect the autonomous Kurdish majority up there from the Arab majority since the early 1990s. This form of security is also called a "tripwire force" because if the host nation is attacked the presence of some U.S. troops means that a lot of U.S. reinforcements will promptly arrive. Several other nations are seeking this form of security guarantee but are not getting it, at least not yet. This includes Ukraine and Georgia. The United States is the favored source of these armed hostages because the U.S. is a superpower and, compared to all the alternatives, the least likely to take advantage of the situation.

Lithuania has also been buying new equipment. For example in 2015 they ordered 88 German Boxer wheeled Infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) to replace 300 elderly American M113s. Lithuania also bought some German PZH2000 155mm self-propelled artillery. Lithuania is paying $5 million for each Boxer vehicles and that includes maintenance services, spare parts and weapons. The first of these vehicles will arrive in 2017

 


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