Now that the U.S. is only sending one—not two—battalions for the alliance military force on the eastern flank, there is a big question regarding which country will fill the void.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been working on a plan to step up its deterrence of Russia by creating a force of about 4,000 troops, a battalion for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Germany and the U.K. have said they will each provide a battalion. The U.S. still will contribute one battalion, of roughly 1,000 troops. But American officials told alliance officials last week that other allies needed to step forward to contribute the final 1,000 soldiers—part of an effort by Washington to make Europe to take more responsibility for its own defense.
But there is a problem. So far, there are no further European takers.
Informally, the U.S. is trying to prod Norway and Denmark to team up and form a combined battalion for Estonia or another of the countries, according to U.S. and alliance officials.
The response from the north? Not so fast.
Norway, whose former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg is now the alliance secretary-general, has its own border with Russia that it must pay more attention to and potentially reinforce further, according to a Norwegian official. In addition, contributions to NATO’s spearhead force and other alliance missions mean that the Norwegian military has little spare capacity, the official said.
Danish officials have said they are considering contributing to the force in the east, but Copenhagen has balked at taking the job of being a framework or co-framework nation.
Danish Foreign minister Kristian Jensen told the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten that serving as a framework nation would “demand more capacity than we have.”
“Denmark is considering a contribution, but not to be a framework nation,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Danish Defense ministry said while Denmark would contribute to the mission, the nature of the contribution will depend on consultations with parliament and would reflect other international commitments the country is making.
The U.S. Congress is considering a proposal to spend an additional $3.4 billion next year to boost American military operations in Europe. But both Democrats and Republicans have stepped up criticism of European countries failure to spend more on Europe.
President Barack Obama has complained that European powers are free-riders on U.S. defense spending. Donald Trump, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, has called NATO obsolete and said that “many countries are not paying their fair share.”
Such comments have led U.S. diplomats to try and put pressure on allies to contribute more.
But NATO remains divided on the importance of reinforcing its eastern border. The allies most concerned about Russia are the ones in the east. Many western and southern allies are more focused on the threat of Islamic State.
So what is the backup plan to have Europeans defend Europe? Well, for now, it might involve NATO’s other non-European member, Canada.
U.S. and NATO officials said they were talking with Canadian officials about the possibility the Canadian army could take a greater role. Canada currently has 220 troops in Poland.
While Ottawa has not made any commitments, it isn’t saying no.
“Canada is actively considering options to effectively contribute to NATO’s strengthened defense and deterrence posture,” said a Canadian official.