Using EDI money for the border wall sends the wrong signals to NATO — and to Russia

Using EDI money for the border wall sends the wrong signals to NATO — and to Russia
© Getty Images

The European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) represented one of the few programs that had remained unaffected by President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE’s tense relationship with Europe and NATO. Until now.

The Obama administration created what it termed the European Reassurance Initiative in June 2014 in the aftermath of Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea. Initially funded at less than $1 billion, funding for the initiative more than quadrupled from fiscal years 2016 to 2017 to over $3.4 billion in the face of increasing Russian predations in Ukraine. The Trump administration continued to increase funding for what was renamed the European Deterrence Initiative; by fiscal year 2019, the EDI budget had grown to $6.5 billion.

These increases were in line with the administration’s National Defense Strategy, which identified Russia and China as major threats to U.S. security. When the administration reduced the EDI by about 10 percent in its fiscal year 2020 budget request, it faced some criticism that, by doing so, it undermined the program’s deterrent value. The administration’s spokesmen countered that all essential EDI activities continued to be funded and that the reduction simply reflected the completion of a number of projects that no longer required additional budget outlays.

ADVERTISEMENT

Although the Congress restored some funds to bring the FY 2020 total closer to $6 billion, the administration once again proposed a significantly lower EDI budget in fiscal year 2021, amounting to just $4.5 billion. 

In an April 27 memorandum to the Pentagon’s senior leadership, however, Secretary of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Overnight Defense: Trump reportedly considering replacing Esper after election | FBI, Air Force investigating after helicopter shot at in Virginia | Watchdog says UK envoy made inappropriate comments on religion, race, sex Trump eyes replacing Esper after election: reports MORE ordered an even further reduction in EDI spending, in order to fund the president’s border wall with Mexico. Citing the need “to enable the execution of certain projects scheduled for award in calendar year 2020,” Esper’s memorandum directed that “$545.526 million … be used to ensure adequate funding remains available for the current … military construction project.” 

Of that sum, $274 million is to be drawn from various EDI programs that are spread among several European NATO states. These include three projects in Rota, Spain, among them a $46 million joint mobility center; a $48 million logistics center annex in Germersheim, Germany; bulk fuel storage facilities in several locations; and $107 million for equipment in various locations that support the Air Force’s European Contingency Air Operations Set (ECAOS) Deployable Airbase System (DABS).

These reprogrammings, coming on top of EDI funding reductions in the FY 2021 budget, are likely to further intensify European suspicions that America lacks commitment to Europe’s defense. They also will make it more difficult for NATO governments to increase their own defense spending, one of President Trump’s defense priorities since taking office. Germany and Spain have been noteworthy laggards in bolstering their defense budgets. These cuts will do nothing to persuade their governments to change their spending priorities.

The reprogrammings also threaten to dissipate the fund of goodwill that has resided in Poland, the Baltic states and other central and eastern NATO allies, in particular. These NATO members thus far have been unaffected by the president’s tirades against Europe in general and the alliance’s members in particular. The EDI was meant to reinforce the National Defense Strategy’s recognition that Russia poses a major threat to Europe, and especially to the vulnerable allies that once were either its constituent republics or its Warsaw Pact satellites. The reductions in funding not only undermine Europe’s deterrence, but also vitiate the reassurance — the program’s original objective — that these allies in particular desperately require.

ADVERTISEMENT

Finally, and more ominously, the cuts — and the fact that they are being transferred to fund the border wall — will send the wrong signal to Moscow. Instead of underscoring NATO deterrence against Russian aggressiveness, they will demonstrate that American support for NATO is far from rock solid and is subject to the whims of a president whose hostility toward immigration far outweighs his support for NATO and its deterrent posture, the National Defense Strategy notwithstanding. 

At a time when the world is reeling from the effects of the coronavirus, the backward step that the reduction in EDI funding represents can only spur more Russian mischief-making while Europe is preoccupied with restoring some sense of normalcy to its economy and society.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.