Full Measure: Why the U.S. is spending more on NATO


NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is the largest peacetime military organization in the world. Formed just after World War II, it's an alliance of the U.S. and 27 other North American and European countries.

Led by a U.S. general, or Supreme Allied Commander, they pledge all for one and one for all against enemy attacks.

Now, NATO is coming under something of an attack.

Donald Trump is leading the charge, calling NATO obsolete.

The U.S. is increasing its spending on NATO, sending more arms and troops on a scale not seen since the Cold War due to Russia's rising military presence in Eastern Europe.

NATO forces and Russian troops are massing along that border, in the modern version of the Cold War Part II.

Full Measure's Scott Thuman went to Estonia to talk to U.S. troops.

The sound of gunfire is not an ordinary military exercise, nor is it in an ordinary setting. In a remote section of woods in Tapa, Estonia, about 75 miles from the Russian Border, 170 U.S. soldiers, as the saying goes, are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. They're training with live rounds and putting high-tech Stryker vehicles through the paces shattering the otherwise silent countryside.

With the deafening sounds of detonating IEDs, Capt. Joe Vanderlip is the 'Iron Troop' commander.

Vanderlip: I think there are conditions out that have prompted our response and there are decision makers in Washington and the Pentagon that have deemed it appropriate, that hey, there's enough going on in the world right now, that we need to forward move units to assure the NATO alliance.

Why are U.S. forces suddenly bulking up in the far-off Baltics? Fear over Vladimir Putin's supposed aspirations to retake what the Soviets lost after the Cold War, and what many believe he may be willing to grab again, by force. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland are all worried Russia will do to them what it has done in Ukraine over the past two years.

And since this is what some call "The eastern front of the free world," the U.S. Army's 2nd Cavalry and NATO forces came with rifles In hand, to send a message.

Vanderlip: I think that the message is we're here and for the foreseeable future the United States forces are committed to the NATO alliance.

Thuman: This could be much bigger, couldn't it?

Vanderlip: It could be, yes and it could be scaled up and down. We see now that the push from the Pentagon is yes, there will be heavy brigades, armored brigades coming over here for nine month back to back rotations, I think that is a pretty firm commitment to U.S. involvement in the Baltics.

This thawing through of Cold War strategies is not just for show, according to General Ben Hodges, the head of the U.S. army forces in Europe. He supports a plan for a constant and dramatically increased presence.

In what would be the biggest U.S. deployment in Eastern Europe since the Cold War, some 250 tanks and fighting apparatuses, more than 1,500 wheeled vehicles like Humvees, and the most important number: 4,200 U.S. soldiers. All adding up as one monumental show of strength.

The Estonians couldn't think of a louder voice to have on their side than American firepower.

Thuman: What we're seeing here on this side of the border with U.S. forces, is reportedly taking place on the Russian side as well, with Moscow mobilizing its men and weapons systems.

For troops in the Baltic states trying to deter a Russian invasion, the arrival of even this small number of U.S. troops is like a big brother, coming to the rescue.

Soldier: Everybody sees that, that's good. Very happy, I think, yeah. I am actually. We can cooperate with you.

While some call true battle highly unlikely, plenty contend that's not the point. Russia has routes in the Ukraine, and has long-relied on the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine as its buffer zone against potential European foes. U.S. combat forces on border states with Russia, is something that could trigger a reaction from Putin. With Russian forces pulling out of Syria, some say stronger action in Ukraine is coming.

This potential "Putin verses the world standoff," has reinvigorated debate about NATO and America's place in it, currently footing the biggest portion of the bill while other nations fail to meet their spending quota.

President Obama met with the NATO's secretary general on Monday in the Oval Office to publicly bolster support.

President Obama: NATO continues to be the linchpin, the cornerstone of our collective defense, and U.S. security policy.

On the ground in Estonia, the new generation on the front-lines with Russia wasn't even born the last time the Soviet Union and NATO faced off in the original version of the Cold War.

Second Lieutenant Matthew Chapman is a soldier in a strange land.

Chapman: As a 23-year-old from New Jersey, I never thought in a million years I'd be here.

Richard Stotts is Sergeant of the 3rd Platoon, and like any sergeant through the ages, marches according to orders.

Stotts: Being in the American army, you gotta be ready for anything, so doesn't really surprise me that we've changed out mindset and trying to get back into it.

The Cold War, suddenly, heating up.

While the Pentagon approved the $3.4 billion plan, Congress still has to approve it. If so, the additional troops and resources could be moving into position in less than a year.

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