European Defense Funding Takes $1.5 Billion Hit in Pentagon Budget Request

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Elaine McCusker at Marine Corps Air Station New River
Brig. Gen. Benjamin T. Watson, right, commanding general, Marine Corps Installations East-Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, greets Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Elaine McCusker on Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, Feb. 27, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Isaiah Gomez)

Funding for European defense against Russia faces a sizable reduction in the Pentagon's fiscal 2021 budget request as the administration continues to push for NATO allies to invest more deeply in their own defense.

Under the Defense Department's budget plan rolled out Feb. 10, funds for the European Defense Initiative would be cut from $6 billion to $4.5 billion. But Elaine McCusker, acting under secretary of defense (comptroller), said the reduction did not reflect any lessening of U.S. commitment to the alliance. She also noted that funding for the Ukraine Security Initiative, within that, was the same as this year's enacted amount.

"We have $250 million for Ukraine security initiative in the budget request, which is actually the same as what we had last year," she said.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has appeared eager to get past the charges and counter-charges that emerged from the President Donald Trump impeachment process in order to focus on ending the war with the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine with continued U.S. support.

At the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, Zelensky said he looked forward to an eventual White House visit, and said Trump was welcome to come to Ukraine.

McCusker noted that the U.S. this month began participation in the NATO "Defender Europe 2020" training exercise, involving the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe in 25 years.

Related: NATO Chief Renews Push to Move European Defense Funding Out of War Budget

More than 20,000 U.S. troops will deploy from the U.S. for the exercise, including units from the 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Armored Division, 1st Infantry Division, 3rd Infantry Division and 82nd Airborne Division, according to U.S. Army Europe.

The proposed funding cut for EDI coming out of the White House and the Pentagon will likely not be the final word. Since EDI was enacted in 2014, Congress has shown a tendency to bump up the administration's initial request.

EDI began as a $1 billion program in 2014, and grew to $3.4 billion in the last year of the Obama administration. EDI funding reached a high of $6.5 billion in Trump's first year in office, but the administration has sought to cut the funding in the last two years.

Begun as the European Reassurance Initiative in June 2014 in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine, the program was meant to reassure NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe "of a continued U.S. commitment to their national security," according to a 2018 Congressional Research Service report.

In addition, EDI has enabled the continuous nine-month rotational deployment of an Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) in Europe of about 3,300 personnel since February 2017, along with a Combat Aviation Brigade of about 1,700 personnel, the report said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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