RPT: ANALYSIS - US Exposes People To COVID-19 Risks By Not Fully Canceling DEFENDER-Europe 20 Drills

RPT: ANALYSIS - US Exposes People to COVID-19 Risks by Not Fully Canceling DEFENDER-Europe 20 Drills

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 22nd March, 2020) The US move to only scale down its ambitious NATO-sponsored DEFENDER-Europe 20 drills "in size and scope" without outright canceling them amid the COVID-19 pandemic only shows that Washington is afraid to show any weakness, an attitude that only endangers the lives of Europeans, experts told Sputnik.

The plans for the military exercises slated for April-May were grandiose, with the European Union promising the largest deployment of US forces to Europe "in more than 25 years." Some 20,000 servicemen were due to be deployed to demonstrate Washington's "commitment to NATO," according to statements released earlier in the year. In total, some 37,000 servicemen from the participating countries were scheduled to join the maneuvers.

However, the plans were jeopardized by the COVID-19 pandemic, which as of Friday has left over 244,000 people infected and over 10,000 dead across 160 countries and regions.

On Monday the US European Command released a statement saying that "in response to the current outbreak" the DEFENDER-Europe 20 has been modified "in size and scope." This entails the cancellation of linked drills, namely Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response. The US armored brigade combat team that is already in Europe will "conduct gunnery and other combined training events with Allies as part of a modified Allied Spirit exercise," the command also announced.

The movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe ceased as of March 13. Others deployed Europe for linked drills are due to be sent back.

As of late Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed over 80 cases of coronavirus within its military, including 49 active-duty members. The infection was reported among NATO personnel in Brussels.

NOT CANCELING DRILLS CONSTITUTES HEALTH THREAT

According to Pat Elder, a board member of the World BEYOND War group, the US would never fully call off the drills because doing so would "admit defeat."

"The propagandists behind the Army's irrational war posturing would never completely 'cancel' these war games. Doing so might signal weakness on the part of U.S. military forces," he told Sputnik.

Elder believed such an act from Washington might endanger the health of those people involved in the drills due to the threat of COVID-19.

"The US is taking the concept of 'deterrence' to an absurd limit. And it must do so, the thinking goes, to justify its mushrooming defense budget," he said.

'DEVOTION TO FULL SPECTRUM DOMINANCE'

Srdja Trifkovic, the foreign affairs editor for "Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture," also criticized the organizers' refusal to fully call off the exercises.

"The refusal of Defender's planners to cancel it altogether, amidst Europe's efforts to contain the virus, reflects their devotion to the concept of full-spectrum dominance which is ideological in nature and dogmatic in execution," he told Sputnik.

He went on to say that while the drills were aimed to enhance security across Europe, in reality the movement of so many troops so close to the civilian population put Europeans at a greater risk.

"It was also mindless and provocative for those citizens to be denied travel to the U.S. by presidential order on March 13, while the airlift of U.S. personnel was only halted, again by the U.S. decision, three days later," he said.

Meanwhile, Coleen Rowley, a former FBI special agent as well as a whistleblower and member of non-profit "Women Against Military Madness," told Sputnik in an interview about how the Arctic and South Korean drills were canceled, and that DEFENDER-Europe 20 should follow suit.

"The pandemic is terrible but it does provide a teachable moment to show how stupid war is as no military or even nuclear arsenal stands a chance against the teeny tiny virus that is indiscriminately attacking the people of the entire world, powerful and non-powerful alike," she said.

According to her, Washington, despite not being fully prepared to respond to COVID-19 at home, still pushes forward with its military exercises.

AGGRESSIVE ACTION AGAINST RUSSIA

DEFENDER-Europe 20, even on a smaller scale, is merely "an aggressive action" against Russia, Reiner Braun, a co-president of the International Peace Bureau, told Sputnik.

"From my understanding, what NATO is doing with the DEFENDER 2020 is an aggressive action against Russia. They do not want to start the war tomorrow, but they are preparing war. Otherwise, you don't need such an exercise on the border [with] Russia," he said.

Braun went on to say that the timing of the drills was also some kind of a provocation, since the active phase of the drills is scheduled to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the victory over the Nazis in the Second World War, which Europe and Russia will mark in May.

"And the biggest part of the provocation is that they are doing this in May, in the time when Russia in the tradition of the Soviet Union celebrates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Europe. It is absolutely unacceptable to do such a maneuver at that time," he said.

Braun asserted that when one side -- in this case, NATO -- starts a military exercise, the reaction of the other side -- Russia -- may be unpredictable.

"You never know that when you start a maneuver what will be the reaction of the other side when you are making maneuver which includes airforces, which includes marines, which includes the missile defense system. You never know what the other side recognizing what you are doing and then a dynamic can start. And the end of such a dynamic could be a war," he stated.

According to Trifkovic, the DEFENDER-Europe 20 drills demonstrate that the Cold War is not over since they are based on "an overtly offensive, war-preparing scenario" in which Moscow is treated as the threat and future enemy.

"The ongoing Russophobic mania, embodied in NATO and manifested in the war games on European soil, only prolongs the European civil war which exploded in July 1914, continued in 1939, and has never properly ended ... not even with the fall of the Berlin Wall," he said.

Meanwhile, Tiberio Graziani, the chairman of Vision & Global Trends, International Institute for Global Analyses, told Sputnik that the drills were, first and foremost, meant as an opportunity for the US to show off its "strength and effectiveness" to Russia and China.

"From this particular point of view, Europe assumes the role of a mere bridgehead thrown over the Eurasian continental mass, a logistical space to be used for US interests," he said.

Sven Biscop, director of the Europe in the World Program at the Egmont - the Royal Institute for International Relations, noted in his comments to Sputnik that Europeans felt China and Asia were becoming the main priority for Washington.

"American commitment to the collective territorial defense of Europe itself is not in doubt, however. In that context, it is only logical that NATO organises large-scale maneuvers from time to time - just as Russia does - in order to ensure interoperability between allies," he said.

In early March, the Polish Defense Ministry released a statement saying that Russia would be allowed to observe part of the drills in Poland.

In this regard, Braun said that if Russian specialists are allowed to observe the drills, they will only be allowed to witness a small part, and only the part NATO and Warsaw want them to see.

"They show you some places that nothing happened. They don't show you the internals of the development of the armies. I am absolutely sure that they do not want to get the secrets of the strategy of the maneuver and they don't want to see the most developed technological preparations of the NATO armies," he told Sputnik.

Sputnik reached out to the Polish defense ministry for a comment about the number of the Russian observers who will be allowed at the drills and other details, but it has not received a reply yet. It is unclear whether the invitation still stands, given the coronavirus situation.

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