The United States in the last week has initiated Patriot missile sales to multiple East European and Baltic countries, as well as deployed the missile system in Lithuania for NATO war game exercises.
“The deployment of Patriots is important because it demonstrates that such moves are no longer a taboo in the region,” Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimondas Karoblis told Reuters, referring to the NATO exercise that began on Tuesday.
“It proves that the missiles can be brought to wherever they are needed, which is very important,” Karoblis added.
The missile systems will take part in multinational defense drills, titled “Exercise Tobruk Legacy 2017,” which will run until July 22. The exercise will train NATO ground-based air defense units to coordinate with one another and “refine airspace command and control procedure,” according to the Lithuanian Defense Ministry.
A deal was also struck last Thursday between Poland and U.S. arms contractor Raytheon, the missile’s producer, that includes eight of the systems, which is expected to be finalized by this November.
In light of tensions in the region, largely sparked by the American-orchestrated coup in Ukraine in 2014—dubbed the “most blatant coup in history” by Stratfor founder George Friedman—Poland has made moves to modernize its military, spending over $14.5 billion on new weapons and gear, which includes better missile defense units.
Poland has hosted periodic training rotations for a U.S.-maintained and operated Patriot battery since 2010, when one of the systems, accompanied by around 100 American military personnel, was deployed to Morag, a town only about 50 miles from the Russian city of Kaliningrad. Later, the training was carried out in towns further from the Russian border.
Polish officials, according to leaked embassy cables published by WikiLeaks, were furious over the American decision to rotate the batteries for training purposes only, as the officials apparently expected the systems to be fully operable.
The MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system combines high-performance radar with aerial interceptor missiles and has been sold to at least ten different states, including Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Greece, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Spain and the United Arab Emirates. Each unit costs between $2 million and $3 million.
In addition to Poland, the list of countries with Patriots will soon also include Romania, who seeks deals with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin valued at $4 billion. The U.S. State Department approved the sale on Tuesday, but before it is finalized Congress has 30 days to raise objections to the plan.
“The proposed sale will increase the defensive capabilities of the Romanian military to guard against aggression and shield the NATO allies who often train and operate within Romania’s borders,” the State Department said in a statement on Tuesday.
In May of 2016, the U.S. established a land-based missile defense station in Romania. While Washington insisted the missile shield was not meant to counter Russia, officials in Moscow certainly interpreted it that way.
“From the very beginning of this whole story, we have said that according to our experts’ opinion, we are convinced that the deployment of the missile defense system is truly a threat to Russia’s security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters soon after the deployment.
The United States has also been looking to expand its own military footprint in Europe, holding a flurry of training exercises and war games in over a dozen countries in the region in the last year alone.
For just a moment, let us imagine Washington’s response if Russia began hosting scores of training exercises and war games in South and Central America, the Caribbean, etc., hemming in the U.S. border with sophisticated missile systems and Russian infantrymen.
Add to our calculus the number of Russian military bases stationed in foreign countries—about 16, compared to the U.S.’s several dozen (the numbers vary depending on what you count as a “base”)—as well as the number of foreign nations in which Russia is involved militarily in the last decade, a figure that pales in comparison to the number of nations affected by the United States’ aggressive interventionism.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia spent about $69 billion on its military last year, nearly ten times less than America’s colossal budget of $611 billion, which is perhaps half of the true budget, everything accounted, if you ask political economist Robert Higgs.
“Russian aggression” is largely what has motivated the spate of U.S.-led exercises in, and weapons sales to, European states, but the numbers ought to put the threat into context.