BRUSSELS — The United States plans to join with other NATO nations in increasing ground and naval forces in Eastern Europe as part of the military alliance's response to Russia's incursion in Ukraine, the White House said Wednesday.
The specifics of the NATO plan were still being finalized, including the size of the force increase. Rather than significantly boosting the U.S. military presence in the region, the move seems aimed instead at showing symbolic support for NATO members near Russia's borders.
President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said NATO is aiming to provide "a continuous presence to reassure our allies." While he would not detail specific countries where the additional resources would be sent, he noted that the United States is particularly focused on efforts to bolster Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
Rhodes briefed reporters as Obama traveled to Rome from Brussels, where he met with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as well as European Union leaders. In a speech from the heart of Europe, Obama declared the crisis in Ukraine a global "moment of testing."
Obama appealed to Europeans to retrench behind the war-won ideals of freedom and human dignity, declaring that people voicing those values will ultimately triumph in Ukraine. Painting a historical arc across the major global clashes of the last century and beyond, he said young people born today come into a world more devoid of conflict and replete with freedom than at any other time in history.
The president also urged the 28-nation NATO alliance to make good on its commitment to the collective security that has fostered prosperity in the decades since the Cold War concluded.
"We must never forget that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom," Obama said, adding that the Ukraine crisis has neither easy answers nor a military solution. "But at this moment, we must meet the challenge to our ideals, to our very international order with strength and conviction."
Calm in Europe has been upended by Russian President Vladimir Putin's foray into the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Defying the global community, Moscow annexed that peninsula this month.
Obama came to Europe intent on shoring up commitments from allies, but also to make a larger point about European security a quarter-century after the fall of the Iron Curtain. In a nod to the U.S. perception that America has borne too much of the burden for NATO members' security, Obama said he wants to see every NATO partner "chip in" for mutual defense.
"I have had some concerns about a diminished level of defense spending by some of our partners in NATO," Obama said. "The situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn't free."