Sweden and Finland's push to join NATO won't require adding more U.S. ground forces into either country, the U.S. general nominated to take over European Command told senators Thursday. But Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli said military exercises and occasional American troop rotations will probably increase.
Cavoli, who currently serves as head of U.S. Army Europe and Africa, said the increased military focus will probably continue to be on eastern Europe — where nations are more worried about potential Russian aggression and any spillover of the war on Ukraine.
“The center of gravity of NATO forces has shifted eastward,” Cavoli told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing. “Depending on the outcome of the conflict, we may have to continue that for some time.”
Cavoli was asked about the U.S. troop presence in Europe, which has grown from fewer than 80,000 to about 102,000 since the buildup to Russia's invasion. He said the increase had no ties to the more recent move by Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.
Sweden and Finland submitted their written applications to join NATO last week in one of the most significant geopolitical consequences of Russia's war on Ukraine.
Cavoli noted that the U.S already has strong military ties with both countries, and that additional exercises and other engagements are likely to grow.
If confirmed, Cavoli will be key as the Pentagon assesses its military structure across Europe. Defense officials have noted that historic troop concentrations in Germany, Italy and Britain may well shift and spread out into other eastern nations, such as Poland and the Baltics.
Eastern European countries have been clamoring for more U.S. weapons and troops, as a hedge against Russia. Cavoli said the U.S. also has to continue to strike a delicate balance and ensure its actions in Europe don't inflame relations with Russia and spark a broader conflict.
“One must not shy away from activity to stay strong and outline our priorities,” he said, but the U.S. also must be careful “not to overdue that and create a problem where there wasn’t one."
Cavoli's nomination to be the top U.S. commander in Europe includes the job of NATO Supreme Allied Commander, which gives him a critical role in the Russian war on Ukraine. Committee members voiced support for his nomination, which is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate.
Cavoli has extensive expertise on Russia. He served as a foreign area officer with a concentration on Eurasia, spent time in Russia, and speaks Russian, Italian and French. He was also the director for Russia on the Joint Staff. He would replace Gen. Tod Wolters, who currently heads European Command but is finishing his three-year tour there.