Dimitri Simes

How coronavirus derailed the largest Nato exercise in 25 years

US troops and tanks arrive in Germany for Defender-Europe 20 (photo: Getty)

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across Europe, the United States has reduced its participation in a Nato military exercise that was set to be one of the alliance’s largest since the end of the Cold War.

In April and May, the Defender-Europe 20 exercise was meant to feature 37,000 troops from 18 countries, including 20,000 soldiers deployed from the United States. It was planned to take place across ten European countries, with the bulk of the drills in Germany, Poland, and the Baltic states.

Shortly after the WHO declared that Europe had become the new ‘epicentre of the pandemic’, the Trump administration enacted a travel ban for foreign visitors from the 26 countries in Europe’s Schengen travel zone, and then from the UK and Ireland. Meanwhile, the European Union has shut the Schengen zone to the outside world for 30 days.

After these new travel restrictions, the US European Command announced this week that it would downgrade its involvement in Defender-Europe 20, despite having already moved 6,000 troops and 12,000 vehicles and pieces of equipment from the United States to Europe for the exercise.

Defender-Europe 20 provided an opportunity for Nato to put on a rare display of unity amidst its rapidly multiplying divisions

‘In response to the current outbreak of the Covid-19 virus and recent guidance by the Secretary of Defence, we have modified exercise Defender-Europe 20 in size and scope,’ a statement from US European Command said. ‘As of March 13, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased.’

The statement added that with the exception of the armoured brigade combat team, all other US forces deployed to Europe for Defender-Europe 20 will be withdrawn from the continent.

Earlier this month, a senior European general tested

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