‘Great power competition’: US and Nato to counter Russia in Atlantic

US reactivates second fleet and hosts naval command as Moscow tensions rise

US second fleet: the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman and its strike-group ships in the Atlantic last year. Photograph: Scott Swofford/US Navy/EPA

US second fleet: the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman and its strike-group ships in the Atlantic last year. Photograph: Scott Swofford/US Navy/EPA

 

The United States navy is re-establishing its second fleet, responsible for the northern Atlantic Ocean, and offering to host a new Nato command as the Pentagon puts countering Russia at the heart of its military strategy.

“The return to great power competition and a resurgent Russia demands that Nato refocus on the Atlantic to ensure dedicated reinforcement of the continent and demonstrate a capable and credible deterrence effect,” Johnny Michael, a Pentagon spokesman, said. He called the new Nato Atlantic command “the linchpin of transatlantic security”.

Under the plan, the US will establish the command’s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, which will also be the restored fleet’s base. “Second Fleet will exercise operational and administrative authorities over assigned ships, aircraft and landing forces on the east coast and northern Atlantic Ocean,” Adm John Richardson, the chief of US naval operations, said on Friday.

In 2011 the fleet was disbanded for cost-saving and organisational-structure reasons. Since then, however, Russia has become more assertive, flexing its military muscles in conflicts such as those in Ukraine and Syria, and tensions between Moscow and Washington have increased.

Earlier this year the US military said in a new national defence strategy that countering Russia, along with China, would be a priority, the latest sign of shifting priorities after more than a decade and a half of focusing on the fight against Islamist militants.

In presenting the new strategy, which will set priorities for the Pentagon for years to come, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis called China and Russia “revisionist powers” that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models”.

Russia has increased its naval patrols in the Baltic Sea, the North Atlantic and the Arctic, Nato officials say, although its navy is smaller now than it was during the cold war.

Since taking office last year President Donald Trump has tried to build stronger ties with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. But relations have instead soured over allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, Russia’s alleged poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, and Putin’s support of the government of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. – Reuters