WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2014 —
The core principle of NATO -- that an attack on one member is an attack on all -- is inviolate, President Barack Obama said today, and he assured Estonians that if they are attacked they will be defended by NATO, including the armed forces of the United States.
The president spoke in Estonia’s capital of Tallinn on the eve of the NATO summit in Wales. Earlier, he met with the presidents of the Baltic republics and said categorically that the United States stands with them.
Obama again asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop his aggression in Ukraine, and made it clear that the United States and NATO will not back away from allies in Europe.
The goal of generations is a Europe whole, free and at peace, Obama said. Yet, he added, that vision is in danger. He called Russia’s occupation of Crimea a brazen assault.
“It challenges that most basic of principles of our international system: that borders cannot be redrawn at the barrel of a gun, [and] that nations have the right to determine their own future,” the president said. “It undermines an international order where the rights of peoples and nations are upheld and can’t simply be taken away by brute force. This is what’s at stake in Ukraine. This is why we stand with the people of Ukraine today.”
NATO not aimed at one nation
The president reiterated that NATO is not aimed at any one nation. “We’re an alliance of democracies dedicated to our own collective defense,” he said. “Countries like Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania are not ‘post-Soviet territory.’ You are sovereign and independent nations with the right to make your own decisions.”
Russia is using unbridled nationalism to force the issue in Ukraine, and it has to stop, the president said.
NATO has an integral part to play in the issue, the president said, and he spelled out what the United States will do. “First, we will defend our NATO allies, and that means every ally,” he said.
The United States has aircraft patrolling the skies of the Baltic republics and has troops exercising with allied nations in the region. The United States also has sent more ships into the Black Sea and Baltic Sea.
“I believe our alliance should extend these defensive measures for as long as necessary, because the defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London,” Obama said.
Extending defensive measures
To that end, the United States is working to bolster the security of its NATO allies and further increase America’s military presence in Europe, the president said. In the Baltics, it would mean pre-positioning more American equipment and conducting more training and exercises.
“And it would mean more U.S. forces -- including American boots on the ground -- continuously rotating through Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania,” he said.
NATO must deploy quicker, and Obama called on alliance nations to support a plan to enhance readiness. “That means we need to step up our defense planning, so we’re fully prepared for any threat to any ally,” he said. “It also means we need to have the infrastructure and facilities that can receive rapid reinforcements, including here in the Baltics. We need to enhance NATO’s Rapid Response Force so it can deploy even more quickly and not just react to threats, but also deter them.”
The alliance also must be able to combat nontraditional campaigns such as the one Russia has waged against Ukraine, he said.
NATO also must invest in capabilities for the future, the president said, noting that alliance states need more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and a workable missile defense. European allies need to invest 2 percent of their gross domestic product in defense, as Estonia does, he added.
Finally, the alliance must remain united in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Obama said. “The United States, the European Union, our partners around the world, have all said we prefer a diplomatic solution,” he said, noting that Russia has resisted such a path.
Now, the Russian economy is suffering due to sanctions. “Russia’s actions in Ukraine are weakening Russia,” Obama said. “Russia’s actions are hurting the Russian people.”
Freedom will prevail
Obama urged NATO leaders to remain solid, because dignity, justice, democracy and freedom will win.
“Not because it’s inevitable, not because it is ordained, but because these basic human yearnings for dignity and justice and democracy do not go away,” he said. “They can be suppressed. At times, they can be silenced, but they burn in every human heart in a place where no regime could ever reach, a light that no army can ever extinguish. And so long as free peoples summon the confidence and the courage and the will to defend the values that we cherish, then freedom will always be stronger and our ideas will always prevail no matter what.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)