NATO Defense Chiefs to Discuss Russia, Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, May 20, 2014 Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will discuss the situation in Eastern Europe, Europe’s southern flank, and the way forward in Afghanistan during meetings with NATO’s uniformed leaders in Brussels this week.
The NATO Chiefs of Defense meetings are held twice a year, and this one is a lead-in to the NATO Summit that’s slated in Wales in September.
In Brussels, the chiefs will discuss the Russia-Ukraine crisis and its implications for the alliance. They will also assess the situation in the Middle East and North Africa -- an area crucial to NATO’s southern flank.
Dempsey telegraphed this concern during a May 14 speech at the Atlantic Council last week.
“NATO is in a critical crossroads … given the aggressiveness of Russia, so its eastern flank must be reconsidered,” Dempsey said at the council meeting. “But I’ll also tell you that my personal advice to my fellow [chiefs of defense] in NATO is that the southern flank of NATO deserves far more attention than it currently receives from NATO.”
The alliance leaves the southern flank to the southern European nations, the chairman said. Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece are most concerned about the Mediterranean.
“And yet the issues that are emanating into the NATO southern flank from the Middle East and North Africa could quite profoundly change life inside of Europe, not only Southern Europe, but well into Central and Northern Europe,” he said.
Terrorist cells, criminal syndicates, human traffickers, and drug smugglers see the southern flank as an opportunity and the alliance as a whole must consider the threats to the region.
The chiefs will also discuss plans for the remainder of the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan and the implementation of Operation Resolute Support -- the advise and assist follow-on mission in the country.
Meanwhile, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have changed the political situation in Europe, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a press conference in Brussels yesterday.
“It is less predictable and more dangerous,” Rasmussen said of Europe’s current political situation. “For NATO, this has implications for now and in the future.”
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its continued threats to the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine has led to Russia’s international isolation, including NATO’s suspension of all practical cooperation with Russia.
“NATO cannot take what it has achieved for granted, because Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has posed a challenge to a fundamental principle -- the right of sovereign states to choose their own paths,” Rasmussen said. “Russia has committed to this precept many times, but we see that President [Vladimir] Putin now refuses to uphold this promise.”
The secretary general noted that Ukraine will hold its presidential election May 25. More than 5,000 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will monitor the election. U.S. officials believe this election will be a good mirror of the true sentiments in Ukraine.
“This is the vote that counts,” Rasmussen said. “Any effort to delay or disrupt the elections would be an attempt to deny the Ukrainian people their choice and a further step back to find a genuine political solution to the crisis.”
To deter Russia and reassure allies, NATO has beefed up the Baltic air-policing mission. The alliance also has added ships in the Baltic and the Black Seas. Alliance airborne warning and control system aircraft are patrolling the skies over Poland and Romania. And NATO has increased the number and size of its exercises.
“Right now, about 6,000 troops from across NATO are taking place in Exercise Steadfast Javelin in Estonia,” Rasmussen said. “This is a significant exercise aiming to test our ability to repel an attack against an ally. It includes infantry, fighter jets and also a cybersecurity team.”
Steadfast Javelin, he said, is a good example “of the steps we are taking to bolster our forces and their readiness.”
The alliance must look at how much nations spend on defense and how they spend it, the secretary general said. NATO has a goal of each member country spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, but only four do so -- the United States, the United Kingdom, Estonia and Greece. Some nations -- France, Turkey and Poland -- are close to that benchmark.
The secretary general said he is encouraged that NATO nations are looking for ways to reverse the trend toward less defense resources.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneAFPS)