NATO Focuses on Russian Violations of Ukraine's Sovereignty

Jan. 22, 2015 | BY Lisa Ferdinando , DOD News

NATO is focused on strategies to deal with its two biggest threats -- Russian aggression to its east, and the threat of terrorism from its south, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and other alliance defense chiefs today concluded two days of talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Russian aggression, Dempsey said, has "changed sovereign borders with the use of coercion." And the recent terrorist attacks in Paris underscore the "very real threat of terrorism that comes up into NATO's southern flank."

There was consensus among the military chiefs that NATO must confront these threats, he said.

NATO Needs to Address Both Threats

"I thought this would be the most important meeting of its kind that I've had with NATO since I've been chairman, and in my judgment it proved to be just that," the chairman said in an interview on his plane back to Washington.

"We came to an agreement that NATO really does have to address both threats, and that NATO has the capability and the resources to address them both," Dempsey said. "We don't have to pick which threat is more serious."

While Dempsey declined to discuss details of the most recent allegations of Russia violating September’s Minsk ceasefire agreement, he did underscore the seriousness in which NATO views the Russian aggression.

"It is indicative of efforts on the part of Russia to support separatists in, frankly, violation of Ukrainian sovereignty," Dempsey said. "We're very concerned about it."

Eastern Europeans are very unsettled about the threats to the east, and the southern Europeans are very unsettled about the threats to the south, Dempsey said.

U.S. and European officials have expressed concern about the return of foreign fighters through NATO's southern flank, and the threat that those extremists pose to Europe.

NATO to Evolve Strategy to Address Threats

The defense chiefs also discussed the strategic concept, crafted in 2010, that informs NATO's defense planning. Global security has changed "pretty dramatically" in those four years, Dempsey said.

NATO will evolve its strategies to deal with the threats to its east and south, and the military chiefs will make recommendations on the way the NATO military arm is organized and resourced, he said.

Dempsey said it is important to demonstrate "our resolve and our reassurance" to NATO's Baltic and Eastern European allies through the Readiness Action Plan, NATO's response to the Russian aggression.

Alliance officials say the Readiness Action Plan will significantly enhance NATO’s readiness and responsiveness and ensure that NATO forces remain ready. In the interim, NATO has established a “very high readiness” joint task force coordinated by Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe.

NATO has bolstered its presence in Eastern Europe, while the United States has conducted a variety of reassurance measures to include airborne exercises in Poland and the Baltic nations.

"We have the very real requirement to reassure our allies, to increase the readiness of NATO's forces, and to adapt some of the organizations that provide NATO rapid response and the NATO command structures," Dempsey said.

The defense chiefs did "really big lifting" to address the near-term requirements on readiness and assurance, he added, and on the longer-term approach to the threats to east and south.

Pleased With Transition in Afghanistan

Dempsey said the defense chiefs were pleased with the successful transition from the combat International Security Assistance Force mission to the Resolute Support mission that trains, advises, assists and builds capacity.

Flexibility is needed in the strategy for Afghanistan, Dempsey said, encouraging the allies to "stay committed at the regional level through the fighting season of 2015."

Dempsey, who said the alliance has a great ally in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said the strategy must consider both conditions on the ground and a timetable for progress.

"Milestones based on time are an important goal, so that you have something to reach for and to plan for and to resource for," he said. "It just seems to me that in these kinds of missions, it is useful to have both a timetable but then be willing to assess and reassess and assess again the conditions."

The United States has demonstrated flexibility, he said.

"Initially we were supposed to be at 9,800 [troops in Afghanistan] by the end of 2014, but our NATO allies had some challenges in resourcing, and so we've left an additional 1,000 there into the spring, to allow NATO to catch up with its resourcing challenges."