Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III joined 29 other NATO defense ministers in Brussels to set the stage for the alliance's Madrid Summit that will start June 29.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Madrid Summit of NATO heads of state and government will be a transformative event "at a pivotal time for our security."
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is certainly a transformative event. The international rules-based order set up after World War II was designed to resolve issues peacefully. The order respects sovereignty and is based on the rule of law.
It has been successful. There were still small wars, but there was nothing approaching the great power wars that killed more than 40 million people globally in the 20th century. NATO was instrumental in preventing a great power war with the Soviet Union, and it adjusted after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union to "export" peace.
Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a direct challenge to this rules-based order, and NATO must adjust and respond.
"Since Russia's indefensible invasion of Ukraine, we have had to face events that we all hoped would never come to pass," Austin said at the conclusion of the second day of the NATO Defense Ministerial. "And this alliance has met the challenge with determination, with resolve and, above all, with unity. Together, we have responded swiftly and decisively to Russia's baseless, lawless and reckless invasion of Ukraine."
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the rules-based order was successful in preventing a great power war and in preventing large powers from conquering smaller countries with military force.
But now, "Ukraine is under threat. They are at war, and we will continue to support them," Milley said following a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels, June 15. "But the rules-based international order is also under threat due to the actions of Russia in the Ukraine.
"The international community is not allowing this unambiguous act of aggression by Russia to go unanswered," he continued. "To do so risks the world returning to an era when large powerful countries can invade smaller countries at will. That is what the international community is up against. Since the initiation of hostilities in late February, the global community has responded in an unprecedented manner."
The NATO nations are resolute in opposition to this Russian war. But the war still changes the calculus in Europe and around the world. Russia is not the only nation seeking to overturn the rules-based order. China, too, wants to replace the system even though that system has lifted China economically. And Austin said the new NATO Strategic Concept keeps a wary eye on the Indo-Pacific.
Still, the talk of the ministerial concerned Ukraine and the challenge Russia presents. The alliance is looking to beef up deterrence and defense in the Eastern countries of the alliance, Austin said.
"During this enormous crisis in European security, we're proud to stand together to strengthen the rules-based international order that protects us all," the secretary said.
"Together, we have risen to the challenge of [President Vladimir] Putin's war of choice and Russia's assault on transatlantic security," Austin said. "Our allies have activated NATO's defense plans. They've deployed elements of the NATO Response Force. And they've placed tens of thousands of troops in the eastern areas of the alliance, along with significant air and naval assets under direct NATO command, supported by allies' national deployments."
The alliance is looking to the future and NATO leaders are making long-term plans to deter and defend every inch of NATO territory. This is especially aimed at the East, the secretary said.
Many of the ministers' recommendations will be presented to NATO leaders in Madrid. These will include basing decisions, the footprint of forces throughout the continent, all domain combat and more.
The secretary said he was pleased with the work the ministers did during the ministerial but could not elaborate on the decisions. Those will be ratified later. "See you in Madrid," he told reporters.