Stationing more U.S. and NATO troops in Southern and Eastern Europe and upping its naval presence in the Baltic and Black seas are important, but a new Atlantic Council report on the alliance’s purpose sees continued sanctions against Russia as an equally important tool of deterrence.
Former NATO Ambassador Nicholas Burns, speaking Monday in Washington, D.C., on the report, said the danger in the alliance and also in the European Union is an eagerness to “return to business as usual” with Russia at a time when administrations will be changing in the United States while ignoring Moscow’s continued drive to divide Europe.
The report calls for a “whole, free and at peace Europe.”
“We need [to demonstrate] effective deterrence against [President Vladimir] Putin.” He said he expected a major battle in Europe and across the Atlantic on continuing the sanctions, the value of the alliance itself and the willingness of its members to spend the agreed-upon minimum amount on security. “We need to stand up” to Russia militarily, diplomatically and economically, he added in answer to a later question.
As an example of standing up, the report calls for the Black Sea maritime presence to be led by Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, all NATO members, and to be joined by Georgia and Ukraine, alliance partners. Russia continues backing separatist fighters in both partner countries.
“This is a very important principal [of keeping pressure on Russia]. Everybody in the EU has to agree to push the sanctions forward.” Burns said that with the United Kingdom voting to leave the union, Germany has to play a larger role in Europe and in the alliance.
Burns and retired Marine Gen. James Jones, and former commander in Europe, agreed that deterrence of Russian aggression would top the agenda at next month’s NATO summit in Warsaw, even as Burns noted, Donald Trump, the expected Republican presidential alliance, is questioning the value of NATO membership in the alliance.
Jones said he would like to see NATO take a more pro-active stance to prevent wars, build up stronger governments in the Middle East and North Africa to prevent the catastrophe that is unfolding in the wake of the Syrian civil war. “You could prevent a number of countries from being overwhelmed by radical ideology,” he added in answer to a question.
A joint council between NATO and the EU could be very helpful in this regard he said. “NATO is the penultimate security alliance,” and the European Union has strengths it can share in civil government, judicial systems and law enforcement.
Areas the joint council could address include: hybrid warfare and building a north-south economic corridor to wean European nations from Russia for their energy supplies.
The report also calls for NATO to continue its military assistance program in Afghanistan.
While the United Kingdom will remain in NATO, Burns said that Germany and 22 other alliance members must reach the target of spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Jones said that threshold was set in 2002.
More to the point, Jones said, “The American public is no longer willing to do the fighting and dying” alone. Other countries need to step up “to do the hard work” that goes beyond providing forces for combat support and combat service support roles.
Burns said he was very concerned about a senior German official’s remarks that he found the recent exercises in Poland to be “saber-rattling,” a position not held by Chancellor Angela Merkel. He countered that Moscow was doing “more than saber-rattling in invading Crimea, arming Ukrainian separatists and helping two provinces secede from Georgia. “We have to be clear about what we’re trying to do” when the alliances conducts military exercises and remaining open to expansion.
Montenegro is expected to be admitted to NATO at the Warsaw meeting. The alliance maintains partnerships with a number of countries, including Ukraine, and some of those nations are asking to be considered for membership. While Ukraine has problems of corruption and governance to overcome before it could be seriously considered, Burns said it was important that NATO “send a signal to Russia that has no veto” over any country’s admission to the alliance.
In answer to Putin’s claim that the alliance pledged not to admit former Warsaw Pact nations into NATO, Jones said, “We’ve been looking for the agreement. …There was no such agreement.”
Burns said, “We’ve always been an open alliance for democracies.”