US Security Policy for Europe

This is the text of testimony delivered at a hearing of the US Senate Committee on the Armed Services, April 28, 2014 on US Policy on Europe. The testimony was originally posted on The Atlantic Council’s website.

Chairman McCain, Ranking Member Reed, Members of the Committee, I am honored to speak at this hearing on the state of U.S. security interests in Europe.

We meet today some eight months after the September 4, 2014 NATO summit in Wales, United Kingdom. That meeting of Allied heads of state proved to be an important inflection point for the Alliance. When planning for that summit began, its primary objective was to mark the end of NATO’s combat operations in Afghanistan. Some were even concerned about the future relevance of NATO, anticipating that it was about to enter a period of unprecedented operational inactivity following decades of defending against the Soviet Union, managing conflict in the Balkans, and, more recently, contributing to out-of area undertakings in Afghanistan and even Iraq.

Instead, the Alliance’s agenda that Fall was dominated by events that most policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic failed to anticipate. These, of course, include Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sudden and bloodthirsty rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

A read of the summit communiqué reflects other challenges confronting the Alliance:  missile proliferation, chaos in Libya, crises in Mali and the Congo African Republic, threats to the global commons – including its cyber and maritime domains, and Iran’s nuclear program, among others.

That list gives real credence to former NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen’s repeated assertions that we face a more connected, more complex, more chaotic and more precarious world. He is right. And, in this world, the political and military capacities that NATO can leverage has become only more vital to the shared interests and values that define the transatlantic community.

I would like today to focus on four urgent and emergent fronts before the NATO Alliance:

  • An Eastern Front driven by a Russia’s provocative military actions;
  • An emergent Arctic Front driven by Moscow’s militarization of the High North;
  • A Southern Front, a region stretching from Iran across the Middle East and North Africa wrought by a dangerous combination of failed states and extremist organizations; and,
  • A Global Front defined by the upheaval generated by the rapidly evolving dynamics of globalization.

The Eastern Front: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Let me start with the front that is sort of a return back to the future.  Fourteen months ago, President Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine with the incursion of 20-30,000 Russian troops into the Crimean peninsula. That was followed by the cross-border operation into Eastern Ukraine involving Russian provocateurs and Special Forces who seized buildings and armories and terrorized the local population. The latter were soon reinforced by Russian conventional forces.  Both operations were backed by the massing of Russian conventional forces on Ukraine’ border, under the guise of a 150,000 man military exercise.

Russia’s invasion caused over 6,000 Ukrainians deaths in eastern Ukraine and displaced over 1.6M people.  More than 20 percent of Ukraine’s industrial capability has been seized or destroyed. Crimea and regions of Donetsk and Luhansk remain occupied and are being politically purged.  Russia is reinforcing its presence in Crimea with Special Forces, aircraft, and ships and has announced plans to deploy nuclear capable SS-26 Iskander missiles. In Eastern Ukraine where fighting continues, Putin violates the Minsk II peace accords by deploying additional heavy combat equipment, personnel and military supplies to his forces.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine presents a significant challenge to the security and stability of Europe and to the credibility of NATO.  As an unprovoked aggression against the territorial sovereignty of a European nation, the invasion of Ukraine disrupts the order that has kept peace in Europe since World War II.  By asserting the unilateral right to redraw borders on the grounds he is protecting ethnic Russians and by promoting the concept of a “Novorossiya,” Putin has reintroduced the principal of ethnic sovereignty, a principal that wrought death and destruction across Europe in the last century and those before.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, one motivated significantly by his opposition to the country’s long-standing desire to be a fully integrated part of Europe, is a direct threat to the vision of a Europe whole, free and secure.  If allowed to succeed, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will create a new confrontational divide in Europe, between a community defined by self-determination, democracy, and rule of law and one burdened by authoritarianism, hegemony and occupation. In these ways, Putin’s aggression against Ukraine – and his increasingly provocative military actions elsewhere in Europe – are direct challenges to NATO and U.S. leadership, ones intended to portray the Alliance and Washington as lacking the diplomatic, economic, and military capacity to counter Russian power.

Putin’s Revanchist Ambitions:  The invasion of Ukraine is but one element of a revanchist policy that President Putin has articulated and exercised since taking office in 1999.  His objective has been to reestablish Russian hegemony, if not full control, over the space of the former Soviet Union. 

Toward this end, Moscow has applied the full suite of Russian power to weaken and dominate its neighbors:  economic embargoes, political subterfuge, information and cyber-warfare, separatist groups, frozen conflicts as well as military shows of force and incursions.  Putin’s campaign history includes Moscow’s attempt to subvert Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, the 2007 cyber-attack against Estonia, the separatist movement in Moldova, energy embargoes against Lithuania and Ukraine, and the 2008 invasion of Georgia.

President Putin’s strategy is one that pursues 20th-century objectives through 21st-century techniques and old-fashioned brute force.  With regard to the latter, Russia has undertaken a determined modernization of its armed forces. Some $750B has been dedicated over this decade to expand the Russian fleet, introduce 5th generation aircraft, deploy new missiles, modernize his nuclear arsenal, increase his nation’s SOF capabilities, and militarize the Arctic.  When one compares the Russian forces that invaded Georgia in 2008 to those that led the invasion of Crimea last year, the modernization campaign is clearly yielding improved capabilities.

As part of his strategy, Putin has deployed his military forces in provocative ways across the Baltic region, the Black Sea, the Arctic and elsewhere to demonstrate capability, intimidate and divide Russia’s neighbors, and probe the resolve of the West.  These actions have steadily escalated over time, and include challenges to the airspace of Sweden, the cross-border seizure of an Estonian law-enforcement officer, harassment of military and civilian aircraft and ships in the Baltic and Black Seas, and an exponential increase in assertive air and sea patrols by Russian aircraft and ships on both sides of the Atlantic.

Russian military exercises have been an important part of these shows of force and are notable for their magnitude and for the frequency of “spot” exercises – the sudden and unannounced mobilization and deployment of forces.  As indicated in the attached chart, over the last three years, Russia has conducted six major military exercises involving between 65,000 and 160,000 personnel. In comparison, these dwarf the size of NATO and Allied exercises, and raise questions about the Alliance’s comparable ability to mobilize comparable forces in no-notice situations.

Russia’s assertive military conduct has been complemented by an increase in nuclear threats against the West made by senior Russian commanders and civilian officials, including President Putin. In the last several weeks, Moscow threatened to target Romania, Poland and Denmark with nuclear weapons for their contributions to transatlantic missile defense. The Times of London recently reported that in a meeting with U.S. officials, Russian generals threatened “a spectrum of responses from nuclear to non-military” if the Alliance deployed additional forces to the Baltic states.

The West’s Response:  To date, the West’s response to Russia’s territorial aggression and provocative military actions consists of limited incremental escalations of economic sanctions and military deployments.  The failure of this response to convince Putin to reverse course is rooted in this incrementalism which communicates hesitancy and a lack of unity and determination. Indeed, it may have actually emboldened Putin.   Today, Moscow’s provocative exercises and assertive military conduct continue, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine remain occupied, and Russia’s forces appear poised to strike deeper into Ukraine. 

Calibrated engagement with the Russian government is needed to explore avenues by which to modulate tensions and return to Ukraine its territories. However, to be effective these efforts will require more immediate and longer-term initiatives that will impose economic costs on Russia, deter Moscow from further provocative conduct, reinforce Central and Eastern Europe’s sense of security, enhance Ukraine’s capacity for defense, and help it transform into a successful, democratic, and prosperous European state.  These include:

  1. Stronger economic sanctions on Russia.  The current approach of targeting specific Russian individuals and companies has not changed Putin’s course of action, not is it likely to do so.  Russia is a country that rightfully takes great pride in its history of enduring economic and military hardship.   An authoritarian regime will always be more resistant to economic sanctions than a democratic system.  Sectoral sanctions are needed to more aggressively shock the Russian economy by shutting off its energy and financial sectors from the global economy.
  2. Stronger reinforcement of NATO’s eastern frontier. Russia repeatedly mobilized ten of thousands of troops for its invasion of Ukraine and in its shows of force.  NATO’s response has been far more limited, involving dozens of aircraft, company level deployments (and the occasional battalion) and a few ships.  The gap is noticeable to Putin, our Allies and our partners. The Alliance should:
  • Base a brigade level combat capability permanently to Poland and Romania;
  • Base battalion level capacities to each of the Baltic states;
  • Provide NATO’s top military commander, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, authorities necessary to deploy forces in real time against provocative Russian military operations; and,
  • Expand the mission of NATO missile defense and the U.S. European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to address the threat posed by Russian ballistic missiles
  1. Military Assistance to Ukraine:  Greater effort must be made to reinforce Ukraine’s capability for self-defense.  By denying Kyiv’s request for needed military weapons, the West not only precludes Ukraine the ability to better defend itself, it is de facto accepting Putin’s effort to draw a new red line in Europe, allowing the reemergence of a grey zone in Europe. 

This has been deeply disillusioning for Ukrainians who so courageously expressed their desire on the Maidan for freedom and a place in Europe.  And, it threatens to shatter the bipartisan/transatlantic vision of a Europe whole, free and undivided that has guided U.S. and European security policy for the last 25 years.

The United States and other keys allies are to be commended for the long-overdue step of deploying military trainers to Ukraine, but they should also:

  • Provide military equipment to Ukraine, including air defense and anti-tank weapons as well as key enablers, such as drones, that would enhance Ukraine’s ability to leverage the capabilities of its armed forces
  • Deploy intelligence and surveillance capabilities
  • Conduct military exercises in Ukraine, as EUCOM did in the Summer of 2014, to help train Ukraine’s armed forces and to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine

None of these recommendations would present a territorial threat to Russia, but they would complicate Putin’s ambitions regarding Ukraine. They would help erase the red line that Moscow has been allowed to redraw in Europe. They would assure Ukrainians that they are not alone and demonstrate that Putin is unable to intimidate the West. And, they would present Moscow the possibility of a costly and prolonged military conflict.

The United States should also be front and center with the Europeans in the negotiations addressing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  The absence of the United States at the negotiating table signals a lack of commitment to European security and thus devalues the presentation of transatlantic solidarity against this invasion. It has been an opportunity cost to the effort to bring this conflict to peaceful and just end.

  1. Support to Ukraine’s economic transformation. In this regard, the United States and the West has been constructive, providing significant EU, IMF, and bilateral economic assistance packages.  However, the goals of such economic assistance are difficult if not impossible to realize when Ukraine is subject to a violent invasion as well as to political, economic and other pressures from Russia.
  2. A Reanimation of the Vision of Europe Whole and Free:  For much of the post-Cold War period, U.S. policy was clearly guided by the vision of a Europe, undivided, secure, and free. For over two decades, Washington wisely supported the indigenous ambitions of Central European democracies for membership in NATO and the European Union.  Those processes of enlargement have benefited all parties in Europe, expanding the zone of peace, stability, and prosperity across the continent.

The United States needs to reanimate the process of NATO enlargement, making clear that the Alliance’s “open-door policy” for membership is no passive phrase or empty slogan.  Doing so would be an important way to underscore Washington’s commitment to the security of Central and Eastern Europe.  And, for these reasons, no decision or recommendation should be permitted or advanced that would in any way limit its applicability to any country of Europe, including Ukraine.

The Risks of Incrementalism:  There are real risks that flow from the West’s current strategy of incrementalism against President Putin’s aggression: Continued incrementalism not only promises continued conflict in Ukraine but also an increased danger of wider war.

This is underscored when one considers what will be the likely state of Ukraine and Russia if the West holds to its current course.

What will be the state of Ukraine in 6-18 months?  It is likely to experience a further loss of territory. Its economy will be further crippled, thereby rendering the nation less able undertake reform. Its population is at risk of being more disillusioned, and government consequently weaker, if not divided. That is a Ukraine more vulnerable and more enticing to Putin’s revanchist ambitions.

What will be the state of Russia in 6-18 months?  Its economy will likely be somewhat weaker, if it is not bolstered by a rise in energy prices. It may be marginally more isolated.  Under such circumstances, President Putin can be expected to be more irrationally nationalistic and more brazen. That is a Russia more likely to attempt incursions further into Ukraine and escalate its provocative military actions against the West.

Under such a scenario, not only are Ukraine’s prospects more dire, the prospects of collision, albeit inadvertent, between Russian and Western forces are increased.  The very risk of conflict escalation that the current policy has been designed to avert will be more likely.

The Artic: An Emerging Front

The resource rich Arctic has become a high priority of President Putin’s security policy.  Russia’s ensuing militarization of the High North has made it an emergent front affecting transatlantic security. 

Moscow has established an Arctic Military command backed by a joint Arctic task force.  It has re-opened Cold War naval and air bases and is building a string of new military facilities across the Arctic.  It is reinforcing the Northern Fleet with more ice-breakers, surface combatants and submarines.  Russia has stepped-up Cold War military operations in the region, including the testing of missiles and aggressive naval and air patrols that prod the territories of the U.S. and other allies.

Enhancing NATO’s role in the Arctic:  If the High North is to remain a zone defined by peace and stability, the West will have to introduce a more robust security dimension into its Arctic policies, and a centerpiece of that effort should include a greater role for NATO.  Indeed, as more non-Arctic nations start to operate in the Arctic, it will be useful to leverage the geopolitical weight that comes with a community of like-minded North Atlantic democracies.

NATO should expand its political and operational role in the Arctic, leveraging its maritime and air capacities.  The Alliance can serve as a useful vehicle to coordinate and execute Arctic security cooperation, including intelligence exchanges, surveillance operations, military training and exercises, air policing, and disaster response. It can also foster the development of capabilities necessary for Arctic operations.

In these ways, NATO can fill a security gap that exists in the Arctic and do so without undermine existing useful institutions like the Arctic Council.  And, this does not preclude Arctic cooperation with Moscow, particularly in areas such as search and rescue and disaster response.  Indeed, the region can serve as an avenue of mutually beneficial engagement with Russia, even in this time of increased tension.

The bottom line is that if the Alliance plays a greater role in Arctic security today, the transatlantic community is going to be able to manage, if not prevent, a serious security crisis tomorrow.

The Southern Front: Failing States and Ideological Upheaval

NATO faces a Southern front – an arc of instability stretching from Iran to the shores of North Africa.  It is a realm in which societal upheavals and regional power struggles have generated challenges of varying levels of urgency – from Tehran’s nuclear programs, to the chaos traumatizing Syria and Iraq to the tragic flood of refugees flowing to Europe from Africa and Middle East.

Among the more urgent of these crises lies south of Turkey, caused by the sudden and savage rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Because of the links of ISIS and other violent groups in this region to Europe and North America, this is an urgent threat to transatlantic security. The West’s goal must be more than the degradation or destruction of ISIS and other like-minded groups. It must be the prevention of Iraq, Syria and other areas from serving as havens and breeding grounds for such extremism. That is going to require a comprehensive, long-term strategy that will require considerable military, economic and political resources.

That response will have to be a multi-lateral undertaking and not just a transatlantic undertaking. It must be executed in partnership with key powers of the Muslim world – Turkey, of course, but also Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in addition to Iraq and moderate elements within Syria.  It should leverage the various capacities of NATO, the European Union, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Arab League, among others.  Only then will one be able to leverage the cumulative strengths of the West and mitigate the historic baggage many Allies have in the region.

It will require sustained military action and security assistance.  The tip of the spear addressing threats like ISIS has to be local forces.  The Iraqi security forces, the Peshmerga, and moderate Syrian factions stand among these elements, but they will need to be backed by foreign airpower, reinforced by foreign equipment, intelligence, combat advisors and trainers as well as special forces prepared for direct action.

The multi-lateral effort will require significant humanitarian assistance.  This is needed to assist not just those displaced in Iraq, but also to assist the governments of neighboring countries – particularly Turkey and Jordan – whose state structures and societies are at risk of being overburdened, if not destabilized, by refugees fleeing the region’s violence.

The strategy will have to include a long-term effort to help enable the crippled states and societies of Europe’s North African and the Middle Eastern periphery to benefit from economic growth and sound governance.  Those are the most powerful weapons against extremism.  Military strikes and humanitarian assistance may often be required, but they are tactical actions, necessary but not sufficient to tackle a strategic problem. Good governance and prosperity are ultimately the best ways to ensure that these societies do not serve as breeding grounds for extremism and terrorist recruits.

The Global Front

These aforementioned three fronts to Europe’s East, North and South are affected by a fourth NATO front – the front generated and sustained by the dynamics of globalization.

Globalization clearly has it is positive sides.  Advances in transportation and communications have facilitated the spread of prosperity, respect for human rights, and democratic principles of governance, among other positive attributes of modernity.

However, these benefits have also been accompanied by challenges.  The proliferation of weapons technologies and the emergence non-state actors with global reach – such as ISIS, al Qaeda and others – constitute some of the threats facilitated by globalization.

The profusion of communications technologies, a key dynamic of globalization, contributes to what Zbigniew Brzezinski (my father) calls a global political awakening that has been evident in the velvet revolutions of 1989, the orange revolution in Ukraine, and the Arab Spring.

Communication technologies are empowering societies in ways that can bring down dictators, end corrupt autocracies, and create opportunities for democracy, reform and accountability in government.  However, a political awakening can also be an impatient force, one prone to destructive violence when it is driven primarily by sentiments flowing from inequity and injustice and lacks leadership with a platform of clear objectives.  In those cases, societies are often left vulnerable to organized groups leveraging dangerous ideologies.

Another key dynamic of globalization has been a profound shift in the global balance of power.   A more complex constellation of actors with global reach and ambitions is emerging.  These include China, India, and Brazil, and could well include others in the future.

As a result, we are entering a world where the predominance of the United States, even in collusion with Europe, is not what it was in the past.  And, the emergence of new powers with regional, if not global, aspirations is often accompanied by territorial claims, historic grudges, and economic demands that can drive geopolitical tension, competition and collision. 

Together these three dynamics increase the likelihood of regional conflicts. They make consensual decision-making more difficult among nation states, including within NATO, and they yield a world that is more volatile and unpredictable.

Many of these tensions and collisions are and will occur both near and far from the North Atlantic area, but in an age of globalization their economic and security implications can be immediate to both sides of the transatlantic community.

These global challenges make it all the more important for the transatlantic community to work together on all fronts.  A vital underpinning of the NATO Alliance in this new century is the Transatlantic Bargain, one in which the United States sustains its commitment to European security and in return our Allies remain steadfast in their commitment to address with the United States threats and challenges that emanate from well beyond the North Atlantic area.

Protecting and promoting transatlantic security and values amidst these four NATO fronts – the East, the Arctic, the South and the challenges of global upheaval – stand among the defining challenges of our time.  They present complex, long-term and costly undertakings that require:

  • Economic resources that can be readily mobilized to in times of crisis and dedicated to economic development;
  • Military capabilities that are expeditious and can be readily integrated with civilian efforts; and,
  • Political legitimacy that is optimized through multilateral versus unilateral action.

In each of these requirements, the transatlantic community is preeminent.  Its economies account for over 50 percent of the global GDP – some five times that of China and fourteen times that of Russia.  Its military establishments are second to none, and NATO remains the world’s most successful and capable military Alliance

Above all, the transatlantic community presents a collective of likeminded democracies – and herein lies a vision for its role in the global order of today and tomorrow:  NATO can and should serve as the core of a geographically and culturally expanding community of democracies that act collectively to promote freedom, stability and security around in what is an increasingly dynamic globalized environment.  But it will require all of us to do more together.