Just a few years ago, there was a debate about removing all remaining ground troops from Europe and bringing them back to the United States. The subtext of that debate was that Europe was at peace, European Command (EUCOM) was a backwater, and a high level of military engagement on a day-to-day basis with other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was probably unnecessary. To say, “things change” is an understatement.
Vladimir Putin’s actions, beginning with the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and continuing through the seizure of Crimea and direct military support for the separatists in Eastern Ukraine, are reestablishing the tensions between Russia and the West. Putin’s Russia has, despite the best efforts of the United States, proven to be a significantly destabilizing actor in Europe.
Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists recently signed a ceasefire that supposedly took effect over the weekend. However, there continue to be reports of conflict around Mariupol. Unfortunately, it appears that this ceasefire will suffer the same fate of the last one and break down in the near future.
At the moment, we are left with how to address the conflict in the Ukraine. It is my personal belief that in the short term, we should support the Ukrainian government, and to this end Chairman Thornberry and I have introduced a bill that would authorize the Department of Defense to provide training and lethal defensive equipment to the Ukrainian security services. I hope that this legislation will move soon.
In the longer term, the United States, and our European colleagues, must figure out how we are going to deal with Russia. It is my understanding that the Administration will soon finalize an updated Russia strategy, which is a good step. But we cannot, and more importantly, should not, be thinking about this problem in a unilateral context. Our NATO and European partners are integral parts of this conversation.
Europe and NATO will continue to be vital in other areas as well. For example, NATO members have forces in Afghanistan that conduct or support operations in the Middle East and they continue to play an important role in the anti-ISIL coalition. And NATO members, probably more than anyone, understand the threats posed by instability and extremists in North Africa. We and they simply must coordinate closely, probably more closely than ever before, to deal with these problems.
Both we and our European partners understand the need for this enhanced cooperation, and we are ready to move forward. For this, General Breedlove, I think we owe you some thanks—your work to build consensus and prepare us all to move forward together has been invaluable.
This is not to say that there will not be, and are not now, challenges to this cooperation. Many of our NATO partners are not meeting their commitments for defense spending. While some of them may meet this commitment soon, there is the real possibility that others, including at least one major NATO partner, may backslide to below the minimum required levels. For example, recent stories about the German army mounting broomsticks on armored vehicles to simulate machine guns underscores this problem. A military alliance that cannot field militaries that are properly trained and equipped cannot be taken seriously.
We also have some way to go in coordinating our response. Last year, the Administration requested and Congress approved the European Reassurance Initiative—a $1 billion fund designed to reassure our European allies concerned about Russian aggression. The Administration is requesting additional funding for this purpose for Fiscal Year 2016. NATO, meanwhile, is preparing the Readiness Action Plan to help build a rapid response to aggression in Europe. It is unclear how these two efforts are linked and coordinated, but they should be. There are other similar questions about how we will better work together as we go forward.