Gen. Philip Breedlove talks during a 2013 press conference. (ARMEND NIMANI/AFP via Getty Images)
NATO needs to look at how its forces are positioned in Europe in response to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, head of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, tweeted recently.
“Changes to troop locations will be made at the political level to address the new paradigm in the wake of the Russian-Ukraine crisis,” Breedlove tweeted on May 7.
In an emailed response to questions from Military Times, Breedlove elaborated on what steps NATO is taking amid ongoing tensions with Russia, and how he responds to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertion that NATO promised the Soviet Union that it would not expand into Eastern Europe.
Do you believe NATO needs to make adjustments to where its troops are positioned in Europe?
Russia’s illegal military actions have created a new security situation in Europe and it is necessary for NATO as a defense alliance to adapt to that new situation. That is why I believe NATO should take a hard look at this question as we move forward. The question is not one of readiness but one of responsiveness. NATO must be prepared to respond effectively in a security environment affected by a country that conducts snap exercises and masses armed forces on borders to influence events inside that country. In order to be more responsive there are a number of steps that can be taken. One of these to be considered is positioning. Again, these decisions are made at the political level.
Q: Will you come up with a list of options for the North Atlantic Council on where troops could be positioned in light of the Ukraine crisis?
See previous answer. Responsiveness and force positioning are not the same thing. Additionally, the most recent package of measures is for immediate implementation and represents robust reassurance measures that also avoid escalating the crisis further. We have enhanced our air patrols in eastern Europe. We have sent ships to the Baltic Sea. And we are employing AWACS surveillance flights over Poland and Romania. In the medium and long-term, NATO is considering measures that could further increase our collective defense, but these options will be developed and considered over the coming weeks at the political level.
Q: Do you
believe the U.S. military needs to shift troops and assets from Central to Eastern Europe?
From a NATO perspective, we will continue to support a diplomatic solution to this crisis while ensuring that we are prepared to meet any threat to our populations and territory. As you well know, SACEUR [Supreme Allied Commander Europe] was tasked by the North Atlantic Council to assemble a series of reassurance measures that would stay in effect through December 31. These measures include efforts in the air, maritime and land domains across the north, central and southern parts of NATO. The measures adopted are purely defensive in nature. This is about assuring our allies, not provoking Russia and NATO is communicating that at every level. It is up to the Alliance’s 28 national government leaders at their NATO Summit in Wales to decide on any specific additional steps.
Q: Russian President Vladimir Putin made these comments in 2007: “I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.’ Where are these guarantees?”
Russia has 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine’s border. We’re not looking to match that. NATO is simply considering a range of additional measures that are defensive in nature. These measures could include things like updated defense plans, enhanced exercises, and appropriate deployments. NATO’s aim and hope is that this crisis is resolved via diplomacy, and we are being careful not to take actions that might unnecessarily escalate the situation. That said, we need to be prudent in light of Russian actions, which is why we are taking steps to confirm and strengthen our responsiveness.
Again, though, we are implementing a number of additional defensive measures on land, sea, and air in order to reassure our allies and to strengthen our collective readiness. And as you have seen repeatedly, it is Russia, not NATO, which has and continues to deploy large numbers of troops and conduct tactical movements in the proximity of the border. Unfortunately we have still not seen any indication of movement that leads us to believe these Russian armed forces troops are withdrawing. The presence of almost 40,000 Russian troops positioned near Ukraine’s border and evidence of direct Russian involvement in agitating the situation in eastern Ukraine are not helping matters. The Russian federation’s actions and military escalation presents serious implications for the security and stability of Eastern Europe.
Q: Does NATO feel bound by the 1990 guarantees?
NATO’s core task is to protect and defend our Allies. We have taken military steps that at this stage are necessary to assure our Allies and ensure our collective defense. These measures are defensive in nature and are fully in line with our international commitments and agreements. NATO fully supports all the efforts of the international community.