MAY 20, 2022 – Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, the North Atlantic Alliance has proven its capabilities to mobilize for collective defense and ably support the Ukrainians fighting for their country, the top NATO military leaders said today.
Dutch Adm. Rob Bauer, the chairman of the alliance’s military committee, emphasized the alliance faces a new situation. “The focus of this meeting was on collective defense,” he said following a meeting of NATO military leaders. “Without a doubt, a new era for NATO has begun. In the past few months, NATO has shown that it is capable [of swiftly and effectively changing] its posture. We have implemented the largest reinforcement of collective defense in a generation.”
The 30-nation Atlantic alliance capitalized on work begun after Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014 to speedily reinforce vulnerable frontline states. All this is part of the new NATO military strategy, which — Bauer said — is evolving even as Russia poured over Ukraine’s border on February 24. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine “has presented us with a new strategic reality,” Bauer said.
A reality the NATO nations can face down.
At the meeting, Bauer said the allied chiefs of defense heard from their Ukrainian counterpart. “We commended Ukraine for the willingness across all generations to fight for freedom,” Bauer said. “Ukraine will never accept Russian occupation, and NATO will support Ukraine for as long as necessary.”
The chiefs also discussed what Putin’s war means to the alliance both in the short term and long. “I want to stress that we are not looking at the situation in Ukraine alone,” Bauer said. “Together with Finland and Sweden, and our Asia-Pacific partners — Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of South Korea — the chiefs of defense discussed how we can best assess all global defensive alliances. It is very much our adversary who determines the timeline. And that means we always have to be ready to expect the unexpected.”
Ukraine has fought the Russian military to a standstill, and in fact, driven it away from the capital of Kyiv. The Ukrainians are pushing back the Russians in the Donbas region. Bauer ascribes the success — in part — to the difference in morale of the force. “There are many lessons to be learned from the war in Ukraine,” he said. “Most importantly, it has once again proven the importance of morale, to know what you are fighting for. The 3.2 million men and women in uniform who serve this alliance know exactly what they are fighting for: The protection of freedom and democracy; the protection of our way of life.”
Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of European Command and the NATO supreme allied commander Europe, also discussed Ukraine at the news conference. He noted that the allies have supplied the Ukrainian military with weapon systems that have been effective against the overwhelming size of the Russian force.
“All of this is making a difference, helping Ukraine defend its people, its territory and it’s free and democratic future,” he said. The United States helps lead these efforts “with speed and agility.” He noted that the United States has provided more than $4 billion in lethal assistance since the invasion.
“For the last 84 days, our focus is to support so that Ukraine can prevail,” Wolters said. “With respect to the defense of the alliance, we’ve responded in all domains, in all regions, to shield all allies. We’ve deployed elements of the NATO Response Force to strengthen our forward defense.”
There are now eight battle groups under NATO command deployed along the eastern flank. There are now over 42,000 troops and 120 jets on high alert, with more than 20 ships ready to respond, he said. “Our land domain has seen a 10-fold increase, the air domain a 50 percent increase of fighters patrolling the skies.”
The United States now has more than 100,000 service members in Europe to ensure deterrence works, and the alliance has re-started training Ukrainian service members. “The bottom line: NATO resolve and unity is as great as it’s ever been,” Wolters said. “The performance of our Ukrainian partners facing this aggression has been very, very impressive.”
While NATO has changed to confront Russia, the alliance must continue the transformation of the armed forces and military capabilities to meet the new strategic realities, said French Air and Space Gen. Philippe Lavigne, the supreme allied commander transformation. “Transformation is not only technology, it is innovation, it is a mindset change, it is people and their new skills,” he said. “The Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the consequences that war produced for the security of the Euro-Atlantic area is an additional trigger to accelerate the path of transformation.”
Lavigne said the military leaders are convinced the alliance must continue to build capacity to engage and be able to operate in multi-domain operations: Land, sea, air, space and cyber. “This is both a strategic challenge and an opportunity,” he said. “It is a challenge, because we have to develop the ability to deal and synchronize with multiple actors, military, governmental, civilian and industry. And it’s also an opportunity because we will be stronger together.”
BY JIM GARAMONE, DOD NEWS