NATO must bolster its presence in Europe as a way to counter Russian aggression in the region.
That was the message from General PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE, the supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), when he visited Stanford on Monday.
“Europe is clearly at a crossroads,” he said.
Breedlove addressed the need for a strong NATO amid the evolving geopolitical climate in Europe. Of great concern are Moscow’s intrusions into Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia in Eastern Europe in recent years.
“We have to recalibrate what we’re thinking,” he said. NATO is building up its troop rotations to deal with hostile moves in the region, for example.
Breedlove spoke to a couple hundred people at the Koret Taube Conference room in the Gunn Building. Breedlove’s speech was sponsored by The Europe Center in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).
“Highly dynamic” is how Breedlove described Europe’s security situation as a resurgent Russia seeks to “rewrite” the rules of international order. “They have been aggressive and coercive in their use of diplomatic, military and economic tools,” he said.
Lies and distortions characterize Russia’s attempt to change borders and bully its neighbors, Breedlove added. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s greater goal is to destabilize NATO and chip away at the alliance. Russia is acting in the east, south and north of Europe, including forays into the Arctic Circle and near Japan.
“This is all about extending Russian control” over its neighbors, Breedlove said.
Massive, seemingly endless migration coming from the Middle East into Europe poses a monumental crisis, he added. “The situation is creating serious political problems for political leaders” in European countries, he said. On top of this, possible terrorists and foreign fighters within the sheer numbers of migrants are extremely difficult to track, he added.
These European and NATO challenges intersect in the case of Syria and Russia’s involvement there, Breedlove said. “Russia’s striving to project [itself] as a world power.”
Syria is an opportunity for Putin to shift the world’s attention from his country’s aggressions in the Ukraine to the Middle East, he said. Breedlove disputed Putin’s rationale – fighting ISIS and terrorism – for intervening in Syria. “There’s a clear gap between his words and actions.”
Time will tell if Russia overextends itself in its adventurism, Breedlove said. For NATO, it must “rebuild its capacity” to address such threats. “Defend territory, people and values” is how he defined NATO’s mission.
A free, peaceful and prosperous Europe is much more attractive to the world than a menacing Russia that lacks similar values and attributes, he noted.
The security of Europe is Breedlove’s “daily business,” said MICHAEL MCFAUL, director of FSI. “You could not have a more well informed person speak about European security.”
McFaul noted that a new initiative series on European security, sponsored by the Europe Center, will bring other speakers and events to campus.
Breedlove, a distinguished graduate of Georgia Tech’s ROTC program, has flown combat missions, mostly in the F-16 jet, and has served as vice chief of staff for the U.S. Air Force and commander of the U.S. Air Force in Europe and Africa.
“I feel right at home, because this is the type of weather we have in Belgium,” he quipped on a rainy day at Stanford.
This article was originally published in The Stanford Report on November 9, 2015.