By ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN And PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE
We both grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and we both remember the extraordinary day when the Berlin Wall came down. Until that day, NATO had kept the Cold War from getting hot. After that day, war in Europe seemed hard to imagine, as former adversaries became NATO allies and we worked to establish a new partnership with Russia.
Now, an unprecedented period of peace has been challenged by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. For the first time since the end of World War II, a European country has grabbed part of another’s land by force. Day after day, we see evidence of a disruptive Russian presence inside Ukraine, the massing of combat-ready troops around its borders and a cynical attempt to rebrand Russia as the provider of humanitarian aid. The tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 showed only too clearly the global consequences of Russia’s reckless actions.
But the dangers of 2014 differ from the threats of the Cold War. They are multiple and more insidious. Instability rages to the south, with an arc of crises spreading from North Africa to the Middle East. And Russia is resorting to a hybrid war, with snap exercises, secret commandos and smuggled missiles.
In this changed world, NATO’s fundamental mission remains the same: to defend the territory, populations and shared values of all its members. Our commitment to collective defense remains rock-solid. And our job, as the top civilian and military representatives of NATO, is to make sure that NATO can defend all allies against any threat.
We have already doubled our air-policing missions, deployed more ships to the Black Sea and the Baltic, and conducted more exercises in Eastern Europe. All 28 allies are contributing to this defensive effort.
In a few weeks, at the NATO summit in Wales, we will take the steps needed to make NATO fitter, faster and more flexible to address future challenges, from wherever they come. This Readiness Action Plan should have three key components.
First, we need to build on the steps we have already taken to assure NATO allies’ security, to make them sustainable for the longer term.
Second, we need the presence of NATO forces in Eastern Europe for as long as necessary; upgraded intelligence gathering and sharing; updated defense plans; and an expanded training schedule with more exercises, of more types, in more places, more often.
Third, we need to upgrade elements of our rapid-reaction capability, the NATO Response Force, to make them able to deploy even more quickly and deploy at the first sign of trouble, before a conflict erupts. Speed is of the essence to deter sudden threats along NATO’s borders. We also need to pre-position equipment and supplies, so that they can travel light but strike hard if needed.
Having the right capabilities, in the right place, at the right time can make the difference between threat and reassurance, between war and peace.
NATO already has the equipment, capabilities and expertise it needs to make these adjustments, but some changes to our force posture, positioning and infrastructure will be needed. These changes will also require continued investment in modern, deployable forces. The Wales summit is a key opportunity to reverse the trend of declining defense budgets and to share the responsibilities for security more fairly.
We are convinced that these measures are necessary to adapt to a dangerous world and to respond to Russia’s double-game.
We continue to urge Russia to make the responsible choice: to pull back its troops, stop using hybrid-warfare tactics, and engage with the international community and the Ukrainian government to find a political solution to the crisis.
But meanwhile we must make the right choices for NATO: to ensure that the alliance remains ready, willing and able to defend our almost one billion citizens. That is our No. 1 job at the Wales summit, and we stand united in our resolve.
We will send an unmistakable message: Today and in the future, NATO means one for all, all for one.
Mr. Rasmussen is the secretary-general of NATO. Gen. Breedlove is NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command.
Published in The Wall Street Journal, 17 August 2014