From Wales to Warsaw : collectively defending the Alliance

Comments made by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow during the discussion

  • 19 Jun. 2015 -
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  • Last updated: 19 Jun. 2015 16:17

(Comments made during the discussion)

Thank you Brooks [Tigner, Jane’s Defence Weekly].

It is a pleasure to be back at GLOBSEC and to be part of such a distinguished panel.

Sitting here in the center of Europe, I think we all remain committed to building and maintaining a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. But this is now more difficult than it has been for many years. And that’s because of Russia.

Not far from Slovakia's Eastern border, Russia has soldiers and equipment in Eastern Ukraine – soldiers who are fighting and dying in large numbers.

It doesn’t matter that discussion of casualties in “special operations” has been banned.

It doesn’t matter that insignias and license plates have been removed.

It doesn’t matter how many times Moscow claims that any Russians in Ukraine must be “volunteers” or “on vacation.”

They can’t obscure the reality: that Russia is fighting a war in Ukraine, and that it is commanding, recruiting and training so-called separatists in the East in order to destabilize the rest of Ukraine and destroy its European aspirations.

This is not only a war against Ukraine, but against the European order that we have worked so hard to build. Russian aggression violates the Helsinki Final Act and the Minsk Agreements, to which Russia is a signatory.

The full implementation of the Minsk Agreements remains the best way to end this crisis. But in light of recent attacks by the Russian-led separatists, the prospects for that don’t seem very bright.

Russia’s behaviour has created a new strategic reality for NATO. After 25 years of focusing on out-of-area crisis management, we now must re-emphasize our original mission of collective defence.

My message today is that the Alliance is up to the challenge.

We have greatly improved our ability to respond swiftly and firmly to these new challenges through our Readiness Action Plan – the RAP.

Our Very High Readiness “Spearhead” Force is now operational and able to be deployed within a matter of days.

We are more than doubling the size of the NATO Response Force, to provide reinforcements for the Spearhead should it be needed.

We have significantly increased the size and scope of our exercises.

And we will soon open a series of command-and-control posts across our Eastern Allies, to facilitate the rapid deployment of NATO reinforcements and coordinate training and exercises.

This is just the beginning of NATO's long-term military adaptation. Between now and our Warsaw Summit next July, there is more work to be done.

For example, we need to build our resilience and our ability to anticipate potential hybrid attacks. This means better sharing of intelligence, better assessment of potential vulnerabilities, quicker decision-making, and a strategy to deter and defend against hybrid attacks.

Looking beyond Warsaw, we need to consider what further steps we will need to increase our collective defence beyond the enhanced NRF, such as capabilities to counter Russian Area Denial tactics.

Political adaptation is every bit as important as military adaptation.

We need to strengthen the ability of our Eastern partners like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to resist Russian intimidation, by helping them‎ to reform their defence institutions and their armed forces.

And we need a similarly pro-active approach to strengthen security on our Southern flank, using Defence Capacity Building and other tools to help partners protect themselves against ISIL and other terrorist threats.

Across the Alliance, we need to make the case for increased defence spending, so that we can have the resources necessary to remain strong in the face of all challenges.

And in light of recent surveys, we also need to make clear to our own publics the need to support our NATO Allies with military force if we are ever put to the test. For without unity and without the will to act, the security of every NATO Ally will be at risk.

NATO has always been strong because it has always been united: one for all and all for one, in the face of any adversary. Russia threatens a return to a Europe based on spheres of influence. We will not stand for this, for it will ultimately jeopardise all of our security.

The good news is that Allies in the South are contributing to Spearhead Force to defend our Eastern allies. And Eastern allies are doing their part in the Mediterranean, in North Africa and in the anti-ISIL coalition.

That’s the kind of solidarity we need to achieve our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace, and to meet the security challenges we face to the East and to the South.

I look forward to today's debate.