U.S. Defense Officials Issue Assurances Towards NATO Commitments

by Julia Benbenek

 

Earlier this month, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who replaced former defense secretary Jim Mattis, attended his first NATO meeting at its headquarters in Brussels. The topics discussed at the meeting included troop allocations, weaponry, and Kremlin deterrence.

Last year, President Trump threatened to withdraw from NATO due to his dissatisfaction with other NATO allies “freeriding” on Washington’s defense capabilities. However, NATO members have recently reaffirmed their commitments to a 2014 pledge to work toward spending at least 2% of their GDP by 2024. Following the Brussels meeting, Secretary Shanahan praised Germany for increasing defense spending by $30 billion, putting it on a path to contribute 1.5% of its GDP on security. Moreover, he affirmed U.S. commitment to the alliance: “As Mr. Trump said last month, we’re going to be with NATO 100 percent.”

However, Secretary Shanahan demands even greater contribution from other members: “It’s not enough. The threat warrants more. In my previous experience, I wasn’t aware–to the same degree–of the emerging threats. I am now. With what I know now, I would spend more. That’s the challenge we have with reaching out and communicating strategic messages.”

Some of these threats refer to Kremlin aggression. Last year, Poland and Ukraine fell victim to cyberattacks that infected three energy and transport companies. Investigators at Slovakia-based ESET reported that the activity was similar to the group Sandworm which has been named by the U.S. Department of Justice as being the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU). Furthermore, the Kremlin’s breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has raised security concerns as well, specifically its SSC-8 missile system. Secretary General Stoltenberg previously stated that Kremlin has, “developed a new category of weapons that are mobile and hard to detect, and have a short warning time, so they are reducing the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons.”

As a result, Poland and Ukraine are looking to fortify their defense capabilities. Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak expressed hopes for increasing, “the training of troops, the sale and supply of modern weapons, the development of military infrastructure. Special attention will be paid to the development of the Navy and the air capabilities of our country.” Similarly, Poland is looking host a larger contingent of American troops.

Troop allocation in the Middle East was also an important point of discussion during the Brussels meeting. There is a NATO training mission in Afghanistan which advises Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and conducts counter terrorism missions against groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al Qaeda. Last year, President Trump expressed that he wanted to withdraw a significant portion of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan; however, Secretary Shanahan said there would be, “no unilateral troop reduction”.

Due to rising tensions with Kremlin military and cyber threats, it is essential for Poland to strengthen its political and military relations with other alliance members. Plans for greater troop allocation and the potential construction of a permanent U.S. military base in Poland would enable Poland to deter any potential threats from the Kremlin and protect U.S. national security interests in East and Central Europe.

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JuliaBenbenek_20Julia Benbenek is an intern at the Polish American Congress and an undergraduate student at Georgetown University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service.

 

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