August 24, 2016
EU Reporter Correspondent
Trump’s comments where amplified when one of his leading supporters, former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, said in an interview on CBS This Morning that he would have to “think about it a great deal” if the US was asked to come to the aid of a country such as Estonia if it faced a Russian invasion. To clarify, he added: “Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. The Russians aren’t gonna necessarily come across the border militarily. The Russians are gonna do what they did in Ukraine. I’m not sure I would risk a nuclear war over some place which is the suburbs of St. Petersburg. I think we have to think about what does this stuff mean.”
Biden’s visit reaffirms the United States’ commitment to the strategic alliance and “faced with an unpredictable security environment” commits the US to deepening its co-operation and efforts to ensure security and stability in the region, as part of NATO’s approach to collective defence.
This includes NATO enhancing its deterrence and defence posture, including through a forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. Biden stated that these steps by NATO, as well as the significant and visible US presence in the region, demonstrate the collective solidarity and resolve to protect all Allies.
Biden said: “We have pledged our sacred honour to the NATO treaty… we have never reneged on any commitment we have ever made.” Biden added and emphasized that Trump’s view did not reflect the views of the US Republican Party: “I don’t even think [Trump] understands what Article 5 is. There is continuing overwhelming bipartisan agreement from both political parties.”
NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, in an Op-Ed published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 16 August, defended NATO’s action in the face of Russian aggression in the Ukraine and build-up of troops: “In recent months, we have also seen new permanent deployments all along Russia’s western border with NATO Allies, from the Barents to the Baltic Sea, and from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. There are currently an estimated 300,000 Russian troops based in its Western Military District, and in May, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu announced the deployment of three further divisions, meaning an additional 30,000 troops. These forces are backed by new air bases, naval forces and nuclear-capable short-range missiles.
“We have also seen a series of massive military exercises. These have included unannounced, ‘snap’ exercises, in some cases exceeding 100,000 troops – more than double the size of even the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War. Russia has also irresponsibly buzzed NATO ships and aircraft with its combat planes.
“Meanwhile, Russia’s decision to suspend implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and its dismal record of implementing the other long-standing international security agreements – which Russia has signed up to – such as the Vienna Document, the Open Skies Treaty, and the Helsinki Final Act, have helped raise tensions to a level not seen since the 1980s.”
In this context, it is clear that NATO needs to demonstrate its strength and solidarity. Vershbow has defended NATO’s response as a proportionate, sober and measured response to Russia’s actions. The agreement reached at the Warsaw Summit, to deploy four multinational battalions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, totaled several thousand troops.
The United States said it planned to meet with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on a regular basis to discuss key common and individual defence and security priorities, focusing on land, air and maritime defence; border security; law enforcement; national resilience; and transnational threats, with the aim to improve intra- and intergovernmental co-ordination and create regional efficiencies. They will also explore areas for enhanced joint and regional cooperation in other security and resilience fields – such as cyber defense, energy security, and critical infrastructure protection – in existing and relevant fora.
This meeting will probably be more straightforward than that planned with that other NATO ally, Turkey, later in the week. Tensions are running high following the coup attempt in July, with President Erdogan accusing the US of harbouring alleged-coup plotter Fethullah Gülen. Yesterday, Turkey submitted a formal extradition request to US authorities.