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JUST IN: Ukraine, Indo-Pacific Widen NATO Priorities

12/7/2023
By Laura Heckmann

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization prepares for its 75th anniversary summit in Washington this July, strategic challenges spread across Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific are forcing the alliance to retool itself for the most volatile and dangerous security environment since the Cold War, a senior NATO official said.

The senior official called NATO’s past two summits “fundamental” in adapting to “the most profound political and military adaptation since the end of the Cold War.” The next summit will focus on furthering those priorities, said the official, who spoke on the condition that their name and title would not be revealed.

“And of course … one of the driving trends underlying that change is Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine,” the official added.

From a NATO perspective, military adaptation began in 2014, after Russia's illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. “That is what sent our military planners back to the drawing board and essentially, reflect on the fact that we have to rebuild our collective defense posture — we have to rebuild a deterrence and defense posture. … We could no longer take for granted the peace and stability of the Euro Atlantic area.”

The official spoke the morning after Senate Republicans -seeking more funding to secure the U.S southern border — blocked a procedural vote to advance a bill that would have provided aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Efforts launched in 2014 have been “the greatest reinforcement of its deterrence and defense posture in generations,” but 2022 and the beginning of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine “incredibly accelerated” the efforts, the official said.

Today, the alliance has a broader net of priorities than ever before, with resources and focus spread across Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific and increased vigilance in the Middle East. One important message NATO wants to drive as a result is a continued push for an increase in defense spending and acquisition of capabilities, the official said.

While not a new topic for NATO, it will remain “front and center” of the military adaptation that began in 2014, the official said. “Our objective is to continue on that upward trajectory.”

Additionally, NATO is looking to place a greater emphasis on strengthening its relationship with the defense industry and improve defense production. Part of that is accomplished through a defense planning process already in place, but NATO will also look to become an aggregator of demand, the official said.

“We all know that both here in the U.S. and in Europe, we have an issue with needing to really ramp up production. I very much think that we will have that discussion again in Washington, building on the progress on the last two years.”

Defense innovation and global cooperation will be key to further enabling and incentivizing defense production and the defense industry in Ukraine, as well, the official said. “So there’s lots of practical work there.”

NATO has been “very clear” that support for Ukraine is “not just the right thing to do,” but also “fundamental to ensuring future peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. So that will remain a key message.”

The main objective in Ukraine is to support a “transition from Soviet-era legacy equipment, doctrines, training, to fully interoperable with NATO, so the fact of bringing it closer to the alliance.”

Another way NATO is looking to bring Ukraine closer is through strengthened political engagement with the recently formed NATO-Ukraine Council. The council met last week, making it the “first time foreign ministers met in that format with Ukraine at the table in the NATO-Ukraine Council,” where they approved a work program that “very much focused on that interoperability … but also looking at how to support Ukraine's democratic reforms and anti-corruption as it moves forward.”

While a driving force, Ukraine is not the only part of the world of concern to the alliance. Emerging threats in the Indo-Pacific region resulted in the adoption of a strategic concept at the Madrid summit two years ago that for the first time identified the People’s Republic of China as a strategic challenge to Euro-Atlantic security.

“You saw this twice in a row in Madrid and in Vilnius, with the decision to invite the heads of state and government from our Indo-Pacific partners,” the official said. “So I think we will very much continue to build on that work, and continue to have that discussion because we are more and more aware of the inter-linkages between the Indo-Pacific and the Euro-Atlantic theaters and the security of those two regions.”

Partners from the Indo-Pacific have been “steadfast” in support to Ukraine, “understanding that those two theaters are interlinked profoundly, and deterrence and defense in one theater has an impact on the other, and vice versa.”

“We're no longer in a security environment in which you can only focus on one threat or one theater,” the official said. “You have to have that multiple focus and really understand that those theaters, those threats, are interconnected. And in that sense, we look at the increasing strategic alignment between the PRC, Russia, Iran, and we are drawing the conclusion that you just cannot focus on one issue at a time.”

NATO is juggling a “very broad set of priorities, but such is the world we live in,” the official said.

 


Topics: International

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