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US ambassador to NATO: Security of eastern flank remains our top priority

Julianne Smith.
Julianne Smith. Source: ERR

NATO's eastern flank is still a "top priority" for the United States, even with several other conflicts taking place around the world, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told ETV's "Valisilm".

"This is a top order priority irrespective of whether or not Russia will someday reconstitute – in three, five, 10 years [it's capabilities]. We're not going to wait, we're taking steps now to address your [Estonia's] security concerns," Smith said.

"From the perspective here at NATO, we're not going to wait and see what Russia is doing in the future. What we're doing now is ensuring that your country, and in fact, all the countries in Eastern Europe, have what they need to address their very real security requirements and concerns," the ambassador said.

"We are going to ensure that we can protect every inch of NATO territory."

Watch the edited broadcast interview, in English after the introduction which ends at approximately 30 seconds, below.

ERR News also publishes a transcript of the full interview below.

Last week the head of Poland's National Security Bureau said, and I quote: "If we want to avoid war, the NATO countries on the eastern flank should adopt a shorter three-year timeline to prepare for confrontation". Do you agree with that assessment?

First of all, let me step back and just say that the Russian forces, through this unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine, have suffered tremendous losses. It's no secret that they've lost hundreds of thousands of troops, but they've also lost an enormous amount of their own capabilities.

We can sit and argue about how quickly they could potentially reconstitute those forces and those capabilities, but I think from the perspective here at NATO, we're not going to wait to see what Russia is doing in the future. What we're doing now is ensuring that your country, and in fact all the countries in Eastern Europe, have what they need to address their very real security requirements and concerns.

We have already moved more posture into Eastern Europe. We have established new multinational battalions that are scalable to brigades. We have redesigned our plans, our strategy and doctrine. We are going to ensure that we can protect every inch of NATO territory. We know that Estonia feels this more than most NATO allies. You are on the front lines of what's happening inside Ukraine, and we take our commitment to your security very seriously.

This is a top order priority, irrespective of whether or not Russia will someday reconstitute in three, five, [or] 10 years. We're not going to wait. We're taking steps now to address your security concerns.

You mentioned "every inch of allied territory". Here in NATO we've also heard about the "ironclad commitment" and the "sacred obligation", which are ways to talk about NATO's collective defense clause (Article 5). But for the Baltic states, it is about readiness not only to engage in defensive behavior but rather to make sure that we will deter any adversary from our soil. Is the U.S. ready to do that?

Absolutely. I think what you saw in the days leading up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and in the days right after Russia started the war in Ukraine, the U.S. was able to flow forces into Eastern Europe within a day. We were able to move not only forces but capabilities into the region. And that came in part ... as a result of some of the pre-positioning that we had done in Eastern Europe after Russia went into Crimea in 2014.

The United States feels that right now it has the right posture. In Eastern Europe, we've put in an additional 20,000 forces. Those forces rotate regularly through the Baltic states, but also we're working with all the allies across the alliance so that they too can surge forces, either have them on a rotational basis or have them as part of these multinational battalions.

I will also say that we're looking at security as a broader definition. Now we are thinking as a military alliance as you might expect about tanks rolling across borders, but we are also thinking about and focusing on hybrid attacks. Here at NATO, we're doing more on critical infrastructure, we're doing more on disinformation. We're very focused on cyber attacks and deterring and preventing and coping with addressing those types of malicious cyber activities.

Whether it's conventional deterrence and defense with allied troops, or whether it's developing tools and strategies to deal with hybrid threats, we are readying this alliance to cope with any threat to NATO territory. Whether it's in Estonia or Norway or Portugal, we're going to be ready to address a whole array of security challenges.

It seems that the world is becoming a messier place. We see there are tensions between China and Taiwan, open war between Israel and Hamas, and coups in Africa. Venezuela even wants to take part of its neighbor. It seems to me that the "Axis of Evil" is gearing up for something and they want to have the U.S. and NATO to be distracted. Why should the Baltic States believe we are at the top of the list if there is engagement on all those fronts?

I would say a couple of things on that front. First, from a U.S. perspective, we are a country that has a global perspective. We have a global posture around the world and we are a country – and you've heard President Biden say this – that has both an obligation and the capacity to deal with multiple brewing tensions and conflicts simultaneously.

We are not worried about grappling with what's happening in Gaza and helping our friends in Ukraine. We know we can do both. We are also keeping a watchful eye on the Indo-Pacific as well. That is what we have prepared for for decades. From a U.S. perspective, we have confidence in our ability to manage multiple situations and contingencies in multiple locations.

From a NATO perspective, I will say though we are a regional alliance, we are not a global alliance. We have partners around the world, but this is an alliance that is focused on the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO does not have a direct role as it relates to the war in Gaza, but the alliance is very much engaged in supporting Ukraine and ensuring that Ukraine has the capabilities that it needs to succeed in pushing out the Russians.

For NATO, the top concern is Russia and Ukraine and that takes us to your neighborhood again to the safety and security of the entire eastern flank and that will remain our top, top priority.

From a U.S. perspective, we're comfortable managing a variety of contingencies. From a NATO perspective, we can also grapple with a whole array of contingencies, not only in one regional area.

Three years ago when President Biden came into office, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said there is now a friend in the White House. And now we see that the front runner for the Republican Party in the U.S. is former President Donald Trump and we know that he also had an impeachment trial related to military aid to Ukraine. So my question here is how can you assure us that under different political administrations, the U.S. commitment to NATO will prevail?

In the United States, we have a fairly polarized environment at the moment where we have deep disagreements between the two political parties that exist in the United States. But what's really interesting is, of all the things that the two parties agree on, NATO really is at the top of the list.

Both Republicans and Democrats, whether you're polling American citizens or whether you're talking to members of Congress, have deep-rooted support for the NATO alliance. America helped build this institution. We were one of the founding members, and we pushed for its creation. And as a result, I think Americans feel a sense of responsibility to this alliance.

We understand that NATO serves U.S. interests and it serves the interests of our allies and that we are in fact stronger together. That is the motto here at NATO: Stronger Together. We say that a lot, but we actually mean it. So from a U.S. perspective, irrespective of who sits in the Oval Office and irrespective of how our politics might swing from left to right.

What I take as reassurance is that deep-rooted support for the alliance that one finds across the United States and throughout the halls of Congress, and I'm going to put my faith in that looking forward.

Talking about Congress, last week the U.S. Senate voted down the aid package for Ukraine. Does this signal that geopolitics has become a bargaining chip in the domestic politics of U.S.?

Well, as you heard from President Biden, this is a top priority for him and his administration. The president really wants to move on and secure this additional funding for Ukraine and Israel and a number of other administration priorities as soon as possible. You will continue to see the president engaging Congress on this as well as members of his administration. We do want to get it done. We believe we will get it done. There is in fact bipartisan support across the Senate, across the House for Ukraine.

There are some members, particularly in the House that have a different perspective, but they are very much in the minority. I would want to reassure your audience and your viewers that we will work to try and get additional support for Ukraine. It's a top priority and we think we can do that in the weeks ahead.


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Editor: Helen Wright

Source: Välisilm

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