US Must Reinforce NATO with 'Stronger Germany' Following Brexit: Burns

Sgt. Bryan G. Thomas helps Cpl. Manuel Marx, clerk, Public Affairs Office, Hessen State Command safely through each step of qualification process during a M9 combat pistol qualification range (Staff Sgt. Marshall R. Mason)
Sgt. Bryan G. Thomas helps Cpl. Manuel Marx, clerk, Public Affairs Office, Hessen State Command safely through each step of qualification process during a M9 combat pistol qualification range (Staff Sgt. Marshall R. Mason)

The U.S. and NATO billed the alliance Monday as the bedrock for continued European unity and collective defense following Brexit.

Seeking to reassure nervous allies, Secretary of State John Kerry said after hastily-arranged meetings in Brussels with NATO's leadership that the U.S. commitment to the Europe "will not change one iota as a consequence of the vote that has taken place" in Britain last week to leave the European Union.

Kerry predicted an "even stronger NATO going forward" in steps to be taken at the NATO summit in Warsaw July 8-9 to be attended by President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

"We have high expectations of a very strong NATO meeting and important deliverables" coming out of the summit, he said.

Following meetings with Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini of Italy, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said of the United Kingdom, "After the UK decided to leave the European Union, I think that NATO has become even more important as a platform for cooperation between Europe and North America but also defense and security cooperation between European NATO allies."

The so-called Brexit fallout on the efforts of the U.S. and NATO to counter Russian aggression in Europe were expected to be few, at least in the short term, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Sunday at an Aspen Institute Forum in Colorado.

"The immediate security implications are probably relatively few and certainly we will do all we can to make sure the areas in which we're cooperating -- counterterrorism -- remain solid," she said.

However, several European leaders had suggested easing up on sanctions against Russia and cutting back on joint NATO exercises meant to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin even before Britain voted to leave the EU.

In an analysis, the IHS Jane's market research group projected that the negative impact of Brexit on Britain's economy would force Britain to cut back on defense spending, making it impossible for Britain meet the U.S.-recommended goal of having all NATO allies spend at least two percent of Gross Domestic Product on defense.

"Slower economic growth will affect public balances, and the government will be forced to adjust budget projections and calculations," Jane's said.

The policy disarray in Europe was typified last week by an outburst from German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He warned against provoking Putin by stationing four battalions of NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which was expected to be ratified at the Warsaw NATO summit.

Steinmeier said that "saber-rattling and war cries" directed toward Russia were counter-productive.

"Anyone who believes that symbolic tank parades on the Alliance's eastern border will increase security is wrong," he said in comments to the weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

The counter-argument to Steinmeier was offered Monday by retired Gen. James L. Jones, the former Marine Commandant, National Security Adviser, and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and R. Nicholas Burns, the former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

In a policy paper for the Atlantic Council titled, "Restoring the Power and Purpose of the Atlantic Alliance," Jones and Burns said Obama and allies at the Warsaw summit had to reinforce NATO to confront challenges that included "a revanchist Russia, eroding stability in the greater Middle East, a weakened European Union, and uncertain American and European leadership."

In addition to stationing troops in the Baltics and Poland, NATO should also permanently station troops in Romania and Bulgaria, Jones and Burhs said at a forum to discuss their policy paper.

Jones called on NATO to become more "proactive" in addressing crises in Europe, Africa and the Mideast and in providing humanitarian disaster relief. "This is not war mongering," as has been charged by Putin, Jones said.

In addition, "we need a stronger Germany following Brexit," Burns said.

NATO must show "President Putin that we're going to be true to our Article 5 responsibilities," he added, referring to the NATO article providing for the common defense of alliance members. "We need to stand up to Putin and I hope that will be the message from Warsaw."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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