BRUSSELS --- It takes only a look at Russia's recent history and military investments to understand that the nation is a threat to Europe and beyond, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford is participating in the NATO Military Committee meeting at the alliance headquarters here tomorrow.
A resurgent Russia is the greatest threat on the continent, and the alliance is putting in place capabilities to deter the Eastern neighbor, Dunford said. Russia has modernized many aspects of its military, including redesigning and modernizing its nuclear capability, modernizing its maritime capabilities, developing new cyber and electronic warfare capabilities and fielding antispace capabilities. The alliance has been on the path to addressing the Russian modernization program, he added.
And Russia will use its capabilities, he noted. "You've got to look at behavior, so you've got to go back and look at Georgia and look at Ukraine," the chairman said.
Russian Actions in Georgia and Ukraine
In 2008, about 79,000 Russian soldiers marched into the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhasia. They faced roughly 10,000 Georgian soldiers, who were forced to retreat. Russia continues to occupy the provinces.
In Ukraine, Russia illegally annexed Crimea from the nation in 2014 and have integrated the province into the Russian Federation. The Russians used unmarked tanks and soldiers without identifying marks on their uniforms to move into the region. Russian troops pushed further west in the Donets region of Ukraine, and fighting continues in that region. The United States and the rest of NATO helping train Ukrainian troops to defend their sovereignty.
Nations have a right of nations to defend themselves and not be attacked by others, Dunford said. This is true, he added, whether they march into a nation in uniform or the attack "is a combination of unconventional operations, information operations, cyber, economic coercion, and political influence."
"It is still a violation of sovereignty," the chairman said.
Russia's annexation of Crimea and further actions in Ukraine got NATO's attention. The alliance first moved to assure all allies with enhanced forward presence, stationing four multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania Poland. The United States led the battlegroup in and further built up forces in Europe with the addition of a rotational brigade-sized element and an aviation brigade. Today, the focus is on increasing alliance deterrence capabilities for European security.
The path in Europe is consistent with the National Security Strategy in regards to Russia, the general said.
"When we think about Russia, we think about their actions over the past few years, and then when we look at the last decade of investments the Russians have made," Dunford said. "There is not a single aspect of the Russian armed forces that has not received some degree of modernization over the past decade." All this, he added, informs his assessment of Russia.
Since the alliance's Warsaw Summit in 2016, the NATO chiefs of defense have been examining initiatives taken by NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, to make sure NATO command structure and NATO forces fit the purpose.
"I would say that none of us are comfortable with where we are," Dunford said. "If you are complacent in this business, you are obsolete. So you need to stay focused."
Organization and Modernization
The initiatives look at alliance organization and specific capability areas where modernization is most urgently needed. "I would highlight the maritime domain, rear-area operations, organizing land forces in of NATO contingencies," Dunford said. "In terms of capabilities: cyber, information warfare and missile defense."
For U.S. troops, the rotational brigade plan will continue as DoD studies models. The current thinking in the department is the rotational model builds readiness in the force. "Our soldiers go through the process of deploying, training exercising for nine months and then coming back home," Dunford said.
While in Europe, the forces are singly focused on all their tasks. "This model seems to work pretty well for the soldiers, for the families and allows us to meet commitments with the infrastructure available," the chairman said. "It won't surprise you, I have a bias toward rotational models. I spent my career in a service that has used the rotational model to meet our commitments."
The general said the feedback from the chiefs and the soldiers on the ground is good, but the department is open to studying other methods of basing.