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US Defense Chief Calls for Cautious, Prudent NATO Response to Russia

  • Al Pessin

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he will urge caution and prudence in NATO's response to Russia's actions in Georgia when he meets with alliance defense ministers in London Friday. VOA's Al Pessin reports from London.

Secretary Gates says NATO needs a unified response to Russia, and needs to address concerns the Georgia conflict raised in some member countries. But speaking with reporters here Thursday he indicated he does not want the alliance to do anything that would give Russia cause to become even more aggressive.

"I will suggest we do some prudent things that are consistent with the kinds of activities NATO has been engaged in for nearly 60 years, in terms of planning, in terms of exercises, and so on, that at the same time are not provocative and don't tend to draw any firm red lines or send signals that are unwanted, at the same time that it provides some reassurance to the allies in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States that we're mindful of their concerns," he said.

Secretary Gates said NATO must not accept Russia's effort to help Abkhazia and South Ossetia secede from Georgia.

Speaking later on condition of anonymity, another senior U.S. defense official said Friday's NATO meeting - originally called to discuss the familiar topic of modernizing the alliance - may be considerably more substantive because of the situation in Georgia. The official says NATO defense ministers will likely discuss the core issue of whether the alliance can really live up to its mutual defense commitment.

The United States believes NATO needs a strong, flexible, deployable joint force to respond to potential threats, and the official says many Baltic and East European members agree, particularly after the Russian invasion of Georgia. Georgia is not a NATO member, but alliance leaders have pledged that it will become one, along with Ukraine, although no timeframe has been set. The U.S. official who spoke Thursday says NATO is "not on a trajectory" to develop even the "minimal" modern military capabilities its leaders endorsed at their last summit, and that are needed "to protect the alliance and pursue its interests." The official says that needs to change in order to reach Secretary Gates' goal of reassuring allies whose fears have been sparked by the Georgia situation.

The official says no one in NATO expects Russia to invade a member state, but says it could take other aggressive steps, such as reducing or cutting energy supplies, trying "political pressure" and even cyber attacks like the recent one on Estonia that is widely blamed on Russia. And the official says in addition to pursuing new and enhanced capabilities, NATO can also respond by intensifying its traditional military training, exercising and planning work.

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