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Response In Ukraine Could Prove A Crucible For NATO's Future


Admiral James Stavridis served until last year as NATO's supreme allied commander, and he joins me from Tufts University, where he's now the Dean of the Fletcher School. Admiral Stavridis, welcome to the program.


BLOCK: Let's talk first about the rapid response force that is expected to be agreed to at this summit - several thousand troops. The idea is they'd be able to move on 48 hours' notice to deploy to Eastern Europe. Is that realistic? Is that the best way to make NATO militarily relevant in this region?

STAVRIDIS: I think very much so. As I think back on my time as the supreme allied commander, I would've loved to have had a force like that. It's a much better arrangement than having a series of static garrisons along the borders of NATO, which would be the alternative. NATO has a huge border. You need a rapid deployment force like that.

BLOCK: And rapid could realistically mean 48 hours?

STAVRIDIS: Oh, absolutely. To move 4,000 troops, which is what's envisioned, the lift is very, very much available, both with U.S. and with European assets. Let's remember that NATO alliance has 3 million soldiers under arms. It's got 24,000 military aircrafts. It's got enormous military capability. This is quite within its reach.

BLOCK: What do you think is the message that's being sent by inviting the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, to this NATO summit? Ukraine is not a member state. And yet, there his president is, included, at least on the sidelines in Wales.

STAVRIDIS: I think it's a good message. We should recall that Ukraine has been a very good partner to NATO in a whole series of military operations around the world. Ukraine had troops in Afghanistan. Ukraine participated in Libya. Ukraine had troops in the Balkans. Ukraine has participated in counter piracy missions, all under the rubric of what's called the NATO Partnership for Peace program. And I think it's entirely appropriate, given that the concern that NATO members have about possible Russian incursions elsewhere, to bring this president who leads a nation that's been a good partner, for consultations.

BLOCK: A good partner, but of course, Ukraine wants more. Ukraine is reviving its aspirations to become a full NATO member. Would you support that? Do you think that's a good idea, given the status of things now?

STAVRIDIS: Well, if I were Ukrainian, Melissa, I would certainly think it was a good idea. And I fully validate the desire to come into the alliance. NATO needs to maintain an open door policy, which is inscribed in the treaty that founded NATO. We should not give Russia veto over that.

BLOCK: Well, let me ask you about a counter argument that's been articulated by the political scientist John Mearsheimer writing in Foreign Affairs. He writes this, the taproot of the trouble - talking about Russia and Ukraine - is NATO enlargement. And in his view, talk of Ukraine joining NATO adds more fuel to the fire, further provokes Russian President Putin and ignores the real politic of the region. What would you say to that?

STAVRIDIS: I think that the taproot of the current situation is a root that is tapped right into Vladimir Putin's head. And I don't think it's a viable construct in the 21st century to allow an individual nation to simply invade another, carve out a chunk of its territory and declare that we're doing this because we're opposed to NATO. That simply doesn't make any sense.

BLOCK: But is Russia wrong, really, to see an expansion of NATO, this push to bring former Soviet republics into the fold, as a push to extinguish Russian influence and ultimately, perhaps, extinguish the power of Vladimir Putin himself?

STAVRIDIS: Well, let's back up. At the end of the Cold War, when the wall came down, the Warsaw Pact nations were not forced to join NATO. Every one of them opted to do so voluntarily. They came to NATO and asked to join. What has happened today is the result of President Putin's desire to have real control over what the Russians call the near abroad. And that collides with sovereign borders, as it has here. That's what can't be permitted. Now, I do think we need to find a modus vivendi with Russia. We don't want to stumble backwards into a Cold War. But to do that, we have to start by seeing Russian troops leave the sovereign state of Ukraine. And therefore, I think the solution here is for Russia to climb down and come out of Ukraine.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Admiral James Stavridis. He is dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and former supreme allied commander with NATO. Admiral Stavridis, thanks so much.

STAVRIDIS: Melissa, thanks. Great questions, as always. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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