Defense Secretary Ashton Carter accused Russia Tuesday of “nuclear saber rattling” and other menacing actions meant to break up the NATO alliance and pledged a vigorous U.S. air, sea and land buildup to counter the threats.
“Russia has in recent years appeared intent to erode the principled international order that has served us, our friends and allies, the international community, and Russia itself so well for so long,” Carter said in Stuttgart, Germany, at a NATO and U.S. European Command change of command ceremony.
Carter’s laundry list of Moscow’s recent aggressive moves authorized by President Vladimir Putin included the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and its annexation, continued support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine, threats against the Baltic states and Poland, and the continued buzzing of U.S. ships and planes.
To counter Russia, the secretary said the U.S. and its allies were considering basing a total of about 4,000 troops in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and in Poland, in addition to deploying an armored Brigade Combat Team to Europe on a rotational basis as previously pledged by the U.S.
“We’re obviously involved in those discussions. I just don’t want to get out in front of where that goes,” Carter told reporters traveling with him of the plan to send troops to the Baltic states and Poland, which have been lobbying for a more robust allied permanent presence, Reuters reported.
“We do not seek to make Russia an enemy but make no mistake — we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us,” Carter said in Stuttgart. “Russia’s aggressive actions only serve to further its isolation, and unite our alliance.”
Carter said he found “most disturbing” the Russian rhetoric threatening the use of nuclear weapons to impose its will in Europe.
“Moscow’s nuclear saber-rattling raises troubling questions about Russia’s leaders’ commitment to strategic stability, their respect for norms against the use of nuclear weapons, and whether they respect the profound caution that nuclear-age leaders showed with regard to brandishing nuclear weapons,” he said.
Carter’s most pointed remarks to date on Russia came at the ceremony at which Army Gen. Curtis M. “Mike” Scaparrotti, the former commander of U.S. Forces-Korea, was officially installed as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and U.S. European Command, replacing Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, who was retiring after 39 years of service.
NATO and European Command had been operating under a 20th Century playbook that “was effective in its time but it’s not a perfect match for the 21st century challenges we face” from Russia, Carter said. Under Breedlove, the allies were “writing a new playbook” to adjust and beef up forces to make them more agile, he said.
The goal was to make clear to the Russians that “if they start a war, we have the capabilities and capacities to ensure that they regret it,” Carter said. “We haven’t had to prioritize NATO’s eastern flank for the last 25 years. While I wish it was otherwise, now we have to.” he added. “We’ll keep the door open with Russia, but it’s up to the Kremlin to decide.”
Carter said Breedlove “epitomized all that is good and decent about the American military.” In his own brief remarks, Scaparrotti said, “I know I have big boots to fill.”
The secretary called Scaparrotti a “warrior-diplomat” whose experience in commanding United Nations and South Korean forces in Korea made him the right fit for working with allies in Europe.
Carter applauded Scaparrotti’s military pedigree, noting that a new river bridge in his hometown of Logan, Ohio, would be named for Scaparrotti and his father, retired Army First Sgt. Michael C. Scaparrotti, a veteran of World War II. The Hocking County Commissioner in Ohio recently voted to name the bridge the “Scaparrotti Veterans Bridge.”