NATO reacts to Russia’s aggressive moves in Eastern Europe

Russia’s game-changing moves in the Ukraine and new aggressive posture against NATO were the focus of a NewsHour series last week looking at the fault lines between Moscow and the West. Over the weekend, President Barack Obama and other leaders of the alliance met in Poland. John Yang learns more from former State Department official Esther Brimmer.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, first: We reported all last week on the fault lines between Russia and the West over the Russian-backed war in Ukraine and Moscow's new, aggressive posture against NATO.

    Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty alliance met over the weekend in Warsaw, and we go to John Yang for an update.

  • JOHN YANG:

    With us now to discuss what came out of the NATO summit and the future of the alliance is Esther Brimmer. She has served in various roles at the State Department. Most recently, she was assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs. She's now with the Council on Foreign Relations and teaches at George Washington University.

    Esther Brimmer, thanks for joining us.

    What would this — this summit, the president said it was the most important moment for NATO since the end of the Cold War. What were the big decisions that came out of this meeting?

  • ESTHER BRIMMER, Former State Department Official:

    Indeed, this was an extremely important summit.

    This was an opportunity for the leaders to demonstrate that there was real support and backing, concrete actions to support the Eastern allies of the alliance. What we saw were that the United States and other important leaders within the alliance are showing that they will commit troops again to Europe.

    We're seeing the deployment of battalions in those countries that are most threatened by the new tensions with Russia. And it meant that the alliance still matters, despite the turbulence created by the Brexit vote in the European Union.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Let's take those one by one.

    First of all, the troops being sent to Eastern Europe, troops once again being deployed by NATO to deter Moscow, this is sort of a return to the original purpose of the alliance.

  • ESTHER BRIMMER:

    Well, indeed.

    The alliance is, of course, both a political and a military alliance to defend the territory of the NATO allies. And, once again, we see that we need to have a military presence in Europe increased. As we know, there has always been a U.S. presence within Europe, which was happily reduced after the end of the Cold War.

    However, now we see that particularly the Baltic states and others are concerned about their security, recognizing the threats made by Russia against those non-NATO countries to their east. Importantly, we see that, though, this is a multilateral commitment. We see that countries of four nations will lead the effort to station rotating battalions in the eastern part of the NATO countries.

    So, again, the United States, but other countries, too, are part of the response to show that the alliance as a whole is committed to the territories of those countries most under pressure.

  • JOHN YANG:

    You spoke also about the British decision to leave the European Union. What's that done to NATO?

  • ESTHER BRIMMER:

    Indeed.

    As we know, that there are important institutions in the transatlantic relationship. The North Atlantic Treaty alliance, NATO, has always been the underpinning of that relationship. But the European Union has an important role in other types of security, including border issues and others.

    And so the relationship between those countries are also part of transatlantic security. The United Kingdom is really the lynchpin. They're both members of NATO and members of the European Union. They have an important role to play. But they have a sovereign choice about what they were going to do. The vote for Brexit means that there is a greater interest, I think, in the United Kingdom in demonstrating their support for the transatlantic alliance and showing that they want to continue to play an important role as a key nation within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

  • JOHN YANG:

    And within Europe, could NATO emerge as the unifying force if E.U. is — if Britain leaves the E.U.?

  • ESTHER BRIMMER:

    They really play two different roles, that the NATO alliance is a military alliance. Its job is to provide for the defense of the allies who are part of it, yet it has a complementary role to the European Union.

    But NATO will also continue to have its political role. Ultimately, it is an alliance of values based on the political values we share. The United Kingdom will be an important part of expressing and defending those values.

    And from what we see, they will continue to want to demonstrate their leadership in the alliance to demonstrate their support for the transatlantic relationship.

  • JOHN YANG:

    With the economic uncertainty of leaving the European Union, is it possible that Great Britain will no longer keep up its — it's one of the few countries that is meeting its obligation in defense spending among NATO members. Is there a danger that that is going to stop?

  • ESTHER BRIMMER:

    There will be a great deal of attention toward seeing whether the United Kingdom will be able to maintain their financial commitment to the alliance.

    As you have indicated, that of the 28 members of the alliance, only four have met the commitment that was made, ironically, at the last summit, which was held in the United Kingdom in Wales, at which the allies committed to paying 2 percent towards their — towards the alliance. Only four countries meet that.

    The United Kingdom is one of them. Although the Cameron government did institute significant reductions in public spending in recent years, they did recently meet the 2 percent standard. I think most allies are hoping they will continue to do so, but they will be under economic pressure. It will be a concern.

  • JOHN YANG:

    More interesting days ahead for Europe.

  • ESTHER BRIMMER:

    Indeed.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Esther Brimmer, thanks for being with us.

  • ESTHER BRIMMER:

    Thank you very much.

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