U.S. Secretaries of Defense and State Headed to NATO Headquarters Over Ukraine Crisis
The Defense Department announced on April 8 that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was to leave today to consult with civilian and military leaders in Israel, Germany, NATO headquarters in Brussels and Great Britain.
Topics to be discussed include international defense relationships, burden sharing and “enduring trans-Atlantic security.” The last is a reference to NATO.
In Israel he’s to meet with his opposite number, Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz, and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Germany he’s scheduled to meet with Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Chancellery Foreign and Security Policy Adviser Dr. Jan Hecker to discuss what the Defense Department website describes as bilateral military cooperation with “one of our closest NATO Allies.” The Pentagon press release also states Austin and the German officials will deliberate over “combatting the malign influence of our shared strategic rivals.” That can only mean Russia and China.
While in Germany Austin will also tour U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart where he’ll meet with senior commanders to discuss “security interests in the region.” The top commander of U.S. European Command, General Tod Wolters, is also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
From there he’ll travel to NATO headquarters to meet with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to coordinate efforts on dealing with “destabilizing behavior by Russia, a rising China, terrorism, and global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change.” The threats, and their ranking order (more or less), are the same identified at the NATO foreign ministers meeting at NATO headquarters last month.
The final leg of Austin’s journey will be in Britain where he’ll meet with Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace to discuss “global security challenges.”
Bloomberg News announced today that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who only left NATO headquarters two and a half weeks ago after condemning Russia in language as harsh and condemnatory as one would have expected during the Cold War, is to return there next week to meet with top NATO and other European officials as, to quote Bloomberg, “the U.S. grows increasingly concerned about Russian troop movements near Ukraine.”
Blinken’s visit to NATO will coincide with Austin’s – that is, the U.S.’s top diplomat and defense official will be at NATO headquarters simultaneously to address the crisis in Ukraine, no matter which subsidiary issues are examined – and his meetings are expected to last most of the week. Blinken’s website has no information on the impending visit, neither does NATO’s.
In his two-day visit in March to NATO headquarters Blinken held a joint press conference with Secretary General Stoltenberg and delivered an address after the foreign ministers meeting ended on March 24.
In the first he attacked Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas project, stating:
“Ultimately, it’s in contradiction to the EU’s own energy security goals. It has the potential to undermine the interests of Ukraine, Poland, a number of other close partners or Allies. And I’m sure I’ll have an opportunity to reiterate that, including the law in the United States which requires us to sanction companies participating in the efforts to complete the pipeline.”
In his policy pronouncement of March 24 entitled Reaffirming and Reimagining America’s Alliances he mentioned NATO’s Article 5 collective military obligation clause in the course of launching blistering attacks on Russia in a veritable catalog of accusations that included “undermin[ing] the rules-based order,” and “aggression in eastern Ukraine; its build-up of forces, large-scale exercises, and acts of intimidation in the Baltic and Black Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean, the High North; its modernization of nuclear capabilities; and its use of chemical weapons against critics on NATO soil.“ He also accused Russia of the “use of disinformation to erode confidence in elections and in safe, effective vaccines….”
The highly unusual if not unprecedented simultaneous deployment of America’s secretaries of state and defense to the headquarters of the thirty-nation military bloc to plan a collective response to Russia over the Donbass crisis is alarming to a degree.