Top U.S./NATO commander on Russia and China: We’re prepared to respond to aggression with the full weight of the transatlantic alliance
General Tod Wolters, the dual-hatted top commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 13 as part of a review of the 2022 Pentagon authorization request and the Future Years Defense Program. He appeared primarily in his first capacity, though the two roles are coterminous. As top NATO commander he can requisition the military assets of thirty nations with a combined population of over one billion people.
Next year’s National Defense Authorization Act will include a base budget of $715 billion and a total allotment of $753 billion, in nominal dollars the largest military expenditure in the history of the world and in real dollars the most the Pentagon has been granted since the end of World War II.
Appearing with his military colleague General Stephen Lyons, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, Wolters was questioned by members of the committee in person in the Senate and via video. He was as blunt in his dedication to the military metaphysics (as C. Wright Mills phrased it) as were the senators, who acted as though they comprised an imperial sanhedrin presiding over a patchwork of conquered European provinces. They, like him, effortlessly tossed off initials and jargon like AOR, ISR and pacing threat as though they were old hands at war-making. As in a real sense they are.
General Lyons’ testimony was largely on logistics and will not be dealt with.
Early in his testimony Wolters obediently mentioned the rules-based international order, the major catchphrase the U.S. and NATO employ in their crusade to remake the world in their image, with missiles and bombs if necessary.
New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, before questioning him, launched into a diatribe against “illiberal political forces” abroad and at home that make it more difficult to confront Russia – the overarching theme of the whole event in the Senate – echoing the comments made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the NATO foreign ministers meeting last month in which he spoke, as she did, of the need to “confront the democratic recession around the world”; as when he claimed that “Our shared values of democracy and human rights are being challenged – not only from outside our countries, but from within.”
General Wolters responded by asserting it was necessary to adopt an “all-of-government, all-of-alliance, all-of-nation approach” to the matter – of “illiberal political forces,” that is – adding that more progress had been made in NATO than in the American military in that regard. He hailed the presidency of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky as a successful example of what they were speaking about. Gillibrand created the impression that what she was sounding the alarm over was any political philosophy or practice that wasn’t modeled after the American one. In fact, that wasn’t modeled after the current Democratic Party version of preferred political practice.
The general also reprised the standard Pentagon-NATO claim that “adversaries amplify [their] malign activity with information.” The vilification illiberal appears to include advocating freedom of the press and freedom of expression; what until perhaps a decade ago was known as liberal.
He touted the current mammoth Defender Europe 2021 war games and the related NATO Steadfast Defender exercise as all-domain warfare rehearsals from “the Atlantic to the eastern perimeter of the European continent.”
In speaking of an “attempted annexation” of parts of the Ukraine, Senator Angus King of Maine claimed he was “mightily reminded” of Czechoslovakia’s loss of the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany in 1938. Neither Wolters nor anyone else objected to the analogy.
When asked about U.S. European Command’s assessment of the political attachments and cultural affinities of the populace of the Donbass, he unequivocally asserted that they were marked by a “high loyalty to the nation of Ukraine.” The unavoidable implication being that Donetsk and Lugansk are post-Cold War equivalents of captive nations that need liberating.
The general also confirmed what any attentive observer of European affairs over the past twenty years knows, that there is a “high degree of convergence at the strategic level between what the European Union does and what NATO does.”
He also praised Turkey’s role in NATO as a vital ally, as the second-largest troop contributor to the military bloc.
In addition, Wolters spoke of winning in the competition phase through all-domain operations, his words, and added: “We compete to win. We deter, and, if deterrence fails, we’re prepared to respond to aggression with the full weight of the transatlantic alliance.”
When asked about the position of the NATO 2030 document that China was the “main pacing threat” – the senators all seemed clued in to the meaning of the term, which was also recently used by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin toward China – Wolters delineated alleged Chinese threats to Europe including Huawei 5G, the Belt and Road Initiative, investments in ports, ownership of foreign debt, etc. Recall that the person speaking in this vein is the chief American military commander in Europe and NATO’s top commander.
To connect the accusations that Russia and China pose a threat to Europe, the U.S. and the world, and that the threat is unitary – which is the fundamental foreign policy tenet of the Biden-Harris administration and of NATO now – Wolters was asked the wisdom of the Pentagon’s investments of troops and facilities in Europe while they might be better deployed against China, the “main pacing threat.”
He offered this revealing explanation. Effectively deterring the main adversary in the European theater, Russia, is also the most effective way of deterring China as well “because of the connectivity between the two nations,” and the “willingness of both nations to engage in malignant influence against the United States and against NATO.”
That is the message that came out of last month’s NATO foreign ministerial and it will be the message amplified and formalized at the upcoming NATO summit. The battle line has been drawn between the West – “with the full weight of the transatlantic alliance” – and as much of the rest of the world it can recruit to its ranks on one hand and Russia and China on the other.
The world has never before witnessed a secular, non-ideological struggle of such titanic dimensions, nor one fraught with greater dangers.