Hearing Wrap-Up: General Breedlove on Russia and European Security

March 3, 2016

Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, returned to Washington to testify before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.  In both the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) posture statement and in response to lawmakers’ questions, General Breedlove delivered a frank assessment of Russia’s threat to international security and the need for significant improvements in America’s preparedness to face that challenge.

The Foreign Policy Initiative hopes that the following quotations will be helpful for policymakers, lawmakers, and the general public understand the instability in Europe and the vital role of American leadership in addressing it.

America’s Interests in Europe

“I cannot emphasize enough the somber reality that Europe will remain central to our national security interests.  From having fought two world wars in part on European soil to the current instability in the east and south of Europe, our nation must remain indisputably invested in a region that is inexorably tied to our own freedom, security and economic prosperity.” (Posture Statement)

Russian Revanchism

“Russia does not want to challenge the agreed rules of the international order. It wants to rewrite them.” (House Armed Services Committee)

“Russia poses an existential threat to the United States, and to the NATO alliance as a whole.” (Posture Statement)

“Russia does not share common security objectives with the West. Instead, it continues to view the United States and NATO as a threat to its own security.  (Posture Statement)

“Russia continues its long-term military modernization efforts, and its recent actions in Ukraine and Syria demonstrate an alarming increase in expeditionary force projection and combat capability and logistical sustainment capacity.  Russia has spent the past 20 years analyzing U.S. military operations and has established a doctrine and force to effectively counter perceived U.S. and NATO strengths.” (Posture Statement)

Russia’s Actions in Ukraine

“The cease fire in eastern Ukraine remains tenuous at best, and Russia continues its destabilizing activities in direct contravention of the Minsk agreements.” (Posture Statement)

“We must not allow Russian actions in Syria to serve as a strategic distraction that leads the international community to give tacit acceptance to the situation in Ukraine as the ‘new normal’.” (Posture Statement)

“Russia continues its aggression in eastern Ukraine by providing personnel, equipment, training, and command and control to combined Russian-separatist forces.” (Posture Statement)

“We have recently seen an increase in the level of violence along the line of contact in the Donbass, as well as a number of diplomatic, economic and propaganda efforts to keep Ukraine from moving closer to the West.” (Senate Armed Services Committee)

“The current leaders of Ukraine were elected in a reform environment and their own people expect reform as a part of their performance. … [But] It’s really hard to do major change in your government when your nation is in the field fighting for its existence.” (Senate Armed Services Committee)

The Threat to Eastern Europe and Beyond

“Describing the prolonged conflicts in states around the Russian periphery as ‘frozen’ belies the fact that these are on-going and deadly affairs often manufactured by Russia to provide pretext for military intervention.” (Posture Statement)

“Kremlin efforts to establish levers of influence in the Baltics across the diplomatic, economic, information, and security spectrum are meant to develop an environment favorable to Moscow and present an ongoing challenge to Western efforts aimed at assuring these NATO Allies.” (Posture Statement)

“Many of our NATO allies, Canada, and the U.S. are concerned about what we see as the militarization of the Arctic now by Russia…Russia has a pattern of putting military force in the field to set the conditions to negotiate from a position of power.” (House Armed Services Committee)

U.S. Forces in Europe

“Since the release of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and our national decision to rebalance to the Asia/Pacific region, EUCOM [i.e. U.S. European Command] has paid a steadily increasing price in resources and assigned forces to help achieve rebalance.” (Posture Statement)

“In response to the new European security environment, I have strongly advocated for, and our Defense Department, Administration, and Congress have supported, not only suspending further drawdown of this theater, but now the need to look at tailored, supportable increases in capabilities as we requested in the FY 2017 budget.” (Posture Statement)

“During the height of the Cold War, there were over half a million U.S. personnel assigned in the European theater. Today that number is around 62,000 permanent military personnel, of which 52,500 are in direct support of EUCOM missions.” (Posture Statement)

“EUCOM-assigned forces are now tasked with not only the same missions we have performed for the past several decades but with a substantial increase in our deterrence and reassurance operations in response to Russian occupation of Crimea and its aggression in eastern Ukraine.” (Posture Statement)

“The constant presence of U.S. forces in Europe since World War II has enabled the United States to enjoy the relatively free access we have come to count on—and require—in times of crisis. Further force reductions will likely reduce our access and host-nation permissions to operate from key strategic locations during times of crisis.” (Posture Statement)

“We have to be able now to be a war-fighting headquarters and a war-fighting force as opposed to an engagement and partnership building capacity force.” (House Armed Services Committee)

Russia’s Intervention in Syria

“Moscow’s ongoing operations in Syria underscore Russia’s ability and willingness to conduct expeditionary operations and its modernized military capabilities which are emboldening the Kremlin to increase its access and influence in a key geopolitical region.” (Posture Statement)

“Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration from Syria in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.” (House Armed Services Committee)

“What I am seeing in Syria in places like Aleppo and others are what I would call absolutely indiscriminate, unprecise bombing rubblizing major portions of a city. … Designed to get people on the road and make them someone else's problem. Get them on the road, make them a problem for Europe to bend Europe to the will of where they want them to be.” (House Armed Services Committee)

Russia’s Nuclear Threats

“We firmly believe that Russia is in violation of the INF [Intermediate Nuclear Forces] Treaty. And that not only are they in violation of the INF Treaty but the type of weapons system that that they have -- that they have tested and fielded in that category is very easily hidden or masked in its conventional forces.” (House Armed Services Committee)

“The Russians talk about the—I wouldn't use the word routine—but talk about nuclear weapons being a part of that weapons continuum that could be used and is envisioned to be used in order to solve a conflict….I think this is irresponsible talk, or irresponsible behavior, the way that nukes are talked about.” (Senate Armed Services Committee)

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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