ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In response to the situation in Ukraine, NATO's secretary general today announced a strengthening of alliance forces near NATO's eastern border. Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the moves are about defense, deterrence and de-escalation. In Rasmussen's words, we will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land.
For more on the thinking behind NATO's new deployments, we turn now to retired Gen. George Joulwan who is former NATO supreme allied commander for Europe. Welcome to the program.
GENERAL GEORGE JOULWAN: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And how do you read the message from NATO? What are they saying here?
JOULWAN: Well, I think the key word in what the secretary general was saying is deterrence and I think what we're seeing in both land, air and sea forces that will be deployed in the region to demonstrate NATO political will in order to send the clear message to Russia that they have invaded a sovereign country. This is against international law and we're going to see planes that were deployed to the Baltic countries and we'll have a - in the Black Sea, we're going to see Standing Naval Force Med and we're going to see land forces, some including the United States on training missions in eastern and central Europe.
SIEGEL: But is the message also, at least implicitly, any threat to the Baltic republicans(ph) or Poland or to NATO members is unacceptable, but the alliance really has no role to play in Ukraine?
JOULWAN: No. I think, first of all, you're right that the Article 5, attack upon one, attack upon all that's been in existence since 1949 is very clear when it comes to the Baltic states, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, which are NATO members.
SIEGEL: If they are attacked, we are attacked.
JOULWAN: By the way, they have large numbers of Russians living in their countries so what's happening in Ukraine and Crimea is a clear message to them. So I think it's very clear that this is not just posturing. It's to send a clear NATO message. And by the way, this is the 65th anniversary of NATO and it has done superb work in those 65 years and I think it still has work to do in trying to bring stability to this part of the world.
SIEGEL: Well, let me put to you an argument that's made by the retired U.S. diplomat, James Jeffrey, who says the best way to send Putin a tough message and possibly deflect a Russian campaign against more vulnerable NATO states is to back up our commitment to the sanctity of NATO territory with ground troops, the only military deployment that can make such commitments unequivocal. Does he have a point?
JOULWAN: To a degree, I think. But it's not just ground forces. It's air and land and sea forces together in a joint way. And ground forces imply that a really strong commitment - and I think this will be those rotational forces, in other words, we would take a unit from, let's say, the 82nd Airborne or the 1st Infantry Division in the United States and they would deploy to eastern and central Europe and train with countries that border on Ukraine and Russia. That sends a very clear message and intent of seriousness in trying to de-escalate the situation.
SIEGEL: Put me in the mind of people at NATO who are looking the crisis in Ukraine and wanting to do something that has, as you would say, deterrent value and as Secretary General Rasmussen said, deterrent value, and at the same time, isn't such a powerful set of deployments that it becomes provocative or it becomes more threatening than we want it to be.
JOULWAN: Well, let's go beyond just the military. Let's talk about economic, political and diplomatic. I think economic sanctions, which need to be stronger than they are now, can have a real effect on a Russia that's a little shaky in its economy, but has clear links with energy and financial ties now to Europe. But I think more robust sanctions can do that. So just as a military, I think it has to be a series of actions that embody political, military, diplomatic and economic.
SIEGEL: As you follow what's happening in Ukraine and the response to events there, are you actually concerned that this could lead to a large ground war in eastern Europe between Russia and NATO forces?
JOULWAN: I'm more concerned about the impression that Putin may have that he could get away with this incremental moves that he makes and he sees not enough coming back from the United States.
Remember, we pulled a lot of forces out of Europe. We've demonstrated that we want to go to Asia. We want to pivot toward Asia. We see Syria red lights and that's been crossed and nothing is done. So political will is lacking here, both by the United States, particularly and, to a degree, NATO. This is to restore some of that political will and I think that would be a deterrent as much as troops will be a deterrent to Putin.
SIEGEL: General George Joulwan, thanks a lot for talking with us today.
JOULWAN: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Retired General George Joulwan, a past supreme allied commander, Europe, that is the top serving officer at NATO. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.