Top NATO military official talks Ukraine and global preparedness at Dole Institute

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Admiral Robert Bauer, chair of the Military Committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on June 4, 2024, at the The Dole Institute of Politics, 2350 Petefish Dr.

For NATO’s most senior military officer, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is about far more than just the future of Europe — it’s a warning for the alliance’s members to invest more in their own defense and do more to prevent future conflicts.

Admiral Robert Bauer of the Royal Netherlands Navy, the chair of the military committee of NATO, visited the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas on Tuesday night to talk about the war, as well as about global preparedness in what he called a “new era of collective defense.”

“Time is no longer on your side if there is a possibility of being attacked by an adversary. And that’s why we moved the primary focus on crisis response back to collective defense,” Bauer said.

Bauer said that NATO’s strategies have changed a lot over the past decade. Before, in situations like the war in Afghanistan, the response to crises was a reactive approach, he said. But after Russia’s attack on Crimea in 2014, the conversation about global security changed. NATO members began taking a more proactive approach, together, to try to avoid future conflicts, he said.

“Everything is evolving around a number of operational plans and we know much better what the capabilities are that we need to defend ourselves,” Bauer said.

NATO is also more aware of where those capabilities are lacking and what needs to improve, Bauer said. One area that he said needed more focus was how much NATO members invest in their military capabilities — and how much capacity they have to manufacture the weapons and supplies that their militaries need.

One big problem facing the U.S. and European countries, Bauer said, is that many of them have been reliant on other countries — including, sometimes, China and Russia — for a number of military resources, such as munitions. He said countries need their private industry to invest in bolstering military supply chains so that they’re not dependent on another nation that could be on the opposite side in a conflict.

Bauer pointed to recent improvements in U.S. defense production, including a new grenade manufacturing plant in Texas that will have the capability to produce 100,000 grenades a month. The entire U.S. output for grenades in previous years was around 26,000 for the entire year, he said.

Bauer also said that former President Donald Trump was right about NATO in one respect — that each country in NATO needs to spend more. Self-reliance has been a driving factor in recent years among NATO members, he said, and each has worked to increase its military spending to 2% of its gross domestic product. But unlike Trump, Bauer says it’s not an issue of everyone “paying their fair share.” The ultimate goal, he said, is to make the entire alliance stronger and to follow NATO’s guidelines that each nation be equipped to defend itself.

Another lesson from Ukraine, Bauer said, is that countries need to invest in munitions and strategies that fit the conflicts they’re facing. He said Ukraine’s success against Russia surprised many observers, but that success can be attributed in part to Ukraine utilizing the weapons it has appropriately. For instance, he said, if Ukrainian soldiers use a $10,000 drone to destroy a $5 million Russian tank, that’s not economically sustainable for Russia, even though on paper Russia might have the “more advanced” fighting force.

Overall Bauer stressed that the war in Ukraine isn’t just a fight between two nations — once it’s over, the results will impact geopolitics around the globe.

“What this is all about is the tectonic plates of power shifting,” Bauer said.

He said that right now, the geopolitical stage is undergoing a “rebalancing of power between the U.S. and China.” And he said that Europe’s stability as a trade partner with the U.S. is dependent on the sovereignty of each nation in the European Union, and allowing Russia to defeat Ukraine would put the sovereignty of other nations in question.

“If Ukraine loses,” Bauer said, “we as the West have lost.”

The discussion at the Dole Institute, which was led by Dole Institute Visiting Fellow Gerald Seib, a former Washington bureau chief with the Wall Street Journal, is available to stream on the Dole Institute’s YouTube channel.


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