Floor Statements

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on NATO, Russia and European Security:

“The Senate Armed Services Committee meets this morning to receive testimony on the NATO alliance, Russia, and European security. We are grateful to our witnesses for appearing before the committee today:

  • “Ambassador Nicholas Burns, a distinguished member of the faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and former U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO;
  • “General James Jones, chairman of the Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. Among the many senior positions he held during his long career in public service, General Jones served as Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO, and Commander of U.S. European Command; and
  • “Julianne Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security and former Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.

“Ambassador Burns and General Jones are the authors of the Atlantic Council’s new report on restoring the power and purpose of the NATO alliance. Ms. Smith served as a member of the report’s review board. I thank the Atlantic Council and all those that contributed to this timely, substantive report.

“Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme in World War I—141 days of carnage that killed or wounded over one million soldiers. This is a powerful reminder of a time—fading from memory, yet not all that distant—that Europe was a war-torn continent. It is also a reminder of how fortunate we are that the United States and our Allies changed that tragic arc of history at a critical inflection point. We forged the rules-based international order out of the ashes of World War II. We committed ourselves to human rights, democracy, rule of law, open markets, and peaceful settlement of disputes. And we built the NATO Alliance to protect, defend, and advance a Europe “whole, free, and at peace.”

“Again we stand at a critical inflection point, as the shadow of war has returned to Europe. The Atlantic Council report warns: ‘the peace, security, and democratic stability of Europe can no longer be taken for granted.’ Today the NATO alliance ‘faces the greatest threat to peace and security in Europe since the end of the Cold War.’

“Indeed, the challenges to our Alliance are great: radical Islamist terrorism, radiating instability across the Middle East, the worst refugee crisis since World War II, a weakened European Union, and perhaps most significant of all, a revanchist and unrepentant Russia willing to use military force to achieve political objectives.

“Two years ago, for the first time in seven decades on the European continent, Vladimir Putin invaded and annexed the territory of a sovereign nation by force. Unfortunately, since then he has learned from bloody experience in Ukraine and now in Syria – that military adventurism pays, that diplomacy can be manipulated to serve his strategic ambitions, and that the worst refugee crisis since World War II can be weaponized to divide the West and weaken its resolve.

“Two years later, our alliance is still struggling to adjust to the scope, scale, and seriousness of the new strategic reality we face. Confronted by brazen aggression, the Obama Administration maintains its refusal to provide Ukraine with the lethal assistance it needs to defend itself. Many of our NATO allies have failed to reverse declining defense budgets and honor their pledge to reach the 2 percent target within a decade. Setting aside targets, the reality is that European defense spending is simply not commensurate with the security challenges faced by the Alliance. And many NATO allies have inexplicably been reluctant to make the strategic investments in critical military capabilities needed to further alliance interoperability and improve readiness.

“That said, there has been important progress. NATO has stood up a rapid reaction force; increased air policing and sea patrols; expanded training and exercises; and moved more forces and equipment east toward the Baltic states, Poland, and the Black Sea Region.

“Yet it concerns me to hear senior European officials criticize even these limited steps to provide credible deterrence against Russian aggression as ‘saber-rattling’ or ‘warmongering.’ Such comments suggest a troubling head-in-the-sand mentality that yearns for a speedy return to the days of the delusional ‘Russia Reset’ and what General Breedlove has called ‘hugging the bear.’

“Worse, such comments fundamentally misrepresent and undermine NATO’s recent efforts to defend itself. At a time of renewed danger, our alliance seeks to reaffirm and reinforce a decades-old commitment to promote a Europe ‘whole, free, and at peace.’ That is what we must continue to do as we work to ensure the credibility of NATO’s collective defense commitment in all domains: conventional, cyber, hybrid, and nuclear.

“Finally, let me add that a strong NATO is in America’s national security interests. Nowhere has that been made more clear than in Afghanistan where our allies have sacrificed blood and treasure fighting alongside us for 15 years. And our shared mission is not over yet.

“That is why I welcome the President’s announcement yesterday that the United States will retain 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into next year. I believe that conditions on the ground warranted retaining the current force level of 9,800. And I fail to see any strategic rationale for the withdrawal 1,400 U.S. troops while the security situation remains precarious.

“That said, it is important the United States signaled our ongoing commitment to the mission in Afghanistan ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw this week where our Allies will make troop and funding commitments to the Resolute Support Mission. I believe the commitments our Allies make this week will once again demonstrate that NATO is a critical force multiplier and a vital partner to promote global stability and security.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today, and the opportunity to discuss their recommendations for strengthening the NATO Alliance, reinvigorating U.S. global leadership, and meeting our shared challenges.”