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  • Pieter van Wingerden

NATO Expert Visits Claremont Colleges

Image via Radio ZET

Ian Brzezinski, the former Pentagon Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy, spoke at Claremont McKenna College last week. He focused on the future of NATO amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the event hosted by the Claremont Colleges’ Alexander Hamilton Society.

Brzezinski underscored NATO’s importance to international peace and security. “[NATO] brings to the table an unmatched level of military, economic and political power,” he said, “To have an alliance like NATO with political legitimacy, economic power and an unmatched military capability is something you really, really value. You don’t want to take it for granted.”

NATO is a transatlantic military alliance that promotes defense and security cooperation among member states. Since its establishment in 1949, the number of member states has grown from 12 to 30, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that border Russia. During his tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Brzezinski oversaw the admission of the Baltic states and many Central European nations to NATO.

Brzezinski called on NATO to do more to support Ukraine. “It’s a disappointment to see NATO as an institution sidelined in this conflict,” he said, “It’s not providing direct military support like the presence of troops, and it is not serving as a conduit for military assistance. The only thing NATO has offered is to provide advice on civil-military relations. It’s embarrassing.”

So far, the U.S. has provided the vast majority of aid to Ukraine, including more than $29 billion in military assistance since February 2022. This includes anything from body armor and helmets to High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems that have proven critical to driving back Russians and intercepting missiles.

NATO engagement in this conflict, Brzezinski argued, would bring the war to a quicker end and more on Ukraine’s terms. Brzezinski also described how Ukraine’s non-NATO status played an important role in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022. “One of the mistakes of the last 30 years was not to embrace Ukraine's aspiration to join the alliance. By keeping Ukraine out, we signaled disinterest and left Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian pressure,” he said.

Nikhil Agarwal, a junior at Claremont McKenna and co-leader of the Alexander Hamilton Society’s Claremont chapter, described the event as a success. “I was very pleased by the audience members' willingness to ask thought-provoking questions. It was great to see so many raised hands,” he said.

One student asked about Turkey’s role in rejecting prospective NATO members from joining the alliance. Currently, all NATO members must unanimously agree to accept new members. Brzezinski said he believes Turkey will eventually accept Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids, and that the alliance must carefully balance its “long-term interest in keeping Turkey in the transatlantic community” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s reluctance to admit Sweden and Finland into NATO.

Another student asked about the role of NATO in the Indo-Pacific region. Brzezinski said that although NATO would play a minimal role in a Taiwan contingency, NATO should have a “footprint” in the Indo-Pacific. “China is a challenge to transatlantic interests,” he said. “We’re already seeing ample evidence of Chinese cyberespionage and other forms of espionage across Europe.”


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