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May 26, 2022

To Avoid Accidental Conflict, Senator King Stresses Importance of NATO’s “Essential Defensive Nature”

As NATO is poised to expand in response to Putin’s attacks on Ukraine, King urges top NATO nominee to make clear the alliance’s defensive nature

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate NATO Observer Group, today stressed the importance of ensuring that adversaries and allies are aware of the NATO alliance’s defensive posture. As Finland and Sweden take steps to join NATO following Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attacks on Ukraine, King urged General Christopher Cavoli – nominee for NATO Supreme Allied Commander and United States European Command – to ensure that this expansion is not mistaken as an offensive threat to Russia.

“I believe one of the most important books written in the 20th century was The Guns of August. As you know, the thesis was that we stumbled into World War I by miscalculation, mistakes, misunderstanding, and a complicated web of treaties in Europe that led to a World War that no one anticipated, the depth of which no one wanted,” said Senator King. “How do we communicate to the Russians the essential defensive nature of NATO?”

“My concern is what we view as deterrence and reassurance they could view as provocation, particularly in light of dealing with a country which is historically paranoid about the West,” Senator King continued. “Vladimir Putin clearly think there is a danger of an invasion by NATO. Talk about how we diminish this substantial risk of a miscalculation. Vladimir Putin has made huge miscalculations in Ukraine, what if he make a similar miscalculation about what we’re doing in Poland, Finland, and Sweden or other NATO countries? Give me some thoughts on the danger of a mistake triggering a world-wide confrontation."

“The danger of a mistake or miscalculation looms very high in our consciousness every day U.S. EUCOM. We have a process by which we review every activity and investment that we are conducting in order to gauge how it will be viewed by our adversaries and by Russia in particular. And then whether we should proceed, given our various goals at that point,” replied General Cavoli. “It is a delicate balance, and it is a delicate balance because one must not shy away from activity that we need to do to stay strong and to make sure we outline our priorities of what we will defend, but it is also necessary not to overdo that and create a problem where a problem wasn’t. We work very hard on that and clearly we have not hit that point yet.”

“I want to be clear, I support the European Reassurance Initiative, I support what we have done in Ukraine and what we are doing in Poland and Eastern Europe, bringing new countries into NATO. I think the important thing here, and we talked about diplomacy earlier, is to communicate that this is defensive,” Senator King concluded.

As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Armed Services Committee, and Senate NATO Observer Group, Senator King has forcefully condemned Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian sovereignty and worked to strengthen the NATO alliance. Last week, Senator King met with the Prime Ministers of Sweden and Finland to express his backing for their accession to NATO, and joined a bipartisan coalition in a joint statement of support for the process. Earlier this year, King joined a bipartisan Congressional delegation to Poland and Germany where he met with NATO leaders, Ukrainian refugees, and U.S. servicemembers for a first-hand look at the humanitarian crisis and America’s efforts to support Ukrainians. 

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