Hagel: Europe faces ‘bracing new realities’

Russia’s military moves in Ukraine “shatter the myth” that the end of the Cold War meant an end to insecurity, at least in Europe, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.

In remarks prepared for delivery at a Washington think-tank, Hagel renewed a call for increased defense spending by NATO members and said even a united Europe still faces great dangers.

“While we must continue to build a more peaceful and prosperous global order, there is no postmodern refuge immune to the threat of military force,” Hagel said, according to excerpts provided in advance of his speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “And we cannot take for granted – even in Europe – that peace is underwritten by the credible deterrent of military power.”

Earlier Friday in Ukraine, two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down as Ukraine launched its first major offensive against the pro-Russia forces that have seized government buildings in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin said Kiev’s move against the insurgents “destroyed” hopes for peace in the region.

Hagel said NATO members need to boost their defense investment because over the long run Russia will test the purpose, stamina and commitment of the 28-nation U.S.-led alliance.

“In recent years, one of the biggest obstacles to alliance investment has been a sense that the end of the Cold War ushered in an ‘end of history’ and an end to insecurity – at least in Europe – from aggression by nation-states. Russia’s actions in Ukraine shatter that myth and usher in “bracing new realities,” Hagel said in his prepared remarks.

He called for the inclusion of budget officials at a future NATO defense ministers meeting focused on ways to break the pattern of steadily declining defense budgets among European member states.

NATO’s defense ministers, including Hagel, are scheduled to meet in June, followed by a gathering of alliance foreign ministers, including Secretary of State John Kerry. President Barack Obama is due to attend a NATO summit in Wales in September.

A key challenge for the alliance in the weeks ahead will be finding a unified position on the nature of the Russian threat and how to respond over time.

Fear of Russian aggression is most acute among newer NATO members such as Poland and other Eastern European states that once were part of the Soviet sphere of influence but chose to join the Western alliance after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Some older NATO members in Europe are less alarmed and see less urgency in trying to punish Moscow for its moves in Ukraine.

Europeans also have seen the U.S. pare down its military presence in the region over the past two decades. More broadly, Obama has urged greater U.S. caution in the use of military force as an instrument of foreign policy, following more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a defense of his approach, Obama last week said his critics “would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests.”

The Obama administration has thus far declined to provide Ukraine with arms, instead opting to provide non-lethal aid such as pre-packaged meals.

On Thursday, NATO’s second-ranking official said the alliance is now compelled to treat Moscow as an adversary.

“Clearly the Russians have declared NATO as an adversary, so we have to begin to view Russia no longer as a partner but as more of an adversary than a partner,” said Alexander Vershbow, the deputy secretary-general of NATO.