U.S. Army General Mark A. Milley, the U.S. military’s top uniformed official, said that nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) could not afford to become complacent about its efforts to maintain peace, according to a Department of Defense report.
Milley, who is the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the remarks during a break in his first meeting of the NATO Military Committee—the highest military council in the alliance—in Brussels, Belgium on Jan. 14. The committee meets three times a year and involves the chiefs of defense from all 29 nations of the alliance discussing how to defend against threats to worldwide peace and security.
“This alliance is important,” Milley said. “It’s important to Europe, it’s important in the United States, and we should not become complacent about it. And things like defense spending and working together and interoperability and maintaining commitments to each other is important for preventing a great power war and in order to maintain peace and stability.”
The intergovernmental military alliance recently announced that it has temporarily suspended its training operations in Iraq to ensure the safety of its personnel, amid tensions in the Middle East after Qassem Soleimani’s death on Jan. 2. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently agreed with President Donald Trump that it “could contribute more to regional stability and fight against international terrorism” in the Middle East.
In the context of recent events in the Middle East, Milley said that he saw support from his counterparts at the meeting for NATO to be more involved in the region. He spoke about the importance of the Military Committee to provide ballistic missile defense support, given that “there are NATO-allied troops at these various camps [in the Middle East] that just took Iranian ballistic missiles.”
“Right now, the NATO mission in Iraq is somewhere around 500 guys,” Milley said. “It’s a noncombat train, advise, assist role … building [Iraqi] capacity to secure themselves. The United States still thinks, and NATO still thinks that’s a valid mission and will continue that mission. We have no intention of not continuing that mission.”
In the fight against international terrorism, NATO currently conducts training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. NATO scaled up its training and advising efforts in Iraq at the Iraqi government’s request after ISIS was largely stamped out of the country in late 2017.
NATO Mission Iraq (NMI) was later established in October 2018, after three years of war against ISIS. NMI is a non-combat “train-and-advise” and capacity-building mission that seeks to strengthen Iraqi security forces and Iraqi military training institutions so that Iraqi forces can independently prevent the return of the ISIS terrorist group and help to stabilize the country. NMI includes up to several hundred trainers, advisers, and support staff from the 29 allied nations as well as non-NATO partners such as Australia, Sweden, and Finland.
Milley pointed out that NATO was put in place at the end of World War II to prevent another great power war and maintain peace. However, he noted that it appears that Russia wants to divide and weaken NATO.
“That would be to their advantage,” he said. “It’s to the disadvantage of Europe and the United States if NATO would just collapse and fall apart.”
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, who is also the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said that the alliance is directly confronting Russia’s hybrid warfare efforts by deploying a counter-hybrid warfare support team to NATO ally Montenegro to deter hybrid challenges.