U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said Wednesday that Russia’s war on Ukraine and the risk of the conflict escalating make this moment the most dangerous in more than two decades.
“This is probably the most dangerous security environment that I’ve been in in 25 years of working in national security,” Wormuth said at The Hill’s Future of Defense Summit.
“So there’s no shortage of things to keep you awake at night,” she added.
Steve Clemons, The Hill’s editor-at-large and the event’s moderator, asked Wormuth about remarks she made earlier this month that the Russia-Ukraine crisis will “get worse before it gets better, as it looks like the Russians are going to turn to some potentially brutal tactics.”
Clemons also cited fears that the conflict could spill over into Poland or another NATO ally in the region, which could spark a collective response by the security alliance.
“I certainly think we have to prepare and plan for those kinds of possibilities,” Wormuth said, adding the Army has long been planning for operations in a nuclear, chemical or biological warfare landscape, “as terrible as it is to contemplate that.”
“That’s why, you know, so much emphasis is being placed on defending every inch of NATO territory and putting a very strong deterrent posture forward,” Wormuth said.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, another speaker at Wednesday’s event, underscored U.S. dedication to Article 5, the NATO agreement that an attack against one member will prompt a response by all.
“We want to make crystal clear that our commitment to Article 5 and to defending every inch of NATO territory is iron-clad,” Hicks said.
Wednesday’s event was sponsored by Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
Officials and lawmakers including Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWarner: Putin is the one individual trying to make regime change in Europe Sunday shows preview: US, allies up pressure on Russia; Jackson undergoes confirmation hearings Hillicon Valley — Warner keeps eye on Russia cyber moves MORE (D-Va.) have raised the possibility that a cyberattack on critical infrastructure could also trigger Article 5, though it’s unclear what a NATO response to cyber aggression would look like.
In February, all 30 members of NATO agreed to activate its response force for the first time since its founding. The troops are now on standby.
The Biden administration has also deployed troops to Eastern Europe in a show of heightened alert and solidarity with Ukraine and regional allies.
“We’ve got 40,000 Army troops alone in Europe to make very clear to President Putin that there are lines that can’t be crossed,” Wormuth said.