U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said failure to help Ukraine secure its own future could lead to a “world of tyranny and turmoil”, in a speech on Saturday that sought to lay out the stakes in the war for the international community.
Austin's remarks, delivered at a security forum in Canada, were some of his most powerful to date on Russia's invasion which has lasted for nearly nine months already.
“NATO is a defensive alliance. It does not seek confrontation with Russia. It poses no threat to Russia,” said Austin. But he warned against mistaking NATO’s defensive stance for weakness. “Make no mistake, we will not be dragged into Putin's war of choice, but we will stand by Ukraine as it fights to defend itself. And we will defend every inch of NATO territory. And we will continue to strengthen NATO's collective defence and deterrence.”
Mr Austin also said that “Russia's invasion offers a preview of a possible world of tyranny and turmoil, turmoil that none of us want to live in,” adding that Russia’s irresponsible nuclear saber rattling, if not reacted to, risks encouraging other dictators.
“Putin's fellow autocrats are watching. And they could well conclude that getting nuclear weapons would give them a hunting license of their own. And that could drive a dangerous spiral of nuclear proliferation,” Austin said.
As Mr Austin said, the danger is already apparent.
“Now the ripples of Russia's invasion have traveled far, far beyond Europe,” said the U.S. Defence Secretary. “Beijing, like Moscow, seeks a world where might makes right. Where disputes are resolved by force and where autocrats can stamp out the flame of freedom.”
Referring to a meeting between U.S. President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Secretary Austin reminded the press of President Biden’s words spoken after the talks, according to which “there need not be a Cold War. But we remain clear-eyed about the China challenge.”
Austin said Chinese aircraft were flying near Taiwan in record numbers almost daily, while the number of what he called “dangerous intercepts” by China of U.S. or allied forces at sea or in the air was increasing.
Tensions between Taipei and Beijing have risen since China staged war games near the democratically-governed island in August after a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which Beijing took as Washington putting into question the “Once China” policy, which asserts Taiwan is not an independent state, but a breakaway province.