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Russia Aims To Undermine NATO, Retired Lt. Gen. Hodges Says


During the Cold War, there was a real fear in America and in Europe that the Russians were coming. And, in fact, the Soviets did roll their tanks into Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and they turned the Baltics into satellite states. But the Cold War is long over, and the world is a much different place, and so are the threats from Russia. Lieutenant General Ben Hodges was commander of the U.S. Army in Europe until recently. Back in the 1980s, he was a young lieutenant serving in Germany.

BEN HODGES: We were all sure that the Soviet Union was going to invade and, you know, it was to conquer Western Europe. That was what everybody expected, and, in fact, the Soviets did have plans for that. Today, they don't have the capability or the desire. I mean, they look at a strong NATO of 29 nations, and you stack up the combined militaries, populations, economies and so on. Compare that to Russia's. They realize that that's - they don't have the capacity to take that on.

MARTIN: Although Hodges tells me Russia has found other ways to project its strength.

HODGES: Well, the Russians, of course, have traditionally blended all aspects of national power from the land, air and sea forces to cyber - now cyber, but also the use of information, economic power and everything. So the areas where they have particular strength - electronic warfare capability - while all of us in the West were correctly focused on counterterrorism, the Russians continued developing high-end electronic warfare capability that allows them to jam, to intercept and actually to target then based on what they are able to find through electronic warfare means.

MARTIN: But to what end? It seems implausible that interfering in elections and launching cyberattacks could return Russia to the pre-Cold War power it once had. I asked General Hodges what he thinks Russia's ultimate goal is now and how big a threat that is to the U.S. and its allies.

HODGES: There is real Russian aggression. Their goal is to undermine the alliance and to undermine the European Union. It's not to conquer all of Europe. And so to undermine the alliance, it's a mix of misinformation, creating divisions between countries, exploiting those and also to demonstrate that the alliance cannot defend one of its members.

MARTIN: How does President Trump fit into that? When you think about President Trump's remarks questioning the purpose of NATO, is he essentially helping Vladimir Putin achieve his mission?

HODGES: Well, I would say that the president has not been very helpful with the tensions and the stress that he has put on the cohesion of the alliance. But never, certainly in my 40 years in the Army, have I ever seen where the president of the United States put into question whether or not the United States might live up to its obligations. Secondly, part of the reason that the alliance and other international organizations have been so successful at achieving what they were set up to do in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War is because the American president and American leadership were always there. And so it's in our own interest that Europe is stable and secure. It's for our own prosperity.

MARTIN: Does it make sense to you that Vladimir Putin would be invited to the White House this fall?

HODGES: Well, not if it's going to be a repeat of what just happened in Helsinki. And I think it's always good when heads of state talk to each other, particularly when the tensions are high. But they only respect strength, and anybody that doesn't believe that has never read a page of history and doesn't understand who they are. So right now, the president has got to - you'll need to make it very clear that we understand that Russia's goal is to undermine the alliance and that they are attempting to cause us to lose trust in all of our institutions, in the media - you know, every time I hear fake news, I mean, that's just, chalk one up for the Russians - or cause us to lose confidence in our electoral system or in our judicial system. So our leaders on all sides have got to help give the American people confidence in our institutions. Otherwise, we just are so vulnerable to the capability they have.

MARTIN: Retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges. Thank you so much for your time, sir.

HODGES: Well, thank you very much for the chance to be with y'all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.