Should NATO Respond To Downing Of Malaysia Flight 17?

Former Navy Adm. James Stavridis tells NPR's Arun Rath what steps the alliance might take in response to the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

And for some insight into how the world community might respond, we turn now to retired Admiral James Stavridis. He was NATO Supreme Allied Commander and now serves as Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Welcome to the program.

JAMES STAVRIDIS: Thanks, Arun. Great to be with you.

RATH: So Ukraine is not a NATO member but the Netherlands, which lost nearly 200 citizens in this crash, is a member of NATO. If President Putin doesn't change course, what are NATO's options?

STAVRIDIS: Well, I think NATO has some fairly robust options. And I have to start by simply expressing condolences, particularly to the Dutch. Losing 200 people when your population of your country is around 15 million is a 9/11-level event, on a population-adjusted basis for the United States. In terms of NATO, I think the first and foremost thing is to assist the Ukrainian military.

Now that doesn't mean boots on the ground or aircraft flying overhead but Arun, it means things like sharing intelligence information. I think particularly help with cyber equipment, both lethal and nonlethal, so food, fuel, finances, that kind of thing. As well, and probably most controversially, potentially providing some advisors who can help as we assist the Ukrainian government in reducing this Russian-sponsored insurgency in the east.

RATH: You know, it's hard to think of another situation like this, not so much that a civilian airliner could be downed by the military but that the crash site, the victims lying in the field for days at the contested site, international inspectors not able to get access. If the Ukrainian Army can't rescue this - can't secure the site, who can?

STAVRIDIS: I think it will take an international effort. And this is why you're seeing the United States along with the European Union. And really, this is a global feeling of outrage at this point. I mean, this has moved beyond tragedy to real outrage at how the bodies are being treated, how their effects are being disturbed and potentially stolen. It really is outrageous.

I think the option is an international inquiry and investigation, potentially under United Nations auspices, and bringing in a team from around the world to look at this crash site and immediately cordoning off. And I think that's all within the remit of the international world. But we have to work it through Vladimir Putin. And really, the key is in his hand to undo this awful event.

RATH: Curious about U.S. intelligence. How much does the U.S. know about who shot down this plane and Russia's involvement?

STAVRIDIS: Given the recent statements out of Washington, I have no doubt that we have complete clarity on the circumstances here, that this was a Russian-supplied system that had shot down the Malaysian airliner.

And I would guess we have pretty good sense that there were Russian advisers involved. And this is a result of the ability to use our overhead imagery and also our overhead ability to listen to conversations between those ground stations.

You're also seeing a great deal of evidence being provided by the Ukrainian government which looks persuasive to me, as well.

RATH: And quickly, Admiral, what do you expect the international response to be?

STAVRIDIS: I think it will be a huge sense of outrage, demand for an international body to go in and examine this site, and enormous pressure, including economic sanctions on Russia. Those are the right next steps. We can't afford to stumble backward into a Cold War but we need to induce Russia to solve this problem.

RATH: Admiral James Stavridis was Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He now leads the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Thanks very much.

STAVRIDIS: Thanks, Arun. Great questions. Bye bye.

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