Capstones | 9.29.14
By Alan W. Dowd
that “Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine have fundamentally challenged
our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace,” NATO’s 28 political leaders
declared during their September summit in Wales “continuing and
unwavering commitment to defend the populations, territory, sovereignty and
shared values of all allies in North America and Europe and to meet challenges
and threats from wherever they may emanate.”
In short, we can thank Vladimir Putin
for reminding NATO that its core mission is deterrence. Now, NATO must back up its bold words with
action—and America must lead the way.
At Wales, NATO agreed on a range of
“assurance measures” to send a message to Putin and to the easternmost members
of the alliance. These measures include:
a Readiness Action Plan to ensure early
intervention to blunt Russian-fomented crises of the sort that have dismembered
Georgia and Ukraine;
a “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force” to
defend the Baltics and Poland on short notice;
“continuous air, land and maritime presence”
and “meaningful military activity” in NATO’s east;
a regimen of war games focusing on high-visibility,
large-scale, full-spectrum maneuvers; and
increased awareness of “hybrid warfare
threats,” which Moscow has employed in Ukraine.
Of course, putting these plans into practice
requires will, not just words, and NATO’s ambivalent members may finally realize
it’s time to invest in the common defense. Toward that end, the alliance is
calling on its members “to reverse the trend of declining defense budgets,” “display
the political will to provide required capabilities” and “move towards” spending
2 percent of GDP on defense “within a decade.”
These spending reforms are desperately
of underfunding have led to “alarming
deficiencies in the state of NATO preparedness,” according to a British
government panel. In Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya, NATO’s European members have
been found woefully lacking in precision munitions, targeting and jamming
capabilities, mid-air refueling planes, reconnaissance platforms, heavy-lift
transport, drones and command-and-control assets—just about everything needed to
conduct military operations in the 21st-century.
This is what happens when nations stop
investing in defense. For years, NATO has been asking its members to invest 2
percent of GDP in defense. Yet only the United States, Britain, Greece and Estonia meet that standard today. If we remove U.S. defense spending from
the picture, NATO members spend an average of 1.3 percent of GDP on their armed
forces. During the
Cold War, the U.S. accounted for 50 percent of NATO military spending; today,
the U.S. accounts for more than 75 percent.
has always been a capabilities gap between the U.S. and its NATO allies. But with
Moscow menacing Europe and starting a new cold war, there can no longer be a
Putin is challenging NATO on virtually every front: In addition to dismembering Ukraine and Georgia, Putin’s
Russia has used energy supplies as a weapon against Central Europe, provided
cover for Assad’s beastly war, claimed a vast swath of the Arctic, withdrawn
from the Nunn-Lugar threat reduction program and conducted a crescendo of
provocative war games on NATO’s borders. Some have involved feigned invasions
of Poland, complete with mock nuclear strikes.
To be sure, Putin’s military is a shell
of the Red Army. But Putin has increased military spending 31 percent since
2008. He has the advantage of proximity; his asymmetric, anonymous brand of “hybrid
warfare” has proven effective; he possesses a massive nuclear arsenal; and his
army retains enough punch to reincorporate Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine,
Moldova and Georgia. It’s not unthinkable that the Baltics could be next. Russia’s
troop presence in the Baltic region has mushroomed from 16,000 to nearly
100,000. As the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan concludes, “It is the entire
post-Cold War settlement of the 1990s that Russia resents and wants to revise.”
as Putin himself boasts, “If I wanted,
Russian troops could not only be in Kiev in two days, but in Riga, Vilnius,
Tallinn, Warsaw or Bucharest, too.”
What Churchill said of his
Russian counterparts is true of Putin and his generals: “There is nothing they
admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less
respect than for weakness.”
Regrettably, weakness is what Putin has
perceived in the West. Make no mistake: Putin is to blame for this crisis. But
the West has done little to deter or punish his thuggish behavior. In fact, it
has often done the very opposite.
For instance, the implication of the
Obama administration’s well-intentioned “reset” was that Putin wanted a
partner, if only Washington would change its tone. That hypothesis has been
obliterated. Russia invaded Georgia during the “with us or against us” Bush
administration, and Ukraine during the “lead from behind” Obama administration.
Another policy Putin saw as a sign of
weakness was the Obama administration’s scrapping of Bush-era plans to deploy
permanent missile-defense assets in Poland and the Czech Republic—plans
unanimously endorsed by NATO. In
addition, NATO’s wholesale defense cuts, especially the nearly-trillion dollars
in cuts the Pentagon is facing, have sent the wrong message.
Finally, it pays to recall that in
early 2008, Germany and France blocked
efforts to invite Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Moscow returned the favor by
invading Georgia in late 2008. Those who counter that NATO dodged a bullet by
not inviting these countries in from no-man’s land miss an important point:
Putin’s intervention in Ukraine and Georgia—and non-intervention in Poland and
the Baltics—suggest that he respects the NATO security guarantee. How long that
will last is uncertain.
Indeed, if NATO’s members don’t
take deterrence seriously, neither will NATO’s enemies.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen
Barth-Eide warns that Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO’s all-for-one
collective defense clause) “is not in good shape” and worries about NATO’s
ability “to deliver if something happens in the transatlantic theater of a more
classical type of aggression.” NATO military commander Gen. Philip Breedlove wants the alliance to view another
round of Russian hybrid warfare as “an Article V action” inviting “all of the
assets of NATO” in response.
Only once in its history has
NATO invoked Article V—on September 12, 2001—yet some allies don’t take Article
V as seriously as others. If they did, European defense spending wouldn’t have
shrunk by 15 percent since 9/11; Washington wouldn’t have been reduced to
begging for more troops in Afghanistan; and the troops that were sent wouldn’t
have limits on where and when they fight.
To force Putin to adjust his
current course and to keep the promises NATO made at its summit in Wales, Washington
must lead by example.
the United States should help each member develop an action plan to lift their
defense budgets to the 2-percent standard by a date certain—and that target
date needs to be sooner than 10 years from now. Washington should lead from the
front by reversing sequestration’s devastating cuts. This
would translate into recapitalizing the naval and air fleets, fast-tracking
development of the Long Range Strike Bomber, and reversing cuts to Army and
Marine Corps end-strength.
kind of reversal may seem unlikely. But it pays to recall that President Carter
radically altered his approach to Moscow after the invasion of Afghanistan.
Similarly, President Reagan noted that Moscow’s shoot-down of KAL 007 “gave
badly needed impetus in Congress to the rearmament program.”
Second, the West should wage a relentless war of words against Putin. President Obama’s spot-on speechin Estonia and NATO’s point-by-point rebuttal campaignto Putin’s propaganda machine represent a good start.
Putin is not Hitler. But as longtime Pentagon
official Dov Zakheim observes, “The West is full of Chamberlains.” To extend
the historical parallel, the world thirsts for a Churchill, someone to rally
the demoralized democracies. President Obama should fill that role by employing
his rhetorical skills against Putinism. The president should highlight how Czar
Vladimir has engineered his way from prime minister to president to prime
minister to president the past 14 years; point out the vast freedom gap between
Russia and its neighbors; and expose Putin’s assault on human rights by
offering a platform to Putin’s enemies—journalists, religious minorities, those
persecuted for sexual orientation, political dissidents. “A little less
détente,” as President Reagan counseled, “and more encouragement to the
dissenters might be worth a lot of armored divisions.”
Washington should push for a NATO Arctic partnership. The groundwork is in
place: Denmark has an Arctic command, Canada an Arctic training center, Norway
an Arctic headquarters; the Pentagon recently unveiled its first-ever Arctic
strategy. It’s time for these NATO allies to coordinate their efforts.
who says Russia’s interests “are concentrated in the Arctic,” will get the
message. Oil and gas account for more than 50 percent of Russia’s federal
budget revenue. To extend its petro-boom, as
an AEI study explains, “Russia must make
huge investments in exploring and recovering oil from…the east Siberian region
and the Arctic shelf.” NATO’s Arctic members can prevent that by derailing
Putin’s Arctic land-grab.
the U.S. and its NATO allies need to view Ukraine as a partner to be nurtured,
not a problem to be managed. Washington has some work to do in this regard:
When Kiev asked for military equipment and intelligence, the administration
offered MREs. Food rations will not deter Putin.
not the time for Ukraine to join NATO, but it is time to share intelligence,
satellite imaging, anti-tank weapons and other defensive equipment with
Ukrainians to help them help themselves.
and finally, the United States should stand-up permanent military bases where
they are most needed: in the Baltics and Poland. The goal here is not to wage
war but quite the opposite: to prevent what Churchill called “temptations to a
trial of strength.” The post-Crimea half-measures of “rotational” deployments are
not reassuring NATO’s frontline states and seem unlikely to deter Putin from
another stealth invasion.
a reason U.S. forces were based in West Berlin during the Cold War, a reason
U.S. forces have been on the 38th Parallel since 1953. It’s the same reason Poland wants a U.S. Army brigade on
Polish soil. American tanks and troops send a message like nothing else can:
Crossing this line means you are going to war against the United States—no
ambiguity, no question marks, no doubts about the consequences. This is the
essence of deterrence, and it works.
the president should revive plans for permanent missile-defense sites in
Eastern Europe. This would enhance America’s ability to defend itself from
missile attack. And since the sites would be manned and defended by hundreds of U.S. personnel, it would be
another tangible sign of America’s commitment to Eastern Europe. There’s
precedent for this: After North Korea’s spasms in 2013, President Obama reversed course and ordered the Pentagon
to complete Bush-era plans for permanent ground-based interceptors in Alaska.
observers argue that deploying permanent units in Eastern Europe is prohibited
by agreements made after the Cold War. Commonly cited is the NATO-Russia
Founding Act. But NATO itself noted in Wales that “Russia has breached its
commitments” to the Helsinki Final Act, CFE Treaty, INF Treaty, Rome Treaty and
NATO-Russia Founding Act.
can be no treaty, agreement or partnership where only one party follows the
rules. Indeed, a principle of international law is that changing circumstances
change treaties: Rebus sic stantibus holds
that if one party changes something fundamental to a treaty, other parties are
free to withdraw from it.
has “ripped up the rulebook,” in the words of President Obama and British Prime
Minister David Cameron, and so NATO must remind Moscow why and how this
alliance of free nations won the first cold war—and why and how it will win the
Capstones is the publication of the Sagamore Institute Center for America’s Purpose, where Dowd researches and writes on America's role in the world.