Events over the past months have made it clear that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is as relevant to Western security today as it was when the Alliance was created some 65 years ago. It is a fortunate thing that despite the end of the Cold War the member nations decided not only to maintain NATO but to expand it. NATO proponents have long argued that the structures, policies and relationships built over some six decades were absolutely vital to European security and could not be recreated were the Alliance to be dissolved. The ability of the United States and other states to respond to Russian aggression against Crimea and the Ukraine rapidly and collectively was only possible because of NATO’s political consultative processes and military structures.
Now the Alliance must decide what to do for the longer-term. It is obvious that the government of Russia poses a clear and continuing threat to the stability and security of the continent. Even were President Vladimir Putin to pull his forces back today and cease trying to destabilize Ukraine, the threat of interference and intimidation of his neighbors will remain. Economic sanctions by the United States and European Union are a starting place. But what is needed is the enhancement of NATO’s military capabilities. NATO must demonstrate both the will and capability to resist Russian traditional and asymmetric aggression if Moscow is to be deterred.
NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has long called on the members of the Alliance to do more to maintain their military capabilities. He warned time and time again of the dangers that would result from underfunding defense and from the uncoordinated and precipitous reduction in military forces. Until recently, it appeared that his warning had fallen on deaf ears. If Europe is to avoid a third continental military catastrophe in 100 years, it must heed the Secretary General’s warning and act in accordance with his recommendations.
Today in the Wall Street Journal, Secretary General Rasmussen made clear the steps the Alliance must take next to reassure its members and deter Russia. In particular, the Alliance needs to deploy more forces eastward and provide for their support and sustainment. Intelligence capabilities need to be enhanced and information must be shared more rapidly among the member countries. Collective training activities must be greatly increased. The NATO Response Force (NRF), the combined arms capability that would respond first to a threat to the security of member states, must receive priority attention. NATO members must make good on their commitments to support the NRF with troops, equipment and resources. The NRF must be given additional theater lift, more logistics, the prepositioning of equipment and supplies in places like Poland and the Baltics and enhanced communications capabilities. As the Secretary General stated, “we need to upgrade elements of our rapid-reaction capability, the NATO Response Force, to make them able to deploy even more quickly and deploy at the first sign of trouble, before a conflict erupts. Speed is of the essence to deter sudden threats along NATO’s borders.”
The Obama Administration needs to reconsider its decision to reduce forces in Europe. Additional air and ground forces, particularly a heavy brigade combat team, need to be moved back to the continent. Washington should also take steps to more rapidly deploy the planned European Phased Adaptive Architecture, a theater missile defense to Europe. In this time of uncertainty and incipient crisis, actions are much more important than words. NATO and the United Sates must act and do so quickly to make clear that it can and will defend Europe from this renewed threat of aggression.
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