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Deterring Putin, Part I

March 8, 2014

As I wrote yesterday, Crimea is now owned by the Kremlin, at least de facto, and there’s little to be done in the short term to change that. Certainly the appearance of Russian minefields on the “border” between Crimea and Ukraine today indicates the new reality of the situation we face. As I write, amid reports of Russian troop movements in Crimea, Putin may be readying his next gamble, a move into Eastern Ukraine. His lack of fear of Western retaliation is showing, which cannot be construed as a good sign.

How can the West deter further Russian aggression? I gave strong hints in my previous piece but I’ve been asked to provide more, so here it goes, an off-the-cuff analysis of what needs to be done, soon. In the realm of conventional deterrence, some small things have already happened, including the movement of limited numbers of USAF fighters to Poland and the Baltics; this measure, though temporary, is wise. It should be followed by permanent stationing of USAF fighters in the region, in frontline NATO countries: the numbers need not be large, as qualitatively our edge over the Russian Air Force is considerable. At a minimum, the placement of ground-based anti-missile units (i.e. Aegis Ashore) in Eastern Europe ought to expedited. The joint training focus of U.S. European Command (EUCOM) needs to shift at once from light/SOF-type forces with a COIN focus (i.e. related to the soon-to-end ISAF mission in Afghanistan) to heavier, more conventional forces aimed at rapid response to Russian aggression.

However, deterrence is not to be found in any major U.S. redeployment of forces on a permanent basis into Europe. EUCOM’s conventional drawdown has already happened and, in terms of crisis response, flexibility is more important than anything, and moves in recent years to establish surge-friendly bases in Eastern Europe proved wise and need to be expanded upon. While it would be wise to commence regular NATO naval patrols in the Baltic and the Black Sea, as was common in the Cold War, as a deterrent message to Moscow, it is not necessary to recreate major U.S. Army bases in Europe in Cold War fashion.

Moreover, it is imperative that European NATO members bear their share of this new burden. For too long, too many European partners have slashed their own defense spending, understanding that Big Uncle Sam would always be there for them; despite repeated warnings from the Pentagon, these trends have continued and, with too-few honorable exceptions, our European NATO partners have refused to pay their own way in collective defense. Cynical Americans are uncharitable, but hardly wrong, to term this free-loading on the American taxpayer.

Therefore, as we reinvigorate NATO, thanks to Putin’s misconduct, it is high time to reassess membership in the Atlantic Alliance. Members are supposed to spend two percent of GDP on defense, but very few actually do. Henceforth this must be a strict requirement. Existing members are expected to do so, and will be held to this. If you do not commit two percent of your GDP on defense, after three years, you will be expelled from the Alliance. Period. If you want protection, you must be part of the team. Needless to add, there should be no discussion of adding any new members to NATO until the Alliance sorts out who can be relied upon to participate in collective defense, and who cannot.

“New” NATO members are particularly egregious in this regard, and among them only Poland and Estonia spend what they are supposed to on defense. For the others, considerable funds were expended on the high cost of NATO accession, and after attaining membership in the world’s most exclusive military club, most have slashed funding and, de facto, coasted on U.S. defense and dollars. This must end, particularly because these are some of the very countries that the United States could soon find itself going to war for to defend them from rapacious Russia.

That said, quite a few long-standing NATO members are nearly as cynical, and many seem content to treat their NATO commitments less than seriously – though of course they all still expect their “slice” of “top” Alliance jobs in Brussels. As many have noted, cushy, 9-to-5 NATO staffing positions have only increased as field forces have shriveled up: another waste of funds that ought to be examined rigorously. The dramatic decline, really collapse, of Britain’s once-proud military since 2010 is noteworthy here, and the Cameron government has provided a perfect how-not-to guide to managing defense resources.

All the same, America is not without blame in all this, as emphasis on “the needs of the Alliance” – often meaning “the needs of America’s losing war in Afghanistan” – has meant that NATO countries for more than a decade have focused scarce defense funds on items and programs to support ISAF, not territorial defense in Europe. As a result, there is a long list of New-NATO members whose militaries are adept at small-scale, often SOF-flavored, programs that were relevant in Afghanistan, but which provide little value in deterring Russia close to home. This, too, must change at once, and NATO’s primary mission must again become deterring Moscow’s moves westward.

Effective deterrence is well within NATO’s grasp, as Russia’s conventional forces, despite considerable reinvestment now, remain a shadow of their Soviet-era selves. But so are NATO’s, and there’s not much time to waste. The West must get serious about defense again, or be prepared to be intimidated or worse by Putin’s Kremlin.

As I’ve said before, more-or-less overt Russian moves into Eastern Ukraine are more than possible, soon, and if that happens NATO will have a proxy war on its hands. Though it’s unlikely that NATO forces would be directly engaged against the Russians in Ukraine – allowing that all bets are off in the unlikely event that Russian forces move past Kyiv, into Western Ukraine – it can be expected that NATO would provide Ukraine with considerable military and intelligence assistance to defend the country against Moscow.

We need to act now, there is not much time to waste any longer … In my next segment, I will share my thoughts on how to employ Special War, potentially our real trump card, against Russia, and thereby deter Kremlin adventurism and aggression.

From → History, Strategy, USG

28 Comments
  1. European members actually doing something to defend their countries ?

    Almost unthinkable !

    The “Chomsky-ite” doctrine of “My country: wrong-wrong-wrong !” has become disgustingly pervasive : here and abroad, and may act as a sea anchor against anything we try to do to prevent the spread of Putinism.

  2. Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    Again: bitter medicine-but we need it badly !

  3. Dan permalink

    Watching coverage of CPAC: How unfortunate that the libertarians, with their non-interventionism, appear to be gaining so much political force at just this moment. One wonders, having at least read about how some personalities view these things, whether this was the result of some sort of plan…

  4. Eric Bergerud permalink

    There’s been precious little mention of China lately and I wonder if that’s wise. The Chinese have territorial issues of their own and are frequently given lectures on a whole range of politically correct issues from Western governments and NGOs. And they have no love for Wilsonian democracy or diplomacy. China has supported Russia strongly over Syria and has supported Moscow so far in the Ukraine. The basic assumption I’ve seen repeatedly is that if things get too sticky in the Ukraine that Russia will stumble into a situation which will lead ultimately to humiliation for Moscow. Doesn’t anyone think the possibility of a kind of Moscow-Beijing axis is a real possibility? If it developed what would US response be and who would end up facing humiliation? We can threaten to get tough with Moscow because we only import Vodka. China would be a different matter – especially if India (and/or Pakistan) sat on the sidelines and enjoyed the spectacle of the West being pressed to take measures it was unable to do when faced with mighty Serbia. We may be finding out that the “end of history” proclaimed in 1991 and more recently by Obama may have been a hasty prediction. And are the Europeans really up for another round of the Cold War? It would be ironic if Putin and his successors proved able to turn Europe into a rich and large Finland – exactly what Brezhnev and company wanted fifty years ago.

    • Sounds like you need your own blog. When I write about Putin, there will be more in the piece about Russia than China. Not complicated.

      • Eric Bergerud permalink

        If Putin’s actions are influenced by what he perceives to be what the Marxists used to call “the balance of forces” then the opinion of a great nation with which Moscow shares a huge border is almost certainly part of the equation – particularly if they are backing him against the West. Ever study any diplomatic history?

      • You mean “correlation of forces.” I have a PhD in modern European political & military history, I’ve heard of diplomacy, thanks.

  5. I’ve had a chance to think about things-and to look at some of what’s on the Net.

    This is my response:

    http://mrmeangenes.com/2014/03/10/reluctant-cold-war-posting/

  6. This was posted late yesterday by someone who professes to be a Pro-Russian citizen of Ukraine.

    He started out last week with a 3 page report – generally agreeing with the Russians in a sort of “man-in-the-street” way-complete with all the spelling and grammar mistakes one might expect of someone using English as a second language.

    Later in the week, he posted a video that looked impressive for a second or two-then revealed itself as propaganda -(Ex: a crowd in a football stadium calling ” Beat the Russians !” ; another crowd-en route to a game “Kill the Russians !”) -a narrative meant to convince westerners the Russians were merely trying to rescue the Ukrainian People from the Neo-Nazi thugs who had attacked and seized their land
    YESTERDAY’S POST AS FOLLOWS:
    .
    *There are a big chance that tomorrow or day after tomorrow happens something really bad in Crimea. Probably it will be war.*

    – Date of Referendum in Crimea is 16 of March. So Kiev needs to do something before that date. At any costs they will try to prevent it. In other case Crimea probably joins Russia legally by will of citizens.
    – All military enginery and machines that still works now going to Crimea. There are o lot of video from many regions shows that. Ukraine still have some armored troop-carriers, artillery, T-64 tanks, etc.
    – Also several dozens of PZRK “igla” (SA-16, SA24) was stolen from military storages in western Ukraine. It is portable antiaircraft missle launchers. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Igla-Super.jpg
    – Probably Kiev government make stake of everything they have to one strike. If they can take Perekop and Simferopol, there will be not a chance to organize referendum. Even if they not, there still will be a lot of blood and everything goes like by South Osetia 2008 scenario. Russia will be proclaimed as aggressor by western media and everybody will believe it. May be they even make some stupid propagandistic Hollywood style movie about big evil hungry bear of Russia from the north.
    – I don`t know if Kiev already have guaranties of support from NATO or whatever in case if Russia will use real military force to defend Crimea. Probably Kiev has guaranties or just stupid and hateful.
    – I`m not really religious person, but tonight i will pray. I wish i wrong and nothing terrible happens.”

  7. SRatner permalink

    I’m not sure I fully understand. What obligation does the West or NATO have to deter Russia from acting as it is in former soviet countries?
    Before we begin talking about raising military threats against Russia, wouldn’t it make sense to get European partners to agree to economic sanctions first? Like all of them to stop purchasing oil and gas from Russia, a total ban on all banking transactions with Russia, a trade embargo – those sorts of measures – prior to placing tank divisions or whatever?

    • I’d prefer not to have vast refugee flows and chaos filtering into Poland and Romania, how about you?

  8. Part of S. Ratner’s comment:

    Before we begin talking about raising military threats against Russia, wouldn’t it make sense to get European partners to agree to economic sanctions first? Like all of them to stop purchasing oil and gas from Russia, a total ban on all banking transactions with Russia, a trade embargo – those sorts of measures – prior to placing tank divisions or whatever?

    Were the EU to stop buying oil and gas from Russia, they would be in dire economic and domestic straits , until they could complete the negoatiations and build the infrastructure required for such a major supplier change.

    Still ——-I suppose it would give them something to do on those freezing cold nights —-other than yap : ” No blood for oil !”

  9. This post suggests contiuning the same misbehaviour that led to this situation.
    German Ex Chancelor Gehard Schroeder needs to put in lead for the contact group. He has strong ties to Putin and EU has to realize that crimea is lost as it happend with South Osetia and Abachsia. And if they dont want to be responsible for the same thing happening again and again they have to start talking to Russia instead of continuing their special cold war.

  10. I like your post but it’s probably too late. Too many years of relative peace and stability have changed the West. Now western leadership thinks that disarming is the way to peace.

    The Global Trends 2025 report suggested that the international system as we know it today – created out of the ashes of World War II – “will be almost unrecognizable by 2025″. The last international system broke-down during World War I – 1914 to 1918. Trends in place today suggest major discontinuities, shocks, and surprises will be coming.

    These kinds of power shifts usually don’t go smoothly. Current tension with both Russia and China suggest it would be prudent to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

  11. randallr permalink

    Russia’s economy is smaller than Italy’s. Hardly a threat.

  12. I couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly written!

  13. Very good article. I’m dealing with a few of these issues as well..

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