NATO’S MOMENT OF TRUTH – HOW WILL IT FACE PUTIN’S AGGRESSION

National Review on September 6, 2014, published an article by Conservative author and columnist George Will from Washington Post. Excerpts below:

A nation with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is dismembering another nation. And the nuclear power is governed by an unconstrained despot fueled by a dangerous brew of disappointment, resentment, and contempt.

Writing for the Federalist website, Professor Tom Nichols of the Naval War College describes Vladimir Putin as neither a realist nor a nationalist but rather someone saturated with Soviet nostalgia. In 1975, Nichols writes, the world seemed to be going the Soviet Union’s way. Extraordinary U.S. exertions in Vietnam had ended in defeat, a president had resigned, and the economy was sagging into stagflation. “By contrast,” Nichols says, “the Soviets were at the top of their game,” with a modernized military and a new generation of missiles: “The correlation of forces, the great wheel of History itself, was finally turning in their favor,” and because History’s ratchet clicks only in a progressive direction, “it would never turn back.”

In 1975, Putin, 23, joined “the most elite Soviet institution,” the KGB, which would guarantee “he would be somebody in the brave new Soviet future.” But in the 1980s, “he watched the Soviet descent to oblivion begin, accelerate, and then end in a humiliating wreck.” Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and a Polish pope ignited a Western resurgence — military, economic, and moral. By 1990, Putin was 38 and aggrieved. Today, “Putin’s speeches and public utterances,” Nichols notes, “tend to show more nostalgia for his Soviet youth than his Russian adulthood.” Remember “the explosion of bad taste and Soviet kitsch” in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

A participant in NATO’s 1949 founding famously said that the alliance’s purpose was to protect Europe by keeping “the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

When the Cold War, which prompted NATO’s creation, ended, the alliance began to gingerly undertake what it calls “out-of-area operations,” as in Afghanistan. Now, however, it is back to its original business of keeping Russian forces out of NATO members, which now include Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, the last two being contiguous to Russia.

If NATO’s meeting in Wales was, as one European defense intellectual said, a “credibility summit,” it was at most a semi-success. The decision to augment by around 4,000 an existing rapid-response force of around 13,000 is a far cry from Poland’s request that 10,000 NATO troops be stationed with heavy weapons in that country. Watching NATO flinch from this, Putin might reasonably conclude that NATO is ambivalent about Article 5 (an attack on any member will be considered an attack on all) and therefore wants its means of responding to remain some distance from where events might require a response.

Putin might read NATO’s mind in what Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times calls “the learned helplessness” of American allies who “have come to rely excessively on the U.S. to guarantee their security.”

[Earlier] Rachman writes, America accounted for roughly half of NATO’s military spending; now it accounts for about 75 percent. Only four of NATO’s 28 members (America, Britain, Estonia, and penurious Greece) fulfill their obligation to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense

George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist.

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