NATO members and the European Union, in general, must dramatically increase spending in order to rebuild a “high-end naval presence” while also investing in railway infrastructure, highways, bridges, tunnels, airfields, shipping containers and ports to deter Russian aggression, according to a panel of Northern European security experts, USNI News reported.
“It was striking how unprepared we were in 2014” when Russia moved to occupy and then annex Crimea, claiming it was done to protect its Black Sea fleet, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and NATO Alexander Vershbow said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, D.C.
At the time the alliance had assets deployed to Afghanistan and was undertaking peacekeeping in the Balkans. Some NATO members were also operating in Iraq and, later, Libya, all of which reduced the alliance’s focus on northern Europe and NATO’s borders with Russia.
“Steadily we [NATO, following a summit in Wales] got our act together” by enticing member nations to commit to meeting a spending goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product on security, Vershbow added. That said, sharing the burden is a contentious issue, particularly for the U.S. during the Trump administration.
Analysis: President Vladimir Putin was well aware of NATO’s tenuous position in Europe when he moved on Crimea. He not only calculated that the alliance would not respond with military force, but he also believed that the alliance wasn’t really capable of responding and that the U.S., under the previous administration, would do little to counter his moves.
Times have changed with President Trump and his national security team in office. And while Trump also would not have risked a nuclear exchange over Crimea, he has responded by cajoling NATO into doing more to improve security on the European continent.
Some common themes appear to be emerging after some tense, diplomatically uncomfortable (for some) exchanges between the president, his national security team, and alliance members this year and last year: NATO is finally getting its act back together.
Spending on security is steadily rising, and members appear to understand that weakness isn’t an effective deterrent. But as this panel notes, there is a lot of work to be done in order for the alliance to reconstitute many of its Cold War-era infrastructures. Moving troops and materiel will be key to blunting any Russian attack, but rebuilding a viable naval deterrent is equally important.
Though Russia does not possess nearly the strength the Soviet Union once possessed, Moscow can nevertheless field potent forces and if NATO does not have a credible deterrent that will only encourage Putin to act aggressively to quickly obtain and secure objectives (such as the Baltic states). What’s also pressing NATO members to speed up their preparations and rebuild their infrastructure is the knowledge that the United States can only provide limited support to Europe in an emergency because it must also retain a credible deterrent in the Indo-Pacific region to keep China in check.
The more NATO members can leverage each others’ strengths while building up deterrent capabilities, the less likely Putin will come to the conclusion that he can act without consequences in the future. In order to avoid war, you must be exceedingly capable of waging it.