NATO turned 65 in April. But far from slipping into semiretirement, the Atlantic alliance found new purpose after Russia annexed Crimea and destabilized portions of southern and eastern Ukraine. While the Crimean crisis is best addressed with economic sanctions, it’s important to send Russia — and its allies — a strong signal that military capability will be updated, too.
So President Obama, who is on a four-day trip to Europe, deserves support for his proposal to create a $1 billion fund to boost European security. Among many elements, the European Reassurance Initiative, as it’s called, would increase military exercises, training and rotational presence across Europe but especially in newer NATO countries; deploy U.S. planners to “augment the capability of our allies”; explore repositioning equipment in Europe; increase U.S. Navy participation in NATO deployments, especially in the Black and Baltic seas, and build “the partner capacity” of non-NATO nations such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
The initiative is timely, not just because of Western worries over illegal and irrational Russian provocation in Ukraine, but because Obama has tacitly downplayed European security in order to diplomatically and militarily “pivot” to Asia.
Obama announced the initiative during a visit to Poland to celebrate the 25th anniversary of elections that accelerated the end of Communist rule and, ultimately, of the Soviet Union. Poland has been a stalwart ally since, which is something that Congress should consider when it eventually votes on the European Reassurance Initiative. In this case, politics truly should stop at the water’s edge. Central and Eastern Europe, which are more vulnerable to Russian interference, need a strong signal that the United States will live up to its rhetoric on keeping Europe free.
Obama’s meeting with Ukraine’s president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, should be another reassuring signal that Ukrainians are right to want to align more with Western Europe than with Moscow.
Obama’s other stops should shore up the relatively unified European response to Russia, too. In Brussels, he’ll meet with G-7 leaders in a session moved from Sochi, Russia (Russian President Vladimir Putin was removed from the guest list, too).
Obama and Putin may meet on Friday in France as Obama and other Western leaders commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. If so, Obama should use the example of allied sacrifice to reinforce to Putin that despite domestic politics and international rifts, the Western alliance is united in seeking peace through diplomacy, but is capable of strong collective defense, too.