Eastern Europe is getting used to a new – like a blast from the past – reality. Just a few years ago, there was peace along the borders of Russia and Europe, but now tanks rumble and warplane engines roar there.
Moscow constantly exhausts its neighbors with unexpected raids of its bombers and threatening maneuvers of its fighter jets, while NATO responds with massive military drills at the borders with Russia.
The annexation of Crimea and Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine cancelled all efforts in establishing a peaceful dialogues between NATO and the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims about Russia’s readiness to resort to nuclear forces during its annexation of Crimea as well as his recent announcement about adding 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to Russia’s nuclear arsenal made it clear: Moscow is arming itself, and NATO has to respond to that.
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The fact that Putin personally announced that as well as his accent on the ability of these missiles to “overcome even the most technically advanced anti-missile defense systems,” can only mean one thing: not only does he boost his approval rating, but also send a signal to the U.S.
That is a clear provocation, and the U.S. as well as NATO must treat it very seriously. It is not just some rhetoric, it is aggressive and provocative rhetoric. Russia is getting more advanced militarily and that fact alone should not be ignored by NATO. And while doing that, Russia aggravates the situation in an attempt to force NATO make a major military move against Russia and call the West ‘aggressors’. NATO, of course, would not benefit from being perceived that way in the world. But here is the dilemma: should NATO just stand aloof and let Putin do whatever he pleases?
The West has already responded to Putin’s actions with economic sanctions and the build up of its military presence in the region. U.S. military instructors train Ukrainian militaries, while the Pentagon announces about its plans to station 250 tanks and other armored vehicles in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. The questions is: is that really enough? The U.S. and NATO must act more hard-bitten if the only thing Putin respects is power and military might.
NATO must direct its missile defense system toward Russia
NATO’s trump card would probably be directing its missile defense system toward all threats coming from Russia.
The European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), which is the base of NATO’s missiles defenses, consists of Aegis missile defense ships in the Mediterranean, missile defense radars in Turkey as well as Aegis ashore sites in Poland and Romania, which are expected to be built in 2018.
However, it is important to note that the focus of the EPAA has been directed to Iran since the day it was designed in 2010. The only concern is that if NATO changes its focus from Iran to Russia, NATO’s southern flank would be exposed.
The EPAA has never been intended to be as a deterrence against Russia, it has always been against Iranian ballistic missile threats. If the developers knew that such situation would exist, they would come up with the idea to make it possible to direct the EPAA toward multiple directions. And while directing the EPAA toward Russia would calm NATO’s Eastern European allies, all potential threats from Iran must be evaluated.
Does NATO have what it takes to counter Russia?
Russia has repeatedly shown that it is ready to change borders by applying military force. NATO must not stay quiet about it. The Alliance must respond to such actions by deploying more heavy military equipment to Eastern Europe, stationing permanent American contingent in the region, and forming high readiness force. NATO might also deploy modern missiles Patriot-3 in order to counter Russia’s Iskanders.
However, it must be pointed out that any military moves by NATO or the U.S. will be viewed by Russia as a provocation. And Putin would also be prepared to respond to such moves with new military initiatives. Any escalation of the relations between NATO and Russia would pose a big threat to future agreements about reducing nuclear arsenals and the number of medium-range and short-range missiles. This kind of scenario means a global destabilization.
At the same time, the lack of a robust response from NATO toward Putin’s actions might be interpreted as weakness and lead to even more unpredictable consequences.
The Pentagon has recently published its national strategy that outlines how the U.S. forces would react to new threats and challenges. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, published the document, in which Russia was characterized as a ‘revisionist country’ that violates international agreements and threatens sovereignty of its neighbors.
The report came when all military experts and analysts were discussing how the U.S. and NATO should respond to Putin’s actions that have been escalating the relations between Moscow and Washington for a year and a half.
The 2015 National Military Strategy, published by the Pentagon on July 2, talks about potential military capabilities of the Russian forces.
In the foreword to the report, Dempsey wrote that Russia has “repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals.”
What is interesting is that in the foreword to the 2011’s report published by the Pentagon there were no such notions. That is the reason why Dempsey concludes that the global state of security is currently at the most unpredictable situation during all 40 years of his service.