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Confronting Putin’s Invasion

It can—and must—be done.

Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By ERIC EDELMAN
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A second necessary step is to strengthen NATO’s deterrent posture and ability to reassure allies. Reinforcing the NATO air policing mission in the Baltics is a good beginning, but this will also require a thorough reconsideration by the alliance of the self-abnegating undertakings it assumed at the time of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997. The alliance should consider whether and how it wants to position ground combat forces on the territory of the former Warsaw Pact states that now are members of NATO. It should also reconsider the so-called three no’s—no intention, no plan, no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of the new NATO members. Bringing NATO military power closer to the borders of Russia would impose a real cost on the Russian military and might cause nationalists who support Putin’s current course to reconsider. All of this would need to be accompanied by a large increase in the defense budget, much like the one Jimmy Carter obtained after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. A jolt to the budget—at least to the levels proposed by Secretary Gates in 2011—would signal an end to the relative decline in U.S. military power over the past four years that, in Secretary Hagel’s words, has meant that “we are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can no longer be taken for granted.” That would send a powerful and unwelcome message to those in both Moscow and Beijing who are betting on the end of the unipolar world.

Finally, we need to undercut some of the tools of economic and political influence that Russia has wielded so effectively in Ukraine and elsewhere. The administration’s sanctions targeting corrupt individuals who are complicit in Russian military action in Ukraine are all well and good, but they must hit the malefactors around the head kleptocrat—Vladimir Putin. Russia’s use of oil and gas to intimidate and sway can also be a target. It is time for the U.S. government to enable industry to export oil and natural gas and facilitate the infrastructure for doing so—by building a liquefied natural gas export terminal on the East Coast, for example, turning the United States effectively, as one former Bush administration official has suggested, into an “arsenal of energy.”

If all of this sounds a bit familiar, perhaps reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s successful policies in the 1980s, it shouldn’t be a big surprise. During the third presidential debate in 2012, President Obama derided the courses of action recommended by Governor Mitt Romney by saying that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” There are many words that the president will have to eat in light of the past week’s events. He ought to start with those.

Eric Edelman was undersecretary of defense for policy from 2005 to 2009.

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