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Tough Talk

9:23 AM, Mar 24, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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President Obama is keeping up the rhetorical pressure on Russia. As Justin Sink of the Hill reports:

President Obama vowed Russia would “pay a price” for its annexation of Crimea as he kicked off a week of talks with European leaders focused largely on the crisis in Ukraine. Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people,” Obama said. “We are united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far.”

Those costs will almost certainly not be of a military nature. This is a matter of both intentions and capabilities. NATO isn’t militarily in shape to back up that kind of tough talk, our European allies having neglected their forces. As Philip Seib, writing at DefenseOne.com notes:

An honest appraisal of NATO’s capabilities will quickly find that most of its European members have let their militaries fall into such disrepair that NATO, in terms of accomplishing military missions, is nothing more than a horseless Tonto, while the United States remains the Lone Ranger.

The decline was predicable and inevitable as:      

The agreed-upon benchmark for defense spending by NATO’s member states is 2 percent of GDP, but as of 2012 only four of the organization’s 28 members reached this threshold – the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece and Estonia.

Furthermore, while the United States has been picking up about 75 percent of NATO’s military bills, that will certainly change as it goes through a downsizing of the sort Drew Brooks writes of in the Fayetteville Observer:

The 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment traces its history to 1917. But throughout the years, parts or all of the unit have been deactivated between major conflicts. Earlier this month, officials on Fort Bragg once again cased the flags of a 321st battalion. With the war in Afghanistan winding down and the Army undergoing a transformation into a smaller, more varied force, two of the three 321st battalions will be shuttered by summer, officials said.  

The president and our allies have made it clear that military action is not in the cards so the Crimean crisis will be a test of “smart power.”

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