By Harry C. Blaney III
There is room for pessimism just before the key NATO summit that will start on September 4th. So far the Europeans have not shown much appetite for assertive action, increasing their military budgets, and even addressing the stupidity of their austerity economic policies that have pushed their economies into disaster zones and left their people disillusioned, alienated, and fearful of their future. They are now left wondering if the European Project (The EU institutions) or NATO can be of any help in facing their internal or external realities. Those policies have made Europe weaker on all fronts and less able to provide any focused leadership, only empty rhetoric.
This is a hard environment for President Obama to work his magic in and to herd the cats of an alliance of 28 members, many of which have little concern for the 46 million people of the Ukraine. They themselves are already feeling the stress. Nor if significant progress is not made should the right wing pundits take it out on the President, as it is their economic policies and war cries of the past that have brought us to this juncture of inertia and uncertainty.
Despite all of this there is a glimmer of hope that given the grave situation in Ukraine and an aggressive and reckless Putin who seems to desire to push a dangerous imperial autocratic dream, that now is the time to seriously address the threat and to renew the economies on both sides of the Atlantic with a macro combined strategy. First, there is no single silver bullet and there is no free lunch. What needs to be done will be difficult but not at all impossible with the right political will.
Second, there have already been prepared and debated a number of approved initiatives none of which at this time appear to be either earthshaking or very imaginative. None address the fundamentally troublesome and risk filled strategic and economic environment. They include a so-called Readiness Action Plan to help reassure Central and Eastern European countries. This rapid reaction force is reported to include 4,000 troops, which while aiming to deter Russian aggression, will likely have little impact on Putin’s actions. NATO plans, it is said, to pre-position military supplies and to hold military exercises.
The question for NATO is what to do about Russia and its aggression which has changed the entire assumption and ground rules of a new post-Cold War era. There are also a host of Central and Eastern European nations that can be said to either “be at risk” of Russian predatory actions, including stealth invasion like in Ukraine, or vulnerable to other threats and leverage to make these nations little more than satellite puppets. Already it is reported within the EU that the Czech Republic and the Slovak representatives have tried to undercut any new sanctions and seem to be playing along with Putin’s game and undermining the unity of the EU on a response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
Other issues at NATO also include cyber warfare, and not least the need to bolster military spending on the part of the European allies (a level of 2% of GDP is the goal) which has reached new lows and readiness levels that are almost non-existent. President Obama is right on a very basic point. If others do not act with both resources, determination, and will to address the deficiencies of NATO’s capabilities and posture for Europe, a very dark cloud will be hanging over their nations from the East. In the end it will be Europe itself, not America alone, who will need to act. Otherwise much of the European security landscape will be compromised.
But again the real question is what to do about overt and massive Russian aggression to take over large areas of eastern Ukraine? To this question there seems to be mostly silence. So far there is talk of more sanctions, all of which in the past have sadly not deterred Putin in the least, as far as one can determine. But there are sanctions that would bite deeply on the Russian industrial, technological, and financial base. The most important have yet to be applied due to European concerns for the profits of their companies. The sanctions were the right approach as it played into European capabilities and tried to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia. But so far they have not worked and some believe that Europe does not have the stomach for anything more as Russia consolidates its gain in a wide swath of Eastern and Southern Ukraine as it has already in Crimea. So far military assistance has been insignificant and does not include many effective modern weapon systems. But acting fast to help Ukraine is required or Russia military forces will impose a solution that will be hard to reverse.
The one action which we have noted before, which can finally deter Putin, is a total massive and immediate energy strategy and program aimed at building a new and effective energy infrastructure. This can be done by building secure and low polluting energy systems, that will obviate the need for Russian gas and oil to a very large extent, in the next two or three years. But the trucks, ships, pipelines, and resources have to be moving next month, not next year, to make any of this happen. Billions of Euros have to be committed to this effort from the European nations, the EU, outside powers, and the private sector. Europe also needs to build additional storage tanks and install wind towers and photovoltaic panels, as well as further develop new energy conservation efforts. This is a great “win-win” for the West as it will bankrupt the Russian government (dependent on its energy earnings) and it will re-energize the failing European economy and demonstrate that there are alternatives to the direct use of force.
The question which can’t be solved in Wales, but needs urgent attention, is a new strategic structure which goes beyond NATO. At the Wales meeting there will be discussions about ISIS and what should be done. Already there are a number of European countries that have said they are a threat to their security. Other non-NATO European countries also need to be involved including Ukraine. President Poroshenko of Ukraine will in fact be in Wales for the summit. But the security status of Georgia, Sweden, Finland and others will have to be considered. And not least a look at how the Gulf countries can contribute to the energy supplies for Europe. America can also do much in this sector to help diversify energy sources. But there is also a need to improve Europe’s military capabilities and this will take time.
The question which Europe faces is either to take the actions that will strengthen European and NATO capabilities and make Russia recognize that its action carry a greater price than any gains, or stand down and accept that this will only encourage Putin to possibly push on and further undermine the confidence in NATO and endanger the sense of European security and unity. That price is too high to pay.
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Next week we will be reporting from Europe and assessing the NATO Summit decisions and European reactions to the current crises.