Trump, NATO could put Putin on notice
This editorial appears on Bloomberg View:
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have taken a tough line against Russia’s many recent provocations. Other than calling for all members of the alliance to pay their fair share of the military bill, however, they have offered no real plan of action.
Russia’s aggressions call for a stronger response. While Mattis is right to tweak the Europeans for slipping on defence spending, the metric that is repeatedly cited — committing 2 per cent of GDP to the military — is arbitrary. After all, Greece, which uses the army as a jobs program, makes the cut-off, while France, which has arguably the continent’s most capable force, spends only 1.8 per cent. Members should be judged not just on what they spend but how they spend it, in terms of readiness, force projection and equipment.
The alliance could also make an adjustment to its chain of command that would get the Russians’ attention: giving the supreme military commander authority to act independently of the bureaucratic structure in an emergency.
Looking further ahead, the U.S. should look deeper into the past. One of former president Ronald Reagan’s great successes was the so-called dual-track approach to the Soviet Union’s nuclear threat. While increasing the West’s military capability against the Soviets — notably, getting permission from European allies to place nuclear-tipped Pershing missiles on their soil — this strategy also coaxed mutually favourable nonproliferation agreements out of the Communist leadership.
President Donald Trump could do worse than following Reagan’s lead. This would involve renegotiating treaties to further cut weapons levels, extend expiration dates, and clear up the ambiguity over systems like Russia’s new cruise missile. Meanwhile, the U.S. could start discussions with eastern European allies on a new conventional missile system along Russia’s western flank.
It may be worth asking if Trump, given his kind words for Vladimir Putin, would be willing to take this more assertive approach. This is why NATO needs to carry more of the load — and why Trump needs to reaffirm his commitment to the alliance.