Trump, NATO could put Putin on no­tice

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

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.

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