Kremlin Presents an Intractable Challenge in Europe for the United States
By: John O'Grady
Russia’s irredentist and revisionist narrative, coupled with its willingness to use military aggression irrespective of basic protocols of international law, creates an unstable security paradigm in Europe. Russia now presents an intractable challenge in Europe for the United States.
There are three prominent reasons that explain the nature of this problem. First, Russia enjoys a local quantitative and qualitative military advantage compared to NATO/U.S. forces in Eastern Europe. Second, Russia has spent years developing technologies and positioning systems that deny the United States access to uncontested land, air, and sea required for global and regional force projection. Uncontested global force projection has been a principal assumption of U.S. security and military planning for nearly 20 years. This advantage no longer exists in Europe. Finally, there is the ubiquitous narrative of Russia’s threat calculus suggesting it is being encircled and constantly threatened by NATO. As a result, European governments are sensitive to taking meaningful and prudent defensive measures for fear of causing an escalation response from the Kremlin. U.S. policymakers would be wise not to fall blindly into this illogical trap.
To its credit, the United States has taken action to assure NATO allies of its commitment to the Washington Treaty and Article 5 therein. The European Assurance Initiative is a good first step. However, more is required to deter Russia responsibly. The United States must strengthen the existing deterrent with additional conventional military capability and capacity, positioned forward, in a sensible manner. The United States, in collaboration with NATO allies, must take measures to harden Europe from Russia’s subversion and military aggression, starting with the most vulnerable Baltic States. Additionally, the United States must take steps to mitigate Russia’s anti-access, area denial (A2AD) competitive advantage. The positioning of missile systems in Kaliningrad, Crimea, and now most recently, Syria creates three spheres of A2AD, which denies fully permissive global and regional force projection both to and within Europe. The Baltic Region, to include the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the eastern portion of the Mediterranean are the three areas now most affected. Furthermore, where we enjoy common interest with Russia, we should seek to partner in a responsible manner while simultaneously informing Russia of our unequivocal commitment to NATO and European stability. Lastly, the United States should consider a global approach that identifies policy space where we enjoys levers of competitive advantage we can pull at our discretion to moderate, and if required, compel Russian behavior. An example of this would be continuing to pursue the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the effect of which strengthens ties between the European Union and United States and promotes economic growth. Buttressed by TTIP-fueled economic growth, EU countries could be better insulated from Russian economic pressure and potentially able to enforce more meaningful and sustainable economic sanctions against Russia.
All or some combination of these measures move the United States closer to a credible position of being able to better deter Russia. An additional benefit to forward positioned capability is the flexibility and responsiveness it provides to addressing a crisis in adjacent areas of responsibility—the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Africa to name just three. To be sure these measures do not come without cost or global tradeoffs in terms of where U.S. forces are drawn from to deploy in Europe. However, the cost of failed deterrence, through acts of omission, resulting in the unsavory position of having to press Russia back to established borders, pales in comparison to the cost associated with these options. Policymakers and Congress would be wise to pay now versus later.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.