There is now a new Cold War in Europe. Speaking in Germany on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned of Russian aggression and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for “nuclear saber-rattling” and “going backward in time” to an earlier era of military confrontation.
A mid-April meeting between NATO and Russia — the first in two years — was highly confrontational on the Russian side, according to various reports. Russia denounced NATO moves to strengthen its Eastern defenses as a threat to Russia. And it has heightened intelligence and military operations in Eastern Europe as evidence of its rejection of NATO’s decision, under President Bill Clinton, to accept nations bordering Russia as members.
Defense Secretary Carter said the United States “will continue to hold out the possibility that Russia will assume the role of a constructive partner moving forward,” adding, “We do not seek to make Russia an enemy.”
But NATO’s departing Supreme Commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, said he and his advisers believe that President Putin is just one of a small group running Russia who have made their objectives clear and are likely to be in power “for some time to come.”
He also said Russia has made “drastic” improvements in its military in the past three years and that NATO now has to refocus its operations, tactics and intelligence capabilities on Russia after 14 years of fighting a counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan. He added, “Now that we see that Russia has not accepted [the] hand of partnership but has chosen a path of belligerence, we need to readdress where we’re heading.”
In his remarks at the U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Secretary Carter said Russia’s talk about using nuclear weapons was the “most disturbing” aspect of Russia’s new posture.
“Moscow’s nuclear saber-rattling raises troubling questions about the commitment Russia’s leaders have to strategic stability, their respect for norms against the use of nuclear weapons and the profound caution that nuclear-age leaders showed with regard to brandishing nuclear weapons,” he said.
Russia should “make no mistake,” Mr. Carter continued. “We will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us.”
The New York Times reports that one concrete demonstration of this renewed commitment is a plan to deploy one additional U.S. Army combat brigade to Europe next year and to consider establishing the continuous rotation of a brigade-sized force to the territory of threatened NATO partner nations on the Russian border.
The history of the Cold War suggests that Russia will likely make counter moves that NATO will have to match to reassure its members. A new Cold War appears to be well under way, and it will require a renewed commitment to the defense of our allies and our national interests.