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Building NATO’s “Weimar Triangle”

BERLIN – Some months ago, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen referred to Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a “wake-up call” for the West. Since then, Europeans and Americans have slowly but steadily tightened the economic screws on Russia.

But, in striking contrast to the overall cohesion displayed on the sanctions front, the West’s military response to Russia’s new assertiveness in its so-called “near abroad” has been uncoordinated and reluctant. As a recent report of the Defense Committee of the United Kingdom’s House of Commons argued, “NATO is currently not well-prepared for a Russian threat against a NATO Member State.” Given that this is a source of grave concern to NATO members close to Russia, the Allies must send an unequivocal message to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Wales next week: NATO territory is inviolable.

To be sure, as Rasmussen repeatedly emphasizes, every ally contributes to the reinforcement of collective defense in one way or another. But, while some allies have markedly stepped up their commitments by sending soldiers or additional fighter jets, others have limited themselves to offering only minor capabilities. Thus, the United States is bearing the main burden of reassuring NATO’s Central and Eastern European members.

Speaking in Warsaw earlier this year, President Barack Obama presented his European Reassurance Initiative, a $1 billion program aimed at supporting the defense of NATO allies close to the Russian border. While his announcement fell short of what many in Poland and the Baltic states had hoped for, Obama promised that these allies would have US “boots on the ground” – rotating units that would conduct regular exercises.