NATO defense ministers, meeting in Brussels this week, rushed headlong into a new and potentially more dangerous cold war with Russia by taking the unprecedented decision to station men and matériel directly on Russia’s western border. NATO’s decision, which has no precedent in the history of the last cold war, will only serve to heighten tensions with Russia and may well be the catalyst for ever more violence in the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, transatlantic efforts to undermine last February’s Minsk II cease-fire accords continue without surcease. On Monday, June 22, the European Union extended sanctions against Russia in the financial, energy, technological, and defense sectors until January 2016. The decision was made at the EU’s foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg. Russia quickly retaliated, banning food imports from the EU, the United States, Canada, Norway, and Australia for the next 12 months.
The controversy surrounding the tit-for-tat sanctions was followed in short order by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s weeklong trip to Europe. A senior defense department official claimed that Carter would spend his time urging NATO allies to “dispose of the Cold War playbook.”
Yet ditching the “playbook” obviously didn’t entail jettisoning Cold War–style rhetoric, since Carter went on to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “malign influence” in Eastern Europe.
Senator John McCain, as usual, went even further. Delivering comments redolent of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famously hawkish Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s “rollback” rhetoric last weekend in Kiev, McCain said it was in the interests of the West to “reverse” Russian aggression. According to McCain, only the deluded “still cling to the Minsk cease-fire.” He declared that he and the Ukrainians he met with “know this cease-fire is a fiction.”
Later in the week Secretary Carter participated in the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels. And the summit’s—please forgive the bureaucratese—“deliverables” indicate that the alliance has taken Carter’s directive to heart, with plans to triple the number of troops in its Response Force to 40,000 troops. Troops, armored vehicles and up to 250 tanks will be stationed across Europe’s eastern frontier, with plans to station them in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.
Taking this perhaps fateful step is, in fact, going far beyond the “Cold War playbook” and has no parallel in Cold War history.
These maneuvers precede what will be NATO’s largest joint exercise of the post–Cold War era, Trident Juncture 2015, which is planned to take place September 28 to November 6.
More worrying still is the fact that the NATO meeting took place amidst a rash of nuclear posturing from both sides. On June 16, President Putin made headlines throughout the West when he announced that Russia would add 40 additional intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear deterrent. His announcement was, in turn, denounced in short order by Secretaries Kerry and Carter as well as by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.