Step Up to Stand Down

The United States, NATO, and Dissuading Russian Aggression

Georgian soldiers take part in the joint Georgian-U.S. military training exercise "Agile Spirit 2013" at the Vaziani military base outside Tbilisi March 29, 2013. A group of 350 U.S. Marine Corps and the 23rd Battalion of the II Infantry Brigade take part in the joint training exercise, according to the official website of the Georgian Defence Ministry.  David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters

This past June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that Washington would pre-position heavy military equipment in eastern and central Europe, a move that would allow the United States to respond more quickly and effectively to Russian aggression toward NATO’s exposed eastern member states. Once deployed, the equipment would serve as a physical sign of commitment of the U.S. willingness to protect NATO allies, and would facilitate further movement of U.S. forces into the region in the event of an attack against NATO frontline states by Moscow. Positioning U.S. military equipment forward is a welcome step, but it does not go far enough in deterring potential Russian aggression and coercion, not least because these deployments represent only a modest force in the face of the power and capabilities Russia could bring to bear in the event of war in the area.

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington May 26, 2015.  Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Accordingly, NATO (or, if the alliance as a whole cannot agree to take such action, the United States and other interested members) should pursue a dual-track approach toward the problem that strengthens the alliance’s military posture in the exposed frontline states while simultaneously providing incentives for Moscow to reduce its military threat to these states by offering to limit these deployments. One prong of this policy should be to deploy troops, heavy equipment, and support and headquarters components to exposed NATO members in eastern Europe beyond what the United States has proposed, and do so on a permanent basis, beyond the smaller and avowedly temporary deployments pledged in June. The second prong should be for NATO to propose a new conventional arms control arrangement that would substantially limit (or even roll back) such deployments in exchange for the verifiable withdrawal and exclusion of particularly threatening Russian forces from areas close to NATO territory.

Measures to beef up

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