mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Europe's Russia Problem
Russia to Build Belarusian Base

Russia has announced it will build an air base in Belarus, the first to be placed in the country since the Soviet Union fell. The statement comes after a Friday meeting between Vladamir Putin and the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, who previously had been reluctant to agree to the base.

Belarus borders two of the three Baltic NATO states, as well as Poland, all four of which have already been demanding a stronger NATO presence in the area to counter Moscow. In recent years, Russia has flown frequent missions over international airspace close to the Baltics in what some view as a test of NATO’s resolve. For a case that NATO should answer calls coming from Eastern Europe for a bigger presence, which will likely intensify after the latest Russian move, see Alan W. Dowd’s piece at TAI, “Answering the Baltic’s S.O.S.” A taste:

If Putin follows his Ukraine playbook and covertly violates the sovereignty of the Baltics, he will force the alliance to either blink or fire back. Neither alternative leads to a happy outcome. The former means NATO is neutralized and neutered; the latter means war.

One way to prevent that scenario is to base permanent NATO assets where they are most needed: on the territory of NATO’s most-at-risk members. That’s what the alliance did during the Cold War, and it kept the peace—as it will today. This is the best insurance against Putin. The goal here is not to start a war but quite the opposite: to prevent what Churchill called “temptations to a trial of strength.”

Read the whole thing.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    Let’s redeploy the 40,000 troops in Germany to Poland and the Baltic states forthwith.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Why not just let the EUnicks deal with it? 40,000 troops (as an open-ended garrison) would be a major issue for the military right now, would bust the budget, and wouldn’t really stop the Russians if they were serious about causing trouble. If the Europeans aren’t willing to defend themselves, then I am unclear as why we should be doing it for them.

      • Andrew Allison

        The 40,000 troops are sitting on their fannies in Germany, and should be put to use. I agree that there shouldn’t be 40,000 troops and all the ancillary infrastructure in Germany, but since they’re their, let’s put ’em to use. Failing that, bring them home.

        • f1b0nacc1

          A few minor points:
          1) The troops still in Germany are (almost to a man) support and logistics troops, mostly running HQ units and military airfields/hospitals/etc. They have a combined combat power of pretty close to nil. Believe it or not, most of those troops are not sitting on their fannies, they are actually doing a lot of useful work as Europe is a keystone in the world logistics network.
          2) Moving 40,000 troops (and lets pretend we are JUST talking about those in Germany) would be hideously expensive, as this would likely be a semi-permanent (at best) garrison, so we are talking about a huge budget buster
          3) Moving real combat troops (along with their support personnel, etc.) to the Baltics (where they would be grossly outnumbered and outgunned by virtually the entire Russian military, which would be within easy commuting distance, would leave them far beyond any sort of rational support/reinforcement/etc. From a purely military point of view, this would be suicidal
          4) What, precisely, would those troops do in the Baltics if Russia simply started to ramp up a salami slicing strategy of creeping conquest, similar to what is going on in the Ukraine? How many civilian casualties do you think that the West is going to tolerate, especially when the Russians will busily deny everything?
          5) Given the current leadership, what makes you think that even if those troops were sent, that they would be permitted to do ANYTHING in any circumstances. More likely, they would simply be allowed to be attacked and nibbled away, while the current group of idiots in DC sat there and grinned smugly.
          Look, I sympathize with your position, and would prefer that we take a stronger stand against what is going on. there is very little that we can do about it. The EUnicks aren’t going to go to war over the Baltics, and even if they were inclined to do so, they lack the military resources to make it work. So we can send our own people out there with no support and let them get slaughtered if it comes to a fight, or find some alternative method of upping the price on Putin so he doesn’t decide to try his luck.
          As Fat Man has said here repeatedly…’if they won’t defend themselves, we shouldn’t be doing it for them’….I simply don’t see any basis for arguing with that wisdom.

          • Andrew Allison

            Always a pleasure debating with you. WRT 1, if we don’t have meaningful combat troops in Germany WTF do we have 40,000 support and logistics troops there? WRY 2, Would it be any more expensive than keeping them there doing SFA? WRT 3 & 4, what they would be doing there is daring Putain to overstep the mark. Of course Russian troops could overwhelm them, but at what cost?
            Here’s where, as I mentioned before, I think we may not be on the same page: of course they shouldn’t be there, but as long as DoD insists (for reasons which I’m sure we both understand quite well) that they must be, let’s at least try and do something useful with them.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The pleasure is entirely mine….
            1) Depends upon how you count it, but the actual number is closer to 30K troops
            2) What those troops are doing is actually valuable, and moving them would leave vital missions (including some necessary for supporting troops in the Baltics) unmanned. So we aren’t talking about just moving them, but even if we could, we would have to move others in to take their place. Also, moving them would be massively expensive, as the infrastructure to support them in German is already there (and paid for) while it is not in the Baltics.
            3) Putin hardly needs provocation, but one doesn’t have to be paranoid to see 40K troops moved to your border as a provocative move. More to the point, Putin might use that movement to justify actions.
            4) I still don’t see anything that those troops would be useful for doing, other than providing a tripwire. If that were the case, a few hundred (say a company or so) would be more than sufficient. If the Russians wanted to overwhelm them, I am fairly confident that they wouldn’t consider the cost too high….after all, defeating 40K American troops would pretty much put an end to NATO, expose the US as a paper tiger for the next few decades, and do wonders for Russia’s status as a great power.
            I agree, we are on the same page here…I merely suggest that we do away with the silliness that is NATO, sign some useful bilateral agreements with nations that are at least semiserious about defending themselves (Poland comes immediately to mind, though there are others) and are willing to pull their own weight in the process, and leave the rest to their well-deserved fate. With the money saved, we can procure the necessary weapon systems to accommodate this altered strategy, and stop worrying about the decadent remains of what was once a relevant continent.
            To paraphrase Bismark, the whole of Europe is not worth the bones of a single American grenadier.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Obama is never going to support a policy that would improve America’s defensive position. So, forget moving men or material in significant amounts to any of the endangered NATO countries.

  • Fat_Man

    I am not sold. When Germany wakes up and decides it has a problem other than being fairy godmother to the entire Middle East. I will be willing to cooperate with them. But, at this point I am not willing to bail them out.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service