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With two years remaining in the Obama Administration’s failed “blunder and no thunder” foreign policy towards Russian aggression,  the risk of fracture in the NATO alliance is at its highest. President Putin, with his highest approval ratings, is coveting this two year window of opportunity to bully President Obama and break the will of the NATO Alliance. President Obama’s Administration passive, non-confrontational approach to Russia stems from its view of Russia as a declining power, with an annual economic output of Italy and no serious military depth, on its way to becoming a second tier power within a decade.  Russia is keenly aware of this arrogant perception.  Driven by popular domestic interests to stake its claim as a relevant world power, Russia will seek to leverage the windfall of the final years of President Obama’s Administration that seeks to appease rather than confront Russia.

This void of leadership within NATO has led to the rise of the Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel to play the role of lead statesman, pulling an anti-Russian Eastern Europe together with a  passive Western Europe which does not contribute equally to their collective defense. Today’s NATO Europe rests its defense on American tax dollars and American military force structure deployed in Europe, the United States and around the world. European attitudes towards its security are equally skewed. NATO Europe can be divided into three groups based on their threat perceptions and security contributions. A  third believes there is no threat – therefore no investment in defense is required.  Another third perceives the main threat is from Iran and Islamic extremism, and a final third perceive Russia as the primary threat.

Alongside NATO’s strategic messaging and threats of increased military exercises and rapid response forces directed to deter Russia, there remains the U.S -led effort to bring NATO together on ballistic missile defense, solely based on the threat from Iran with the attractive bonus to the Europeans of being completely paid for with U.S. tax dollars. A promise to defend all of Europe from ballistic missiles and having a forward based capability in Europe to also defend the United States from Iran was the policy put forward by President Obama in 2009. Six years later, the United States has placed an TPY-2  X-Band Radar in Turkey, allocated four $1.5 billion Ballistic Missile Defense Destroyers in Rota, Spain and is close to deploying the first of two Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland. Fully loaded, these sites will cost around $850 million each. All of these assets are manned and supported by U.S. military and civilian personnel. With this sizable U.S. investment, manpower and capability deployed in Europe there remains no missile defense capability in Europe to protect the United States, as was promised in 2009. Nor is this capability directed or configured to defend Europe against Russia. Furthermore, official U.S. policy, actions and investments have led NATO Europeans to believe that their own short range missile defense systems and investment for second tier missile defense systems are not required as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach set by President Obama against Iran or for Russia.

Along with the possible prospects of an unsuccessful nuclear deal with Iran, NATO and our President face current Russian military buildup in capability near the Baltic states in Kaliningrad and on their borders with Russia coupled with constant intrusions by Russian aircraft into NATO air space. With these moves, Russia is establishing an air anti-access/area denial zone over all of the Baltic states and big portions of Poland. This presents a very dangerous situation, and increases the likelihood of miscalculation that could lead to military confrontation in this part of Europe. In the remaining two years of President Obama’s Administration, with the recent evidence of the U.S. and NATO’s reaction to the Russian invasion and annexation of the Ukraine, it would be hard to believe that NATO would stand up, shed American and European blood and fight for the Baltics should Russia choose to “Ukraine” these small countries. This action would surely fracture the NATO Alliance as it exists today.

NATO and U.S. military action to challenge Russia’s air space denial over the Baltics and deter Russia has to be visibly seen, demonstrated and executed regularly along with intent and Allied partnership capability to grow and show consequences will strengthen NATO and the Baltics over these next two critical years.

On missile defense capability, NATO and the United States simply do not have enough capacity in Europe.  Exercising deployments of limited existing mobile Patriot Air and Missile Defense firing units from Germany, the United States and Netherlands to Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian Air Bases would signal NATO’s unity and intent. Moving an existing THAAD Battery from Fort Bliss, Texas to Europe as a rapid response demonstration would also be an option for strategic deterrent power in Europe. Flagging up and staffing the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command with an additional Patriot Battalion would bring more power to the region. Upgrading the upcoming Aegis Ashore sites to fire air defense SM-6 interceptors deployed in Poland and Romania also demonstrates resolve to Russia. There needs to be investment and capacity build up by NATO in missile defense so it can be applied in the protection and defense of NATO.

With two years remaining, under these conditions on the threshold of confrontation, it is the right time to have the courage, confidence and leadership as a collective NATO team to poke the bear and confront the bully to ensure that the Baltic states remain within NATO and that NATO remains as a collective alliance to protect against all threats to Europe.

Riki Ellison

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MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.

MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.