A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma: Two Important Articles on Russia vs. US and NATO

America is preoccupied, understandably, with its deep internal divisions, roiled by the riots and killing in Charlottesville and Pres. Trump’s reaction.

But major world events don’t stop while we are preoccupied, whether it is with race relations at home or Kim Jong Un abroad.

Russian expansion and NATO’s response to it remains one of America’s most important–and dangerous–security challenges.

Here are two probing articles on US-NATO-Russian relations, one from a leading US strategist, the other from a country Russia invaded a decade ago, Georgia.

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Michael Mandelbaum is one of America’s leading thinkers on international relations and US foreign policy. A centrist and a Realist, he writes here about NATO’s role:

“Pay Up, Europe: What Trump Gets Right About NATO” (Foreign Affairs, subscription)

European leaders may find [Trump’s] demands grating, especially given Trump’s unpopularity among their constituents, but they should heed them. In recent years, Europe has become a dangerous place. In search of domestic support, Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to aggression abroad, invading Ukraine and intervening in Syria….

Putin will always need new victims. That makes him an ongoing threat. Just when NATO has once again become necessary for Europe’s security, however, Trump’s election has thrown the future of the U.S. role in the alliance into doubt.

For these reasons, Trump is right: to strengthen NATO and encourage the United States to continue its commitment to European security, the alliance’s European members should contribute more. Just as important for European and Western security, however, is for the United States to lead other multilateral initiatives to defend the interests and values that North America and Europe have in common. Without that leadership, Europe—and the rest of the world—will be a harsher place. –Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs mag.

Mandelbaum’s conclusion:

For Western responses to expansive Chinese and Russian conduct to succeed, the United States must lead the way. Only it has the power and the standing to launch global initiatives of this kind, as it did, for example, in 1990, when President George H. W. Bush assembled the worldwide coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Unfortunately, Trump has shown neither the inclination nor the ability to exercise such leadership.

Forming a global coalition to resist Chinese economic bullying and Russian aggression will also require a broad sense of community among democracies, based not only on shared interests but also on common values. –Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs mag.

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The same issues is examined by one of Israel’s top think tanks, BESA (the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University).

The author, Emil Avdaliani, observes these issues from a sensitive location, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

Russia invaded a portion of Georgia in 2008 and still holds territory there.

Russia Feels American Pressure, writes Avdaliani.

Russian-US relations have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. President Donald Trump has signed a new package of anti-Russian sanctions into law and increased the US military presence across former Soviet territory and eastern Europe. He also sent VP Mike Pence on a tour of Estonia, Montenegro, and Georgia – a trip viewed by Moscow as western encroachment on an area it considers a buffer zone.

This standoff does not mean the two superpowers will not be able to find common ground in other areas, but the potential for cooperation is limited. Former Soviet territory will likely remain a major confrontation line between the US and Russia. –Emil Avdaliani for BESA

Russia’s economy is too weak to impose serious counter-sanctions, says Avdaliani.

There are some areas for US-Russian cooperation, he thinks, but they are sharply limited.

There are reasons for Moscow to be worried. American politicians openly state how supportive the US will be towards eastern European countries and Georgia in the event that Russia increases its military capabilities in the region…..

A steady US/NATO military and security buildup is underway in eastern Europe and the South Caucasus.

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