The singular powerful deterrent to Soviet aggression in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, is gone. While 28 nations meet regularly in Brussels, U.S. military power and will are no longer sufficient to guarantee their collective security, the very purpose of the alliance. NATO’s crucial underpinning no longer exists.
To believe that successful global diplomacy ever can be conducted without being buttressed by overwhelming military power—with the full understanding by all participants that force will be used if diplomacy fails—is fiction.
This lesson was lost on President Barack Obama and his administration, particularly his Secretaries of State and Defense, who watched and endorsed a significant reduction of global U.S. military power over eight years. Policymakers did little to alter the nation’s course. Nor, for that matter, did our terribly dysfunctional Congress.
In Europe, troop strengths have declined by 85 percent since the height of the Cold War, and heavy tanks and antiarmor aircraft have been removed. Far more important, the key to rapid reinforcement of NATO was strategic airlift capable of inserting troops and weapon systems in a sequence to bolster forward-based U.S. combat units. C-5 cargo aircraft—essential to reinforcement—have been halved in operational numbers, and some key C-17 units providing strategic airlift have been inactivated. Even if we had necessary forces to deploy, we could not get them to the fight fast enough.
On the diplomatic front, the historic “Russian reset” orchestrated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meaningless. This failure is epitomized by her successor’s inability to affect diplomatic outcomes involving Syria and Russia. At one point, U.S. military power in Europe could rapidly be deployed to the Middle East, and provided a realistic deterrent to now Russian-Syrian maneuvering. No more.
Global stability was previously maintained by the well-known U.S. capability to fight and win multiple wars simultaneously. This enabler of U.S. diplomacy no longer exists.
Our withdrawal of forces from NATO has far greater global diplomatic implications, since a massive reduction in U.S. military manpower to pre-WWII levels followed. The Obama administration’s strategic “Pivot to Asia” is an empty monologue. Actual forces available to reinforce U.S. diplomatic efforts in Asia are as unimpressive as those now left to reinforce NATO.
Today, our real-world deployable ground force for reinforcing NATO consists of limited combat-ready brigades, leaving Russian President Vladimir Putin free to threaten Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, or Poland, and to act with impunity, just as he did annexing two Georgian provinces in 2009 and Crimea in 2014. U.S. diplomacy today has no teeth compared to Russian efforts backed by powerful Russian military forces.
Only a restoration of previous U.S. military power to NATO could avert Russian aggression and restore our diplomatic credibility in Europe and world-wide. President Donald Trump’s challenge is to restore the military power needed to buttress diplomatic efforts impacting NATO, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.