News that the United States is sending combat troops back to Europe beginning next February to deter potential Russian aggression against NATO pretty much takes Team Obama’s Russian “reset” policy off life support, doesn’t it?
I’d like to say “RIP,” but I’m more of the mind to say, “Good riddance.”
It all started so hopefully in 2009 with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offering a big, red “reset” button to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a meeting at Foggy Bottom, ostensibly to restart the U.S.-Russia relationship.
Shockingly for the U.S. chief diplomat, the word “reset” on the button was mis-translated into a Russian word meaning “overcharged.” The term proved terribly predictive of the next seven years of U.S.-Russian ties.
To prove we could be “BFFs,” the Obama administration engaged in such foreign policy folly as dismantling our missile-defense plans for Central Europe and inking the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — which actually allowed the Kremlin to up Russia’s atomic arsenal.
It didn’t get any better. In fact, it got worse.
Moscow muscled Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 using what some experts have dubbed “hybrid warfare.” It then moved to destabilize the eastern part of the country, resulting in an insurgency against Kiev, pressuring it to stay within Russia’s sphere of influence.
Then Russian President Vladimir Putin severely complicated the situation for President Obama by intervening last fall in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar Assad — conducting air strikes on mostly anti-regime rebels.
With Russia running amok in Ukraine — and clearly elsewhere — and NATO allies increasingly fidgety about a prowling Russian bear, the U.S. Army is upping its firepower “across the pond” under the Pentagon’s European Reassurance Initiative.
This reportedly involves moving an armored brigade combat team, or BCT, to Europe, including several thousand U.S. soldiers, a couple hundred tanks, armored vehicles and artillery pieces. U.S. pre-positioned weapons stockpiles will also be improved.
These top-end troops will join 60,000-plus of America’s bravest already in Europe, but will be forward-deployed along NATO’s eastern flank to frontline states such as the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
Of course, we had four BCTs based in Europe until 2012-13 when we pulled two out; coincidence or not, shortly thereafter the Ukraine crisis occurred. Now, we’ll have two permanent brigade combat teams and one rotational (nonpermanent) team in Europe.
It’s a good move, but there are questions about whether it’s enough.
The other NATO nations need to up their grossly inadequate defense spending in light of a resurgent Russia, as well as make plans to deploy troops to Eastern Europe, sending a strong signal to Moscow of NATO solidarity.
Not surprisingly, Russia isn’t happy about the U.S.-NATO moves and has promised an “asymmetric response,” undoubtedly above and beyond its previous and ongoing provocations such as in-your-face bomber flights, stealthy submarine operations and bumping up forces in Kaliningrad (between Poland and Lithuania).
Sure, it could get tougher, but considering the failure of the White House’s “reset” policy toward the Kremlin so far, it’s probably time for a serious change toward Russia, especially if we want any chance of checking a growly Russian bear.
- Peter Brookes is a senior fellow for national security.
Originally appeared in the Boston Herald