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Friday, September 12, 2008

NATO, Russia and Governor Palin

Speaking in an interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News, Governor Palin seems to believe that both the Ukraine and Georgia should become members of NATO. In the same interview, she suggests that we may have to go to war with Russia in case of an invasion of a "democracy".

NATO memberships for Georgia and Ukraine are opposed by Russia in defense of its right to control her "near abroad". That, however, is not a good reason why we should flinch from supporting democracies that are under threat from a large and bullying neighbor. On the other hand, the question of whether Georgia and Ukraine will remain democracies is not yet settled.

By admitting Eastern European countries - or, harder, those in the Caucasus - to NATO, the first problem is that, under the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on one is an attack on all. Thus, all signatories are obligated to come to the defense of the attacked.

Granting NATO membership so freely may be a good thing on moral grounds: the more cynical may ask what is in it for us. It does, however, raises the question of how the alliance will, or even can, respond if Russia attacks a NATO member.

The issue is NATO's ability, lacking resources or even much [European] will to go to war, to deliver on its commitments. America is the only significant military power in the alliance, and there are only two other NATO members (UK and France) with even modest expeditionary capabilities. A reasonable conclusion is that NATO (i.e. America) has been grossly promiscuous in accepting new members and promising membership to other countries.

Would, as during the Cold War, the use of nuclear weapons be considered if we were losing?

Our forces in Europe have been greatly reduced since the end of the Cold War. The bulk of our remaining military will be involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least the next three years and, once those wars end, will need a lengthy period to reconstitute personnel and equipment in order to respond to a European crisis.

Then, there are the problems posed by Iran and North Korea, two wannabe nuclear powers, which may require a military response but with few allies or available military assets - other than, perhaps, the Air Force. A China - Taiwan crisis is not impossible either.

Governor Palin (and the McCain campaign) would have been well advised to have taken a lesson from a well known saying of President Theodore Roosevelt:

"Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Worth noting is the fact that President Roosevelt had little more experience (but, perhaps, much greater wisdom) than Governor Palin when he took office in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley.

President Bush's two terms have been marked by bluster and empty threats. The "change" promised by both Senators McCain and Obama might have included modesty to go along with strength but Governor Palin has, regrettably, started down an ill-starred path all too well trodden by President Bush and his advisers.

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