Is NATO necessary?

Russia threatens none of America’s vital interests. On the contrary, it shares our eagerness to fight global terror, control nuclear threats, and confront other urgent challenges to global security. Depending on one’s perspective, Russia may be seen as a destabilizing force in Europe or as simply defending its border regions. Either way, it is a challenge for Europeans, not for us. Yet the American generals who run NATO, desperate for a new mission, have fastened onto Russia as an enemy. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter preposterously places Russia first on his list of threats to the United States. Anti-Russia passion has seized Washington.

This week’s NATO summit will be a festival of chest-thumping, with many warnings about the Russian “threat” and solemn vows to meet it with shows of military force. The United States plans to quadruple spending on NATO military projects on or near Russia’s borders. In recent weeks NATO has opened a new missile base in Romania, held the largest military maneuver in the modern history of Poland, and announced plans to deploy thousands more American troops at Baltic bases, some within artillery range of St. Petersburg. Russia, for its part, is building a new military base within artillery range of Ukraine and deploying 30,000 troops to border posts. Both sides are nuclear-armed.

NATO views trouble between Russia and nearby countries as a military problem. That makes sense. NATO is a military alliance run by military officers who think in military terms. Our conflict with Russia, however, is essentially political, not military. It cries out for creative diplomacy. NATO is a blunt instrument unequipped for such a delicate task. If Europeans believe tit-for-tat escalation is the best way to deal with Russia, let them pursue it. But it should be their choice, not ours.