If exercises can create splits in the Atlantic alliance, the Russian president needs little imagination to realize how to give NATO its ultimate test: use hybrid warfare to plunge the United States and Europeans into doubt over what military action is necessary and what diplomacy is possible. President Vladimir V. Putin could, for instance, stir up separatist feelings among ethnic Russians in Lithuania and provide weapons to the hotheads among them. Then all he would have to do is lean back and watch the most powerful military alliance in history disintegrate as it squabbles over how to react.
It’s easy to imagine how the scenario would play out: Poland and the Baltic countries would call for a strong response to pre-empt another annexation like that of Crimea. The Germans and French would call for negotiations with Moscow, doubting that Article 5 would be invoked. The Greeks, Italians and Spanish would make clear that their economies had already suffered enough from the sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea. And much of the public across Europe, manipulated by Russian propaganda, would ask if the Russians weren’t somehow right in trying to support their fellows in the Baltic States. Wasn’t it actually the imperial United States who set all this up, some would argue, just like Washington’s agents were behind the coup in Kiev?
The authors of the NATO treaty in 1949 could rightly bank on something one could call Western patriotism. At least this sentiment existed at the government level. But today it has given way to relativism and self-doubt. What used to be rock-solid foreign policy principles are now bargaining chips in election campaigns, of both left and right.