Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, 10.07.2016
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s biennial summit over the weekend proved to be more useful than the usual multilateral gabfests. The main goal was to shore up the West’s defenses in Eastern Europe, especially Poland and the Baltic States, and on that count the alliance delivered.
The threat from a revanchist Russia topped the agenda, and a united front was especially important following the British vote to leave the European Union. Vladimir Putin is pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy in Europe, financing parties in the West that would give him a freer hand in Eastern Europe. A united NATO is crucial to showing the Kremlin it can’t succeed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced Kremlin bullying of NATO’s Eastern members, which she said need the “unambiguous back-up of the alliance.” Perhaps this registered with her own foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who last month accused NATO of “warmongering” merely for holding exercises in the East.
The vulnerability of the three Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — was a central theme. The alliance agreed to form and dispatch four 1,000-troop battalions, one each to the Balts and a fourth in Poland. The Brits are expected to lead the battalion in Estonia, Germany in Lithuania, Canada in Latvia and the U.S. in Poland.
This is the first forward NATO deployment in Europe since the end of the Cold War, but it is essential in the wake of Mr. Putin’s ravages in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Russian forces could overwhelm the battalions in a full-scale invasion, but the NATO troops might be able to stop the kind of “little green men” occupation that the Kremlin pulled off in Crimea. The troops will raise the cost of any Russian move by ensuring a confrontation with U.S. and European soldiers.
One area where the summit fell short is Ukraine. President Obama and Mrs. Merkel still cling to a failed peace process rather than selling Kiev the defensive weapons it needs to deter more Russian land grabs. Russia’s military buildup means NATO members also need a revived commitment to spend more on defense, but at least the alliance showed it remains committed to defending its most vulnerable members.