Putin’s Ukraine invasion is NATO wake-up call

Steve Nystrom, Journal guest columnist

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine served as a 9/11 style wake-up call to both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. After years of cutting their defense budgets, downsizing their armed forces, and coming up with every excuse imaginable for not paying for their own national security are the European’s finally ready to spend more to defend their own continent? NATO relies on the principle of “collective security” under Article 5 meaning that an attack against one member country would be considered an attack against all and will be repulsed alone or with other international organizations.

However, there are two serious problems regarding collective security. First, that all nations can agree on who the aggressor nation is. Most Americans and Europeans agree that Russia is responsible for the war against Ukraine, but the leaders of Russia, China, and Belarus continue to insist that Ukraine is the aggressor and that Russia’s security is being threatened by NATO’s eastward expansion.

Whether Chinese President Xi really believes Putin and that Russia’s security is really threatened is irrelevant because China is supporting Russia economically by purchasing large amounts of natural gas and oil, and will soon start providing weapons, military rations, and other supplies required to sustain Putin’s war machine. Belarusian President Lukashenko is also assisting Russia logistically and could actively join the war by invading Ukraine from the north to position his forces along the Polish-Ukrainian border to disrupt weapons from entering Ukraine from bordering NATO nations.

The second serious problem with collective security deals with the ability of member nations to muster the necessary military forces and the will to use them against an aggressor country before it takes hostile action (deterrence) or to repel an enemy force once a war starts.

This is where NATO militarily has a serious problem that must be addressed to ensure the security and sovereignty of its member nations.

Although NATO has expanded from 12 member nations in 1949 to 30 today, it has cut its defense budgets, reduced the size of its armed forces, and no longer has the required military capabilities to deter Russian aggression or repel a major invasion (without using nuclear weapons).

This problem is made worse by the fact that NATO’s newest member nations in Eastern Europe are smaller economically and militarily, were once part of the Soviet controlled Warsaw Pact Forces and are still relying on older, less capable Russian weapons.

So, NATO’s expansion further east has exacerbated tensions with Russia, taken on new security requirements, left newer member nations badly exposed, and simply does not have enough military firepower to deter or possibly stop a Russian invasion without using nuclear weapons.

The U.S. is the only NATO member that has conventional military forces capable of stopping Russia today, while Great Britain, the U.S., and EU member France each have nuclear weapons under their direct control to ensure their sovereignty and check Russian aggression. Here in lies another dilemma. Would Great Britain, France, and the United States be willing to risk a major conventional or nuclear war to protect smaller, more vulnerable NATO nations including Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania? Would America be willing to risk a major war to protect countries like Germany that refused to spend more money to improve their defense capabilities over the last 30 years?

To remain relevant, every NATO member nation in Europe must invest more money in national defense to increase the size of its armed forces (quantity) and to modernize them (quality) to ensure collective security works. This includes developing hypersonic cruise missiles, purchasing more stealth aircraft, newer generations of main battle tanks, artillery, and attack helicopters, as well as enhancing cybersecurity.

Every European NATO county must start spending at least 4 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on defense because America can no longer afford to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to protect Europe – especially if the other 29 NATO nations fail to pay their fair share.

Finally, NATO must update and deploy a new generation of mobile, accurate thermal nuclear weapons to deter Russia from considering a “pre-emptive first strike” against smaller nations using conventional or nuclear forces. If NATO decides not to increase the size and capabilities of its conventional forces, it will have to rely more on nuclear weapons to create a “balance of terror” which is what it did during the 1970s.

During the 1980s, NATO modernized its nuclear and conventional forces with new weapons and the new Air Land Battle Doctrine that enabled it to achieve military parity with the former Soviet Union by 1991. Today, NATO must increase its military capabilities or Russia will continue its intimidation and aggression as is has done against Georgia, Chechnya, Syria, and now Ukraine.

Next: What the long-term implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be on China’s military options regarding Taiwan, and efforts to curb nuclear proliferation worldwide.

Editor’s note: Steve Nystrom is a lifelong resident of Marquette. He enrolled in Northern Michigan University’s ROTC Program, received a Master of Arts Degree in Defense Administration and was commissioned as an Armor officer in 1986. He was later transferred to the Army’s Military Intelligence Branch. He left the Army and joined the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1992 and went to work for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 1996. His career included multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired in 2017 as a senior analyst with NGA.


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