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By Anthony H. Cordesman

07 Jun 14. Events in Ukraine have made it all too clear that NATO’s primary function remains deterring war in Europe. The myth that Afghanistan was the key test of NATO had already died with President Obama’s unilateral decision to withdraw U.S. forces at the end of 2014, and events in Ukraine have already shown the United States just how pointless and vacuous the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that projected U.S. strategy should focus on Asia and the Middle East as if Europe was somehow “over.”

The practical problem for both the United States and Europe is now to create a level of deterrence that can secure the NATO countries nearest Russia without needlessly recreating some new form of Cold War. It is also to help the non-NATO states on Russia’s borders in ways that help them develop without provoking Russia, but that still give Russia a strong incentive not to repeat what happened in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldavia.

One key element is to make it clear that the US and Europe will not ignore Russia’s actions in the Ukraine. Empty NATO ministerial rhetoric can’t do this. Neither can German inaction because its energy dependence on Russia and outdated angst over the German role in World War II. Neither can French willingness to have President François Hollande have dinner with Putin at the G7 meeting right after having dinner with Obama, and continue to sell Russia precisely the kind of amphibious warships Russia needs for out of area adventures.

Really, sell two Mistral-class amphibious ships that carry troops, landing craft, and helicopters, that then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked the French Minister of Defense not to sell in 2010, and which Hervé Morin the admitted were “indeed a warship for power projection!” The last thing Europe and the Atlantic partnership need is a Germany that puts its economy above its security while wallowing in angst, or a new form of self-seeking French appeasement.

This does not mean that anyone should overreact. No one can gain from rushing into a lasting confrontation between the United States, Europe, and Russia. This is not the time to overreact, to turn Ukraine into some kind of morality play as if Ukraine was composed of blameless heroes and Russians were the villains.

It is not the time to give up on creating some form of productive economic partnership if Russia stops at the Crimea, to talk about further expanding NATO, or create conspiracy theories about Putin and Russia’s “secret” intentions to restore the Soviet Union, turn to China, and create a new structure of global rivalry. Realpolitik is not a matter of reacting to possible or imagined worst cases. It is a matter of reacting to realities as they actually emerge.

In the near term, this means that it is time to make it clear to Russia that the US and Europe are willing to impose far more meaningful sanctions if Russia goes beyond the Crimea. It is time for Europe to work collectively to reduce its over-dependence on Russian gas. It is time to give the new government in Ukraine a reasonable chance at rebuilding the governance, economy, and security of what had become corrupt, powerbroker-driven, failed state.

Moreover, these are all areas where Europe should take the lead, and not the United States. Russia needs to see that Europe can react and not wait on, or passively exploit American leadership. It needs to see that the United States is not isolated or pushing for a new Cold War. So far, Europe has failed to provide that leadership, waited on the United States as if this was still 1949, and effectively exploited the Atlantic alliance in ways that may end in encouraging further Russian action rather than deterring it.

Broader and Transatlantic action is needed within NATO. Both the United States and the rest of NATO should make it clear that they are fully committe

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