In 2009, the United States and the European Union chose to discontinue efforts toward establishing a missile defense complex in Poland. This decision was influenced by a predictably negative reception from Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as a startled hesitancy from the then-Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk. Despite the clear rationality behind President Obama’s choice to cease progress, the heightened toxicity of today’s European political climate has rendered this decision unacceptable. Eastern European tensions have risen considerably within the past eight years, with the primary belligerent being a nuclear-armed, expansionist Russian Federation. In order for the United States to guarantee the safeties of its NATO allies, an Eastern European missile defense complex must be revisited; only by acknowledging Russian hostility, enacting defensive measures and penalizing continued belligerency can the United States ensure NATO’s longevity.
NATO was created in 1949 in order to combat Russian broad-scale irredentism and provide security for sovereign states during the Cold War. Many, including US President Donald Trump, have entertained the possibility that NATO may now be nothing more than a vestigial remnant of a past era. However, the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 revealed that Russian irredentism is still quite alive, with President Putin merely reducing the broad-scale, Soviet expansionism to a less rash, intermediate form. Surprisingly, his efforts have gone largely unpunished — in the last ten years alone, the Russian Federation has expanded into South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Crimea, actions which have been met with passive sanctions and verbose but non-substantive condemnations from the international community. Recent statements from the Kremlin regarding ethnic Russian populations in countries such as Belarus, Latvia and Estonia, coupled with the nuclear saber-rattling of an unpersuadable President Putin, have not helped to quell this fear in the slightest.
It is absolutely critical for the President of the United States to create a State Department advisory committee on the topic of Eastern European territorial disputes, which can predict and prevent violations of sovereignty by foreign aggressors in the region. Imprudent? Perhaps. Necessary? Absolutely. Given President Putin’s blatant disregard for borders or sovereignty, preemptive and extraordinary strategic analysis must be incessantly conducted in the region until the Russian state proves itself capable of dormancy. Political and social overlooks were primarily responsible for the aforementioned disputes and invasions, proving that there is an intense need for the United States to secure its sphere of NATO influence. It would be in the United States’ utmost interest to determine which NATO members are at risk, and then proceed to manage that risk.
The respective Georgian and Ukrainian crises of 2008 and 2014 not only reestablished Russia as a geographically developing entity, but they also cornered the West into establishing a precedent of non-military intervention. President Putin has claimed on several occasions that, should the Russian Federation be attacked by a relatively devastating conventional weapon or force, a limited nuclear strike should and may be utilized in order to “de-escalate” the conflict, a position which prompted America and the European Union to avoid violence with Russia throughout the past decade. It is important that President Trump, his advisors and his allies realize that the substance of this threat matters not; what matters is that President Putin has revealed to the international community that he believes his authority is derived from the nuclear arsenal he possesses. The Russian president is trapped in the mid-20th century in the sense that he still believes in the symbolic power of nuclear weapons, and once their potential for mass destruction is reduced or done away with, his resulting sense of self-worth will undoubtedly deplete alongside it. Thus, it is necessary to establish preemptive defenses through interceptor site development.
By constructing radar detection and missile defense facilities with assets including THAAD systems and offshore SM-3 missiles in Eastern European, NATO-aligned nations (specifically, Poland and the Czech Republic), this nuclear confidence and its resulting threats could be eliminated. Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, the Kremlin’s sense of invincibility would be lessened. President Putin’s recent separation from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty clearly illustrates a sense of recklessness lingering within his administration. As NATO Chairman Jens Stoltenberg recently explained to a crowded audience in 2015, President Putin’s actions continue to be unjustified, destabilizing and dangerous toward neighboring, peaceful nations. Nuclear power is great and should not be trifled with, and decisive defensive reactions could do a great deal in regard to its relinquishment.
Although it would appear simple to hinder Russian revanchism by focusing on political insecurities and social vulnerabilities, the West would be foolhardy to assume that all Russian motivations to advance would cease to exist once President Putin’s nuclear capabilities are confronted. To supplement interceptor site development, efforts should be focused toward dealing with the highly-likely symbolic retaliation from the East. For instance: Should these NATO missile interceptor site(s) be placed in Eastern Europe, one could almost guarantee that President Putin would relocate Russian Iskander missiles — considered by many to be the modern replacement for Soviet Scud missiles — to Kaliningrad, by the Polish border, in an attempt to intimidate Western and NATO-affiliated neighbors.
Despite being nearly inevitable, symbolic Russian retaliation can still be limited through a mutually-beneficial, bilateral agreement between the United States and the Russian Federation. This agreement should enforce a standard where NATO members can not host missiles with the potential to carry nuclear warheads within an expertly predetermined number of miles from the borders of CSTO member states, and vice versa. Such a symbolic agreement would reassure President Putin that the United States will not encroach upon increasing Russian interests in Central Asia, while simultaneously protecting endangered NATO allies. NATO would most likely need to remove missiles currently stationed in Incirlik, Turkey, but the benefits of such an agreement would greatly outweigh the minor strategic advantage that comes with Turkish warhead emplacement. The presence of anti-ballistic missile sites would surely promise a greater future than the presence of ballistic missile sites, and there is no better place to start than Eastern Europe.