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Memo to the NATO Summit: Prevent a War by Restoring Deterrence | Opinion


In a time when the United States and the Western allies appear weak on the international scene, restoring deterrence needs to be Job One as the NATO 75th anniversary summit begins today in Washington, D.C.

In the recent presidential debate, more energy went into bickering over who deserves to be president, and even their golf scores, than about what America and the West should do next to secure our collective democratic capitalist future against challengers like China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

There is nothing more important than the security and defense of the realm. The president of the United States has the unenviable position of serving as commander-in-chief, often without having the appropriate background and experience, while simultaneously addressing a myriad of other pressing political, economic, and social issues.

NATO Exercise
A soldier of the Jaeger Battalion GSV of the Norwegian Armed Forces that monitors the 196-kilometer-long border between Norway and Russia is pictured through a broken window on her snow scooter on March 9, on…


JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden’s continuation of Barack Obama’s foreign policy approach, “leading from behind,” has harmed the U.S. and NATO both. Those who lead from behind do not win; and America has not been trying to win. Not in Afghanistan, not in the Middle East, and not even in Ukraine, where Biden actually deserves high marks for supporting a victim of Russian aggression but has badly failed to effectively deter Moscow.

Biden is also woefully underperforming in the Middle East, and is allowing Iran to cause mayhem through its proxies. The Houthis have reduced shipping in the Red Sea and Suez Canal, a lifeline of economic activity, by 50 percent. Hezbollah attacks have rendered the Israeli north uninhabitable and turned 100,000 people into internal refugees.

Biden’s relaxation of sanctions against Tehran allowed the mullahs to increase their training and support of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iraqi Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations. Finally, he is failing to restrain NATO ally Tayyip Recep Erdoğan, president of Turkey, who is now directly threatening Israel.

Failures to deter and restrain aggression may lead nuclear conflict, which is a significant risk faced by our country. Besides Russia and China, both of which are fully capable of engaging the U.S. in a devastating nuclear exchange, other aspiring aggressor states with nuclear capabilities could escalate regional conflicts. Iran’s mullahs seem hell-bent on crossing the nuclear threshold, having built up their capacity during years of dithering over the Iran nuclear deal known as the JCPOA.

To address this scenario, the U.S. and the allies need to rebuild and project strength to deter adversaries and press for peace. Negotiating when we barely produce tactical warheads and hypersonic missiles will not do the trick. We must expand our arsenal and bolster our military capabilities while simultaneously reaching out to revive the system of comprehensive strategic arms limitation treaties with willing nuclear states. We must also appeal to the peoples of China and Russia, over the heads of their leaders, to preserve peace.

Another significant geopolitical challenge lies in Europe. There may be an ocean between us, but oceans cannot stop missiles and drones. Ultimately, the fate of Europe will impact the future of America. Weakened and flawed U.S. leadership will only push the European states away, whether into the lap of the far left, the far right, or into Russia’s bear hug.

In the recent presidential debate Trump, while boasting that on his watch Putin wouldn’t have attacked Ukraine (a hypothetical), continues to express doubts about NATO’s future. He seems to be hoping against hope that the Europeans will become capable of defending themselves on their own dime. Keep hoping.

Unpopular as supporting Ukraine’s struggle may be in some circles, abandoning this theater to Russia’s tender mercies would provoke further Russian aggression. “Appetite comes with the meal,” as the Russian proverb says.

Whoever takes the presidency in 2024 is facing unprecedented threats ahead. Trump’s sunshine diplomacy with Kim Jong Un failed. North Korea is now Russia’s vicious lapdog. If Trump retakes the White House, he will be facing a much more arrogant and desperate Putin than he met in Helsinki.

America’s influence is also waning in the developing world, with several nations beginning to hedge their bets between the U.S. and other powers. Thus, most Latin American counties have remained neutral on the Ukraine war. Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are, of course, staunchly pro-Putin. If this trend continues, the U.S. risks allowing its neighbors to fall prey to our peer competitors. Russia, China, and Iran are moving in, with Beijing and Moscow looking to expand their bases as they advance an alternative global order. As Chinese intelligence facilities in Cuba expand, the next president will have to act.

To reverse Russian and Chinese expansion in the Global South, the next administration would be wise to launch a massive information engagement effort beyond the current sclerotic and ineffectual Cold War style international broadcasting. The U.S. should also boost funding for the International Development Finance Corporation to counter Beijing. Biden and Trump may agree on the need to compete with and constrain China. There, whoever wins the election has his work cut out for him.

We are living through the biggest challenge to the U.S. since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and maybe since WWII. The next president will need to restore American deterrence in Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region through strong coalitions and a major (and expensive) military build-up.

In the next four years, there is a strong possibility that the U.S. will face a war larger in scope than either Vietnam or Korea. Inspired leadership will be required. The next president will need the support and help of the U.S. body politic, the American people, and our allies to carry the burden of Western democracy forward, sustain and boost deterrence, and avoid a major global conflict.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and author, “Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis” (Praeger Greenwood).

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.