Trump Talked About Withdrawing U.S. From NATO, Aides Say

Donald Trump continues to appear to advocate ideas that harm American national interests and benefit Vladimir Putin. Draw your own conclusions as to why.

The New York Times is reporting that President Trump has openly talked about withdrawing the United States from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a report that is raising new concerns amid recent reports about the President’s relationship with Russia:

WASHINGTON — There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.

Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.

In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.

At the time, Mr. Trump’s national security team, including Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, scrambled to keep American strategy on track without mention of a withdrawal that would drastically reduce Washington’s influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades.

Now, the president’s repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump’s efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration’s Russia ties.

A move to withdraw from the alliance, in place since 1949, “would be one of the most damaging things that any president could do to U.S. interests,” said Michèle A. Flournoy, an under secretary of defense under President Barack Obama.

“It would destroy 70-plus years of painstaking work across multiple administrations, Republican and Democratic, to create perhaps the most powerful and advantageous alliance in history,” Ms. Flournoy said in an interview. “And it would be the wildest success that Vladimir Putin could dream of.”

Retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, said an American withdrawal from the alliance would be “a geopolitical mistake of epic proportion.”

“Even discussing the idea of leaving NATO — let alone actually doing so — would be the gift of the century for Putin,” Admiral Stavridis said.

Senior Trump administration officials discussed the internal and highly sensitive efforts to preserve the military alliance on condition of anonymity.

After the White House was asked for comment on Monday, a senior administration official pointed to Mr. Trump’s remarks in July when he called the United States’ commitment to NATO “very strong” and the alliance “very important.” The official declined to comment further.

American national security officials believe that Russia has largely focused on undermining solidarity between the United States and Europe after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Its goal was to upend NATO, which Moscow views as a threat.

Russia’s meddling in American elections and its efforts to prevent former satellite states from joining the alliance have aimed to weaken what it views as an enemy next door, the American officials said. With a weakened NATO, they said, Mr. Putin would have more freedom to behave as he wishes, setting up Russia as a counterweight to Europe and the United States.

An American withdrawal from the alliance would accomplish all that Mr. Putin has been trying to put into motion, the officials said — essentially, doing the Russian leader’s hardest and most critical work for him.

In light of recent and past developments regarding the Trump Administration and Russia, and the relationship between the United States and the nations that are supposed to be our most important allies, this report is alarming, to say the least. Within just the last week, for example, it was reported that, in the wake of his meeting last July in Helsinki with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Trump declined to brief his aides about what had been discussed between the two men during their one-on-one meeting with only translators and that he had confiscated the notes taken by the translator and ordered him not to discuss what had occurred in the meeting even with top members of the White House Staff. As I noted at the time, Trump’s behavior at the post-summit press conference with Putin raised serious questions about what he and the Russian leader had discussed or agreed to in their meeting, and arguably made a case for calling the translator before a Congressional Committee to determine what the two men had discussed that he was so unwilling to talk about. In addition to these reports, The New York Times reported that the F.B.I. had taken the extraordinary step of opening a counterintelligence investigation centered around the President in the wake of his admission that he fired former F.B.I. director James Comey because of the Russia investigation. In the wake of those revelations, as well as other evidence of Trump’s long-standing efforts to undermine the Russia investigation, the fact that this President would discuss the idea of withdrawing the United States from NATO

In addition to these recent developments, the first two years of Trump’s Presidency has included a number of occasions when he has seemingly acted against American national interests with regard to our relationships with our closest alliest. For example, when the President visited Europe for the first time in 2017, he left in his wake with many of our closest allies wondering just how committed the President was to the alliance and to its collective defense principles notwithstanding later assurances regarding that commitment on his part.

Outside of that, Trump has engaged in a number of other policies that have significantly soured the relationship between the United States and its allies, particularly our NATO allies. Last month, for example, the President revoked the exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs that had been announced back in March that applied to American allies in Europe as well as Canada and Mexico. In doing so, Trump claimed that he was taking this action for “national security” reasons. Objectively speaking, of course, the idea that these allies are a national security threat to the United States, or that we could not rely on them as a source for aluminum and steel in the event of a national emergency or military threat is absurd. Needless to say, this didn’t go over very well with our allies in Europe and elsewhere. Canada’s Foreign Minister called the new tariffs “absurd,” for example, and European Union officials announced retaliatory tariffs against American goods. Things got even more bizarre in this regard as Trump exchanged harsh words with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to the G-7 Summit. Once he was at the summit, Trump essentially did everything he could to alienate America’s closest allies, thereby seemingly achieving a goal that Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union had only dreamed of, driving a wedge between the United States and its allies. After the Singapore Photo Op Summit, Trump continued his tirade against Trudeau, while polling revealed that Canadian public opinion about the United States was suffering as a result of American actions and the President’s rhetoric. Finally, it was reported at the same time that the President was considering what would effectively be a ban on German-built luxury automobiles, a threat that he continues to make.

In short, Donald Trump has done more damage to America’s international alliances than the Soviets could have ever dreamed of, and it will inevitably inure to the benefit of Russia and China. Now we have this report that the President of the United States, the man who supposedly stands in the shoes of Presidents like Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama, who cultivated relationships with our closest allies and were committed to strengthening the NATO alliance and continuing its legacy of keeping the peace for the past seven decades, is openly speculating about the idea of withdrawing from what is the unquestionably the most successful and important peacetime alliance in American history and perhaps the most important and effective such alliance in history. Because of Donald Trump, we and our allies are left wondering if this alliance, and others that the United States has built with allies in the Pacific such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia, will be there the next time its need it. The way the President is acting, the answer to that question is becoming increasingly doubtful and the only person that benefits is Vladimir Putin, who as I’ve said before appears to be succeeding in ways that the leaders of the former Soviet Union could only dream. With very little cost on his part, he has an American President who is driving a wedge between the United States and its most important allies. Whether that makes Trump a knowing asset of Russia, a compromised individual who is somehow being blackmailed, or just what Vladimir Lenin once referred to as a “useful idiot” hardly matters. The damage to American national interests would be deep and long-lasting and would take years for any future President to repair.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, Russia, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Lit3Bolt says:

    “Would?”

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Just another example of doing Putin’s bidding.
    This would benefit the US in zero ways…but would be Putin’s wet dream.
    Individual-1 is a danger to the US.
    So what’s worse…if he is intentionally doing this? Or if he is being manipulated, and is an unwitting asset?

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: It’s hard to believe this level of this stuff could be unwitting. On the other hand, it could be hard to prove it’s deliberate. This may become a really important legal point shortly after Mueller makes his report.

  4. Hal_10000 says:

    I don’t think he could do it without senate approval. But the NATO skepticism reminds me, in a way, of vaccine skepticism (which Trump also dabbles in). We’ve gotten so used to a world without the horrors that these things protect us from, we don’t think the protection matters anymore.

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  5. Kathy says:

    I’m concerned due to the way Dennison operates: on impulse and by what Fox News or Anne Coulter think.

    Even if leaving NATO were a good idea (it’s not), there’s a right way to do it. It would involve consulting other NATO members, in particular France, Britain, and Germany, negotiating in advance basing rights, if any, consulting with advisers, consulting with Congressional leaders, consulting with military leaders, negotiating new alliances, etc. It’s something that ought to take years to do right, even excluding the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty which stipulate a period of advance notice.

    Dennison would simply announce it, and perhaps even order an immediate withdrawal of troops and equipment from Europe, and to hell with everything else.

    Who do you think would benefit most from such a massive act of idiocy?

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: This is why my solution to anti-vaxxers is simple: either the vaccine, or we’ll expose you to the illness.

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  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @gVOR08:

    It’s hard to believe this level of this stuff could be unwitting.

    I just think that Dennison is sooooo fvcking dumb that unwitting is exceedingly likely.
    Someone like Putin could play him like a goddamned Steinway piano.
    Look at what Kim did to him in NoKo.

    But isn’t unwitting just as bad?
    “I’m sorry sir, you are just too stupid to continue in this position.”
    Perhaps we need a Dunning-Kruger Amendment to the Constitution?

  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Hal_10000:

    We’ve gotten so used to a world without the horrors that these things protect us from, we don’t think the protection matters anymore.

    See also: EPA, Food Inspections, ATC, Building Codes, etc.

  9. MarkedMan says:

    @grumpy realist:

    either the vaccine, or we’ll expose you to the illness

    Or if you want to be depressingly realistic about it, exposing them, or their loved ones, when they are pregnant. All kinds of tragedy in that…

  10. Gustopher says:

    Donald Trump ran as an isolationist. Pulling back from international obligations is just part and parcel of this. He wants to maximize America’s options to act or not act, based entirely on America’s interests. It’s a logical, consistent idea — effectively the enlightened self-interest libertarians hope for, on a national scale.

    It’s a terrible idea, but things like this were telegraphed long before he took the oath of office. The only surprise is that he actually meant it, and if he is willing to go this far.

    It throws away our influence over Europe.

    “America First” will mean that we aren’t going to be a superpower, let alone the world’s only superpower or pre-eminent superpower.

    And, I don’t think it is because Donald Trump is taking marching orders from Putin. Donald Trump thinks this is a good idea. He ran on it and he boasted of it.

    Or perhaps 43% of America voted for a clear, open Russian asset.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000:

    We’ve gotten so used to a world without the horrors that these things protect us from, we don’t think the protection matters anymore.

    Like the Voting Rights Act. The Court majority pretty much said, ‘Well it’s working, so we can stop.’

  12. Ben Wolf says:

    There is little rationalé to NATO’s continued existence. Which is why the war industry and its sycophants have to turn a shrinking country with a GDP smaller than South Korea into a phantom terror. France and Germany together spend nearly 50% more on defense than the Russian Federation.

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  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    It would be nice, if quickly a “sense of congress resolution” were to be introduced and passed opposing the US withdrawing from the NATO treaty.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: If it’s deliberate, if there’s clear evidence of a quid pro quo – I’ll drop the sanctions if you don’t call in my debts, then people will be compelled to act, impeachement or indictment. If it’s unwitting, if it’s only that he’s unfit to be president the only path is impeachment and the GOPs won’t convict.

    (I’m assuming, perhaps foolishly, that if there is a smoking gun, that Trump clearly committed a serious crime, and Congress failed to act, public pressure would force Barr and DOJ to indict. Or somehow state charges could be brought to bear.)

  15. Kathy says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    France and Germany haven’t annexed parts of neighboring countries lately. France and Germany don’t have a nuclear triad with thousands of warheads. France and Germany haven’t run disinformation campaigns to meddle in other countries’ elections.

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  16. KM says:

    @Kathy:

    Dennison would simply announce it, and perhaps even order an immediate withdrawal of troops and equipment from Europe, and to hell with everything else.

    I would like to think that would be a step too far for the military. It’s one thing to pull out of Syria on the fly – they didn’t like it but it’s an operation, not a long-standing alliance. To suddenly be asked to bail on NATO and give up what that entails….. yeah, I’d like to think several generals would be willing to get in his face over it. The loss of guaranteed access to Ramstein and Landstuhl alone is enough to cause major concern for operational readiness and success.

    Say what you will but the military-industrial complex in this nation wouldn’t tolerate such a sudden shake-up and loss quietly. That’s gonna cut into Somebody with a capital S’s profits and words will be had on the Hill. Words backed with the lifeblood of DC – cold, hard cash. Who knows, it might even be the push the GOP needs to start considering things like impeachment or the 25th – start %#%*&$# with the money and watch them get all “concerned” for his mental health.

  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @gVOR08:

    then people will be compelled to act

    He’s never going to be impeached before the 2020 election, no matter what they find. McConnell won’t bring a vote to open the office, much less than to convict the President.
    We just need to vote him the fvck out of office.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: I have personal experience (mother, father, uncle) of what not being vaccinated against particular illnesses can do, which is one reason why I despise anti-vaxxers with the white-hot fury of a thousand burning suns and wish for all of them to be dropped into the middle of 1880 NYC slum life.

  19. Monala says:

    @grumpy realist: the only problem with that solution is, you’re not exposing the anti-vaxxers (many of whom were vaccinated as kids), you’re exposing their children .

  20. Ben Wolf says:

    @Kathy: Dear Wind Tunnel: 50% more defense spending by France and Germany means Europe as a whole can easily defeat any conventional attack from the Russian Federation. And France has its own nukes.

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  21. KM says:

    @Monala:
    I know an anti-vaxxer that stated during the last Ebola scare she’d take an experimental vaccine rather then risk being exposed the disease…. but wouldn’t give it to her kids because “vaccines are evil”. My response would be we’d probably give her the placebo and toss her in with an active case just let her go out “knowing” she was right about vaccines not working. She was not amused – her son thought it was hilarious and pointed she was OK with them dying while she took the shot to save her ass. Fair’s fair, man.

    (FYI all the kids are vaxxed without her knowing. She’s crazy, the rest of the family isn’t. They just roll their eyes when she crows about them never getting sick and can’t wait to tell her – their dad made them promise to wait till they’re older)

  22. Teve says:

    @KM:

    (FYI all the kids are vaxxed without her knowing. She’s crazy, the rest of the family isn’t. They just roll their eyes when she crows about them never getting sick and can’t wait to tell her – their dad made them promise to wait till they’re older)

    😛 good deal.

  23. Teve says:

    My parents used to be of normal intelligence, but in their older age they started reading a bunch of weirdos web pages and listening to weirdo Christian radio, and now they’re kooks who are terrified of vaccines and microwaves and cell phones and will happily buy any snake oil you have. When I started working a service job that had me going in and out of the Mayo clinic on a monthly basis, I had to get the flu shot. They got positively terrified. Because, you know, the most highly-regarded hospital system in America is just a scam, and DrQuack.biz’s YouTube channel and supplement emporium is the real reliable info.

    I have no idea how these lunatic information sources can turn perfectly average people into raving nutters in just a few years but it’s probably about the same thing that Fox news has done to half of our elderly population.

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  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:
    Your understanding of defense is sadly superficial. Dollars spent do not equal force or security. If it were that simple we’d be undisputed masters of Afghanistan and Vietnam. Start with maps not dollars.

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  25. JohnMcC says:

    @Ben Wolf: Well, it’s expensive but there isn’t a lot to be said for the most likely alternative. I mean, we’ve tried a world where every nation produced enough arms and military ferocity to defend all their national interests. Results were less than optimal.

    It doesn’t seem likely that peace will envelope the world simultaneously as arms are surrendered and love erupts.

    Lacking those outcomes, better to have cooperative relationships.

  26. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: My elderly father watches Fox (when he’s not watching baseball or John Wayne movies), and chuckles at how stupid people must be to believe it.

    Then my brothers come by, spout off the same nonsense that they got from watching Fox, and my father just adds to it and elaborates on it, makes up all sorts of crazy stuff and then chuckles and laughs when they leave.

    Not all of the elderly are easily duped. Some are apparently just evil.

    (Reason #418 to not visit all that often)

  27. JohnSF says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    “Europe as a whole can easily defeat any conventional attack from the Russian Federation”

    Would this were true.
    Longer term, sure, Russia is just Mexico with nukes.
    But “with nukes” alone makes one f**k of a difference.
    Russian nuclear arsenal dwarfs that of France, especially in “tactical” category (mythical as that may be…).
    Also, conscript army, semi-obsolescent equipment etc. combined with a modernised cutting edge and artillery capabilities give a major threat potential options vs. Baltics/Poland/Finland/Scandinavia/Balkans.
    France and Germany have problems of inherently higher cost base ( =less firepower per unit spent); Germany in particular suffers from years of neglect of force readiness/sustainability.

    Russia has splurged resources (more than just net budget would indicate) on repairing military in key areas.
    Stupid; they should have used the oil bonanza of the last 20yrs to reinvest in productive areas and buy out the oligarchs.
    But worry for West is it leaves Russia with a wasting asset of Power at same time as economy heading for relative decline. Therefore temptation to use Power to secure Power: consolidate hold on Belarus, ‘Stans, Caucasus, and try to leverage a permanent blackmail position with Europe to protect oligarch expatriated assets and hydrocarbon market dominance.

    Replay Russian history but with Europe as Muscovy and Russia as the Golden Horde.

  28. Kathy says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Do you even know what a wind tunnel is?

  29. Kathy says:

    @KM:

    I would like to think that would be a step too far for the military.

    I’m sure it would be. I wonder what they could or would do about it. I’m not suggesting a coup, or even a 25th amendment push, but getting in his face might not be enough.

  30. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Longer term, sure, Russia is just Mexico with nukes.
    But “with nukes” alone makes one f**k of a difference.

    Don’t tell Dennison, but Mexico has a “National Institute for Nuclear Studies” and one working commercial nuclear reactor at Laguna Verde, Veracruz.

    Maybe they’re up to something. I hear the nuclear plant actually uses Uranium.

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: I hear ya!

  32. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: 😛 😛 😛

  33. Ben Wolf says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Your understanding of defense is sadly superficial. Dollars spent do not equal force or security. If it were that simple we’d be undisputed masters of Afghanistan and Vietnam

    This is not an argument. It’s acknowledgement you don’t know how to make one.

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  34. Ben Wolf says:

    Russian nuclear arsenal dwarfs that of France.

    Not relevant.

    Also, conscript army

    Conscript armies are superior to volunteer armies?

    semi-obsolescent equipment etc. combined with a modernised cutting edge and artillery capabilities give a major threat potential

    Russian equipment is both obsolecent and cutting edge?

    Replay Russian history but with Europe as Muscovy and Russia as the Golden Horde.

    This isn’t Europa Universalis.

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  35. Ben Wolf says:

    In Russia, military service is mandatory for men aged 18 to 27. But according to a recent European Parliamentary Research Service report, each year, half of all would-be conscripts—75,000 out of an annual intake of around 150,000 young men—are thought to be dodging the draft.

    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russian-federation/2015-11-09/russians-dodge-bullet

    Wow, all those draft-dodgers make it sound like the Russian military is really on the ball.

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  36. Ben Wolf says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    In Russia, military service is mandatory for men aged 18 to 27. But according to a recent European Parliamentary Research Service report, each year, half of all would-be conscripts—75,000 out of an annual intake of around 150,000 young men—are thought to be dodging the draft.

    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russian-federation/2015-11-09/russians-dodge-bullet

    Wow, all those draft-dodgers make it sound like the Russian military is really on the ball.

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  37. JohnSF says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Russian nuclear arsenal dwarfs that of France.
    Not relevant.

    Pardon? You were the one who pointed out “France has its own nukes”. In that context, surely the Russian nuclear superiority is relevant? Especially its advantage in “tactical” weapons in context of E. Europe.

    Conscript armies are superior to volunteer armies?

    No; by all accounts they are poorly trained, shoddily organised, badly equipped, ill-disciplined and combat ineffective.
    BUT they are cheaper man for man, and conscripts are useful for certain tasks (logistic support, garrisons, “policing”).
    Russia seems to use professional units for “cutting edge” tasks, while conscripts handle less critical jobs.

    Russian equipment is both obsolecent and cutting edge?

    Well, yes.
    A good deal is very out of date (Russia only fairly recently retired last 1960’s vintage T-64 tanks), especially in reserve formations. IIRC about half nominal strength of armoured vehicles are in storage or otherwise out of service, and a large number of those beyond practicable repair.
    But while of limited use against modern military in combat, they are still useful for secondary tasks. e.g. obsolescent artillery could still be very valuable for mass bombardment operations if protected by more modern forces.
    OTOH some of the best trained and equipped professional formations might be beginning to approach NATO levels of effectiveness.

    This isn’t Europa Universalis

    And that is? (Actually just googled; looks a bit like Civilization?)
    OK, the

    Golden Horde

    ref was a bit flippant, and arguably inappropriate and inaccurate.
    But my point was that there is some concern that Russia with:
    – a stagnant productive economy-
    – a hydrocarbon/minerals export based economy in long term decline due to under-investment/exhaustion/carbon limits
    – political system that mixes authoritarian capstone with kleptocratic oligarchy and populist/nationalist propaganda
    is an unstable neighbour with temptations to leverage a window of military edge into coercive power to shape European politics to its advantage e.g. blocking any moves against oligarch money laundering, and keeping open European markets for Russian oil and gas.

    Though given its successes in political subversion operations at present, military options are looking rather redundant.

  38. Ben Wolf says:

    @JohnSF:
    1) Active ground forces of the European Union outnumber active Russian forces by 2-1. Any attempt to mobilize a greater conscript army would be impossible to conceal.
    1a) The 350,000 active duty personnel of the Russian Army have elven time zones of border to defend. They’d be extremely lucky to get 50% of their forces pointed at Europe.
    2) France’s strategic nuclear arsenal is more than sufficient to turn Russia’s population centers and military bases to slag.
    3) What is the attitude of the Russian people toward a war of conquest in Europe? Why are they assumed to be drones who will do with enthusiasm whatever Putin tells them to?
    4) It is NATO that has deployed conventional and nuclear forces on the Russian border. The Russian response to date cannot reasonably be called anything but defensive.

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  39. JohnMcC says:

    @Ben Wolf: That is all true and — God willing — irrelevant. Those ‘superior’ Euro-zone armies are in divided commands and would have the ‘advantage’ of fighting in their own neighborhoods for the obvious reason that Russia becomes amazingly bigger the further east one goes. The only place they would have an advantage from their numbers and more modern ordinance/equipment would be in the relative confined space of Central & Western Europe.

    The likelihood of a European alliance willing to sacrifice (say) Germany to become a battlezone is like very very small. There would be serious German objections.

    There would be no war. The Russians will/would take everything they can tear loose and creep away snarling.

  40. JohnSF says:

    @Ben Wolf:
    True, EuroNATO forces have a numerical advantage, and it’s front line units are better trained and equipped in general.
    True, mobilization and deployment would restrict Russian immediately available forces absent a prolonged pre-conflict crisis, which would also enable NATO to a response build up.
    True, French (and or UK) nuclear forces are sufficient to deter a nuclear attack against themselves.

    But the raw numbers of EuroNATO militaries overstates strength due to multiple national duplication of functions and small establishment inefficiencies, and above all due to the levels of neglect of equipment readiness and integrated training by Germany.

    Deployments and geographies could enable Russia to assert local conventional superiority in Baltics long enough to secure local victory, dig in secondary forces, and threaten local use of tactical nuclear weapons against a counter-attack.
    Even more likely areas of Russian activity than Baltics are Belarus (which we should avoid getting involved in) and Transdnistria (which we might not be able to).

    Unlikely, you might argue, and IMHO “tactical” nukes are a delusion: once the nukes come out “we all go together when we go”.
    But never mind my opinion: are we certain the Russians think that?
    Security is best served by removing any temptation/hope from a potential adversary at any level.

    As to the attitudes of the Russians, I think them no more fundamentally bellicose than any people. But the Russian government has been able to use propaganda re. ethic tensions, security, implied illegitimacy of insubordination of post-Soviet states vs Moscow, to obtain sufficient support for military adventures in Caucasia, Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine.
    Russian public opinion is a weak reed to rely on.

    It’s not a situation that requires massive force build ups, spending, or redeployments, or warrants paranoia.
    Just maintaining NATO as is, limited upgrades to East Europe capabilities, and Germany taking it’s military seriously for a change. will do fine.

    It is NATO that has deployed conventional and nuclear forces on the Russian border.

    Oh, come on.
    NATO has not deployed any nuclear capable missiles in Eastern Europe. Nor has it relocated the B-61 nuclear airstrike arsenals from prior locations.

    As to conventional forces you could say NATO “deployed” there when Eastern countries joined; but as far as non-local forces go, they amount to roughly a four battalion battlegroups in the Baltic States and Poland.
    If Russia regards those as a genuine threat you can paint me green and call me a gherkin.