The crisis in Ukraine has presented NATO with both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to reassure its nervous members and partners about their security while deterring further Russian military aggression. The opportunity is that the crisis may rescue the alliance from perceived irrelevancy after the end of its major role in the Afghanistan War this year and against the backdrop of the ongoing U.S. military focus on East Asia and the Middle East.
In a speech here in Washington yesterday at the Brookings Institution, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen termed Russia’s seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine a “wake-up call” for alliance and other European security institutions. “Developments in Ukraine are a stark reminder that security in Europe cannot be taken for granted,” he said.
NATO members have been trying to show that they have received this message. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Poland and the Baltic countries today to symbolize what President Barack Obama called yesterday “a solemn commitment to our collective defense.” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite expressed the opinion of many of her compatriots when she told reporters that, “Thanks be to God, we are NATO members.” Through the alliance, Poland and the Baltic states are covered by explicit defense guarantees, unlike Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, some of which have developed partnerships with the alliance.