The deliverables from the NATO summit are major steps toward countering the twin threats of ISIS and Putinism.
President Obama's opponents have cynically treated these challenges as political footballs, sweeping them into their relentless narrative of a weak, vacillating and dangerous president and a feckless NATO. But NATO's leaders impressively rallied around the administration's plans, approving a sweeping series of actions that should -- but probably won't -- quiet the critics.
NATO was taken off guard by Russia's aggression in Ukraine. It didn't have a strategic or political framework to deal with Putin's covert war. Mired in recessions, elections and politics, the EU and NATO had struggled to assemble a coherent response to Russian aggression.
This partially explains why Putin has been able to play a bad hand as well as he has. But his advantage may now be eroding. Russia's military capabilities are formidable on its borders, but weaken quickly with any distance. They cannot stand up to a determined NATO. As President Obama made clear in Estonia and the summit's action's reaffirmed, an attack on one -- even a small, vulnerable, peripheral Baltic state just admitted to the alliance -- is an attack on all.
When NATO's 28 members are united, they are a military and political force without peer on the planet. Russia's alliance of one is no match.
What NATO needed out of this summit was a plan that effectively arrested the narrative that the organization was weak, ineffective and leaderless and began to move real assets into the field. That is now done. The quiet, behind-the-scenes work by Obama has yielded concrete results.
The accomplishments of the last two days should put to rest any question about the direction NATO is heading.New security support for Ukraine
- NATO has renewed its commitment to maintaining the sovereignty of Ukraine, but has rejected calls to admit it into the alliance on a fast-track schedule. Though NATO will not provide direct military support as a block, its members have agreed on a strategy for funneling lethal and nonlethal aid to President Petro Poroshenko's besieged government.
- NATO's members have agreed to establish a 4,000-person rapid response force, capable of deploying anywhere within the alliance on 48 hours notice. This would allow NATO to respond to the destabilizing actions of non-state actors or paramilitary forces that threaten the collective security of the alliance.
- This move is a significant road-block to Russia's plans to modernize their navy. Acquiring the Mistral ships would have been a huge boost to Russia's naval capabilities, and could have provided them with the technology to eventually develop new aircraft carriers.
- A new package of sanctions agreed to at the summit targets Russian state-owned financial, defense and energy companies. Russia will lose significant access to European debt markets and face limitations on the sale of aerospace and communications technology with dual civilian/military uses.
- Europe no longer has to worry about Soviet tanks surging through the Fulda Gap, but the threat of Russian hackers pouring through gaps in computer networks is real and growing. By making cyber-security part of it's core mission, NATO has taken another step towards addressing the threats of the 21st century.
- An alliance of 10 NATO members has emerged to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat the Islamic State. Although the 10-nation bloc played down the prospect of imminent military action, they have laid the groundwork for material support to Kurdish fighters, training for Iraqi security forces and sharing intelligence about the Islamic State.
Equally important, NATO did not do anything stupid. Calls for a military solution in Ukraine aren't just simplistic, they're outright dangerous. Initiating a full-scale war with a nuclear-armed Russia is something no one should want, and NATO leaders should be commended for their levelheadedness.
The accomplishments of the NATO summit are real, and they represent significant steps in the right direction. Obama's patient approach of building the necessary alliances before announcing a comprehensive strategy looks more impressive after the summit than before.
Well done, NATO.