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The Way to Contain NATO in Europe Is to Deter America at Home

"American policy-makers can be sane, if not particularly smart, when it comes to their own survival and well-being."

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The author is a professor at the Moscow Higher School of Economics.

The outcomes of the Warsaw NATO Summit, held in a "bunker" format against a background of excessive safety measures that looked ridiculous against the background of real shooting in Dallas, take military tension between Russia and NATO to a whole new level.  

<figcaption>A deterrence from Russia's east, threatening America, may make more sense than deterrence focused on the hapless Europeans</figcaption>
A deterrence from Russia's east, threatening America, may make more sense than deterrence focused on the hapless Europeans

This situation must not be ignored, given that it is likely to be followed by others. No one should be deceived either by ritual olive branches, nor the relatively small means that NATO has set on "the scales of confrontation" so far.

We are living in a new reality, and it’s a good thing that it has approached our frontiers in such a clear and transparent way. It would be much worse if it crawled toward us like in 2005-2013, accompanied by discussions about responsible partnership. We need to treat this new reality calmly and rationally, even if it means ignoring German tanks bearing crosses.  

A rational reaction to the situation dictates that we minimize destabilizing actions on the European continent. Europe, which was a decent and respectful place with its laid-back burghers, has turned into a haystack that everyone is torching.

Russian participation in this process would be excessive and untimely.

Of course, the actions of NATO require a response, and increasing military potential at our boundaries needs needs to be deterred. But we have to choose the right object of deterrence.

There is no need for a serious build-up at the contact line with NATO in Europe, which would play to the main purveyors of anti-Russian irrationality. Russia doesn’t need to deter Estonia, Lithuania, or even Poland, not to mention Latvia, which  mass emigration has turned into a desert.

There are only two proper objects of deterrence in Europe, or more correctly, one and a half: the US and Germany, the latter to the extent that it makes independent foreign policy decisions, i.e. to a very small extent.  

To deter NATO we need to first of all to deter the US. And I don’t mean deterring it in Europe with a conventional arms buildup. If American policy-makers understand the inevitability of the conflict coming home in one form or another, this will suffice to limit "military games" in Europe to propaganda and periodic military demonstrations.

American policy-makers can be sane, if not particularly smart, when it comes to their own survival and well-being. And they can find the necessary arguments to persuade even most Russophobic European politicians to "dampen their ardor". Fortunately, the US knows which "buttons" they need to press. And they do it without ceremony, especially when it comes to Angela Merkel.

The military buildup in Europe is unfortunate but tolerable, provided that we maintain informational hygiene and take moderate defense precautions, given that politically, time is on the Russian side. NATO is trying to provoke Russia to act, which would be counter to our interests.  Russia’s deterrent should not be in Europe.

Russia has considerable experience with US asymmetric deterrence. If we look at the archives from the 1940’s to the early 1970’s – the period before military and strategic parity between the US and the USSR, we find ideas relevant today. For example, in response to the reinforcement of its "eastern" flank by NATO, Russia would reinforce the "eastern" (Kamchatka) flank of its defense perimeter, as the USSR did in the late 1940’s- early 1950’s. Instead of building up the confrontation around the uncomfortable "Baltic balcony", pointless from the geopolitical point of view, we could build a Kamchatka loggia as an extra deterrent. It worked back then, so it will work now, even considering changed military and technical capabilities.

By the way, this would give an impetus to the development of this area, that is important for Russia.  And it’s not the only "asymmetric" option for NATO deterrence.

Russia’s focusing on deterring the US, and to certain extent Germany, limited to stationary defense and support of strategic stability in Europe (force deployments for precise neutralization of the US missile defense system), would show the European countries where the threats to peace are coming from. Because notwithstanding anti-Russian propaganda, the Old World is facing real security challenges – terrorism, migration, cross-border criminality and ethnic instability. Today’s-Europe does not have many resources to spend on propaganda fetishes.

Russia needs to have a dialogue with Europe; unfortunately, a rather mournful dialogue. Not with the politicians, who are almost completely dependent on Washington, but with European public opinion. We don’t need to prove that Russia is good for them. We need to let European citizens know that falling for Russophobia could come at a cost for every European, and that policy is too serious to trust to politicians.

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