WASHINGTON— The crisis in eastern Ukraine has forced NATO for the first time since the collapse of the Berlin Wall to increase its ability to defend the territorial integrity of its 28-member states.
The measures taken include sending 600 American troops for military exercises in the Baltic States and Poland.
In addition, the United States has dispatched 12 F-16 fighter jets to Poland. Washington has also approved an aid package for Ukraine which includes $8 million dollars in non-lethal supplies such as bomb detection equipment and hand-held radios.
It comes as part of reaction from the West to Russian backing of the annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists spreading mayhem in eastern Ukraine.
NATO measures not enough
But Stephen Blank, Russia expert with the American Foreign Policy Council, said the NATO measures are not enough.
“I don’t think it sends much of a message at all. It’s a reassurance message for the Poles and the Baltic States. It does not deter [Russian President Vladimir] Putin at all,” Blank said. “What would deter Putin is if NATO sent ground and air forces and air defenses to Ukraine at the request of the Ukrainian government. That would register in Moscow, but they are not going to do that.”
Ian Brzezinski, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, said there are several other steps NATO can take to help Ukraine.
“These would include first and foremost providing military assistance to the Ukrainians that goes beyond non-lethal assistance,” he said. “I would include anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, things that would really complicate Russian military operations in Ukraine.”
“Second, I would encourage the West, ideally NATO, but perhaps a coalition of European and North American countries, to deploy intelligence assets - platforms, ISR platforms - intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance platforms in Ukraine and trainers,” Brzezinski said.
NATO's collective defense policy
NATO’s 28-members are committed to the notion of “collective defense,” contained in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.
But Ohio Wesleyan University Russia expert Sean Kay, said Article 5 is not an automatic security guarantee.
“If you look carefully at Article 5, it says that an attack on one will be considered as if it’s an attack on all and that the allies will meet and consult on the appropriate response, including military,” he said. “The way that was made automatic during the Cold War, was through the forward deployment of major U.S. troops at the inner-German border. Today, our policy is one of reinforcement and symbolic forward presence, now with those rotational exercises [in the Baltic States and Poland].”
Kay said he does not believe the Western alliance will deploy a huge number of troops in NATO-member east European countries, even if the crisis between Ukraine and Russia intensifies.
“We would have to be very careful about that, because we might think even if the United States wants to do that, we would not get consensus among the NATO allies for something like that,” Kay said. “And we have to do that in a way that keeps that consensus going too, because NATO could break apart politically if pushed too hard on that question."
Ukraine crisis not yet Cold War
Charles Kupchan, with Georgetown University, said by annexing Crimea and attempting to destabilize eastern Ukraine, Russia has bared its teeth in a way that it has not done since the Cold War era.
“Many people are now saying we now need to deal with Russia with both eyes wide open. We need now to take out of the closet NATO’s plans for defense of its eastern frontier,” he said. “We need to contemplate a set of political and economic steps for response should Putin go into eastern Ukraine and continue to stir up trouble.”
Kupchan said the current crisis falls short of a new Cold War, but he said it does have the potential to go in a worrisome direction, depending on the Kremlin’s next moves.