“Peace through strength” — Ronald Reagan’s mantra that enabled the Great Communicator to oversee the collapse of the Soviet Union — appears no longer to be an option for the United States. As Russia flexes its international muscles, the U.S. — particularly under Obama — has weakened its military, while NATO partners remain less secure and reliable than ever, financially burdened by unsustainable social programs and the refugee crisis, along with the threat of Islamic terrorism.
But it is under these conditions, that — for the first time since the fall of the former Soviet empire — the Pentagon is said to be reviewing and updating its contingency plans for armed conflict with Russia.
While the U.S. Department of Defense updates myriad “what if” plans continuously, those scenarios are also ranked and worked on according to priority and probability. And it’s been a long time since Russia has been on the Pentagon’s current radar. After the break-up of the old U.S.S.R., Russia became increasingly friendly toward the West — at least seemingly so — and partnered with the U.S. and its allies on a range of issues.
That’s all changing as the risk of Russia encroaching on NATO allies becomes more of a reality since its 2014 annexation of Crimea in eastern Ukraine. Said one senior defense official:
“Given the security environment, given the actions of Russia, it has become apparent that we need to make sure to update the plans that we have in response to any potential aggression against any NATO allies.”
The new plans reportedly have two tracks, one of which focuses on what the U.S. can do as part of NATO if Russia attacks a NATO member state. The other considers unilateral American military action. Both versions of the updated plans focus on Moscow’s incursions into the Baltics, widely seen as the most likely front for more serious Russian aggression.
After Russia’s 2008 war with neighboring Georgia, NATO slightly modified its plans regarding Russia, but the Pentagon reportedly did not. At the time, the focus in the U.S. was on terrorism and China. Then came the Obama administration’s reset of relations with Russia — supposedly engineered by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — in which the country was considered neither a danger nor a priority.
In June 2014, the Air Force asked David Ochmanek, a just-retired defense official, to run a thought exercise called a “table top” — a sort of war game between two teams — the red team (Russia) and the blue team (NATO). “Our question was: Would NATO be able to defend the Baltics?” Ochmanek recalls.
Due to recent reductions in the defense budgets of NATO member countries and American pullback from the region, Ochmanek says the blue team was outnumbered 2-to-1 in terms of manpower, even if all the U.S. and NATO troops stationed in Europe were dispatched to the Baltics. Ochmanek explained: