With a promise of $1 billion to Eastern European nations yesterday, President Obama has solidified a new strategy for America’s defense in which money, not troops, is the true sign of the Pentagon’s firepower.
The $1 billion gift to shore up defense capabilities in eastern European NATO members and Ukraine is meant to reassure European allies that the continent was still a priority for American defense. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its meddling in Ukrainian politics has raised fears that the NATO alliance, once the cornerstone of the American defense strategy, was no longer a sufficient counterweight to Russian aggression.
“Poles know better than most how precious freedom is,” Obama said after landing in Poland. “Further provocation will be met by further cost for Russia.”
“The United States is proud to bear its share of the defense of the transatlantic alliance," Obama added later "It is the cornerstone of our security."
However, the way that DOD is protecting its NATO allies is changing. During the Cold War, hundreds of thousands of troops were stationed in Europe, ready to stop a Russian invasion. Now, the Pentagon is removing all but a few thousand troops and dismantling the vast majority of the American defense infrastructure there.
American troops aren’t going back to Europe, despite the new threat posed by Russia. Instead, the Pentagon is investing money into improving the militaries of its allies. American troops are only likely to get involved if a true war were to break out between Russia and NATO members.
Obama has launched a similar strategy in Africa, where the threat of Islamic extremism is growing. The president has ordered limited Special Forces strikes and drones are flying over certain parts of the continent. However, there are few scenarios that would compel the White House to send a large, traditional force.
Instead, Obama has created a $5 billion fund to help African nations build capabilities against groups like Boko Haram, the Nigerian extremists who kidnapped some 200 schoolgirls recently. DOD officials will be there to advise, train and offer information, but they won’t be there to fight.
Part of this change of strategy is a reflection of DOD’s shrinking budget. Some $600 billion is expected to be reduced from DOD’s budget over the next decade. Fighting a traditional large war is no longer economically feasible.
It’s also a reflection of the president’s worldview, one that puts economic pressure ahead of military threats. This is the strategy he’s using in Ukraine, and for now, it seems to be working; Russian troops have pulled back from the Ukrainian border.
Finally, the kind of investments that Obama is making in Europe and Africa reflect the public’s war weariness. The money the president is spending allows the Pentagon to influence outcomes without putting American lives at risk.
Whether this strategy will be used elsewhere -- in Southeast Asia as a counter to China, for instance -- remains to be seen. But in Europe and Africa, the president is betting that money, not American troops, are enough to keep American enemies at bay.
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