I spent today at a workshop on NATO and Canada after the Warsaw Summit at the Universitế de Montrếal. The star of the day was General Denis Mercier, SACT--the head of NATO's Transformation Command. I was brought in at the last minute as one of the planned speakers got invited to go the Halifax International Forum (yes, I am still a bridesmaid for that venue).
Did I talk about NATO after Warsaw? A bit, but mostly I talked about NATO in the Age of Trump. I scared the crowd with my dark assessment--that Trump creates uncertainty, and uncertainty is deadly for alliances. Good times.
In the course of the day, I was reminded of something I sort of knew but had not thought about: that the Baltic persistent presence mission--NATO sending four thousand troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland--does not really start until this spring/summer. Oh my. This means that Putin would have at least four or more months between Trump taking office and the arrival of a force that would make faits accompli much harder. WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY. And Putin is nothing if not an opportunist.
So, I have recommendations for UK/Germany/Canada and for Obama. For the former, they should accelerate their deployments so that they get some troops on the ground before Trump becomes President. The tripwire should be erected before Trump becomes President, to make it harder for Putin to do something especially aggressive.
For Obama? The same advice but with FAR MORE EMPHASIS. Why? Because if American troops are deployed in the next two months (and, yes, the armed forces should be able to do that despite whatever complications there might be), Trump would have to make a very visible effort to yank those troops home. He could do that, but it would be costly, perhaps not too costly, but more costly than the alternative. What is that? Saying that the US will deploy troops but delaying and deferring and basically saying that the US troops will arrive in East Europe about the same time that Trump releases his tax returns. Acting is far more visible than not acting, so Obama's going away gift for the alliance would be to tie Trump's hands just a bit. Yes, Trump could break the binding, but it would get noticed.
So, please, Mr. President, for the sake of European (and global) peace and stability, move a very small portion of the US armed forces to Poland and elsewhere in the Baltics. It will be of modest cost now, kind of like most vaccines--an ounce of prevention is far cheaper than a pound of cure.