Soldiers with the 173rd Airborne train near Osoppo, Italy, before a planned exercise in Slovenia

Soldiers with the 173rd Airborne train near Osoppo, Italy, before a planned exercise in Slovenia U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger

Poll: NATO Is Unprepared to Counter Russia

The NATO alliance isn't equipped to deter a newly aggressive Russia, according to the latest National Journal's National Security Insiders poll. By Sara Sorcher

A whopping three-quarters of National Journal's National Security Insiders said the NATO alliance is not prepared to counter a newly aggressive Russia, which has been conducting military exercises on Ukraine's border, sparking fears it may invade.

"NATO (except for its Eastern European members) bought the whole 'peace dividend' idea when the Berlin Wall fell. Everyone seems to have missed a renascent Russian military force that can cause quite a bit of difficulty even if the Russian state is in serious social and economic trouble," one Insider said. "This situation is a clear warning to NATO and the U.S. that they need to be able to handle a resurgent Russia while combating terrorism at the same time. The Pentagon clearly needs to rethink its force-shaping and budgetary plans for the next few years since [Russian Present Vladimir] Putin has already shown what he wants to do."

NATO has neither the will nor the capabilities to counter Russian moves in Ukraine, another Insider added. "The defense cuts of the post-Cold War era are having their effect, and in the foreign policy realm, decidedly not for the better." 

Years of European defense cuts, one Insider said, "resulting from postmodern Europe's decision to unilaterally disarm, have left NATO unprepared for a newly aggressive Kremlin. Only three European countries—the U.K., Estonia, and Greece—currently meet NATO's requirement of spending at least 2 percent of [gross domestic product] on defense. As former Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks has commented, 'Compared to what Russia has been building up on our borders, we are a demilitarized zone, and that will have to change.' " What's more, the U.S. has no serious military presence in Europe anymore, one Insider said, "and Putin knows it. Our deterrence is nonexistent."

A 26 percent faction disagreed, insisting the alliance is ready to counter Russia, albeit with some adjustments. "NATO will need to refresh their approach and member nations must spend the pledged 2 percent of GDP on defense," one Insider said, "or NATO should look to a collective funding approach for capabilities—pooling their money to buy airlift and [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] assets."

The U.S. is sending a relatively small contingent of 600 troops to four countries in Eastern Europe, but 70 percent of Insiders still said the U.S. should significantly increase U.S. or NATO troops, and military equipment, in countries bordering Russia. 

"The U.S. should return to Europe an Army Combat Brigade Team (4,000-5,000 soldiers, the Army's basic unit of maneuver warfare) and base it in Poland," one Insider said. "Same for a U.S. Air Force combat aircraft wing. In light of the forcible annexation of Crimea, NATO should put aside its earlier assurances to Russia and begin moving more Alliance military infrastructure eastward, to the territory of the newer members of NATO who are interested in having it. More NATO warships should patrol the Black Sea, to protect Ukrainian shipping and the port of Odessa from interference by Russia's Black Sea fleet."

One Insider said troops and equipment should deploy "only in NATO member states"—and recognize their limitations. "Even here it's important to realize that deterrence sometimes fails—remember the 'red line' on Syrian chemical-weapons use?" the Insider said. "Troop movements meant to deter Russia risk dragging the U.S. into war if our signals aren't read the way we intend. Saber rattling is sometimes necessary but always dangerous, and should be kept to the necessary minimum."

A vocal 30 percent faction disagreed on bolstering troops and equipment in the region. "All this will do is cost us money and resources we don't have to deploy and reposition troops and equipment."

Exercises and smaller, temporary deployments of U.S. personnel in NATO member states in Eastern Europe, another Insider said, "should be sufficient to reassure our allies and send a signal to Russia."

1. Is NATO prepared to counter a newly aggressive Russia?

(65 votes)

  • No 74%
  • Yes 26%


"NATO is not prepared to do this in a military sense, but it better be prepared to do so in a political and economic sense. The net effect of Russia's actions should be to breathe new life into the alliance."

"One need only look to Bob Gates's remarks prior to leaving office (not to mention European defense budgets) to know that ... NATO is far from a truly ready force."

"The use of the military instrument of national power is unrealistic by NATO or any partner country, as no NATO nations have the political will to stand up to Putin."

"NATO's 2010 strategic concept, which speaks of Russia as a partner, must be revised to address Russia also as an adversary. This change ought to be widely discussed in the alliance, to build support for it. Planning revisions should follow. NATO ought to do more exercises and training aimed at countering Russian paramilitary and conventional military threats."

"U.S. leadership is critical for any NATO activities to happen."

"Western Europe has been naive. To be in a position where they're totally dependent Russia for energy, weakened military, and moved more in that direction in the last few years, crazy."

"The U.S. has announced that there will be no boots on the ground to confront Russia, while Europe's cold feet will not fill those boots either."

"Not yet, but it needs to be led there by the U.S." 

"The aggressiveness exists in areas where a NATO commitment neither exists nor would be plausible."

"European defense spending has been inadequate, by the measures European partners have set for themselves."

"Not without bold American leadership." 

"Just look at the defense-budget plans of most NATO members. The peace dividend has come to an end, if there ever was such a thing. NATO needs to stop relying on Russia's stated intentions and more on its existing/emerging capabilities in planning alliance strategies."

"The intellectual inertia of the alliance is very strong."

"The question is a joke. NATO and the West have virtually dismantled while 'the East' is arming at a fast clip. This is not a new trend but one underway for years now."

"NATO couldn't even maintain operations in Libya without our help and without us replenishing their stockpiles of missiles and ammunition."

"It remains up to Germany. If they decide to make a show of countering the Russians, the rest of NATO comes along. So far, they have not and neither will NATO."

"The Europeans tend to think fighting major-power wars in Europe is a bad thing. I'd call this progress, actually."


"But it may well have to reorient its focus toward Europe and reinvest in defense capabilities."

"At some point, Putin's cost-benefit balance is going to restrain him."

"The Russian special forces are pretty good; the core military is neither good nor likely to be used in a aggressive manner."

"A united NATO can counter Russia if all elements of power are employed. Military response should be available but used only as a tool of last resort."

"We must see our role as deterrent as we did against the USSR."

"I think generally, yes. But we don't know their pain points, which we should assume to be low. That is they will have a low tolerance for political pain, domestically and internationally."

"Real issue is energy dependence and they could really help by challenging how their collective economy could affect Russia's."

"But depends very much on how much is required and where."

2. Should the U.S. significantly increase the presence of U.S. or NATO troops—and military equipment—in countries bordering Russia?

(65 votes) 

  • Yes 70%
  • No 30 %


"The U.S. needs to reassure our allies that the NATO Article V guarantee is meaningful. They are looking for such reassurance, and will draw their own conclusions if Washington offers nothing but empty rhetoric."

"NATO should activate the NATO Response Force which could provide 15,000 trained and ready troops to show some backbone."

"There should be a better, NATO-wide option, but absent U.S. action, the core of NATO might find it hard to take any action at all."

"At the same time NATO must tell Russia that Article 5 of the NATO treaty will apply. We should not have expanded NATO as much as we did but now we are 'stuck' with the result."

"We should not just consider bordering countries but forward deployment maritime forces in the Eastern Med and Black Sea. The challenge is what kind of forces or troops. NATO needs to step up and we need to be part of what 'package' gets put together."

"Sending company-size forces to each of four countries is risible. Putin must be amused. Why not instead deploy to the Baltic and Poland battalion-sized elements of one or both of the two Europe-based Army brigades that were recently deactivated? Now that would get the Kremlin's attention."

"But faint hope."

"Yes. And in packets larger than 150 per country."

"Care should be taken not to present a provoking posture but it should signal NATO preparedness and unity. Training exercises in Poland would be useful and perhaps public consideration given to moving the CMTC to Poland."

"If we want Russians to ask why Putin has gotten them so isolated, they have to BE isolated."

"Yes, on a rotational basis."

"We should both increase permanently stationed forces and revive large-scale exercises—at least a division—on a four-year cycle. REFORGER II."

"Absolutely. The only way to counter what Putin is doing in Ukraine is to make him think that if he goes one step further he just could risk a greater confrontation with the West than even he might be willing to engage in. Deploying just 600 troops won't cut it. Need to put at least a brigade in there, with a Fighter Squadron or two. Plus, both Poland and the Czech Republic should receive the Missile Defense Shield they had been promised under the Bush administration. Now it's all about the symbolism ... and there is no greater symbolism than a genuine show of force."

"Yes, but with enough force to actually make a difference in Russian calculations. A company of infantry is a laughably small number. Better to position a brigade combat team in Poland—and make it a permanent presence."

"Of course. Russia is closing off markets, looking to unravel democracy, and using anti-U.S. propaganda as a weapon. Questions?"

"Not just the U.S. but all of NATO. This is as much about the future viability of NATO as it is about Russian aggression."

"We need to show Putin there is a cost for what he is doing. We also need to show the oligarchs that support Putin that he is dangerous to their interests and should be removed. A show of military strength would help that along. Greater personalized financial sanctions would really drive it home."

"Focus should be on NATO member states with highly visible exercises with U.S. forces air superiority out in front. Separately, bilateral exchanges by NATO member-state security services should take place both with NATO member states and allies to counter Russian intelligence operations and black ops."

"Russian claims of NATO provocation are already widespread, so why wouldn't we at least show a concrete willingness to support our friends and treaty-bound allies?"


"Given that the US does not have an interest in fighting Russia over countries bordering Russia, no. The U.S. should have exited NATO once it achieved its stated anti-Russian objective and left European security to the Europeans."

"Not yet."

"Only in NATO member states. It is provocative in other states; the problem is a 400-year old Russian paranoia about its near abroad."

"The U.S. and NATO should be planning and preparing for the possibility of deployments but should not deploy unless intelligence indicates Russia plans to move against those countries."

"No, we should work on getting German, Dutch, Spanish, etc. troops to rotate in behind the U.S. troops. This is an alliance with an Article V guarantee, not the U.S. as lone ranger."

"Just what sort of war do we have in mind?"

"The focus is and should be on the economic cost to Russia of bad choices."