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Tallinn speech“I say to the people of Estonia and the people of the Baltics, today we are bound by our treaty alliance.…Article 5 is crystal clear: An attack on one is an attack on all. So if…you ever ask again, ‘who’ll come to help,’ you’ll know the answer—the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America.”

That was Barack Obama in Tallinn, Estonia, last week, reissuing a U.S. war guarantee to the tiniest of the Baltic republics—which his Cold War predecessors would have regarded as certifiable madness.

From 1945 to 1989, no president would have dreamed of issuing a blank check for war in Eastern Europe. Our red line was in the heart of Germany. It said to Moscow: Cross the Elbe, and we fight.

That red line was made credible by hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops permanently stationed in West Germany.

Yet Truman did not use force to break the Berlin Blockade. Ike did not use force to save the Hungarian rebels. JFK fulminated, and observed, when the Wall went up. When Leonid Brezhnev sent Warsaw Pact armies into Czechoslovakia, LBJ did nothing.

Why did these presidents not act? None believed there was any vital U.S. interest in Eastern Europe worth a war with Russia.

And, truth be told, there was no vital interest there then, and there is no vital interest there now. If we would not risk war with a nuclear-armed Russia over Hungary or Czechoslovakia half a century ago, why would we risk it now over Estonia?

Cold War presidents routinely issued captive nations resolutions, declaring our belief in the right of the peoples behind the Iron Curtain to be free. But no president regarded their liberation worthy of war.

What has changed?

When did the independence of the Baltic republics, miraculous and welcome as it is, become so critical to us that if Russia intrudes into Estonia, we will treat it as an attack on our homeland?

In 1994, George Kennan called the expansion of NATO into the old Soviet bloc “a strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.”

NATOYet we not only brought into NATO all the Warsaw Pact nations, George W. Bush brought in the Baltic republics.

To see the folly of what we have done, consider Ukraine, which has been involved in a military and political collision with Russia ever since we colluded in the overthrow of its pro-Russian regime.

As neocons cheered the ouster of the corrupt and incompetent, but democratically elected, Viktor Yanukovych, Vladimir Putin moved to secure and annex Crimea, and pro-Russian separatists sought to break away from Kiev and achieve independence or reunification with Russia.

A question arises: Why do not the pro-Russian separatists of Donetsk and Luhansk have the same right to secede from Ukraine, as Ukraine had to secede from the Soviet Union?

And why is this quarrel any of America’s business? Was it the business of Czar Alexander II when the 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and, then, West Virginia seceded from Virginia?

Under the new government of Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine sent its forces to the southeast to crush the separatists.

They failed. Rising casualties and a separatist drive on the city of Mariupol have apparently persuaded Kiev to seek a ceasefire and peace.

Needless to say, those who celebrated the overthrow of the pro-Russian regime in Kiev are now apoplectic at Kiev’s apparent defeat.

Yet, on Sept. 5, the New York Times wrote, “The Americans have no illusion that Ukraine could ever prevail in a war with Russia.”

That is realism. But if Ukraine’s cause is militarily hopeless, what would be Estonia’s chances in a clash with Moscow? Estonia has three percent of Ukraine’s population and is less than one-tenth its size. If Moscow decided to take Estonia, it could do so in 48 hours.

And should Putin engage in so rash an act, what would NATO do?

Would 28 NATO nations declare war and send troops? Would the United States declare war on Russia and conduct air strikes on Russian forces inside and outside Estonia?

Would we send aircraft carriers into the Baltic Sea? Would we start a war with Russia that could lead to early use of tactical atomic weapons, devastating Estonia and causing massive deaths?

How would NATO save Estonia without destroying Estonia?

To eliminate second thoughts about our war guarantee to Estonia, some in Washington are calling for permanent U.S. bases and the stationing of U.S. troops in the Baltic states, so that any Russian incursion would lead to U.S. casualties and a definite clash with Russia.

Presumably this threat would deter Russia in perpetuity.

But if it doesn’t deter Putin, or if a future Russian ruler regards it as a bluff and chastises Estonia, what do we do then? Put the B-2s on alert and go to DEFCON-2, as we did in the Cuban missile crisis?

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission of Pat Buchanan.

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2 replies to this post
  1. What President Obama forgot to mention were the specific conditions of NATO aid. Here they are for Poland:

    In order to recieve NATO support if invaded, Poland must:

    a) defend itself alone for six weeks
    b) defend airfields for NATO aircraft to land on

    It takes about 1-2 days to get to Poland’s Swinoujscie from Russia, traveling by tank. 6 weeks is unrealistic.

    The point: these war guarantees are an elaborate fiction which serve to make of small Eastern European democracies proxies to irritate Russia on order from the West.

    The situation is win-win:

    The little nations will pester Russia, bogging her down in regional crisis – a win for America

    The little nations will trigger a larger war with Russia, causing mass damage and mass political unrest, possibly revolution in Russia – America and Germany will not intervene, will come to terms with a weakened Moscow which will be too busy trying to survive to bother the USA in the middle east. Germany and Russia wil divide the area into spheres on influence.

    Pat is right (as usual), but he fails to go one step further: the war guarantees now, as in 1939, are not given thoughtlessly, but to aggravate a regional conflict – you move your pawns to annoy the enemy, knowing full well they’ll die, with no intention of ever rescuing them from death.

    Like the Poles from Kresy fighting on behalf of the British who committed mass suicide upon learning of Churchill’s betrayal of their families, many in Eastern Europe are again blind to geopolitics and ready to fight for someone else in the naive belief that anyone cares about them. They will later commit mass suicide.

  2. “there is no vital interest there now.” I would argue that Mr Buchanan is wrong here. While it was certainly true those 50 years ago, the situation is quite different now. Even though still dominant, America is in decline, and its domination would be further threatened if Europe, Russia and China managed to build a significant economic structure binding them together. Driving a wedge between them can certainly be perceived as vital if you want to maintain your economic and military supremacy.

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