Some 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO’s role as a stabilizing force is still necessary and should not be marginalized as the White House searches for new ways to court Moscow.
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by Congressman Mike Turner

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Founded in 1949 to provide for the collective security of the free nations of Europe, as well as the U.S. and Canada, the alliance helped keep the peace during the Cold War. Some 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO’s role as a stabilizing force is still necessary and should not be marginalized as the White House searches for new ways to court Moscow.

As the Obama Administration seeks to “reset” U.S. relations with Russia, many of our European allies, including new and aspirant NATO countries, are concerned about giving too many concessions to the Russian government. Not surprisingly, those nations expressing the greatest apprehension are the former Soviet satellite states that know Russian behavior best.

The Obama Administration made clear its desire to “reset” relations with Russia during its first summit with the former Cold War adversary in Moscow in July. The Administration’s new policy is focused on engagement with Russian leaders. While there is certainly hope that Russia would support coalition efforts to root out al Qaeda in Afghanistan, persuade Iran to drop its nuclear weapons program, and pursue further nuclear arms reductions, the Administration appears too willing to sacrifice our own security in its rush to break new diplomatic ground with Russia.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev recently reminded Mr. Obama of his pledge to forge a new nuclear arms control agreement with Russia by the end of the year. Depending upon how it’s crafted, the new agreement to replace the expiring 1991 “START” treaty, along with the Administration’s broader concessions to the Russians, could have the potential to undermine the security of NATO countries, including the United States.

Believing that a sustained U.S. commitment to NATO is beneficial on both sides of the Atlantic, I co-introduced a bill earlier this year with Congressman Jim Marshall, D-Georgia entitled, “The NATO First Act.” This bill seeks to bolster common defenses, protect the U.S. homeland, and strengthen an alliance that has ensured peace and stability in Europe for over 60 years.

The House-passed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010 contains six of the eight provisions contained in the NATO First Act. These include maintaining the current U.S. military force presence in Europe, and establishing a NATO special operations center to increase coordination among NATO countries’ Special Forces operating in such places as Afghanistan.

Furthermore, it limits nuclear arms reduction treaties with Russia to nuclear weapons only, and seeks to ensure that the Administration does not trade away U.S. missile defenses, space, or advanced conventional weapons capabilities. These important conventional capabilities continue to remain vital to our military forces and the defense of the American people and our allies, and should not be collateral for U.S. negotiators to trade away to persuade Russia to reduce its nuclear forces.

Equally important, the defense bill language expresses support for a Europe-based missile defense system to protect our allies from rogue missile attack from countries like as Iran. Russia is opposed to such a system, which includes a radar station in the Czech Republic and a short-range air and missile defense battery in Poland, and is continuing to push the United States to abandon support for it.

As Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, I have advocated for adequate missile defense systems to protect both the United States and Europe from ballistic missiles fired in anger, by accident, or used for coercion. However, the Obama Administration has reduced homeland anti-ballistic missile funding by $1.2 billion this year. And in the face of strong Russian opposition to the European missile defense system, the Administration has indicated a willingness to turn away from it.

As the President presses ahead with his Russia policy, it is vital that Congress stand up for America’s strategic security interests in Europe and at home. The “NATO First” provisions of the 2010 Defense Authorization Act are an important first step and must be adopted.