WASHINGTON – While in Germany to participate in a meeting dealing with upgrading NATO’s defenses, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the following about relations with Russia: “We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia. We do not seek to make Russia an enemy…But make no mistake: we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us all.”
Why say this?
What is the problem with this statement? The problem is that it should not have been made. The whole world, starting with the Russians, should know extremely well that America will defend its allies. Washington must do this on the basis of the NATO Treaty that was signed on April 4, 1949 and that is still in full force.
The Treaty does not contemplate exceptions. All NATO members must intervene to defend any other signatory who is under attack. This is a binding agreement. America has never publicly questioned it.
Redundant statements invite questions
Then why restate the obvious? How would you like the US President stating publicly: “Make no mistake, in case you were wondering, I shall defend the Constitution”. Or imagine the FBI Director stating in a public forum: “Make no mistake, we shall pursue all individuals whom we believe have committed federal crimes”.
Such statements would sound odd. Wouldn’t they? They would invite questions. They would make many feel uneasy. “Why is he saying this? How could anybody possibly question such a fundamental committment?”
There should be no doubt
Well, the same should apply to the US and its obligations stemming from the NATO Treaty, the critical security arrangement that binds America to Europe. However, If the US Secretary of Defense feels the need to restate that NATO obligations are alive and well, it means that he understands that some actually doubt the strength of America’s committment to European security. It means that in some quarters –and that may include Moscow– some are contemplating scenarios in which America may not intervene to defend its allies.
Would America act, in all circumstances?
Imagine a major cyber security attack against a small NATO state that would impair its economy. Imagine covert support to ethnic Russians in Estonia directed and funded by Moscow. This could be a form of attack that is however not “an invasion”. What would America do?
Again, if the US Secretary of Defense feels compelled to state what should be obvious to all –America shall defend its allies– then he is concerned that this supposedly clear committment is not that clear anymore.
And this is alarming.