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Op-Ed: Rep. Cook: US should remain an active partner of NATO to ensure global stability

Staff Sgt. Dana Fernkas, 756th Air Refueling Squadron, refuels a Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 during the 2011 Northern Viking exercise here June 7. Northern Viking tests the capabilities of Iceland and the country's NATO allies. (U.S. Air Force photo released/Tech. Sgt. Steve Lewis)
December 14, 2017

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remains a critical military organization for the safety and stability of Europe and the North Atlantic Region. It was created 68 years ago to protect the smaller European countries from the threat of a large Soviet adversary to their East. Though the threats and missions have shifted over the years, and some countries’ commitments to the organization have wavered, Europe is now back to having a large, unpredictable Russian threat. I believe NATO is essential to global stability, and as long as all NATO countries fulfill their treaty responsibilities, it’s in our best interest to remain an active partner.

The Russian threat is real and has grown over the last few years. Russia’s 2008 war with the country of Georgia, its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and its involvement in Eastern Ukraine, show that the Russians have a willingness to use force to expand their influence. They continue to fly military aircraft in and around NATO airspace and NATO assets, including several unsafe flights near Navy ships and aircraft. Russia also recently completed one of their largest military exercises, Zapad 2017, that experts say show a focus on defeating NATO and was intended to sew doubt and insecurity in its regional neighbors.  

Russia’s most egregious actions were those against Georgia and Ukraine, but it should be noted that none of these areas were under NATO’s protection. As a whole, NATO presents a deterrent through strength that Russia has not challenged militarily. This is critical for small NATO countries like Lithuania, who has a military budget smaller than Georgia’s and has been the victim of cyber-attacks from Russia; inconveniently located between Greater Russia and the dislocated Russian port city of Kaliningrad. Without NATO, the risk to small countries is much higher, increasing the overall risk of global instability as larger countries could be pulled into the conflict.

Membership in NATO provides important security for member countries, but it does not relieve countries from the responsibility of maintaining a capable military at agreed upon levels. In the past, there have been significant differences between contributions of member countries, with some countries not meeting expectations for this collective security agreement. But the growing Russian threat and increased pressure from the new US administration has begun to reverse that trend. NATO countries are showing progress towards reaching the previous goal of spending 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on their military.     

NATO needs to continue reforming, but I believe the value of a strong deterrent force in Europe is worthy of US participation. I served as a Marine in a time period when we understood the threat of an unchecked Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the fall of the Berlin Wall did not permanently end the threat of an aggressive, destabilizing Russia, so I see a very similar threat now as I did then. A strong NATO that includes proportional support by all its members will remain a necessity for the near future to ensure a more stable Europe and world.

Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) represents California’s 8th Congressional District and currently serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He served in the United States Marine Corps for 26 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor.

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