During the Cold War, we learned that peace only comes through strength.
The malaise and military decline of the post-Vietnam years under President Jimmy Carter set the stage for Russian aggression abroad and uncertainty among our allies. President Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and ended the threat of Russian domination of eastern Europe for a quarter century through a policy of military strength at home and resolute leadership abroad. Tragically, the Obama Administration has ignored this history and through its policies of military cuts at home and abandonment of allies abroad, set the stage for Russia’s current invasion of Crimea.
America has spent the last decade at war, and the American people are tired of conflict abroad. There is no military solution that will reverse the Russian conquest of Crimea, but there are steps we can take to prevent further aggression. The Obama Administration’s extremely limited sanctioning of less than two dozen Russian officials and offering of rations (but not weapons) to Ukraine is a pitiful response and will do nothing to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading eastern Ukraine.
Instead of these limited sanctions, America should impose a travel ban and asset freeze on all top Russian government and military officials as well as the top officials in strategic state-owned enterprises such as Gazprom. This would put pressure on Putin and his key allies immediately, which could restrain further Russian aggression. Additionally, America should consider expanded arms sales not only to Ukraine but to our key eastern European allies. Allowing victims of aggression to defend themselves is common sense, not a provocation. Finally, the United States should reopen negotiations to build a missile shield in eastern Europe that will protect not only against attacks from rogue states like Iran, but from rogue empires like Russia. Reagan’s stalwart support for American missile defense was a key part of our Cold War victory.
More importantly, however, America must rebuild a military that was weakened by a decade of protracted warfare and now faces potentially crippling cuts due to sequestration. With Russia on the move in Europe, this is hardly the time for America to force our military to do more with less. The President is threatening to shrink the Army to its smallest level since World War II, close crucial military bases, and reduce military pay raises. This introduces the very real threat that our armed services will be left without the resources needed to carry out large-scale military actions. Putin and his generals see these cuts to America’s armed forces as a sign of weakness and evidence that this is their time to rebuild their empire in Europe.
It’s time for the Obama Administration to go back to the drawing board with its budget and maintain defense funding. America should not go abroad looking for foes to fight, but it must have a military capable of defeating any threat. In particular, a significant investment in expanding our naval and air forces will ensure that we are ready to face down the threat of not only terrorists and insurgent militias, but the armored might of powerful nations such as Russia. This will send a message to Putin that America is ready to meet its commitments to defend our allies and that the administration’s claim that invasions and annexations are a relic of the 20th century must be taken seriously.
History has shown that aggressors like Russia understand only the language of force, and so far the Obama Administration’s neglect of our military has been speaking much louder than its diplomatic threats. A Reagan-style military strengthening coupled with effective sanctions and meaningful support for our allies will make sure that Crimea is the final act of Putin’s aggression. Only a strong America can guarantee a peaceful world.
A member of the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Veterans’ Affairs Committees, Cook served as an infantry officer and retired after 26 years as a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his time in combat, he was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.