Hollow Threats from Moscow

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal urges U.S. policymakers not to allow Russia to use empty threats to gain leverage. Given that the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty is thoroughly outdated, and that Russia’s withdraw seems to have no practical effect, it seems that Moscow is more determined to create fractures within NATO than protect its own security.

Much of the rest of the speech, however, was an eerily familiar tirade against the West that could have been lifted from a Cold War script. Once again, foreign capitalists are staging a counterrevolution in Russia or, in the President’s words, “there is a growth in the flow of money from abroad for direct interference in our internal affairs.” Once more, a Kremlin ruler warns of rising threats of “mutual damage and even destruction.” Specifically, Mr. Putin threatened to suspend Russia’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, the 1990 pact that limits the number of battle tanks, heavy artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters between the Atlantic and Ural mountains. Talk about nostalgia. The treaty’s limits apply to NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Since the Warsaw Pact is dead, and many of its former members now belong to NATO, the CFE long ago lost its relevance. The quality of Russia’s ground forces has steadily eroded since the CFE was implemented in 1992, making a Putin “moratorium” even more irrelevant. … Against all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Putin continues to insist that the proposed missile-defense system is directed against his own country. He knows that’s not true, but it’s a line that plays well in parts of Europe, especially France and Germany. His comparison to the deployment of U.S. Pershing missiles in Europe in the 1980s, which led to huge anti-American demonstrations, is designed to tap into those Cold War-era emotions. As for the CFE, Mr. Putin may be on to something there. The treaty — in both its original and adapted forms — has outlived its usefulness and deserves to go the way of the Soviet Union. The West would do far more damage to its security if it allowed Moscow to use empty threats about pulling out of an irrelevant treaty to divide the NATO allies and pressure them into concessions on really vital issues, such as the missile-defense system.