NATO, Then and Now
With the end of the Warsaw Pact and then the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO lost its raison d'être. But instead of patting each other on the backs and winding down the most successful defensive alliance in history, we thoughtlessly tacked on new members to defend one another from... whom, exactly? From Boris Yeltsin? And I say "thoughtlessly" not because nobody gave any real thought before inviting in Poland and the Czech Republic and everyone else. I use that word because NATO became a thoughtless alliance. Lacking any real threat, we ceased our serious deployments and our serious exercises. In fact, other than the US, NATO has practically stopped spending on the military, period. Yet here we are months after Putin's annexation of Crimea, and NATO is considering building bases which might someday house enough forces to protect its weakest and most exposed member states — now that’s thoughtless, and unserious in the extreme.
The difference between the early '80s and today isn't so much the correlation of forces between NATO and Russia. The Russian Army is a shadow of the defunct Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, and the American military has never been so potent or lethal. We might be stretched too thin, we might be facing too many budget cuts -- but we can still pack the world's biggest punch. That is, if the political will exists to give the order.
But no, the difference between then and now boils down to one word: Leadership. For a look at the current state of that, let us turn David Sanger in the Washington Post:
In the Russia of President Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. Obama faces a declining power, afflicted by a shrinking population, a strident nationalism and an economy vulnerable because of its extraordinary dependency on oil exports. Washington is betting that while sanctions are having little effect now, over time they will hollow out Mr. Putin’s poll ratings. But the short term is more complex. For months now, arguments inside the administration have been over how directly and where to draw the line. In Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, on Wednesday Mr. Obama drew it at NATO’s own boundaries. The question is whether Mr. Putin believes him.