NATO’s revived relevance

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, fourth left, meets with Saudi Arabia's Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, right, on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, founded in 1948 to protect Europe against Soviet aggression, is finding a commendable new relevance in dealing with crises on Europe’s borders, ranging from the civil war in Syria to Russia’s covert war against Ukraine.

Over the past week, NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels have agreed to deploy additional troops to Eastern Europe in response to Russian threats and to send naval forces to the Aegean Sea to help address the Syrian refugee crisis.

The alliance and its members also are working with the United States and Turkey to defeat the Islamic State by providing fighter planes and airborne warning and control aircraft.

Last week, in a separate action, President Barack Obama announced a four-fold increase in the budget for a “European Reassurance Initiative” that will allow the deployment of an army brigade of several thousand men to sites in Eastern Europe, a significant increase over the current rotating deployment of 150 men.

The brigade will rotate among different forward positions in the Baltic states and Poland. That should act as a deterrent to Russian threats aimed at forcing the Baltic nations to quit NATO and submit to Russian domination.

Defense ministers of the other member nations of NATO have pledged to form their own multinational force to help carry out this mission.

The decision to bolster the defenses of NATO’s easternmost member states, including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, has raised the ire of Russia’s President Putin. Moscow claims it violates an agreement reached in 1999, completely ignoring its own violation of the spirit of that agreement by its efforts to carve up Ukraine.

NATO has shown real and very welcome solidarity in dismissing the Russian protests.

The defense ministers also agreed to a request from NATO members Turkey and Germany to send naval patrols to the Aegean. The exact role of these patrols is still under discussion, but they will not be used to turn back refugees.

A more likely mission is policing the waters to ensure that refugee vessels are seaworthy and to counter the exploitation of would-be refugees by unscrupulous smugglers. The decision contemplates that naval units will come from countries other than the United States.

In its 68-year history, NATO has dealt with many threats to world peace, from the Cold War confrontation in Central Europe to fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

New challenges on Europe’s borders are reminding members of the alliance of the continuing virtue of cooperating to address threats and resist chaos.