Biden Seeks to Assure Eastern Europe of U.S. Commitment in Case of Military Conflict

In a visit to Warsaw on Tuesday, Vice President Biden denounced Russia’s takeover of as a “blatant, blatant disregard of international law.” (Washington Post)
In a visit to Warsaw on Tuesday, Vice President Biden denounced Russia’s takeover of as a “blatant, blatant disregard of international law.” (Washington Post)

Vice President Biden’s we’re-all-in-this together tour of Eastern Europe, a two-country stop that concludes here Wednesday, has highlighted not only the growing regional anxieties over Russia’s designs on Ukraine but also how much work the Obama administration has to do to convince allies of its support.

At its core, Biden’s message here and in Poland was a simple reaffirmation of what one senior administration official called a “bedrock commitment”: The United States would honor NATO’s basic premise that if one member nation is attacked, all would come to its defense.

“President Obama and I view Article 5 of the NATO Treaty as an absolutely solemn commitment which we will honor,” Biden said in an appearance with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, referring to the collective self-defense clause in the agreement. “We will honor.”

A timely message, perhaps, as Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated Crimea’s return to Russia through an annexation the Obama administration and its European allies have called illegal. But having to deliver the message at all is a measure of how uncertain Eastern Europe remains as it confronts an expansionist Russia – and how uncertain many leaders here are of the Obama administration’s intentions to help.

In some ways, the anxieties are the inevitable result of America’s military retrenchment after more than a decade of war.

Nations through history have seen their power tested in post-war periods – from Israel leaving the Sinai after the hopeful Camp David peace accords and into a war in southern Lebanon a few years later to the U.S. experience in Korea soon after World War II.

For Obama, who will meet with European leaders next week, the concerns here are also rooted in policy, tone, and contrast with Putin’s brash nationalism.

Obama believed on taking office that it was his predecessor’s go-it-alone approach, particularly in Iraq, that worried America’s traditional allies in Europe and beyond.

The United States had become unpredictable under George W. Bush, the president argued early in his administration, and re-energizing alliances such as NATO, the Group of Eight and Group of 20, and a variety of Asian regional forums would persuade allies that the new administration intended to act in partnership, not on its own.

To a degree, it has worked, perhaps most vividly in the international military effort that helped depose Moammar Gaddafi as Libya’s ruler.

But as Putin has acted alone, those living in the old Soviet neighborhood are, again, looking for the assertive American hand that often defined its role throughout the decades of the Cold War.

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The Washington Post