Cliff May

Sending armed troops into a foreign country for the purpose of seizing territory is an act of war, and a line not often crossed in recent decades. But it’s what President Vladimir Putin has done in Ukraine – in clear violation of the UN Charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (which “guaranteed” Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for the surrender of its nuclear weapons) and the 1997 Ukraine-Russia Bilateral Treaty. If the United States takes no serious actions in response, lessons will be learned – and not just by Putin.

But what can an American president do? No one expects Barack Obama to put “boots on the ground.” Serious economic warfare – using “banks instead of tanks” as Russian dissident Garry Kasparov has proposed – may be impossible because Europeans have grown dependent on Russia for natural gas.

The answer is not to posture. Nor, I think, is it to punish Russia directly. Instead, recognize that Putin, along with Iran’s Supreme Leader, China’s rulers and other dubious international actors, regard the diminution of American power as their strategic goal, a necessary precondition for the achievement of their regional and global ambitions.

So make it clear that the weakening of America stops right here and right now. Do that by implementing policies to strengthen America. That will frustrate our adversaries and enemies, and bolster our allies. Four such empowering policies:

Restore missile defense: Five years ago, President Obama cancelled plans to build a Europe-based missile-defense system. Why? To please and appease Putin who thought it possible – and unacceptable -- that such a system might be used to protect Americans from Russian missiles, in contravention of the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

We should make it clear that henceforth we intend to protect ourselves -- without apology. America has the technological know-how to build a system that could prevent any ICBM from any country reaching its intended victims anywhere in the world. What we’ve lacked is the will to stand up to the self-proclaimed “peace activists” who prefer voluntary vulnerability.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.