NATO and the EU aren't going anywhere

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  • NATO faces both an old danger to the east and a new danger to the west
  • Shaheen: The cornerstone institutions of our alliance have, nonetheless, shown that they can take a punch

Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, is a United States senator for New Hampshire and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Europe. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author.

(CNN)Europe has been battered by Brexit, terrorist attacks, Russian aggression, the migrant crisis, and uneven economic performance. The two most important institutions undergirding European stability -- NATO and the European Union -- confront grave threats.

The case for Euro-pessimism seems compelling. So why am I guardedly optimistic about the future of our transatlantic alliance? First, let's consider the case for gloom. NATO faces both an old danger to the east and a new danger to the west.
    To the east, Russia has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and tripled defense spending since 2000. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the creation of three new combat divisions -- comprised of tens of thousands of troops -- and plans to station them near the Baltics and Poland by the end of the year. His absurd pretext for invading Ukraine -- supposedly to protect Russian-speaking minorities -- is deeply troubling to the Baltic states, especially Latvia and Estonia, where ethnic Russians constitute nearly a quarter of the population.
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    Looking west, NATO faces a potential danger from within. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president of the United States, has said he would consider disbanding the alliance because it "may be obsolete." He also suggested that the US might not honor Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty -- the promise of collective self-defense -- if NATO members have "not fulfilled their obligation to us." If a future US president were to refuse to defend an ally under attack, NATO would lose all credibility. Even threatening such inaction weakens the alliance and emboldens adversaries.
    Meanwhile, the EU faces profound stresses from the ongoing migration crisis and Great Britain's decision to exit the union. There have been very real fears that the British vote and the discontents that propelled the "leave" campaign could strengthen anti-EU parties across Europe and cause the EU to unravel.
    No question, these are all disturbing developments. My case for guarded optimism rests on one quality the transatlantic alliance has always displayed in abundance: resilience. However, it is contingent on the assumption that Alliance members, most critically the US, continue to provide strong, effective leadership.
    Thanks to current US leadership, NATO is responding to its challenges in a very robust way. Within the alliance, the idea that NATO "may be obsolete" is rejected as dangerously out of touch with the threats confronting the US and our European friends, in particular the threat from Russia.
    At the NATO summit this summer in Warsaw, the alliance ratified decisions to deploy multinational battalions -- including U.S. troops and armor -- to the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, and to maintain troops in Afghanistan. Member nations reaffirmed their commitment to increase defense spending to at least two percent of GDP. This comes on the heels of President Obama's $3.4 billion European Reassurance Initiative, which is bolstering readiness across the alliance, most importantly in Eastern Europe.
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    Much work remains to be done, but the Warsaw summit sent a clear message: NATO is back, and any lingering post-Cold War complacency is gone. NATO is resolved to deter a revanchist, anti-democratic Russia. The US is bolstering Europe by contributing to NATO's new mission in the Aegean, providing generous assistance to refugees, and tenaciously pursuing an end to the Syrian crisis.
    Meanwhile, nearly three months after the Brexit vote, UK Prime Minister Teresa May has called for a responsible, orderly departure from the EU. Even some of the most outspoken "leave" campaigners -- including Boris Johnson, the new Foreign Secretary -- have gone out of their way to insist that "Britain needs Europe and Europe needs Britain," and that the UK wants a close relationship with the EU going forward.
    In the immediate aftermath of the vote, support for the EU surged in country after country across Europe. In France, support was up 10 points to 67 percent. In Germany and Spain, support rose to 81 percent. So while the British vote has been a blow to the EU, it has also been a wake-up call across Europe. The general view on the Continent is: Britain has made its choice, but we are rededicating ourselves to EU solidarity and to jointly addressing the migration crisis.
    It has never been a good idea to bet against our transatlantic alliance. Across nearly seven decades, NATO and the EU have faced down the Soviet Union during the Cold War; integrated former Soviet-bloc countries into a Europe whole and free; restored peace in the Balkans after Yugoslavia's break-up; and, most recently, fought alongside the United States in Afghanistan.
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    In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, NATO for the first time in its history invoked Article V, coming to the defense of the United States. Today, 15 years later, nearly 4,000 troops from our NATO allies continue to serve alongside US forces in Afghanistan. Nicholas Burns, one of America's most experienced and respected diplomats, testified recently before our Senate Armed Services Committee. He said: "The number one strategic advantage we have over Russia and China is that we have alliances in Europe and Asia, and the Russians and Chinese do not. So we should build on those alliances."
    I agree. NATO is indispensable to America's national security. The US-EU partnership is indispensable to ensuring a Europe whole, free, and at peace. I am confident that most Americans understand the value of the Transatlantic Alliance and will elect a new president who will strengthen this alliance, not discard it.
    Today, as in the past, the cornerstone institutions of our alliance have shown that they can take a punch -- indeed, multiple punches -- and still stand strong. So while I hear the pessimists, I also listen closely to the generals and diplomats. I'm placing my bet on NATO, the EU, and continued strong US leadership across the globe.