The Response to Disruptive Forces Must Be Strong Leadership

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 30:  Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a press conference during the Cop 21 Paris UN Climat
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 30: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a press conference during the Cop 21 Paris UN Climate Change Conference on November 30, 2015 in Paris, France. World leaders are meeting in Paris for the start of COP21, the two-week UN climate change summit, attempting to agree on an international deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

This post was co-authored with Samuel Rachlin.

The race to cash in on the peace dividend after the collapse of communism has rendered us in the "democratic, free and liberal" west unprepared for the threats of the 21st century. There was no contingency planning for the breakdown of the world order, for the resurrection of the autocratic model, for democratic backsliding, for the rise of radical Islam and fascism. The smooth onslaught of democracy and in its wake, of a peaceful world, proved to be an illusion. The post-Cold War period now seems to have been such a brief interlude, almost like a fata morgana.

A term that comes to mind is disruption. From Uber to Airbnb and many other technology-based businesses work on the idea that some of the legacy businesses can be replaced, creating new, more powerful business models. But we are certainly also dealing with disruption in world politics. A disruption, on the one hand caused by religious fanatics driven by a cult of death and ready to commit unspeakable horrors because they don't accept our values and our way of life.

On the other hand, we see leaders like Vladimir Putin who, driven by a cult of power, of historicizing grandeur, want to replace the existing world order with their own autocratic, nationalist, pseudo-fascist "illiberal" model, to cover the weaknesses of their dysfunctional, endemically corrupt kleptocracies.

We seem to be powerless in face of these dangers and challenges. But we are not. Not only are our values stronger, our societies more resilient, but our military capabilities are incomparably stronger too. We must redefine the formula for how democracies should face these challenges, stop the mad murderers and the Putins of the world who push the world to the brink of war using deception, nationalist grievances and old victimization tactics. We need to rethink our will to act.

The triade of the refugee crisis, the rise of homegrown Muslim extremism and ISIS is an explosive mix we seem to be unable to deal with. Unfortunately, some members of NATO choose to use the opportunity to reposition themselves in world politics, making a joint western response more difficult. NATO's article 4 consultation clause should have been set in motion.Perhaps as a recursor to an article 5 decision.

Performing yet another of his diplomatic stunts, Putin is now coming out of his Kremlin closet with flying colors as an ally to support an international coalition against ISIS. He is even referring to his own speech at the UN General Assembly in New York, claiming that he has been in favor of such a coalition all along, but nobody listened. In typical Putin fashion, he presents himself as the knight on a white horse.

But is the alliance ready to act? Is the U.S. ready to make good on such a request? Do we still have the instincts to take tough and clear decisions in defense of our values? Where was in this case U.S. leadership?

A firm leadership and decisive action is required to push back the disruptive efforts of radical Islam and Russian efforts to destabilize the EU and mess up our societies.

We should not be fooled. The interests of disruptive forces of radical islam and Russia come together: Their common primary objective is to weaken the West.

Vladimir Putin seems to prove the case Viktor Orban, the Hungarian strongman repeatedly makes: that liberal democracies are incapable of taking fast and tough decisions, even in the face of an existential threat. As a result, countries, who were the moral champions two months ago, are now drowning in the refugee crisis, and suddenly realize that they cannot deal with it politically, economically, socially and culturally. Putin does not loose sleep over it.

Vladimir Putin has a strategy and we don't like. It is ugly, threatening and dangerous, but it is still a strategy. Perhaps a strategy of the vintage Potemkin village brand, but he sees the weakness of leadership in the West and he will exploit it to the maximum.

The question is: can we trust a leader as an ally when we have seen how he has been lying about Ukraine? Is he banking on the West getting weak on sanctions, as it is begging Russian cooperation on the war against ISIS?

As he provokes and confronts NATO member Turkey's Erdogan, facing a counterpart who acts and talks very much like himself. Two political twins at each other's throats on the brink of a major conflict because neither wants to let go and look weak. "Kto kogo" as the Russian saying goes -- who's getting on top? Isn't he sending the US and Europe a message?

We have reasons to believe that Russian "help" to the west will come at a huge price. A price that has not been calculated. But rest assured, the time will come when we are presented with the bill, and will be asked to pay.

Only a strong and united transatlantic community, one with a clear resolve to use its hard and soft power, determined to push back the forces of disruption will find solutions that will preserve our values and our freedoms.

All this requires is strong leadership.

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