The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, was in Latvia and Lithuania last Wednesday, meeting with leaders who were asking for increased NATO military exercises. The Baltic states want to deter Russia from doing in their region what it did this August in Georgia. But there are no longer any grounds for this sort of East-West tension. The Bush administration and Russian PMVladimir Putin have both taken unnecessary actions that made the situation more precarious.

These actions include Bush’s insistence on deploying in Poland and the Czech Republic a flawed but provocative missile defense system; Bush’s equally unnecessary and provocative recognition of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia; the administration’s push for Georgia and Ukraine to be fast-tracked toward NATO membership; Georgia’s August attack on Russian peacekeepers in the region of South Ossetia; and Putin’s subsequent invasion of Georgia.

Mullen’s sit-down outside Helsinki with his Russian counterpart, General Nikolai Makarov, was a healthy remedial step. There are no longer unavoidable causes of East-West conflict. To prevent misunderstandings or worse, the next US president ought regularly to conduct with his counterpart the sort of dialogue Mullen held with Makarov.