Europeans Watch Ukraine And Fear Russia: They Should Take Over NATO And Europe's Defense

By Doug Bandow - Forbes
Our America Initiative Advisory Coucil Member for Defense & Foreign Policy

Had the U.S. been so foolish as to bring Ukraine into NATO Washington would have a treaty responsibility to start World War III.  Today’s game of geopolitical chicken might have a nuclear end.

Maybe Kiev’s inclusion would have caused Vladimir Putin to go quietly into the night after the violent overthrow of a friendly government in a strategic neighbor.  More likely he’d doubt the West would risk war over tangential security interests.

In fact, Washington and the Europeans refused to do so in 2008 after their quasi-ally Georgia opened fire on Russian forces, triggering a short, but for Tbilisi disastrous, conflict.  It was one thing for President George W. Bush to fete the Georgian president as a democratic friend.  It was quite another to lend him America’s military for use against Moscow.  The U.S. stayed out.

Still, the West cannot easily ignore Russia’s Crimean takeover.  Although Moscow used troops legally based in the region, the move was an act of aggression and war against Kiev.  Yet a majority of Crimean residents may welcome the move.  Ukraine long has been divided along ethnic, cultural, and linguistic lines, with pro-Russian sentiment increasing the further one goes to the east.  It is highest in Crimea.  In fact, that region only ended up in Ukraine in 1954 when then Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Nikita Krushchev, from Ukraine, shifted it administratively.

Although secessionist sentiment has been largely dormant of late, the Western-supported putsch/street revolution, led by armed nationalists, against President Viktor Yanukovich inflamed pro-Russian passions in eastern Ukraine.  While he was revealed to be an ostentatious crook, he was elected in a free election with overwhelming support from Russophiles.  His replacement led the chief opposition party whose candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko, was defeated by Yanukovich in 2010.  She apparently is in effective control of the new government, which includes cabinet ministers from the neo-fascist Svoboda Party.  One of the first acts of the reconstituted parliament—cleansed of many elected members from the former ruling party—was eliminating legal protection for the use of the Russian language.

Moscow intervened for its own ends, including to secure its naval base at Sevastopol and reinforce its influence in the country, rather than to affirm minority rights or promote Crimean self-determination.  Nevertheless, why shouldn’t Crimeans join Russia if they desire?  The provincial legislature has called for union with Russia and scheduled a referendum on March 16.

The new leaders in Kiev, who took power by seizing the capital and threatening the elected president, denounced the move as unconstitutional.  Western governments, which 15 years ago launched an aggressive war to dismember Serbia, called the plan illegal.  Three years after intervening to oust Libya’s recognized government NATO members are proclaiming international borders to be inviolate.

Of course, Russia’s now dominant role in Crimea raises serious doubts about the fairness of the planned referendum.  However, the Ukrainian government would prevent any vote.  Independence from the Soviet Union is fine.  Independence from Ukraine is not.  Everyone believes in self-determination, except when they don’t.

Still, despite its flagrant hypocrisy, Washington rightly affirms the Westphalian compact of 1648, which helped keep the peace for centuries.  Putin is not only wrong, but dangerously wrong.  Using military force to break up sovereign states, however artificial, is bad business.  One over-eager soldier or over-angry demonstrator in Crimea could trigger war.

But how to punish Moscow?  Republican Party hawks like John McCain are attempting to score political points against President Barack Obama even though President George W. Bush did similarly little in response to Russia’s war with Georgia.  What do McCain and other blusterers propose?  Military roll-back?  Imagine the reaction of the American people.

Despite the super-heated rhetoric coming out of Washington, America’s direct stake in the controversy is essentially nil.  Putin is a garden-variety authoritarian, not another Adolf Hitler.  The former’s ambitions appear bounded, focused on border security and international respect, not global conquest and ideological domination.  Moreover, Russia—with a weak economy dependent on energy revenues and badly managed military in desperate need of reform—is no Nazi Germany, the most populous, industrialized, and militarized nation then on the continent.  Nor is Ukraine a new Czechoslovakia, the prelude to continent-wide aggression.  Trying to forcibly swallow just Ukraine’s 46 million, nearly one-third of Russia’s population, would choke Moscow.

Since whatever happens between Russia and Ukraine poses little threat to Americans, military retaliation is inconceivable, especially after the U.S. managed to avoid shooting at the Soviets during the Cold War.  Risking conflict with a nuclear-armed power is not for the faint-hearted.  Although America has the better armed forces, Russia has the more serious geopolitical interests.  Moscow’s ties to Ukraine are many and deep.  For Washington Kiev’s orientation is but a geopolitical preference.

The administration has added fighter patrols in Europe and others have proposed sending the Sixth Fleet into the Black Sea.  However, absent plans to strafe Russian villages and seize Sevastopol, what’s the point?  Former White House aides Stephen J. Hadley and Damon Wilson advocated “deploying and exercising NATO forces in Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania.”  That would only reinforce Moscow’s determination to prevent Ukraine from becoming a similar advance base for the U.S. military.

Zbigniew Brzezinski urged putting NATO troops on alert and readying U.S. airborne forces for deployment in Europe, even though Europe is not under attack and will not be attacked.  He also advocated “immediate and direct aid so as to enhance” the Ukrainian military’s “defensive capabilities,” which would give the West responsibility without control, and raise Kiev’s expectations of actual military assistance.

Read more

Do you like this post?

Showing 2 reactions

@LiveFreeBlog tweeted this page. 2014-04-22 21:29:09 -0600
Live Free Blog posted about Europeans Watch Ukraine And Fear Russia: They Should Take Over NATO And Europe's Defense on Live Free Blog 's Facebook page 2014-04-22 21:29:09 -0600
Europeans Watch #Ukraine And Fear #Russia: They Should Take Over #NATO And Europe's Defense