"The hour is getting late...all along the watchtower, princes kept the view...two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl."
America and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is playing the global menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe need to take more aggressive action to prevent the annexation of eastern Ukraine, and time is short. Beyond this crisis the West needs an updated defense posture, but for now the road ahead is clear.
Russia will take as much of Ukraine as the West allows, nothing more, nothing less. Yet few in Washington and Brussels seem to understand this. In recent weeks the view among the cognoscenti was that the crisis over Ukraine was largely over. Yet little in the U.S.-European response has changed. Hence, the incentive structure that failed to prevent the Crimea annexation is not likely to prevent further dismemberment. President Putin views the West as weak, which has kept him emboldened.
[Note: This is a guest post by Joshua B. Spero, Associate Professor of International Politics and Coordinator of International Studies at Fitchburg State University.]
Since the Russia-Ukraine crisis accelerated with Russia’s territorial consolidation in Ukraine, Europe is back on the radar screen as great powers and international institutions struggle to de-escalate this security dilemma. After President Obama’s European trip and coordination with European Union (EU) and NATO leaders on 26 March, the international community should pause to consider that, unlike classic power politics regarding heartland Europe, there might still be ways to avoid zero-sum decisions. Virtually lost in the Russia-Ukraine crisis remains the post-Cold War partnership in the heart of Central-East Europe – the Poland-Germany bridge for East and West. Given the U.S. President’s admonition in Brussels that Russia’s actions in Ukraine underscore its “regional power” status and illustrate its “weakness” toward its neighbors not its “strength,” the quarter century-old Poland-Germany crisis management mechanism anchors heartland Europe’s integration, promotes key consultation with Russia and Ukraine, and helps reduce America’s European role while still tying the U.S. to Europe.
The U.S. and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is clearly playing the geopolitical menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe are going to need to up their game to keep Vladimir Putin’s hands off the rest of Ukraine. Beyond this crisis the West needs a new defense posture, as the world just entered a new era of international relations.
Just weeks ago numerous observers dubbed the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi “Putin’s Triumph,” when it was anything but that. Russia may have barely edged the U.S. in total medals, but the price for Putin’s orderly Olympics was serious repression, severe environmental damage, and seismic corruption. Then came Ukraine.
Lots of words have been spilled on this Crimea thing, and so it is reasonable to ask whether our opposition to Crimean self-determination might be more about our feelings about Russia than about secession/irredentism.
Note: The following is a guest post from Mlada Bukovansky, Professor of Government at Smith College.
The word freedom has to come into it, when speaking of the Ukraine crisis. It has become exceptionally difficult to use that term without wincing in the post-Bush era, but still I think it needs to be said. I was speaking to my mother about Ukraine and inevitably Czechoslovakia 1968 came up. I could hear in her voice the urgency and echoes of the passion that accompanied our fleeing Prague in August of that year. There would be no more freedom there. She said those who stayed behind were “doomed.” That included her own father, and many other family members besides. My initial reaction to her use of the term – doomed – was to dismiss it as hyperbolic, and that it may be, but I know what she means.
The power politics and legitimacy of the interests involved, the hypocritical orientation to international law by all sides, the lack of will by the U.S., the EU, and NATO to do anything painful in response to the annexation of the Crimea, as well as the assignation of blame for what triggered the violence in Ukraine has been well covered in many threads, from many angles. What is pressing me to write now, though, is the sense that not enough attention has gone to what will happen, and what has already happened, as in Georgia, to the people coming into Putin’s orbit. They are losing their freedom, and by that I mean something very specific. They are losing what can be called republican freedom (again, take your mind off Bush, please) – the freedom from arbitrary power. Because that is what Putin is exercising: arbitrary power with little restraint (I won’t say no restraint). He is of course not alone in this in our world, and there are arguably far worse villains operating with impunity, but he is operating so in Europe, and as tired and elitist a cliché as that may sound, this makes a difference. Because presumably European institutions, as so the American institutions which share their core ideals, are designed to restrain arbitrary power – that is arguably the central and most critical mechanism from which many of our other advantages and capacities emanate.
Note: This is a guest post by John Mueller of Ohio State University.
The ongoing crisis/standoff in the Ukraine relates in some ways to a long-standing debate about the potential connection between economic interdependence and war. The debate is over the idea that the decline in interstate war has been caused by the fact that countries closely linked economically are unlikely to go to war with each other.
On the one hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foray in an area of deep economic interdependence doesn’t seem to have been waylaid by potential economic cost considerations. On the other hand, as the value of the ruble tumbles, economic considerations could play a role in keeping the crisis from escalating to a more direct military confrontation. Meanwhile, those contemplating sanctions on Russia, particularly in Western Europe, have been musing about the pain they might themselves might bear if they applied economic punishment to a country they depend on for so much of their energy resources.
There has been a bit of recent news lately suggesting international football* considerations are making the divisions between states greater, supporting the idea that sports might not be the path to peace and reconciliation. While a few cases cannot disprove an idea, recent moves point in a troubling direction for the theory that we can settle differences between states on the football pitch. Relating back to early theories of functionalism, any form of cooperation, even on the sports pitch, might be beneficial to countries at odds with each other. The communication provided through spectacular sporting events might provide pathways for peace. Others might argue that fighting it out on the pitch is better than fighting with guns and bullets. While these ideas might be true in the abstract, it is tough to consider the viability of such proposals if states fail to even meet on the pitch in the first place.
*I was a bit too quick to post last week and had to add quite a few recent events. Nothing changed my original analysis (BV 3/10/2014)
With my most of research right now heavily focused on cyber conflict, it might be useful to review all the news on the cyber situation between Ukraine and Russia. There have been many posts on the Duck and elsewhere (Monkey Cage macro post) covering the conflict (here, here, here, here, here), so I will refrain from summarizing the basics. The cyber situation on the other hand has shown a remarkable amount of restraint, defying conventional wisdom but also following directly in line with my soon to be completed book on Cyber Conflict and forthcoming Journal of Peace Research article (both with Ryan Maness). The restraint point was made early by Mark Clayton at the Christian Science Monitor.
Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine naturally prompted a lot talk about the limits of international law. Eric Posner noted: “ 1. Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine violates international law. 2. No one is going to do anything about it.” Julian Ku argued: “International law can be, and often is, a very important tool for facilitating international and transnational cooperation. But it is not doing much to resolve to Ukraine crisis, and international lawyers need to admit that.” For Ku, the current crisis supports the claims of Rationalist law-skeptics, international law works when legal requirements align with self-interest. Many others, including a good portion of my students see the failure of international law in Ukraine.
*The following post is written by Ryan Maness and myself.
Events are in motion that many thought were past us, part of a bygone era where conventional war still had a prominent place in deciding the course of nations. Having done a great amount of work on Russia’s strategic behavior and use of power (we have a book on the topic under review), we were a bit caught off guard too. Not by the course of events, but that our vision was focused on cyber conflict and thus were distracted from the real world developments.
The events in Ukraine fit a recent pattern of Russia’s coercive diplomacy directed toward the states of its former Soviet empire, more commonly known by Russians as the Near Abroad. Since the Soviet fall in 1991, Russia has been going through an identity crisis. Always regarded as a major power, it found itself weak after the end of the Soviet era, unable to even quell violence in Chechnya. It lost nearly half of its territory and population as the Soviet Union broke up into 15 independent states. Since then, Russia has been attempting to regain its status as a world power, or at least a regional power. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has used power politics strategies, mainly in post-Soviet space, to carve out its place and dominate a specific sphere of influence.
Lots of folks are speculating about what Ukraine/Crimea/Russia is like, including not Abkhazia. Right now, the analogies that come to mind for me are: coups d'etat and poker.
Over at the Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell suggests that President Obama is using the OSCE to give Putin an exit strategy. Farrell writes:
Obama’s “phone call with Putin on Saturday suggests that the United States wants to invoke the old-style OSCE. It notes that Russia’s armed intervention is inconsistent with Russia’s commitments under the Helsinki Final Act (the agreement that established the OSCE), calls for “the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)...
If Putin wants an “exit strategy,” Farrell continues, this is it: “There is no reason why the OSCE could not help broker compromises over new elections and push the Ukrainian government to guarantee the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine.”
My question to Farrell is, is this Putin’s possible exit strategy, or the United States/EU’s?
This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Dan Nexon. It is cross-posted at his personal blog, Hylaean Flow.
One of the ongoing rationales for The Monkey Cage is that journalists do a poor job of covering US electoral politics. They focus on personality and style. They downplay the role of fundamentals, such as economic forces and the nature of the electoral system. The same is too often true in foreign-affairs reporting. Consider a recent piece by multi-award-winning reporter, Scott Wilson: "Ukraine crisis tests Obama’s foreign policy focus on diplomacy over military force."
What is Wilson's argument? A sample:
Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor....
“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”
The signal Obama has sent — popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies — has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out. He did so most notably in the aftermath of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya nearly three years ago.
But Obama’s rejection of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war, in which 140,000 people have died since he first called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, is the leading example of his second term. So, too, is the Pentagon budget proposal outlined this past week that would cut the size of the army to pre-2001 levels.
Let's consider a bit of history.
- In April of 2008, President George W. Bush pushed hard for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine at the Bucharest NATO summit. Germany and France balked, for both self-interested and prescient reasons.
- In August of 2008, Russia baited Georgia into invading South Ossetia. At the key principals meeting in Washington, no one was willing to risk war with Russia over Georgia.
- In 2009, Yanukovich and his Party of Regions wrested power from the unruly and ineffectual Orange coalition that had ousted him in 2004. Yanukovich adopted a pro-Russian tilt. Although he was more than happy to leverage Moscow against Brussels, under no circumstances was he going to make a serious push to bring Ukraine into NATO.
- While Georgia is a small country on the Russian Federation's periphery; Ukraine is a large country of significant affective and geo-strategic significance to Russia.
See the problem? There's no obvious counterfactual set of Obama policies that would better position the United States to handle Russia's gambit in Ukraine.
*this is a guest post by Konstantinos Travlos, currently a Visiting Assistant at Georgia Southern, who writes on international conflict and history. The arguments presented below are based on past research.
Russian policy towards Ukraine is partly driven by short term political reasons such as protecting an investment in the form of Yanukovych, the Russian view of Ukraine as a “little brother”, a legitimate worry over the future of the Russian minority in Ukraine, and a very real opposition to what is seen by the Kremlin elite as the meddling of Western powers in its Near Abroad. However, I argue that the most intractable issue driving Russia is control of access to the Crimean Peninsula as a naval base, an indivisible territorial issue. This has less to do with geopolitical and strategic reasons and more to do with the identity of the Russian state as a great power which makes Crimea a transcendental and thus difficult to negotiate over. This is why the recent and quick escalation is not surprising, in counter to some arguments made.
The diplomatic dustup over Syria brought Russia in from the cold but simultaneously froze any notion that western allies were getting their strategic act together. Nonetheless, although the mistakes in the U.S. and UK’s approach to building support at home and abroad for an intervention in Syria confused leaders and citizens alike, these mistakes should not be interpreted as an abrupt turn-around in their and their allies' strategic thinking.
In fact the Europeans, even under a prolonged condition of austerity, are making progress filling in the capability gaps made clear in the course of the Libyan operation. Recent history has demonstrated that arguing the U.S. should keep its security blanket in place despite the end of the Cold War—out of fear that Europeans would not increase their own defense capabilities in kind—was mistaken. Still, austerity has prevented sufficient progress to avoid the joint security trap.
Were the Arab Awakening to go awry and were an al-Qaeda affiliate to begin setting up training camps and operating somewhere such as Yemen, the U.S. or possibly NATO would no doubt heed the call once more to deal with the threat. But any future crisis in Europe’s direct neighborhood, somewhere like Tunisia, will require Europe to take the lead as the U.S. is likely to take a pass. It is therefore in the joint interests of the U.S. and Europe not to reduce their mutual security at this critical juncture.
However Europe has yet to develop its own integrated, deployable, expeditionary military capability; instead a number of European allies à la the U.S. have been slashing their defense budgets under austerity. But akin to the classic prisoner’s dilemma, if the U.S. and European allies do not coordinate their cuts and agree to begin “combining” what is left, both will become worse off and experience a mutual loss of security in lieu of cooperating. In fact, at this juncture western allies are actually on the verge of becoming ensnared in the joint security trap.
That's essentially the question Steve Saideman asked here (and which he more explicitly asked on Twitter).
His answer, which I find problematic, is
But here is the big problem in all of this: perhaps much of IR is not about bargaining and persuasion about commitment and resolve. Perhaps much of IR is a conflict of interests, and that countries engage in conflict when their various interests cannot be resolved.
He goes on to say
The amateur game theorist might want to argue that this then is not chicken or prisoner's dilemma but deadlock. And they would probably be right--that much of what is important in IR is what shapes the preferences of the actors, which determines the game being played. I guess my main point is that much of the time, we are not playing chicken, so perhaps Schelling's insights might not be all that useful and could even be counter-productive.
Notice how Steve implicitly assumes that either Schelling is God or bargaining is irrelevant or even impossible. As Steve might say, if he found himself on the other side of the discussion, "Holy mother of false dichotomies, Batman! Time for some perspective sauce!"
There is an ongoing debate questioning if and how reputation matters in International Relations. The question is important right now in relation to the red line the United States setup regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria. I am not sure how reputation can matter if Russia is being held up as the mediator in striking a deal with Syria, Russia, and the West.
A full-scale US military intervention in Syria is off the table, as is a no-fly zone. The US decision to provide arms to Syrian opposition forces is nonetheless intended to shift the military initiative away from Assad regime. But the opposition is splintered, which has allowed the Hezbollah-backed government forces to level the playing field. Although the outcome remains unclear, it may be time for Western governments to begin serious planning for potential post-conflict stabilization operations.
At this stage it appears the Assad regime has the momentum, aided in particular by Hezbollah but also Iran and Russia. US and European efforts to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition have been slow to take shape, which in combination with regime gains on the ground have fed the new conventional wisdom that Assad is on course to hold on to power.
With the increased likelihood that Assad will fall, even were he to hang on until a Gaddafi-style bitter end, pressure is mounting on the U.S., Europe, and Turkey inter alia to come up with a game plan for the post-endgame. The good news is progress is rapidly being made: stepped up aid from the U.S., aid from Europe, intelligence sharing among Turkey-Jordan-US-Europe, and direct training of Syrian opposition forces.
All of this may be enough to tip the balance against the Assad regime, leading to its end sooner rather than later. But it is not nearly enough to handle the widely expected chaos once the endgame is reached. What about playing the Russia card? The greatest fear is that extremist al-Qaeda affiliated groups will get their hands on a variety of weapons caches in the capital and elsewhere, let alone a full-blown civil war that would seriously destabilize the entire region. Special forces from the aforementioned countries will be needed, but they will likely be operating in an incredibly volatile if not thoroughly unstable environment.
Much ado. Investors keep getting burned in betting on the exit of members of the Eurozone, let alone the breakup of the currency/monetary union of the EU. And econ/business experts keep getting their predictions wrong. The simple reason: the EU, from its econ/financial area to the vast array of its other policy areas, at heart is a political project. Events continue to show that despite the painful strains of major economic duress, this commitment remains intact.
Despite the messy manner in which its member state governments deal with crises--largely explained by institutional reasons, less so by incompetence--the EU and the euro are around for good. The EU certainly has some major restructuring to do in terms of necessary banking and fiscal unions, and it rarely looks good in a crisis. But it will carry on muddling through its challenges and in a wider historical perspective continue to provide its citizens with a considerable range of benefits. Just as it has for decades, particularly since the advent of its single internal market nearly 30 years ago.
Nonetheless, the EU made major mistakes in the bailout of Cyrus and nearly botched the entire thing. Even worse, the whole affair demonstrates a distinct inability to act strategically when the stakes are high. Repercussions from this episode that haven't been captured in the headlines will continue to reverberate for years. Surprise, it was politics that accounted for bringing back the specter of crisis, not economics.