By Greg Smith
“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” President Obama to Mitt Romney during 2012 presidential debate.
The idea the North Atlantic Treaty Organization lost its mission after the fall of the Soviet Union has been proven wrong by Russia’s Crimean annexation, but the fog of peace still hasn’t lifted for NATO members who became pre-occupied doing business with the 800-pound gorilla in the Kremlin. NATO’s mission will continue so long as Russia exists.
For 40 years NATO had a single mission: protect Western Europe from the Soviet threat of invasion. When the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 widespread belief was the threat from Russia had permanently disappeared. That sentiment was probably shared by the Golden Horde in the 1400s. You know, the Mongol empire long ago absorbed by its former vassal state, Russia.
Since the 1200s Russia can be compared to a glacier during a cooling period. It mainly increases in size, engorging and less often disgorging satellite nations and regions. Despite its size – in area Russia is almost twice the size of the second largest nation, Canada – Russia has viewed its neighbors with fear and suspicion, of course with some justification. Adding territory on its margin provided both a greater buffer and control of populations. Russian leaders have proven adept at bargain hunting, snapping up land when the price was right.
The lesson from history for NATO is simple: Make the price Russia pays to take over other countries too high. In the past three weeks there has been discussion of Russian views of Eastern and Central Europe as a sphere of influence, and that Western diplomatic efforts at closer ties with Ukraine, as well as NATO inching closer to Russian borders are cause for alarm in Moscow. Hogwash.
Given its size and resources Russia no longer has any excuse or justification for taking over territory for self defense. European countries have been disarming for decades. Even collectively and including Turkey they pose no real danger to Russia. The U.S. has continued to invest in modern equipment but mainly for unconventional war. The U.S. Army has actually requested production of its main battle tank – the one designed to shred Soviet tanks — be stopped.
Russia’s aggressive stance – particularly using shadowy, unmarked forces who appear more like Klansmen — against Ukraine shows it didn’t get the U.S. State Department’s memo ending 19th Century power politics. Western nations invite greater problems if they treat Russia like a wayward regional power, applying sanctions instead of putting military options on the table. Vladimir Putin may mean it when he says Russia has no designs on Ukraine or any other country, but effective diplomacy is about credible foreign policies that prevent these types of crises before they occur.
Acting as a bulwark against Russian expansion does not require a Cold War posture or attitude. In fact, a credible, sincere defense policy would prevent Russia from actively considering military measures, leaving dialogue as the preferred option. Crimea leaving Ukraine could have been dealt with diplomatically, but Russia chose not to go that route. Why not is the 64,000-ruble question.
So long as Russia exists, NATO will have three core missions: contain Russia, contain Russia, and contain Russia. Whether NATO chooses to fulfill its mission is less clear. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at http://www.betterfatthanfascist.com.
By Greg Smith
“Instead of alienating ourselves from the world, I want America – once again – to lead.” Barack Obama, July 15, 2008.
President Obama ran for office on a partial platform of improving U.S. relations with foreign countries but his administration has shown a lack of mastery of international affairs. Over a year into his second term foreign policy is ill-defined, buffeted by events and hamstrung by the secretary of state’s pre-occupation with a diplomat’s equivalent of cold fusion.
John Kerry has spent much of the past year trying to forge a framework for a final settlement between Palestinians and Israelis. In itself that would be fine, but the world is not on hold and there is no indication either government is ready to make the major concessions needed to end possibly the most bitter international dispute in modern history. Lately talk is Kerry has made progress, but it will be easy to tell if a real agreement is within reach: Iran’s proxies will rain missiles on Israel as never before.
The Obama administration may not be at fault for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but President Obama’s responses in Libya, Syria, Iran and North Korea as well as America’s recent diplomatic posture probably gave Vladimir Putin the impression the U.S. would respond to its invasion of Ukraine only with threats of a diplomatic nature.
The president and secretary of state are absolutely at fault for having three months’ notice there was a major problem brewing in one of Central Europe’s fledgling democracies and doing absolutely nothing about it. Given the likelihood of Ukraine joining NATO if Kiev lurched back toward the West, Russia’s reaction to events was quite obvious. Yet the administration had either no plan at all, or worse it had a plan and that’s what we’re seeing play out.
After 9/11 U.S. policy was too predicated on full military responses. But this president has swung even further to the other side of an effective mix of hard and soft power. Worse yet, over five years in and he doesn’t seem to have learned how to deal with trouble spots. Not every other world leader views realpolitik as a bad thing. It’s like we’re playing tennis, but Putin is playing football. The time to make adjustments is before we’re flat on our diplomatic back with a concussion.
Given Europe’s dependence on Russian petroleum exports, America’s initial response of threatening Russia with sanctions and isolation are doomed to fail and America’s partners – as well as their enemies — around the world will see to the extent they can count on us in a pinch. Simply not alienating ourselves from others is not the same as leading. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at http://www.betterfatthanfascist.com
By Greg Smith
As previously covered in this blog, the best immediate response for NATO to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is to prevent access for Russian commercial and naval vessels to enter or exit the Black Sea.
One advantage of a naval blockade is it would require very limited air and naval forces, which would still be within striking distance of Iran. The U.S. Navy has grown smaller so a response that does not require a large number of ships would be preferable. The U.S. has F-22s in the region and could quickly have B-1s, which no longer have a nuclear role but can be fitted with anti-ship bombs and missiles. A blockade would be inexpensive, and Russia would not dare seriously test it.
NATO should immediately place a handful of old, expendable ships outside the Turkish Straights to act as a blockade curtain. The Russians may think we won’t risk a billion dollar cruiser in a collision, but the hockey crazy nation will understand the idea of a floating goon.
The best reason for a blockade is strategic: Russian access to the Mediterranean Sea is critical to Russia’s goal of becoming more a power equal to the U.S. Eliminating that access renders the Russian naval base nearly useless, an enormous strategic blow without firing a shot. Russia then has to decide to win a Pyrrhic victory or admit defeat. Russia would be forewarned its actions will seriously impair Vladimir Putin’s desperate desire to globally project military power.
Failure of the U.S. or NATO to act decisively will only invite further aggression, especially as it appears Russia’s incursion is intended to carve a Crimean slice off Ukraine. If the U.S. allows this to happen, which Baltic country is next on the menu?
Russia has used the Black Sea fleet to blockade the sovereign nations of Georgia and now Ukraine, it has no right to complain if another nation blockade’s the Black Sea fleet. A blockade is the best way to diffuse this crisis while preventing another. Why Washington won’t consider an essentially peaceful use of military power is beyond comprehension. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at www.betterfatthanfascist.com.