Posts Tagged ‘ForeignPolicy’

Crisis in Eastern Europe: Origins, Putin’s Input, and Tasks Ahead

by Lutz Unterseher, 10 April 2014

Origins

During President Clinton’s first term he followed the advice of his Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to resist proposals for eastward expansion of NATO. They understood that NATO expansion would alienate Russia. However, in the summer of 1994 Clinton changed his mind. He faced discouraging predictions of his party’s prospects in the mid-term elections in November. Clinton calculated that by directing America’s NATO allies to accept Hungary, the Czech Republic and, in particular, Poland as member states he could attract additional votes from US citizens with roots in those countries.

Domestic policy concerns had dictated US foreign policy — with far-reaching consequences for NATO and Eastern Europe. As Strobe Talbott had feared, Russia’s political elite felt alienated by the American move which in turn produced anxiety in the Atlantic Alliance. In response and in order to address estrangement with Russia the West created the NATO-Russia Council. However, the Council was perceived by the Russian leadership as a cosmetic move.

Tensions rose further as the United States announced plans to station elements of their ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Officially these installations were to be a part of a defense against a strategic nuclear threat from Iran. Since this challenge does not yet, and may never, exist and given that the missile defense sites would be installed closer to Russia than to Iran, Moscow has expressed strong objection to what it perceives as a destabilizing challenge to its strategic position.

Putin’s Input

Compared with the United States or the European Union, Russia in 2014 is an economic midget — with less than one tenth of the combined GDP of the two giants. With the exception of its energy supplies for Central Europe, Russia does not have much product to offer. So if Moscow wants to maintain the status of a globally-relevant actor, the credibility of its strategic potential is of prime importance. Applauded by representatives of his power machine, Vladimir Putin has declared himself the protector of this potential and defender against the perceived threat from the West.

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But he appears to have yet another agenda. To further accumulate legitimacy Putin has developed strong ties with the Orthodox Church and has adopted an ideology favoring centralist autocracy. This is conceived as an ‘enlightened’, not totalitarian autocracy, as originally outlined by Ivan Ilyin, a Russian philosopher driven into exile by Lenin. The essence of this national ideology is that Russia, through tradition and divine right, is entitled to offensively assemble all true believers (and/or Russian language speakers) under one flag — or, at least, to coerce submission of neighboring countries where these designated people live.

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Tasks Ahead

The West not only has to deal with Russia’s now provocative reaction to NATO expansionism, but is also confronted with Putin’s imperialism. It makes sense for Eastern Central European NATO members, including those with sizeable Russian-speaking minorities, to be reassured of their Alliance’s assistance in defense of sovereignty.

None the less, it is important to be clear that neither marching into endangered non-NATO countries nor violating Russia’s own territory are viable options. The results would be chaos in the region and a strengthening of Putin’s position.

Rather, a serious attempt at stabilizing this region is needed — using a holistic approach combining political, economic and – only in defensive non-provocative formations – military measures, along with encouraging and relying on indigenous parties to lead efforts for positive change.

Helping to establish a well-functioning democratic system in the Ukraine should be high on the agendas of all democratic nations — not just those in NATO or the EU. However, assistance should be cautiously offered, avoiding an impression of imposition by the West. Rather than funding political parties and trying to control them, emphasis should be on an exchange of ideas. Could not the Swiss federal constitutional model inspire those who work for an equitable and functional national modus vivendi of the different ethnic groups in Ukraine?

More direct measures of foreign influence are needed, however, when it comes to isolating and weakening dangerous right-wing elements in Kiev. Political stabilization is likely the precondition of economic recovery … and vice versa.

If there is a visible process of political stabilization, foreign investors may develop interest in Ukraine. Even more so if this country gets better access to international markets. When the EU and Ukraine negotiated an agreement of association, Moscow feared that this could divert its neighbor from trade relations with Russia. Such an exclusive economic association should be avoided.

Instead Ukraine can prosper as the economic highway between Russia and the EU. Presently, short-term measures to balance the Ukrainian government’s budget are most important. The recent IMF credit of 18 billion US dollars is helpful, but the credit is tied to significant austerity measures. As a result a decrease in the income level of Ukrainian public servants (including members of its military) is to be expected. Their salaries will fall further below those of their colleagues in Russia. This will make Putin’s attempts to win over Russian-speaking Ukrainians more attractive. It will prove counterproductive to make austerity a condition of financial investment and economic reform.

Political and economic stabilization is dependent on the integrity of Ukrainian territory. To improve this nation’s chances to protect itself, a strictly defensive military posture should be adopted: not provoking any neighbor, but making intrusions very costly for the invader. In this respect the defense of Finland, proven reliable and cost-effective, offers an inspiring example. To further foster its security Ukraine may seek – renewed – international guarantees of its status of a non-aligned, free nation – under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a scheme embracing all the relevant actors.

The Realists in Tehran

Sergey Markedonov. The National Interest, 4 May 2012.
http://defensealt.org/J9a1FN

Excerpt:

The Iranian problem stands out on the international agenda. But it is much broader and more diverse than Iran’s desire to acquire a nuclear bomb. Iran is accused of being a source of both regional instability and far-reaching geopolitical ambitions. Although today’s Iran demonstrates a desire to play in the international geopolitical game, it remains primarily a regional power with a significant presence in the Middle East, Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

What if realists were in charge of U.S. foreign policy?

Stephen M. Walt. Foreign Policy, 30 April 2012.
http://defensealt.org/JXUjc5

Excerpt:

The liberal/neoconservative alliance is responsible for most of America’s major military interventions of the past two decades, as well as other key initiatives like NATO expansion. By contrast, realists have been largely absent from the halls of power or the commanding heights of punditry. That situation got me wondering: What would U.S. foreign policy have been like had realists been running the show for the past two decades?

Editor’s Comment:
Unfortunately we’d only be a little better off. What has been missing is any effort to construct a new international politics following the Cold War. Realism reflects the war system within international politics and will not serve to transcend it.

On the hook in Afghanistan for at least another decade

Philip Ewing. DoD Buzz, 23 April 2012.
http://defensealt.org/Ic1h0p

Excerpt:

Washington had no good choices on Afghanistan. The White House probably hopes its agreement will give enough distance that most American troops can come home and force the Afghans to step up, as planned, but also keep Afghanistan close enough that it doesn’t again offer a vacuum to be filled by terrorists. So after more than 10 years, all that’s certain is that the next 10 years in Afghanistan will be critical.

Time to get U.S. nukes out of Europe

Stephen M. Walt. Foreign Policy, 18 April 2012.
http://defensealt.org/Ifat2Q

Excerpt:

There’s an overwhelming case for removing these archaic and unnecessary weapons from the European continent. Ideally, we would do this as part of a bilateral deal with Russia, but we ought to do it even if Russia isn’t interested.

Editor’s Comment:

Couldn’t agree more!

U.S., Australia to broaden military ties amid Pentagon pivot to SE Asia

Craig Whitlock. Washington Post, 26 March 2012.
http://defensealt.org/HzVeNJ

from the Washington Post

Excerpt:

The United States and Australia are planning a major expansion of military ties, including possible drone flights from a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean and increased U.S. naval access to Australian ports, as the Pentagon looks to shift its forces closer to Southeast Asia…

Talking About Talks: Toward a Political Settlement in Afghanistan

International Crisis Group. Asia Report N°221, 26 March 2012.
http://defensealt.org/H6bVBL

Excerpt:

A negotiated political settlement is a desirable outcome to the conflict in Afghanistan, but current talks with the Taliban are unlikely to result in a sustainable peace. There is a risk that negotiations under present conditions could further destabilise the country and region. Debilitated by internal political divisions and external pressures, the Karzai government is poorly positioned to cut a deal with leaders of the insurgency. Afghanistan’s security forces are ill-prepared to handle the power vacuum that will occur following the exit of international troops. As political competition heats up within the country in the run-up to NATO’s withdrawal of combat forces at the end of 2014, the differing priorities and preferences of the parties to the conflict – from the Afghan government to the Taliban leadership to key regional and wider international actors – will further undermine the prospects of peace. To avoid another civil war, a major course correction is needed that results in the appointment of a UN-mandated mediation team and the adoption of a more realistic approach to resolution of the conflict.

Despite War Drums, Experts Insist Iran Nuclear Deal Possible

Jim Lobe. AntiWar.com, 25 February 2012.
http://defensealt.org/yRw693

Excerpt:

Despite the IAEA’s apparent lack of progress, Iran’s acceptance last week of a long-standing request from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on behalf of the P5+1 to resume negotiations, stalled for over a year, makes it likely that a new round of talks will take place in late March or April, probably in Istanbul…Anticipation of those talks, as well as the rapid escalation of tensions over the last two months, particularly between Israel and Iran, has provoked a flurry of proposals to revive the dormant diplomatic track, if only to calm a situation threatening to spin out of control.