Cold War Again?

It is less than clear what the implication of this weekend’s Crimea secession from the Ukraine will be.  Our politicians are blaming Russia for intervening and intimidation through the use of force.  Russia, on the other hand, has clearly stated that the Crimea is vital to their national interests.  (And history tends to support this claim,)  The Ukraine, another cobbled together post WWI country, now has a Constitution which clearly states how provinces could secede, has denounce the vote in the strongest of terms.  So does might make right?

There are several other factors to suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the Crimea as an important political move.  He likely sees the West as divided and weak, and generally lacking any strategic interest in Crimea (and probably Eastern Ukraine).  The Russian economy is weak in comparison to the West.  Putin probably thinks Russia must maintain as many “trading partners” as practical and the Ukraine is one.  So in addition to Crimea’s strategic location on the Black Sea, trade is another strong reason to keep a hold on Crimea.

There is a third factor.  Russia, like many other authoritarian governments does not feel it can survive in a Western style open society.  These authoritarian economies (China is maybe an exception) do not operate as well as those found in the West and as a result cannot produce both guns and butter to the degree needed to satisfy their citizens and project their policies around the world.  Losing the Ukraine (including Crimea) to the EU was just a step too far.

So what should be the West’s response?

 The West should have no delusions that there is a way to negotiate or explain to Russia why their behavior is unacceptable.  It would be like Mexico inviting Russia (or China) to set up military facilities across the boarder from the US.  While this should be Mexico’s perfect right, the potential threat would drive the US to undertake some preventive action (remember the Cuban missile blockage?).

The cold war was very sophisticated chess.  Containment was a bi-partisan foreign policy that aimed to keep the Soviet Union’s boarders from expanding.  Through alliances, and third party surrogates, the US and the Soviet Union dueled around the world.  In the end, it is thought, the US simply outspent the Soviet Union and they went bankrupt.

The West had better remember that there is no great unifying force amongst the countries that comprise the West.  Raising Crimea to the level that succession must be reverse or all is lost is unwarranted.  Recognizing Crimea as a land grab and putting in place surrogate action that penalize Russia without having to shout it from the town square will get the message through.

For the US, there ought to be some soul searching.  Tell me again about the wisdom of having invaded and occupied Iraq?  If that is not justification for Russia unilateral action, what is?  Iraq was also short sighted because Hussein was an effective surrogate against Iran’s expansionist ambitions, while the “new Iraq” is far more aligned.  For the US, one less lever and a no safer Middle East to boot. 

The US might also think through its potential relationship with China.  China and Russia share some things in common but not everything.  The Chinese entrepreneurial spirit is far more compatible with the US than with Russia.  In the cold war, one must be clear on who the bad guys are.    

Crimea will be a huge test for Congress.  For this dysfunctional group who have seen budget reductions and no new taxes as good and entitlements as bad, where does Russia fit?  Congress will be stressed rhetorically how to support military spending while our infrastructure is crumbling and still demand no new taxes. 

Hmmm.

 

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