PERSPECTIVES ON EUROPE AND ITS DISCONTENTS

Photo: BBC
Photo: BBC

By
Harry C. Blaney III

LONDON DATELINE

On Sunday Britain marked the formal occasion of its “Remembrance Day” (which is really on the 11th), something much similar to our memorial day. It’s observance here in Britain is one of deep feeling, with ubiquitous wearing of the red poppy in support of its veterans and the price paid by war. It was also a time for reflection of both the sacrifices of this nation and of its role in the world at large. The latter is still a matter of major debate now.

In London and in the continent, these next weeks will reveal much that is at the heart of Europe’s ills and divisions. There is little doubt that Europe is not on a strong trajectory of upward prosperity for all its citizens, as it is bitterly divided on how to deal with its massive immigration crisis that looms larger and larger without resolution. And now in Europe, there is also a whole host of issues and threats that endanger the security, prosperity, and moral standing of Europe.

There are growing challenges on many issues and within key national countries that could undermine the unity of the EU and EURO ZONE and impact the wider Atlantic cooperation.

On the security front, there remains the future of the embattled Ukraine, the aggressiveness of Putin’s Russia and related applications of sanctions for its invasion of Eastern Ukraine and illegal annexation of the Crimea, along with it soon facing the responsibilities for the downing of a Malaysian civilian airliner.  There are also divisions within the EU and NATO on how to deal with Syria and Iraq and especially the threat of ISIS. Britain at the same time is debating the future of the Trident nuclear sub deterrent force with the Labour Party divided on this issue.

Not least is that this week the EU is facing formally unneeded and perilous demands by a right-wing Euro-skeptic Tory government asking for “reform” that wants special exemptions from Brussels regulations (to make its banks richer), and for more decision-making devolved towards nation states within the EU and more freedom for the UK from the common responsibilities built into the EU charters and regulations. The most unjust and least likely to be agreed demand is to limit social welfare payments of EU citizen immigrants, which under current rules must be treated equally with British citizens.  Cameron wants an EU agreement or threatens a referendum asking if Britain should remain in the EU. He has just added another threat saying that his position for staying in the EU would change and he would oppose continued membership if he did not get his way. (More on this in the coming two weeks on this blog.)

The current disruptive landscape in Europe includes anti-immigration views, rise of bigotry, fascists, and racist sentiments and parties that are rising up and include in their agendas the breakup of the EU. There are also polls showing increasing views of European citizens who are discontented with how the EU does not seem to care about them. The EU, and especially Germany, has exacerbated high level of discontent by their imperial and punishing austerity policies on Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal.

Another divisive issue is how to deal with climate change and how far to commit to specific and significant reductions in greenhouse gasses. Later this month in Paris the key UN meeting on this will start and is likely to be very difficult due to the division between the developed and developing world. Already the UK is suffering from too little installed electric power, still relies on some dirty coal plants, and in other EU countries a bulk of power comes from this dirty source. For the UK under Cameron, the Tories have delayed the investment in less polluting gas turbine and solar by simply not increase government spending in order to show less national deficit.

Major decisions on these issues will or could be made at meetings being held in Europe and elsewhere this and next week or beyond and in actions taken by individual governments. In the future there will always be largely unknown external forces or actions by the likes of ISIS, Russia, and global events which can influence the future of Europe.

For America, let us be clear, these trends matter as without an outward, engaged and strong EU, little can be accomplished on many levels in making our globe safer, more just, and prosperous.

More here on these issues in the coming days and weeks from London.

We welcome your comments below!

Public Opinion on Ukraine Crisis Shows Lack of NATO Willpower

Photo: The Telegraph

By: Allison Gerns

The situation in Ukraine and the international threat that Russia and Putin pose has begun to shine a light on the flaws and lack of trust in the NATO alliance and among Europe and the United States.

Pew Research Center recently published polling data about Ukraine, asking residents of NATO countries, Ukraine, and Russia their opinions on Ukraine’s current situation. Overall, Pew found Americans were willing to defend NATO allies, while European NATO members were not willing to defend each other but instead expected the United States to come to their defense.

Two options have been introduced to address the crisis in Ukraine. First, Ukraine could join NATO. This would apply article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states when one member of NATO is threatened or attacked then it is considered a threat against all NATO members. So far it has only been invoked once, in Afghanistan after September 11th.

However, would it really be the best option for Ukraine to join NATO? As the recent Pew poll demonstrated, European countries are not willing to back each other. In the end, the data suggests that the U.S. will probably take the lead in assisting Ukraine. The unfortunate reality for Ukraine is that given the current situation, they are not likely to join NATO anytime soon.

The second option for Ukraine would involve supplying arms to assist them in fighting off the ever-growing threat posed by Vladimir Putin and Russia. In another finding by the Pew poll, every country in NATO considered Russia a security threat, yet most are hesitant to contain the current situation in Ukraine.

Currently, the U.S. is considering supplying arms to Ukraine. This has left many Europeans skeptical. European NATO members, Germany in particular, are concerned that the U.S. will come in with a quick fix, and leave Europe to deal with the repercussions. As Europe waits around expecting the U.S. to intervene, some are quick to criticize U.S. policies.

With supplying arms, there is always concern over where the arms are going. History has shown time and again that arms can fall into the wrong hands, for example, currently ISIL has millions of dollars worth of U.S. military equipment. But as Constanze Stelzenmuller discussed at a recent Brookings event, many European countries are more caught up with their own current “security illusion.” Recent generations are not remembering how to world was when NATO and the EU formed. Since the expansion of NATO and the EU, many countries no longer understand the importance of article 5. These organizations were designed to help each other out, not abandon allies during an incident of isolated threat. Germany and others are in a safe bubble, surrounded by friends and allies, but they are thinking locally, not globally.

Not too far away, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations and a leading world power. They are seen by some as threatening the world with their reemerging imperialist actions. Given the history, there are critics of the U.S. sitting back and watching as Russia tries to expand their borders and control.

Similar to the situations in Yemen and Syria, regional countries should be expected to lead the charge in stabilizing the region. A Saudi led coalition of states has led the charge in Yemen, a similar Europe based coalition should take the lead in dealing with Ukraine. Europe will have to deal with with whatever outcome comes from the Ukraine crisis, so why do they poll saying they would not jump to the defense of their neighbors?

The United States plays a huge role in NATO operations. The US contributes 75 percent of NATO’S military budget. It is not surprising given those statistics that the U.S. feels responsible for helping their allies – and their allies expect the US to come to their aid. So the US is dammed if they do intervene, dammed if they don’t in the eyes of many on both sides of the Atlantic

When looking at the recent Pew polls, it is difficult to blame the U.S. for seriously contemplating more drastic intervention. So far intervention has been sanctions, some training, the supply of non-lethal military equipment, and other aid. Russians blame the U.S. primarily for the sanctions recently imposed on Russia. Furthermore, Ukraine’s poll results demonstrate that they want assistance from the West.

It is understandable on many levels why the US is considering intervening and possible making the situation more dangerous, especially as current allies are slacking in their regional and  global responsibilities. European countries are not stepping up in their region and the U.S. is hoping not to repeat the mistakes of the past, most recently in waiting too long to intervene in Syria.

The U.S should act deliberately despite criticisms. It will be easy no matter what the U.S. decides to do for others to criticize in hindsight. It would be better for the U.S to intervene and properly equip Ukraine against Russia while continuing diplomatic efforts and not risk letting Ukraine fall into Russia’s hands completely.

We welcome your comments!

EUROPEAN DISARRAY AND FOLLY IN THE FACE OF CALAMITIES: VIEW FROM EUROPE

Map of 28 EU countries as of October 2013

Photo: BBC

London Dateline

By
Harry C. Blaney III

Opening the European papers these days is a bit like living with a daily taste of defeat, greed, folly, and drift in the face of major challenges. There is even a taste of despair moral fatigue in the air. The EU has a GDP and population larger than the United States, member countries with comparatively higher standard of living than most of the world, and a long history of ‘high” culture. Yet, in the face of multiple challenges, the EU seems adrift.

Europe has a major immigration and humanitarian crisis which Europe has been unable to address the fundamental causes of the crisis or even have an effective humanitarian response. This in not for a lack of good proposals, but rather reluctance to take on added costs and burdens that will save thousands of lives especially those who make dangerous voyages in the Mediterranean Sea largely to Italy but also out of places of conflict in Africa and Asia.

After years of legal and illegal immigration and  tens of thousands of migrant deaths on the seas, the Europeans still have no good answers. Europeans are now trying to apportion immigrants between the 28 member countries – an effort that likely will not be carried out or permitted in some countries. Some 103,000 illegal immigrants have arrived on European shores since the start of the year. Today, 450 immigrants arrived in Sicily and the Italian government has threatened to give illegal immigrants visas so they can travel to other EU countries unless the other countries take their share of new arrivals.

Further East is an aggressive Russia run by an authoritarian Putin who continues to cause conflict and brutality in Eastern Ukraine. Russia has already annexed a part of Ukraine Crimea by force of arms. Due to the disarray among European nations to agree to strong sanctions, we are now seeing new agreements and large investments by European (UK included) oil companies with Russia despite continued Russian aggression. Weak EU sanctions are proof Europe will try to accommodate whatever brutality Putin will undertake thus  possibly encouraging further aggression.  All of this undermines the concept of unified support for the security of EU nations. One needs to ask what this means for overall NATO credibility for the security in Europe?

The other challenge to European unity and progress is the undercurrent of inequality, racism, and dominance of the very rich and hyper conservative forces over political power in many EU states. 

In the UK, the gap between those that live or work in the “City” as it is called, which is the banking and financial firms in London, verses those in the North of England and in Scotland that have been neglected by the Tory government and that clearly cares nothing for the very poor in their nation by their now public budget cuts.  

There is a clear marginalized immigrant and also an angry native poor population in the UK and in many European nations. This has caused a tear in the fabric of society and has imperiled a key cohesiveness needed in any country to advance progress, productivity, and provide a sense of fairness and upward mobility and integration. 

What are the results of some of these conditions and other forces of alienation within the European landscape?

One result has been the inability of many European countries to effectively address their major problems both internal and external.

The other revelation is the disinterest and poverty overall of European leadership to show any willingness to truly solve the hard problems. Indeed most of the recent decisions have been aimed at destroying the social fabric, and the social compact within society, and by whole national governments and in the EU. One result has been the growth in unpopularity of the EU and of the whole “European Project.” The sad growth of nasty, narrow nationalistic right wing parties like the National Front in France and the UK Independent party in Britain are also a result.

If there is an example of the disunity and myopia of Europe, it is the current Greek crisis. The European Central Bank, is essentially run by and for the very rich EU countries mostly Germany. The ECB together with the IMF and World Bank are demanding now added austerity on Greece, which past requirements of austerity has already impoverish in that country.  These demands for austerity are creating a humanitarian crisis creating among the highest unemployment and poverty levels in the EU ever seen in recent times.

These institutions and countries want the burden to fall on the poor and on the old via further cuts in pensions beyond those already taken. Major economists have stated time and time again that these demands have only created hardships and the bet here today is that these actions will force a default and an exit from the euro. I hope not! There is room for compromise on both sides, but only a major reduction in Greek debt will solve the problem.

Germany, above all, has lost its way as the leader of European unity and cooperation. This reinforces the reality that in these times of crisis the whole of European political leadership are tied to the worst trends in their countries and have the narrowest agendas.

The most important likely result of this outcome is furthering the future of the euro, undermining the EU, and most important the core elements of a united cooperative and effective Europe.  For America these outcomes, along with their fundamental causes, weakens Europe’s capacity to solve region wide and global problems or to act effectively on a global basis.  This means that the U.S.’s key partner in trying to solve critical global problems is becoming an undependable shadow of what it can and should be. While we have a  desirable “pivot” to Asia. it seems we need again to do a deep rethink about strengthening Europe and working hard for a more outward looking enlightened Europe before it is too late.

More on these European issues in another post!

We welcome your comments!

RUSSIA REMAINS REGRESSIVE AT HOME AND ABROAD: CAN PUTIN EVER LEARN?

Vladimir Putin Speaks in Moscow.
Vladimir Putin Speaks in Moscow.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

With news that conflict in Ukraine has increased with Russian troops and their insurgent rebels still trying to make brutal advances, in Moscow Putin remains in a state of denial about the Russian economy and gloates over his assumed “victories”. With this, one must wonder what world Putin is living in and will there ever be a revelation of reality and desire to do good for the Russian people?

At home Russia may be in a mini recession of 2% and seems on a trajectory for more drops in its GDP in the coming months.  The Ruble has increased some and oil which also has increased slightly seems to be hitting a plateau but still far from its high, but the long range fundamental economic condition of Russia seems very bleak especially for the majority of average Russian citizens.

On the international stage, Russia has announced the “sale” of ballistic defense systems to Iran.

The offer of the Russian S-300 missile defense system to Iran remains problematic. While it may not be an immediate delivery, as a Russian Foreign Ministry official said on April 23rd, it “is not a matter of the nearest future,” according to Haaretz.  The TASS official news agency reported Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov saying “It is more important that a political and legal decision, which opens up such a possibility, is taken.”  Putin also made overtures to a dangerous North Korea.

In the cyber area, Russian hackers also broke into unclassified networks at the Department of Defense earlier this year, Pentagon Secretary Ashton Carter said on April 23rd. No real surprises there, however an indicator of hostile intent.

NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg, the organization’s secretary general, said on Thursday that it is seeing a “substantial Russian buildup,” along the border with and inside Ukraine. This is violating the Minsk cease-fire agreement and again shows that Russia still is using misinformation and lies as a tool of its diplomacy and propaganda strategy. In the long-run this will undermine Russia’s believability and, when at another time, it will need creditability it will have been lost.  There will be a point, as in Soviet times, when respect at home and abroad is imperiled. Already the outflow of funds indicates that this has already taken place.

The West needs badly a new and serious reassessment of Russian actions and strategy, but it can’t be a kneed-jerk reaction, or an overreaction. It needs to be rather a rational consideration of the dangers from an aggressive Russia and a long-term strategy of turning the relationship around to more productive and safer conditions as we did in the old “cold war.” Then firmness, restraint and engagement worked. One of the best ways to react would be to start a set of strategies within NATO, EU, G-7 and the OECD countries of a growth and productivity strategy rather than the conservative and failed “austerity” programs that have slowed growth, caused large unemployment, and created instability in key countries.

We need to stop the fights within our open society communities and start to jointly move rapidly to increased employment of the “middle and poorer” majority, improving our own infrastructure both physically and intellectually, become fairer, and start to cooperate on the many global challenges that threaten to set asunder our societies and our globe. President Obama has tried to do this, Europe remains divided over Greece, growth, immigration and beset by racist right-wing parties that threaten democracy and progress. These need to be addressed and addressed with vigor and in common. Then, Russia as a regressive nation with a backward looking regime might see a real future in cooperation with a growing and robust West and act in its own interest.

 

We welcome your comments!    

 

LOOKING TOWARDS AND BEYOND 2015: THE HARD STRATEGY AND DECISIONS IN A DETERIORATING WORLD

President Obama defending U.S Foreign Policy at West Point.
President Obama defending U.S Foreign Policy at West Point.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

In a world that increasingly seems bent on self-destruction, bad governance, and self-inflicted wounds, there is clearly an urgent need to, as they say, “get a grip” on things!  As President Obama has said, none of these problems are easy; they will take a long time to deal with and they can’t be done by just one nation. Nor can they be addressed by just doing nothing. The key is, as Obama again said, is “not to do stupid things”, and needless to say do intelligent things and do them well and do them with other like minded nations whenever possible. This means first of all examining with care our values and our real interest, the cost and practicality of possible options, and not least the probability of success and any unforeseen consequences; what some would call “blowback.”

The last Bush administration did none of this and this administration has learned hopefully that lessen of “not doing stupid things.” That does not mean withdrawing from the world, but it may mean forcefully responding to a crisis when necessary and practical. But what are the elements that either make good policy and strategy and what are the harsh constraints in devising good strategy and properly implementing it, and with others, in a true multilateral coalition?

First, one domestic constraint on an effective American role in addressing global challenges is our corrosive political landscape, which is too often driven by hate, ignorance, stupidity, and partisan politics and not by good values or the national interest. The right wing neo-con hawks have criticized Obama for “leading from behind”. This pejorative statement is simply partisan from those who got us into an unnecessary war at great cost to our nation, the lives of brave men and woman in the armed forces, and our embassy staff. Now they are looking at pushing a unilateral unnecessary war with Iran and seem to be fomenting a  crude “cold war” strategy and creating implacable enemies out of China and Russia. Sadly, some of this is to increase mindlessly the DOD budget on behalf of the military-industrial sector and to push narrow ideological and myopic interests.

This is not the way to make smart strategic and foreign policy decisions. It has already hurt our global role as Congress debates the coming budget and pushes restrictions on the president’s ability to conduct his foreign policies as this is written.

Second, external constraints were partly covered in our earlier post and several are looked at below and others will follow in this series. In our last look at forward strategy, we tried to take a “macro” perspective and asked: “did the institutions of our international community react, educate, and address with honesty and in comprehensive detail what these changes and trends portend for our frail planet? Does the international community know what needs to be done to safeguard the security and lives of its citizens?” Looking ahead, there are two categories of our analysis: (1) Recognizing the distinctly “macro global” trends of 2015, and (2) an attempt to understand these trends and consequences while devising possible responses to specific functional and regional problem areas.”  Another installment will be looking forward into 2015 and beyond, would be aimed specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy.

THE CHANGING GLOBAL AND STRATEGIC AND LANDSCAPE AND THE DECLINE OF GOVERNMENTS AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS TO ADDRESS OUR REAL AND COMING RISKS

There are many reasons why governments and international organizations seem increasingly incapable of addressing and mitigating our global challenges and high-risk dangers. Not least, as we have noted, is the growing indifference of many nations including in the United States to the plight of the most at risk and vulnerable. The recent global recession had a deep impact on the reaction of citizens who have a growing sense of hopelessness.  Encouraged in the United States  by right-wing Republicans, their billionaire backers, and their paid for media and pundits, have long pushed for disdain of role of government and international organizations in serving the well-being of common citizens in need.  These forces drove public opinion against sufficient support for preemptive action to address major dangers to national security and global stability and humanitarian crises. This means that organizations like UNESCO, UNDP, UNEP, UNHCR, World Health Organization, World Food Program, NATO, World Bank, and the UN system as a whole including the Security Council, are under funded and restricted by member states from taking effective action to address oncoming risks and conflicts. If this trend continues, the risk to American security and to the global system’s ability to address and mitigate serious major threats will continue to deteriorate and risks and costs will grow and not diminish. We need a new look on how to make these international institutions more effective and forward looking.  

TOP LEVEL THREATS: PROLIFERATION OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND DESTABILIZED REGIONS AND NATIONS 

Despite all the headlines about terrorism, the far greater risk to U.S. and global security at the existential level are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue or unstable and confrontational nations. This includes Russia under the unpredictable President Putin and Pakistan and India with nuclear weapons; nations both of which are in conflict with each other. North Korea already has nuclear weapons and is led by an unpredictable leader, and the possibility of an Iran with nuclear weapons in a region of ubiquitous conflict and instability. Each of these problematic centers will remain well into 2015  and beyond and need a much higher level of attention by all global actors than has been seen hereto through by all nations and especially among some in Congress who seem to think “war” is the answer to every issue.  I suggest to our readers to look at the post of Secretary Kerry’s Geneva press conference for an insight into this problem with a focus on Iran and beyond.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES TOP LEVEL THREATS

As President Obama has made clear there is no more important crisis the globe faces that climate change and its consequences.  Many members of the Republican Congress do not think it exists, or do not think that it is caused by human activities, and even encourage energy sources that are among the worst polluters. This roadblock needs to be overcome with an enlightened global leadership, and the environmental community and citizens need to act. This is what the president had done by domestic legal regulations and international agreements that do not require Senate ratification. The agreement with China, the trip to India with this as a key topic, and with efforts to at last forge a global consensus on a broad range of climate impacting actions indicates some useful progress. More is still needed.  I think 2015 and 2016 will see major moves abroad with our allies on this issue while opposition by Republicans will persist.  

GLOBAL POVERTY, CIVIL UNREST, POPULATION MOVEMENTS AND GROWING COMMUNAL AND REGIONAL WARS AND TERRORISM

There is little question that America and the rest of the world will increasingly be impacted by the larger forces we have already seen arising. Frankly, they are at a cost of our past indifference to what is happening beyond our borders. Few paid attention to these forces; many of our leaders and our citizens and especially our corrupted media are giving more space and time to what the last stupid celebrity did, diverting our people from facing serious issues and solutions.

Terrorism is just one result of indifference by governments, powerful elites, and business to a larger social responsibility.  It will not go away overnight but it can be mitigated and in part overcome. The primary action needed is to give jobs to those that live in hopelessness and despair. The other is to fight the ideology of hate and those that use terrorism to achieve their aims.  Here the answer is not just military. Often here is where diplomacy and collective political and economic action can and should mitigate the conditions that breed conflict and narrow nationalism or racial hate. 

Countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, much of the conflict-ridden Middle East and many parts of Africa need greater help than has so far been given. If we do not recognize this we will be over whelmed over time by several results: more conflict, an increased spread of diseases, greater poverty, and humanitarian and natural disasters and in the end a high risk world for all.

THE SO-CALLED RISE OF MAJOR “NEW” ACTORS ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE

A lot has been written about the rise of “new” powers like China, India, and, for some, Russia.  This concept is often joined by the so-called “decline” of America and Europe. Frankly, this has both a part of truth but also a lot of nonsense.  Yes, India and China are growing but each has still deep-seated weaknesses, which will undermine their inherent potential for decades due not least to the large inequality that exists and social, racial, and ethnic divisions within each society. For Russia, despite all the aggressive and destructive actions, it is a state of concealed but deep crisis and decline that seems, under Putin, to reject modernity or even rationality and has destroyed its citizens meaningful participation in their collective decisions. This can’t last in the present equilibrium that is unstable over the long run. Putin is an historical tragedy for Russia at this time.  But the West and the rest of the world need a strategy to draw Russia over time into a community of cooperating and responsible states and we should never give up this goal. 

Some European leaders recognize this, but the silly forces on the right seem to think unneeded war with a nuclear-armed irrational nation is a bit of a lark. In 2015, Obama seems to know this and is struggling to find the right balance of restraint and prevention of aggression and the “inducement” of diplomacy, economic gain, and cooperation. We are likely to see more of this but Ukraine is the testing ground for both sides in 2015 and beyond and the only “good” solution requires Ukraine to remain a viable independent and unified state that can choose its destiny in the long run.

More on specific challenges will come in future posts and a look a creating a more effective international structure and the ability to foresee earlier coming dangers and respond.  

We welcome your comments!

AFTER THE TRAGEDY OF DEBALTSEVE UKRAINE IN DISTRESS: WHAT NOW?

Leaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine at the  summit in Minsk on February 11th and 12th.
Leaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine at the summit in Minsk on February 11th and 12th.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

The harsh realities of the defeat of the Ukrainian forces at Debaltseve and the implications of this debacle highlight two realities. One is that Putin never intended anything but deception and aggression, and the West knew it capitulated to overwhelming force of arms. The second reality is what now needs to be done? On this, there is some disagreement. The Europeans seem content with the results; they did not have to do anything to help the Ukrainians, the Ukrainian government is in a state of disarray, and now the question is whether Europe, and perhaps America, can marshal the will, resources, or the moral inclination to save what remains as a result of their inaction and indifference.

Within the NATO alliance, or what is left of it now, there are a range of differences. Some want to go to back to the “normal-normal,” reduce economic sanctions, increase trade with Russia and pretend nothing has happened as Putin incorporates Ukraine into his own cruel dictatorship and forever deny Ukraine the opportunity to be part of a democratic Europe. The hope of this view is that Putin will forever be content with 46 million more souls under his power and no more desire to test the West as he has done with his armies, planes flying to NATO countries boundaries, and his subs around the world.  There is some “real politics” to this position; an acknowledgment that the West is at a military disadvantage in this geographic space, most due to the massive cutting back on defense spending, and a loss of a sense of a united and strong Europe by those who do not remember or would like to forget, like Merkel, WW II and its lessons. 

The other school frankly is also in some disarray. That school of strategy recognizes the debacle for what it is and argues for a robust response, mostly by strengthened sanctions and added economic assistance for Ukraine, and for a few provisions of arms.  There is a real fear that the Baltic States are the next objective of Putin; mostly because they are easy targets with their Russian minorities, and there is an ease of destabilizing tactics by Russian special forces and pressure despite being members of NATO.

What is now clear is that Putin and his mercenary separatist forces violated the latest Minsk cease-fire agreement, and a strong Western reaction will be needed. However, there is likely to be a messy argument about what these reactions should be if anything. With the Europeans in some disarray, the allies are looking to the United States to see our reaction. So far we have gotten words but no action. Likely, there are urgent quiet talks about next steps among Merkel, Hollande and perhaps even the so far immobilized Prime Minister Cameron who seems to disappear under the covers on this other than his empty mindless words. 

For America and for Europe the easiest and least “aggressive” option would be a massive economic assistance to Ukraine with lots of strings attached to guard against corruption and incompetency. But most serious strategic analysts believe that providing arms and training should be key part of a new and bolder approach to save what remains of Ukraine and provide some hope for its people for a democratic future. Frankly, this looks and feels like closing the door after the horses have left, but better late than never.

The question then becomes for decision-makers whether to “save” a dismembered Ukraine or let it all fall into Putin’s grip without any further effort. This option has its own implications and risks, which may fall in Putin’s assessment that the West is but a “Potemkin village” empty of will, enfeebled by loss of vision, moral courage, and prime for the pickings.

In sum, there are a number of things we can do to help Ukraine even in its dire straits to survive. I do not agree with the implied assumption of some that we should abandon Ukraine, some 46 million people who longingly want to be part of an open democratic West, to the cruel hands of Putin. President Obama rightly tried to engage Putin with his “re-set button.” But Putin had other less benign objectives.

But the blame game does not get us to a more constructive relationship. It will require a frank acknowledgment that we seem to be dealing with a Putin that is not willing to either reach out cooperatively with the West, nor is willing to tell the truth in his dealing with the West.  That does require a deep rethink of our strategy, short term and long-term. 

In this sad situation the real losers are not the West, but rather the Russian people. Yet we must not give up on our strategic key long-term goal to help Russia be part of a responsible international community and an open society. For the present moment, Russian hopes are doomed to a dark cold future and real decline, not rise in Russian influence, prosperity, and engagement in global problem solving if Putin continues his aggressive and authoritarian ways. This is sad for all sides. We also need to look after our allies and their fears and concerns.

 

We welcome your comments!

THE UKRAINE CONUNDRUM CONTINUED: TO SAVE OR NOT TO SAVE?

US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poreshenko on February 5, 2015. He is meeting a few other Ukrainian officials and the leaders of Germany and France to discuss a joint plan of action to deal with continued escalation of the conflict. Reuters/Jim Watson
US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poreshenko on February 5, 2015. Kerry is meeting a few other Ukrainian officials and the leaders of Germany and France to discuss a joint plan of action to deal with continued escalation of the conflict. Reuters/Jim Watson

By Harry C. Blaney


Quotes on opposing views and supportive views on the critical decision for the United States to provide military to aid Ukraine. We will provide a few examples  over time to get a sense of both sides of the argument:

OPPOSITION TO ARMS AID TO UKRAINE:

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen:

“More weapons in this area will not bring us closer to a solution, and will not end the suffering of the population. We need to put a lot of pressure on the separatists and Russia in an economic and political way to find a solution at the table and not on the (battle)field because to give input to a potential escalation is not a good solution. We need a sustainable political solution for this area.”

(Article from Reuters written by By Adrian Croft and David Alexander, published February 5, 2015)

Eugene Rumer, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment and Thomas Graham senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff:

“Ukraine cannot win this conflict now. It will deepen the tragedy if soldiers are sent to fight in a hopeless battle. A free and independent Ukraine, a solid defense of the European order and a firm rebuff of Russian aggression are worthy goals. But they do not absolve us of our responsibility to consider the consequences of our actions. The current proposal to arm Ukraine does not meet that standard.” 

(Financial Times Article by Eugene Rumer and Thomas Graham, published February 3, 2015 as an Op-Ed.)


SUPPORT TO ARMS AID TO UKRAINE:

President of Brookings Institution Strobe Talbott and Director of Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at Brookings Institution Steven Pifer:

“Even with enormous support from the West, the Ukrainian army will not be able to defeat a determined attack by the Russian military. This point is well understood in Kyiv. The more appropriate goal of Western assistance should be to give the Ukrainian military additional defense capabilities that would allow it to inflict significant costs on the Russian military, should the Russians launch new offensive operations, sufficient enough that Moscow will be deterred from further aggression…A firm Western response can bolster Kyiv’s ability to deter further Russian attacks.”

(Brookings Institution Report: Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must do, by Steven Pifer and Strobe Talbott, published February 2015)

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter:

“My responsibilities would be to protect America and its friends and allies in a turbulent and dangerous world.” We need to support Ukraine in defending themselves.”

(Quoted from his testimony at his Senate Confirmation Hearing on February 4, 2015)


THE UKRAINE CONUNDRUM CONTINUED: TO SAVE OR NOT TO SAVE?

By: Harry C. Blaney III

Once again we are faced with a critical decision, which now seems imminent, as to whether to provide defensive combat weapons to Ukraine in the face of an onslaught of offensive weapons, supplies, and direction not least from direct Russian troops in Ukraine. The separatists are now on a major offensive with the aim of either destabilizing Ukraine or taking over a large proportion of the sad country. This includes the key section of South Ukraine which provides a land corridor to Crimea and would mostly block Ukrainian access to the Black Sea to the East.  The question is both simple and direct: either stand down and have Ukraine decimated to one degree or another by total defeat with essential Russian control or a major partition of the country; or supply major  arms and financial aid to either prevent further inroads by the Russian backed separatists or regain some ground and preserve Ukrainian independence and freedom to choose close relations with a democratic Europe.

There are strong voices in Europe and the West on this question. The New York Times reports a proposal to send $3 billion worth of weaponry and military equipment to Ukraine. The essential argument for action is that defeat and takeover of Ukraine by force of arms without any effective efforts to stop the attack would be a major act destabilizing the security of Europe, undermining NATO’s credibility, as well as undermining America’s own commitment to a “Europe whole and free.”  Also, 49 million Ukrainians would be living under Putin’s kindly hands forever as it did under Stalin and his successors in the Soviet Union days.

On the other side is the argument by two groups otherwise differing groups.  One is the liberals, who are opposed to added wars and their cost in lives and money and believe that U.S. action might only exacerbate the U.S. Russian conflict.  In the other group, there is an isolationist tendency of some right wing Republican libertarians to say to hell with the lives of other people abroad, and that we should stay out of the world’s problems no matter the cost to them, global security, or lives, unless others directly attack America.  On the strategic side some writers have argued that we can’t rescue Ukraine if the Russians make a full out effort and our action could escalate the conflict with unknown risks. Thus stay out.

The most recent news is a push back by the Obama administration on the provision of weapons to the Ukrainian government.  While the issue is supposedly under review the signals recently are that they are not clearly the “preferred” option.  The State Department Spokeswoman, Jen Psaki told reporters this week at the daily briefing that there is an “ongoing discussion” but that no decisions had been made in response to  The Times report on Sunday that the Obama administration is taking a “fresh look” at the question of military aid.

But Psaki on Monday said Washington is particularly concerned about “escalating separatist violence” and the rebels’ attempts to expand the territory they control beyond the cease-fire line agreed to last September in Minsk, Belarus.

“Naturally, we take into account events on the ground and events that are ongoing,” Psaki said.  She said the focus remains to find a political and diplomatic solution and that the U.S. and its Western allies have no interest in engaging in a proxy war with Russia. “Our objective here is to change the behavior of Russia,” Psaki said. “That’s the reason why we’ve put the sanctions in place.” 

As part of this push back, Ben Rhodes, deputy White House national security adviser, told CNN on Monday Feb. 2nd “We still think that the best way to influence Russia’s calculus is through those economic sanctions that are biting deep into the Russian economy.” Rhodes also said in the interview on CNN Monday February 2nd “We don’t think the answer to the crisis in Ukraine is simply to inject more weapons.” 

More recently this week on Thursday there is a key meeting in Kiev with the Ukrainian government leaders, Secretary John Kerry, and the leaders of Germany and France. The aim is to hammer out a joint plan of action to deal with the continued escalation of the conflict and Russian increased aggression. Kerry made it clear that a political solution is the preferred approach but that the U.S could not ignore Russian aggression.

The other recent development is the statement in Senate hearings of the nominated Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter that he was “very much inclined” to provide arms to Ukraine.

On Friday, the German and French leaders will go now to Moscow, where they are to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Mr. Hollande said that he and Ms. Merkel would present an initiative to end the fighting and guarantee the “full territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

Clearly, there is still some debate in Washington, and probably in NATO capitals, about the feasibility and the risks of direct lethal military aid as well as that economic sanctions still seem to remain a preferred tool for altering Russian behavior despite, so far, not inhibiting Putin to put even more military force and fighting on the table.

Frankly, there are elements of good and honest views on the part of some of the proponents of both positions. But the problem in my mind is that the costs of inaction clearly create a possible total breakdown of the security framework that was built at great cost after World War II, which gave Europe the prosperity and security it has had for decades under frankly the American security umbrella. It undermines American credibility globally. It is also argued that inaction may embolden Putin to push even further into NATO countries knowing that the West is incapable of action out of a fear of Russia.

Under these circumstances it is likely that some emergency assistance will be provided. The questions that need and should be asked and answered are: (1) How much and will they be sufficient to save Ukraine from defeat? (2) Can they be provided quickly enough to prevent major conquest by the Russian backed separatists? (3) What are other possible tools that can be invoked that might lead to a cession of conflict and withdrawal of Russian troops, assistance, and some kind of halt of conflict and an independent Ukraine?  A number of key Western leaders, not just the usual neo-cons, including George Soros, have argued strongly for an immediate commitment for a major assistance package before it is too late. How will other nations react?

In each of these cases the key and almost unknowable issue is the ultimate intent of President Putin towards his stated desire to recreate some kind of new Soviet Union (called EURASIAN Union perhaps) or in some people’s view, a new “Russian Empire”. Is he willing to destroy Russia in the effort much like Hitler? Is he simply pushing to get as much as possible at the least cost?  Will the Europeans act in ways that will add further real sanctions or give military aid to help deter further aggression?

My view is the President Obama, for a host of good reasons, cannot stand down and do nothing at this moment of severe added conflict. Putin is pushing the envelope to its extreme. The question then in terms of our action is how much, for how long and at what cost?  Also how can we mitigate the possibility of escalation and do we have a strategy still for a creditable “off ramp for Putin” that preserves Ukrainian independence and democracy? None of the issues or options are easy and there is no costless option, but that of the cost of living in a world of conflict and uncertainty and of high risk.

If there is a moment of historical and strategic importance it is now, and the question is both to ask for wisdom and even caution from President Obama, and perhaps hopelessly wisdom, or if not that, self-preservation by Putin and other leaders of Russia.

We welcome your comments!