When the Russians more or less militarily annexed the Crimea a couple of days ago , it was pretty obvious the West wasn’t going to go to war over it, any previously mumbled promises to Ukraine that implied we might aside. It’s still obvious, not that avoiding a war is a bad thing and all.
Who can blame Europe for not wanting another war? They’ve hosted so many, and I’m reliably told if you wander about you can still find nostalgic bits of wreckage to prove it. There are parts left over from wars everywhere. Castles, forts, the Kaiser Wilhelm church (what’s left of it) in Berlin. Graves….lots and lots of graves. Graves of local men, and graves of men who came from across the world, and graves of civilians.
In January of this year, in Euskirchen Germany, a bulldozer operator was killed by a bomb from WWII, and it’s not uncommon for unexploded ordnance to be found, some dating back to the big fandango they held 100 years ago this year. The Europeans have done a super job of cleaning up the place, and I’m 100% certain they aren’t interested in having to do it again anytime soon.
This is why, no one, not even the allegedly crazy Russians, really wants to die for real-estate to get it back into Russia. Maybe some Ukrainians are willing to die out of pride for Ukraine, but the Russians prefer it be done with the bare minimum of shooting, explosions and death. Even ‘crazy’ ‘evil’ people understand that upsets folks, and the shooting, explosions and death get out of control, and pretty soon it’s happening everywhere in sight. The Russians don’t want a war either, but they’re not averse to picking up (re-acquiring) some real-estate on the cheap.
For my entire life we, Americans, helped keep the Russians from taking over the joint by being in places they wanted to be before they could be there. Kudos to NATO and all for asking us to stay. But everybody knew when we parked Americans in their path all across Europe and the Russians did drive tanks through Fulda Gap…if they did it over American bodies; America was likely to take a war-like exception to it. Geo-politics and military science is brutally practical about things like that, and the Russians understood. America was across the ocean and much harder for Soviet tank division to blitzkrieg than a quick push to the east bank of the Rhine. We made it difficult for them by being where they wanted to be in ways that only war, or government over throw, could clear us out of. We stood in Western Europe and they stood in Eastern Europe and we glared at each other. The Europeans understood where the fight was going to happen if it happened. If some were nicer to the Soviets (now the Russians) than we liked, it was probably out of practicality. At times they glared at both us and the Russians.
The ‘other’ people further east, in the Russian zone, just had to live with the Russians because clearing them out would wreck the joint, and everybody knew that too. They didn’t glare at anybody because they didn’t dare. Then the Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc collapsed, they became Russians again and Ukrainians and Latvians and Estonians and Lithuanians and Moldovans and Serbs and you get the idea.
The Europeans don’t want a war, the Russians don’t want a war, we don’t want a war. Having so much experience in wars, and cleaning up after wars, one can understand the reluctance to do the centennial anniversary reenactment of 1914 this year with live rounds.
Still, Russian occupation of the Crimea should never have happened if the West was sincere about helping the Ukrainians keep their lands (especially after the Russians vs Georgia take-down in 2008). I have mixed emotions about our policing the world, and our commitments to far flung places. But our word has to mean something too, and if we bother to give it, we ought to keep it. Not keeping it leads to where we are, drawing red lines and erasing them just as quickly, making threats on an international basis and then barring a couple people from Disney World to show how much we mean it. There’s a whole set of posts that could be written on why we let down our guard in Europe. A quick hit list, military use fatigue, the cost, the simple hope that the not Soviet Russians weren’t going to start up the ‘let’s take over a country’ club again, resurgent Russian pride, feckless American policy, and a new world order.
The biggest one we hear about is this inane belief in some new order that has taken hold. A magic set of rules for countries came into being when we hit the millennium. Who knew? It’s not clear, to me anyway, why that is, must be a side effect of climate change or something because I don’t recall any burning bushes or Jewish prophets with stone tablets making the news recently. I do know our Secretary of State thinks they exist ( I mentioned feckless American policy); Angela Merkel seems to think they exist. But maybe no one forwarded the memos to Vladimir Putin, because all in all he seems pretty proud of using the old rules, and so are his constituents.
No, there is no magic set of new rules. I can’t even say it would be nice, because not only is it not real, it’s not even clearly laid out what it means internationally. Furthermore the old rules still work and still apply. Power and vacuums of power. In fact these new rules already seem remarkably ineffective against people who still use the old rules. As a result there aren’t any new magic formulas or methods for getting the Russians to give Crimea back now either. They certainly aren’t going to do it because we in the West tell each other that Russia is naked in the eyes of the world. They aren’t going to do it no matter how many times some idiot calls them ‘evil’. They aren’t going to do it because they suddenly understand they’re violating the 21st century rules.
Just because the West doesn’t want to apply power doesn’t mean the Russians can’t and won’t. When a country can take over a chunk of another country in a week, there really isn’t much threats that will take months to show effect are going to do to stop them. Done deals. Because people don’t want to wait that long for results (especially the Ukrainians in this case), and life, and business, and in Europe’s case, the need to heat their houses, goes on.
If the West is serious, and worried about the Russians moving into Kiev, park ‘non-threatening’ NATO forces in Kiev. Not just visiting, full time. Park a ‘non-threatening’ contingent of ground troops in Estonia (note the date of that article, last year…). See if the other Baltic countries would like to have permanent physical NATO contingents with troops who are not local. Go beyond ‘air policing’. Put the equivalent of a guard contingent on the equivalent of the Rhine bridges before the Russians do the equivalent of occupying the Rhineland.
And hit our own damn power reset button. Drill like hell for natural gas and oil here in the US and export it to Europe to cut their dependence on Russia. The Russians will understand, they’ll bitch, but they’ll stop because they really don’t want the same war we don’t want. There can’t be a whole lot in Estonia the Russians want to die for.
Project POWER back into the vacuum we’ve created before Putin again proves the old rules, the same ones Hitler used so well, still work just fine. Do it before Chamberlain calls to say he wants his ‘new’ rules back.
Not gonna happen, I realize. We have ‘smart’ diplomacy now, we lead from behind. We’re going to jaw about the new international rules the millennium brought us, and threaten the Russians with our economic power even while we struggle to keep that power turned on for ourselves.