Friday, September 05, 2014

Ukraine and the Baltic

I am beginning to despair of our government ever thinking sensibly about foreign policy.

I was not especially in favor of NATO expansion in the 1990s.  NATO was a cold war artifact, and I didn't see why it should be extended into eastern Europe, whose future was surely somewhat uncertain.  Two War College colleagues of mine from opposite sides of the political fence wrote an effective op-ed opposing it, on the grounds that it would needlessly antagonize Russia.  I don't blame NATO expansion for what Putin is doing now.  Yes, he resents the US's pretensions, power and influence, but he simply wants to restore Russia to something closer to its former glory, just as Lenin and Trotsky and Stalin did after the peace of Brest-Litovsk.  It is not clear that he actually wants to annex more of Ukraine, and indeed, as I write, there are reports of a peace agreement with the Kiev government that will agree to decentralize the country further and presumably end any idea of its becoming a NATO member or a western bastion.  As I indicated months ago when the crisis began, I think that we can live with that and that we do not have much choice.

The Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, however, are another matter altogether.  As I learned writing my dissertation 40 years ago, they were one of the success stories of the interwar period, when they built thriving economies based upon dairy products.  They are culturally more part of Scandinavia than of Russia, and their democracies are working quite well.  Their Russian minorities realize how much better off they are under their current governments than they would be in Putin's Russia.  Whether or not they should have been invited into NATO, they are there now, and we have to take our alliance obligations seriously.

When the United States broke James Baker's promise not to expand NATO into the former Warsaw Pact or the former USSR, it stated that it would not station troops permanently in the new nations.  Even though Putin is now violating international law by sending Russian troops into Ukraine to help the rebels there, we apparently still feel compelled to stick to that pledge.   We are creating a rapid deployment force that could supposedly move into the Baltic states if they were threatened.  Putting on my military strategist's hat for a moment, let me say that I think this is a serious mistake.

A conflict over the Baltic states between NATO and Russia would be a limited war, a struggle for relatively small pieces of territory.  It would not involve the United States on a huge front.  Estonia is largely protected by large lakes on its eastern frontier.  Latvia and Lithuania are somewhat more threatened, but the terrain is difficult and an invasion could probably be blocked at key points.  In addition, NATO would have as a potential counterstroke the option of occupying Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave that used to be part of East Prussia and which is entirely cut off from Belarus by Poland and Lithuania.   The question, however, would be who got there first.  Putin knows how to pick the right moment for an adventure, and he could easily provoke or fake incidents in the Baltic and get troops into them within the 48 hours it would take for our force to deploy.  That is why, I think, NATO has to station substantial forces in those territories now--just as it had to field large armies along the NATO and Warsaw Pact border during the Cold War.

I still think we should also be making diplomatic proposals to try, in essence, to re-establish peace in Europe.  I do not think they will succeed, because I don't think Putin will accept the status quo any more formally than he already has--but he will not last forever.  We cannot however, as I argued last week, trust to some inevitable historical tide to keep the new nations free and democratic.  Rather than send more troops back into the Middle East and Central Asia where they can do nothing but harm, we should offer them to the Baltic states, who belong inside the ambit of western civilization.


galacticsurfer said...

I have long assumed that the logic of american history is to take eurasia after taking the edges in wwii. We are on plan.Whether or not this is a moral or justifiable goal is irrelevant. Empire needs expansion like a tumor to survive and by all evidence the usa is de facto the largest military and economic force in alll history, with lingua francs and reserve currency leveraging this. However regardless of the outcome, whether russia and china are the new poodlesof the usa 1%, as merkel and abe are, spouting nato party line, the global system is based on pseudo-humanisn, i.e. consumerism
and managed democracy, where plutocrats manage relations between govt. and people, determine the" facts" we are to believe, etc.

You are right that Putin is not eternal. The next Russian leader could be more corruptible, certainly so in China. If climate change, dedollarization, peak oil, intrrnal US resistance does not break the back of empire(also possible EU collapse, japan bankruptcy, etc.) then perhaps US expansion will continue. This expansion is trulylike "manifest destiny" in 19th century and like Rome, one must ask "When and where the battle of Teutoburg forest" will take place. Is putin Arminius and Obama Varus? Perhaps the battle is economic and the end winner is the US and global citizenry who get their country back from Ike's military industrial complex and today's FIRE economy. There is a saying among scientists that new paradigms are not discovered, old scientists just die off. From recent events, where all older politicians and press support one side unconditionally, filtering out inappropriate facts, this is reconfirmed.

Donetzk , etc. are still being bombed. Telman ,20-40 km inland towards donetsk hasbeen taken by ukrainian soldiers. So the truce was a deceit, as everything else coming from kiev and washington and wall street.

Bozon said...


Great stuff.

I remember reading how Kennan detested the urge toward a NATO alliance.

(I remain an advocate for what would have been the Patton solution. The principal military players on the ground seem to me to have shared this view.)

I just would say that stationing a bunch of US troops in the Baltic now would be something of a mistake, in my judgment.

Galactic also seems to me to hit some high notes here.

all the best

Paul Warfield said...

I'm surprised at how heavily your views lean toward blaming Putin primarily for the current instability in Ukraine.

It seems painfully obvious to me that the U.S. has been the primary catalyst, and, furthermore, that it (and its puppets) continue to antagonize in efforts to increase tensions.

There are many examples, but take the downing of flight MH17, for example. Immediately after the fight was downed, the U.S. and its allies, using the thoroughly captured Western MSM, screeched that it was Russia and Putin who were responsible. This went on for weeks, until the incessant and loud cries were suddenly replaced with a deafening silence.

Now what possible explanation could there be for such a stunning reversal? By any reasonable inference, there is only one: the actual evidence (e.g. black box recordings, radar) shows that rather than Russian culpability, the Ukranians were responsible for the downing.

Again, this is just one of many examples of outrageous and antagonistic behavior on the part of the U.S.

I'm not a Putin apologist, but some balance is in order.

galacticsurfer said...

I have a general comment on your remark earlier that you presume that no regeneration of usa will take place this cycle. Thhinking of the generational concept I believe structural changes happen each time a cycle is worked through. From colony to country, from federation to strong union, from rwgional to global power respectivley in last 3 cycles. Washington is trying to expand again and is reaching physical limits. Culturally Russia, China, middle East are not amenable to usa domination as they are culturally different and too big to absorb. Degeneration or stasis are the alternatives. Prigogines nobel winning thesis that open systems reorganize at higher or lower levels depending on capability to absorb energy and structure fits here. USA is overextended militarily and should withdraw to within its borxers and economic capabilities without dollar subsidy, which draws dowm foreign wealth to benefit of mi, itary industrial complex, fire economy. British empire drew back and now usa should do same to preserve its democratic form or else it will end like Rome, despotic imperila system of plutocrats. This is worst case from foolish leaders like Bush jr.

Simple Mind said...

This is very helpful re: Putin's worldview

Simple Mind said...

Oops, forgot the link: