IN OUR OWN BEST INTEREST (07/2014)
Recent events in Ukraine which, without question, have their origin in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, have caused shock and disbelief throughout the world. No apology or demonstration of remorse has been forthcoming from the dictatorial regime, and none can be expected. This is a leader who is in total control with no checks or balances on his power of any kind and who is becoming more and more lawless in his behavior.
Equally certain is that the act of downing the civilian airliner was a mistake—the forces on the ground who fired the surface-to-air missile and their Russian controllers mistook the plane for a military transport aircraft. That this horrifying act was a mistake makes it no less unforgivable; Russian forces and “rebels” have no business in Ukraine and the unprecedented risk to civilians that their illegal presence and extraordinarily powerful weaponry poses is unwarranted and inexcusable.
Several steps can be taken immediately to reduce the likelihood of another disaster of this sort occurring. Part of the reason that Russian leadership feels so emboldened to act in this manner is that they presume quite correctly that there will be no consequences to their actions and that they can act with impunity. President Putin continues to ride an unprecedented wave of popularity at home, due in part to the obsequious, fawning nature of the world community which has elevated him to a level of international prestige which is decidedly undeserved. Steps must be taken to reverse this trend, which would serve to rapidly erode his base of support at home and, hopefully, reign in his military adventurism.
- The American military and our leadership are currently perceived as weak internationally which is interpreted by adversaries as an invitation to follow expansionist policies. An obvious, open building up of and modernization of our military would go a long way in getting the attention of the aggressors. Despite the age of some of our most powerful naval assets, modernization of these systems into four seaborne battle groups—such as were at sea when Ronald Reagan was president—would have this effect immediately. If the question, “Why field such assets if we’re not going to use them?” arises, the simple response is, “We’re fielding these assets so we don’t have to use them.”
- More aggressive economic sanctions—including freezing of assets and suspension of trade with Russia—would hit the Russian economy hard and serve to de-popularize the Russian president, making a change of leadership there at least a possibility in the future.
- Working with FIFA and the world community to revoke Russian hosting of the next World Cup and immediately confer this honor upon the runner-up would serve to de-legitimize the Russian President on the world stage and demonstrate his toxicity to the world. After recent events, he thoroughly deserves to be a pariah.
- Establish a new ‘Warsaw Pact’ with a title such as ‘Organization for the Common Defense of Eastern Europe’ as a defensive, united military front including all of the former Soviet satellite nations and, obviously, excluding Russia. Joint, combined, defensive-in-nature military exercises and operations (which the US and NATO would support) could be held frequently. This would be designed to show President Putin that the cost of further military misadventures through the use of proxy forces anywhere in Eastern Europe would be unsustainable.
- Actively place the previously-abandoned missile defense shield throughout the member nations of the new defensive organization outlined above. This would be done over the petulant outcries of Russian leadership with a strong, unified military organization present to nullify any Russian threats of the use of force.
In 1897, the great military grand strategist and advocate of seapower, Alfred Thayer Mahan, wrote the following.
…the general temper of nations is more averse from war…we feel more dislike to the discomforts and sufferings attendant upon a breach of peace; but to retain that highly valued repose and the undisturbed enjoyment of the returns of commerce, it is necessary to argue upon somewhat equal terms of strength with an adversary. It is the preparedness of the enemy, not the acquiescence in the existing state of things, that now holds back the armies of Europe.
On the other hand, neither the sanctions of international law nor the justice of a cause can be depended upon for a fair settlement of differences, when they come into conflict with a strong political necessity on the one side opposed to comparative weakness on the other.
Why is Putin doing what he’s doing? Because he can.