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There has been a deluge of articles that have been written about the fascinating geopolitical struggle that is taking place in Ukraine. Some (much) of what has been written is not worthwhile, and usually contains shallow analogies to Hitler and Munich. However, here are some of the more interesting articles that I have read that make worthwhile points:
“The Ukraine Nuclear Delusion,” Gareth Evans, Project Syndicate
"An argument now widely heard is that Ukraine would not be in the trouble it is in had it retained its substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War. This has dangerous policy implications, and must not go unchallenged. […][W]eapons that would be manifestly suicidal to use are not ultimately a very credible deterrent. They will not stop the kind of adventurism now seen in Ukraine, because the risks associated with their deliberate use are simply too high.”
The idea that the situation in Ukraine would be different if they still had a nuclear arsenal has been speculated upon by many including me on this blog.
"Mr. Biden stood with Estonian president Toomas Ilves Tuesday to “reconfirm and reaffirm our shared commitment to collective self-defense, to Article 5.” He wanted to make it “absolutely clear what it means to the Estonian people” and that “President Obama and I view Article 5 of the NATO Treaty as an absolutely solemn commitment which we will honor—we will honor.” Shortly thereafter, Moscow “expressed concern” about the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia."
Estonia is a member of NATO and the EU, Russian adventurism in Estonia or the other Baltic states (formerly part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union) could play out very differently than the events in Ukraine.
“Obama: In Eisenhower’s Shadow,” Nicolaus Mills, World Policy Blog
“With Russian President Vladimir Putin reclaiming Crimea as part of Russia on Tuesday, criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy continues to escalate. Few, however, have come to the realization that the president is merely following a very traditional diplomatic strategy. Obama is acting with the same, pragmatic restraint President Dwight Eisenhower showed nearly 60 years ago, when the Soviet Union sent troops into Hungary to deal with that nation’s 1956 uprising. Realizing this stark comparison between President Obama and President Eisenhower’s actions would help put Ukraine’s crisis, and the international response, in context.”
Mills provides a good historical perspective using Hungary in 1956 as a point of comparison. Much of Eisenhower’s foreign policy would have been viewed by the Republican party of today as akin to appeasement and the comparisons to Neville Chamberlain would have been plentiful.
“Wake Up NATO, You’re No Deterrent to Russia,” Philip Seib, Defense One
“The organization retains considerable luster from its early years, but its reputation is not in line with reality. An honest appraisal of NATO’s capabilities will quickly find that most of its European members have let their militaries fall into such disrepair that NATO, in terms of accomplishing military missions, is nothing more than a horseless Tonto, while the United States remains the Lone Ranger.
The agreed-upon benchmark for defense spending by NATO’s member states is 2 percent of GDP, but as of 2012 only four of the organization’s 28 members reached this threshold – the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece and Estonia. […]
Russia is not Libya. If NATO underperformed against Muammar Qaddafi’s sloppy forces, why would anyone think that it could intimidate Russia’s first-rate military?”
Seib argues that NATO lacks the military and will power to deter or forcefully engage Russia.
“Who Lost Ukraine?” Elizabeth Pond, World Policy Blog
"For centuries, Russians have thought of Ukrainians as their little East Slav brothers. Most Russians still seem to think so. The Ukrainians, however, gave notice last week that they have now grown into adulthood and see themselves as autonomous Europeans. Their assertion of this new identity has shocked Russians in general and President Vladimir Putin in particular.
When future Russians ask, “Who lost Ukraine?,” the answer will be clear: President Vladimir Putin, through overreach.”
According to Pond, Putin has made a huge tactical blunder that will push Ukraine toward to Western sphere.
“Ukraine Signs Political Accord with European Union,” Henry Chu and Sergei Loiko, Los Angeles Times
"In Brussels, Ukrainian officials sealed a deal deepening political cooperation with the 28-nation European Union. […] The signing of the EU deal, which includes security and defense cooperation, risks further angering Moscow, which sees a Europe-leaning Ukraine as a threat. […] EU membership is not on offer. But the agreement puts Ukraine squarely in the orbit of the EU, which pledged to sign the accord immediately as a riposte to Russia’s armed takeover of Crimea."
If Ukraine can retain independence and viability as a sovereign state, it may indeed be pushed by Russia’s actions directly into the arms of the EU. The question will then be: will the EU help Ukraine meet its stringent admission requirements or will they let them flounder as they try to achieve those goals on their own?
“Kaliningrad: Russia’s Own Breakaway Region?” Dick Krickus, The National Interest
"Since the Russian government claims that the residents of Crimea have the legal justification to bolt from Ukraine, can we assume that the residents of Kaliningrad have the same right to join the EU? […] If allowed to vote in favor of joining Europe—without fear of retribution—it is plausible that most residents of the Oblast would vote to bolt from Russia; clearly this would be the preference of younger people."
Kaliningrad (Koingsberg) was historically a German region and was only ceded to the Soviet Union as part of the post-WW2 settlement. The region no longer has a significant German population because they were deported by the Soviet Union. However, as a geopolitical maneuver, an attempt to wrench control of Kaliningrad from Russia could be a good way to apply pressure against Russia in ways that sanctions can’t.
Omran Zoabi, Syrian Information Minister, who apparently has no sense of irony.
Source: “Syria says Mursi must realise Egyptians don’t want him,” Reuters.
Regarding a previous post on Serbia and Kosovo:
— Maja Kocijancic (@AshtonSpox_Maja)
Also, Croatia (part of the war torn former Yugoslavia), will be admitted to the Union next month:
— EU External Action (@eu_eeas)
According to The New York Times, Cleric Hasan Rowhani won the Iranian presidential election. Rowhani was considered the most moderate candidate in the race. An interesting result and one and that should be looked upon with caution as well as optimism. Reportedly, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that “A vote for any of these candidates is a vote for the Islamic Republic and a vote of confidence in the system.” In other words, a vote for any candidate is a vote for the status quo. Khamenei could confidently state this because as the AP reports:
“The ruling clerics barred from the race reform candidates seen as too prominent, allowing a list of hopefuls who were mainly staunch loyalists of the supreme leader and the Islamic establishment. But the opposition settled on the 64-year-old Rowhani as the least objectionable of the bunch, making him a de facto reform candidate with backers inspired by his message of outreach rather than confrontation.”
Because the clerics groomed the field of candidates they assured themselves a candidate that we at least acceptable if not preferred. This is not to say that Rowhani was chosen, several days ago the Los Angeles Times reported that Saeed Jalili, Iran’s hardline nuclear negotiator was the presumed front runner.
While Rowhani was an ‘approved’ candidate, he has given many liberals hope that they will have more of a voice in the theocracy. Additionally, Reuters tells that some in the Arab world are slightly hopeful that Rowhani ‘s election will bring change.
“Hassan Rohani, a Shi‘ite cleric known for a conciliatory approach and backed by reformists, will have only limited say in policy determined by Iran’s supreme leader; but with the Syrian carnage fuelling rage among Sunni Arabs across the region, any gestures from Tehran may help contain it.”
What the future will bring for Iran is difficult to say. Rowhani may try to seize on the energy that his election created among liberals and reform minded moderates and bring substantive change. As the article by The New York Times points out, Rowhani was popular because he has taken many moderate positions, has been outspoken against police violence, and supports women’s rights. However, it should be remembered that when President Ahmadinejad challenged the clerics and tried to consolidate more power into the presidency* he lost the Council’s approval and (after a power struggle) was marginalized and forbidden from running for a third term. Will Rowhani be successful in bringing change? Only time can tell but any optimism should be guarded by a healthy dose of caution.
*Ahmadinejad’s challenge to the clerics was more of a personal power play, however, since the presidency is an elected position it would have also made Iran somewhat more democratic by vesting more power in an elected official.
Image via Wikipedia.
“Iran Moderate Wins Presidential Election,” Matt Cantor, Newser.
“Iran Moderate Wins Presidency By Large Margin,” Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times.
“Moderate cleric wins Iran’s presidential vote,” Ali Akbar Dareini and Brian Murphy, Associated Press.
“Arabs put (slim) hopes in new Iranian president,” Alastair Macdonald and Angus McDowall, Reuters.
“Obama Announces New Sanctions on Iran,” Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times.
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