Saturday, September 20, 2014
12

The Road to Slovyansk

TOKYO – The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated that one person alone can endanger world peace. But that one person might not be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in reality only leads a large regional power that, owing to his authoritarian rule and muddled economics, is a long-term threat more to itself than to the world. No, the lone actor most responsible for threatening world peace might unwittingly be US President Barack Obama, with his scholarly inertia and apparent disregard for the fate of smaller, faraway countries.

Of course, Obama is not responsible for Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, or for Putin’s massing of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border in an effort to intimidate the government in Kyiv. Nor is Obama alone in crafting a Western policy of appeasement by default. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also bears considerable responsibility: Her tough rhetoric masks a largely business-as-usual approach that reflects her country’s dependence on Russian gas supplies.

But Obama is responsible for his administration’s apparent indifference to the fate of the American-built order that has governed world affairs since the end of World War II. Unless he toughens his policies, the rules and norms that have guaranteed peace for so many for so long could lose their force.

The utter disconnect between America’s diplomatic principles and practice has become so great that it is emboldening the country’s adversaries. That is why, following Russia’s illegal seizure and annexation of Crimea, Putin is now trying to mold Ukraine’s eastern provinces into vassal regions, if not foment irredentism, in order to realize his dream of reconstituting the Russian empire.

But it is not only America’s rivals who are taking note of Obama’s passivity. The United States’ closest allies are also watching nervously, and the conclusions they appear to be drawing could harm its national security interests severely in the years and decades to come.

Consider the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia is already openly questioning the reliability of the Kingdom’s historic US defense guarantee. And US Secretary of State John Kerry’s “guidance” for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which should have been unveiled this month, will now remain under wraps. Speculation abounded that Kerry’s proposal would contain a specific US guarantee of Israel’s borders. But can anyone imagine Israelis taking America at its word after watching the US dither while Russia redrew the map of Ukraine?

In the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, the US, together with the United Kingdom and Russia, guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for its surrender of the large nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union. Now that the US has disregarded its obligation to Ukraine – reportedly unwilling even to share intelligence with its government on Russian troop movements, much less supply the country with the means to defend itself – all bets are off concerning an American guarantee of Israel’s security and territorial integrity.

For that matter, why should Iran discontinue its nuclear program when it sees the ease with which Ukraine was dismembered? After all, the Iranians have borne far harsher sanctions than those imposed on Russia so far.

By acquiescing in Russia’s seizure of Crimea, the US may also see core alliances begin to unravel. For example, the US has openly stated that it will defend Japan should China forcibly seize the disputed Senkaku Islands. But if America can evade its guarantee of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, why should Japan’s leaders believe that it will do otherwise in the case of a far-flung cluster of uninhabited islands that are scarcely more than rocks inhabited by sheep?

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel heard an earful of official doubt about the credibility of America’s defense commitment during his recent visit to Japan. Obama is certain to hear more of the same in Tokyo this week.

Of course, the US is no longer in a position to “pay any price…to secure the survival and the success of liberty,” as John F. Kennedy put it in his inaugural address – not in Ukraine, and not anywhere else. The huge price of its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has understandably made the US war-weary.

Moreover, no country has the right to expect Americans to fight and die on its territory for its freedom. But has the US become so withdrawn from the world that it is willing to pay only a symbolic price, such as that implied by Russia’s tit-for-tat sanctions, to stop aggression that threatens the international order? Have America’s recent foreign wars so scarred its leaders that they are unable to defend the world order that their predecessors created and for which many Americans have died?

The time is growing short for the US to demonstrate anew – to friend and foe alike – that its word remains its bond. Unless Russia honors the accord recently reached in Geneva to defuse the Ukraine crisis, the US must use – and soon – its full arsenal of non-military means to demonstrate to Putin the costs, and folly, of his 1930’s-style revanchism.

The soft underbelly of Putin’s imperial ambitions is Russia’s brittle and undiversified economy, and the expectations of ordinary Russians for improved living standards. The US and the European Union need to demonstrate clearly to the Russian people that their president’s policies will mean a likely return to the poverty and tyranny of the Soviet era. Any lesser display of resolve may fatally weaken the bedrock of Western security – and that of the world.

Read more from "Cold War II?"

Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (12)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedAriel Tejera

    Sure: Obama should draw on the unconditional moral and economic support of its congress to build a credible war stance in Ukraine, causing along the way jitters among indifferent European governments feasting on the spoils of Libya, Egypt, etc.

    And this article should state transparently that Japan is, regrettably, being forced to rearm itself, the blame belonging to those irresponsible Americans.

    Lucid enough.

  2. CommentedDerrick Baragwanath

    It is easy to say that Obama is at fault by his inaction and failure to take a global leadership role. But America and Obama cannot be expected to continue to take this leadership role. Much of the world has gained a free ride over the last 60 years under the umbrella of Pax Americana. While America has been spending a larger percentage of their GDP on defence than just about any other country and ignoring much needed domestic social programs Europe and Japan have been able to do opposite, safe under the US security umbrella. Is this fair?

  3. CommentedYuriy Gorodnichenko

    Ms. Koike makes a good point. The international law is based on a system of promises and threats. Most of the time, nobody deviates from law. However, when there is a violation of the law, there should be a tangible reaction with material implications for those who violated the law. Otherwise, the whole system of relations is worthless.
    Just think about the case when criminals are not punished: the lack of punishment invites greater crimes.

  4. CommentedGerry Hofman

    Koike is just another proponent of the old theory that in order to have peace, we must have war. Obama got to the top on precisely the antithesis of this belief, so it's no miracle that Koike credits him with all the world's problems. The promise of military protection to Ukraine was made by politicians still firmly embedded in a 19th century mindset, who were trying to solve a 20th century problem. The removal of the nuclear weapons from Ukraine after the fall of communism was the imperative, not the shallow promises made to achieve this. A promise of support means something else today then piling up dead bodies over some infringement of national right, this being a subject ordinary people around the world have long lost their appetite for.

  5. Commentedhari naidu

    "US double standards are a mark of its own irresponsibility. Its stance on the Kosovo referendum was diametrically opposed to its response to the Crimea referendum. This simply provides Russia with justification for its own excesses.

    Another indication of US irresponsibility lies in the inconsistency between its words and its actions. One the one hand, the US says that it will not take sides in any territorial dispute in the East and South China Sea. On the other, it claims that the Diaoyu Island issue is a matter for the US-Japan Security Treaty. What is even more serious is that the US command in Okinawa expressed its willingness to help Japan seize the Diaoyu Island.

    The White House claims that its "Rebalancing Strategy" in Asia is intended to maintain peace and stability in the region, then it lends its support to provocative actions by Japan and the Philippines. The US glosses over Japan's alteration of it s constitution and its military expansion, and welcomes its lifting of the arms embargo. These irresponsible actions run contrary to maintaining peace and stability in the region.

    Obama has just started his four-nation Asia trip. This will offer an opportunity to put America's status as a 'responsible country' to the test. It is not hard to predict Obama's intentions. Many of the countries he is visiting have territorial disputes with China. Will Obama be a peacemaker, or a troublemaker? Given the US history of irresponsibility, it is hard to place any faith in Hagel's words "not intended to constrain China". All we can do is to wait and see, and judge the US by its actions."

    The article is edited and translated from 《奥巴马亚洲之旅是做消防员还是煽风者?》, Source: People's Daily Online, Author: Li Xuejiang

  6. CommentedTim Chambers

    The United States gets very upset when other countries mess around in its sphere of influence. We have the Monroe Doctrine to protect our interest in the Americas. Eastern Europe is Russia's sphere of influence. We have no more business their backyard than they have in ours.

  7. Commentedslightly optimistic

    Unless Obama toughens his policies, the rules and norms that have guaranteed peace for so long could lose their force?
    The US President is attempting to bring order in the fundamental matter of global commerce, against much opposition. Japan has not helped - for example it has long resisted more market opening in agriculture and automobiles.
    Hence the president's visit to Asia.

  8. CommentedVelko Simeonov

    I am sorry if this is going to sound "unpolite", but this article is such a pile of rubbish. What is more shocking is that the author was a defense minister of her country, where is this world going to!?!

  9. CommentedKeshav Prasad Bhattarai

    Yes, besides other things, Yuriko Koike is more than right to say “. . .no country has the right to expect Americans to fight and die on its territory for its freedom.”
    American economy and military power has limitations and it cannot fight for every country in the world. Therefore, to survive, sustain, earn peace and prosperity, and grow stronger for its people, every country has to work itself.
    Obviously, we have a global order led by the United States, that is also intertwined with so many regional order led by many regional powers - including Japan. There are China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Germany, Brazil, and South Africa. Indubitably among them China, India and Russia count much. To maintain global order and peace led by the United States since World War II, and amid so many rising regional powers – the United States, regional powers, and smaller countries in the region should develop a new kind of global order of living, working and progressing together.
    Undoubtedly, United States still can facilitate and continue the global order it created and led unless it resist the temptations to dictate its terms upon other regional powers and smaller countries on its own.

  10. CommentedSpiro V

    Japan public debt 200%+ of real GDP.
    Russia public debt 10% of real GDP.
    Public debt must be repaid by taxpayers and is incurred against their will. Now tell me, which is authoritarian?

      CommentedApril Wolff

      SO DEMOCRACY = ECONOMY? DON'T YOU THINK THAT A BIT SIMPLISTIC. WE MADE GREAT STRIDES IN OUR DEMOCRACY DURING THE DEPRESSION. THANKS TO FDR. A RICH MAN WHO THOUGHT OF THE POOR.

      CommentedApril Wolff

      CAPS= BAD EYES. AS AN AMERICAN, I FIND THIS ARTICLE INFURIATING. THE BBC SAYS, IN AN ACCUSATORY VOICE, "AMERICAN TROOPS ARE NEAR ESTONIA AND UKRAINE. WHERE, PRAY TELL, IS NATO? I AGREE WITH THE AMERICAN DIPLOMAT WHO RUDELY SAID, "F**K THE EU". THE PROBLEM GOES BACK TO THE END OF WWII WHEN, AT YALTA, FDR WAS ILL, AND EISENHOWER HADN'T ALLOWED PATTON TO PUSH THE RUSSIANS BACK TO THEIR BORDERS. WESTRN COUNTRIES DO LIKE DEMOCRACY. DOSTOEVSKY SAID "RUSSIANS HAVE A SLAVE MENTALITY". RUSSIA HAD NO ENLIGHTENMENT. YET I MEET YOUNG RUSSIANS IN NYC WHO SAY "WE LIKE A STRONG LEADER." OTHERS RANT AT PUTIN. IN RUSSIA, THEY'RE NOW BEING FED PURE PROPAGANDA, AND AN AMERICAN JOURNALIST HAS BEEN TAKEN CAPTIVE IN EASTERN UKRAINE BY A MAN WHO SAYS THE JOURNALIST WILL BE RELEASED WHEN HE'S LEARNED TO "TELL THE TRUTH, NOT BE BIASED". NAVLNY IS UNDER HOUSE ARREST AND GOD KNOWS WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PUSSY RIOT IF THEY'VE RETURNED TO RUSSIA. THEY EXPECTED TO BE SENT BACK TO WHAT THEY CALL "THE GULAG" WHERE THE CONDITIONS THEY DESCRIBE ARE DEPLORABLE. FORCED TO STAND OUTSIDE ALL DAY IN THE COLD WITH NO WARM CLOTHES. NO TOILET. EVEN BEFORE THIS HAPPENED, RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS WHO TOLD TRUTHS PUTIN DIDN'T LIKE, WERE FIRST BRUTALLY BEATEN, THEN KILLED.
      MY EX HUSBAND AND I TRAVELED TO THE USSR DURING PERESTROIKA: THOUGH I'D EXPERIENCED COMMUNISM BEFORE IN HUNGARY, IT WAS FASCINATING AND APPALLING. LINES EVERYWHERE.WITH SPECIAL STORES FOR HIGH OFFICIALS AND SPECIAL GUESTS LIKE US. ONE OF OUR HOSTS AT THE AMERICA INSTITUTE INVITED US TO HIS HOUSE, BUT WARNED US NOT TO SPEAK ENGLISH IN THE LOBBY. WHERE THE USUAL CRONE/CONCIERGE STOOD GUARD. IT WAS FASCINATING WATCHING HOW OUR HOSTS SPOKE DIFFERENTLY DEPENDING ON WHOM THEY SPOKE TO. IN A WAY I'D NEVER HEARD BEFORE. WE MET WITH THE ECONOMIC COUNCIL WHERE WE WERE TOLD THEY COULD NO LONGER AFFORD THE COLD WAR, ( I THOUGHT NEITHER CAN WE), AND THEY WERE GETTING OUT OF AFGHANISTAN. MY EX TOLD THEM COMPUTERS WOULD MAKE KEEPING A LID ON MUCH MORE DIFFICULT. THIS WAS IN PERHAPS 86 OR 7 PRE INTERNET. MY OPINION IS THAT LECH WALESKA AND GORBACHEV HAD MUCH MORE TO DO WTIH THE WALL COMING DOWN THAN THATCHER AND RAYGUN. "MR GORBACHEV, BRING DOWN THIS WALL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. IT WAS LEAKING ABOUND THE CORNERS. THE REAL HERO IS A PERSON WHOSE NAME WE DON'T KNOW: THE MAN OR WOMAN WHO SIMPLY OPENED THE GATE. THERE FOLLOWED A SERIES OF BRILLIANT POST SOVIET FILMS, LIKE "BURNT BY THE SUN", AND ANOTHER THAT SHOWED A TUBE THROUGH WHICH ONE SLID FROM A GREY COUNTRY FULL OF DRUNKEN AND DEPRESSED PEOPLE, TO A VIBRANTLY COLORED PLAYGROUND IN PARIS WITH CHILDREN PLAYING IN BRIGHTLY COLORED CLOTHES.

      I WAS FORCED TO FLY THROUGH FRANKFURT TO RETURN TO NEW YORK FROM ITALY RECENTLY. I ASKED THE YOUNGISH MAN WAITING TO TAKE TICKETS, "DO YOU HATE AMERICA?" "
      YES."
      "WHY?"
      "BECAUSE I GREW UP IN EAST GERMANY UNDER STALIN." (GUESS HE WOULD HAVE APPRECIATED GENERAL PATTON. (AND CHURCHILL?) ANGELA MERKEL GREW UP IN EAST GERMANY. IT BOGGLES MY MIND AND DEEPLY ANGERS ME TO THINK OF HER, OF GERMANY, DOING NOTHING TO HELP THOSE TRYING TO STAY FREE. BUSINESS AS USUAL. HAVE YOU COVERED THAT THE US HAS RELEASED ITS OIL AND GAS RESERVES FOR EUROPE?
      ON A BRITISH AIRWAYS PLANE FLYING TO LONDON FROM MOSCOW, ALL WAS QUIET UNTIL THE PILOT ANNOUNCED, "WE HAVE JUST LEFT SOVIET AIR SPACE." CHEERS AND CLAPPING FROM AN INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE. WHERE ARE THEY NOW? WHAT , IF ANYTHING, ARE THEY WILLING TO DO?

  11. CommentedPaul Daley

    Come now. Ukraine was cobbled together from parts of Poland and Russia in the years after WW I and II and has begun to come apart on those same lines, as a result of not-so-helpful nudges from both sides. That's unfortunate, but it's not a threat to the world order. The United States has an interest in seeing that change comes peacefully, if possible, but it doesn't have any interest in trying to dictate a settlement. That is something to be worked out by the regional powers who are most familiar with the situation and most affected by the outcome. Not us, at least not at this stage.

  12. CommentedRoman Podolyan

    Dear Yuriko Koike,
    the problem is not with Putin, but with the neoliberal world order of USA.

    "The system of robber capitalism that has taken hold in Russia is so iniquitous that people may well turn to a charismatic leader promising national revival at the cost of civil liberties." George Soros , "The Capitalist Threat", 1997

    That's what made Putin, made Yanukovich, and now makes the revolting in Ukrainian East:
    the system installed with the help and advise of USA is so bad, that people reject it even if it means Putin.

    It's not only Putin behind what's happening in Ukraine. East of Ukraine and Crimea for decades reject politicians allied to USA, even before 2008 crisis brought by that sorry bastards, — and they wouldn't reject if USA allies bring something prosperous, but USA allies wouldn't.

    In 2009, when Ukraine was ruled by US-friendly politicians, poll results told that 2/3 thought that in 1991 it was better. How US can demonstrate to Russian people what they couldn't demonstrate even to Ukrainian?

Featured