How Washington’s disregard of Russia’s security concerns risks war over a misguided obsession with liberal democracy
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | The crisis in Ukraine is threatening world peace. Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border. America and her NATO allies claim it intends to invade and occupy that country. So they are sending arms to Ukraine and mobilising forces to deter any such move. Russia claims its intention is to deter America from integrating Ukraine into NATO. Whoever has studied war knows it is characterised by extreme uncertainty. Any miscommunication or misinformation or miscalculation can lead to a conflagration. Given the nuclear arsenals of the USA and Russia, if war broke out no part of the globe can escape its consequences. That is why the crisis over Ukraine should capture the attention of all of us.
The Ukraine standoff is a result of attempts by USA and her allies to integrate Ukraine and Georgia; countries very close to Russia, into NATO. Russia finds this move provocative and tantamount to encirclement.
No big power can accept military forces of another big power stationed at its border. America cannot claim that Ukraine is a sovereign state free to make choices of who it enters a military alliance with. In 1962, the USSR (the successor and later predecessor state to Russia) entered an agreement with Cuba to place nuclear missiles on that island, only 140 km off the American coast. The USA responded by imposing a naval blockade on Cuba and insisting Russia pulls the missiles out or else… The world came to the brink of a nuclear war. The USSR yielded.
The USA has always pursued the Monroe Doctrine issued in 1823. It warned that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers was a potentially hostile act against the USA.
I am certain that if China or Russia sought to enter a military alliance with Mexico or Canada to deploy their military forces in these two countries bordering America, Washington would actively oppose such a move even if it meant going to war. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander. What is good for American security is also good for Russian security.
I think Russia is unlikely to invade and occupy Ukraine. This is largely because Moscow knows from experience that such actions always lead to tears. The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is still alive in the memory of President Vladimir Putin and his confederates in Moscow. And so is the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan in the most recent past. It seems to me Putin’s actions are only a deterrence. He must be sending a message to Ukraine and her European and American allies that Russia will not accept NATO on her doorstep. If Ukraine attempts to join NATO, Russia will wreck that country before that happens.
Ruling elites in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, must be extremely naïve or reckless to place their country in the current position. A responsible leader of that country, seeing its geographic location, would know that it needs to seek neutrality from big power rivalry. There is no way a powerful country like Russia, facing a hostile Western alliance around her, can allow a neighbour like Ukraine to join a military alliance that is hostile to her. I am sure Moscow would be willing to support an international agreement that makes Ukraine a neutral state in eastern Europe.
Besides it is hard to see any vital strategic interest in expanding NATO. This alliance is a relic of the Cold War. It was formed to contain suspected Soviet expansion to dominate Europe. The USSR is long gone along with its Warsaw Pact. Ukraine is of vital strategic importance to Russia. Placing NATO troops in Ukraine is provocative and menacing to Moscow. The only interest of America and her allies in Ukraine is to spread liberal democracy. Should this be a basis for a nuclear war?
America is a very secure power, surrounded by two large bodies of water: the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. To the north is Canada and to the south is Mexico both economically and militarily weak relative to America. Therefore, they cannot pose any threat to U.S. security. With the most powerful navy in the world, no external power can cross the oceans to invade America and threaten her security. Finally, America has thousands of nuclear weapons. These should be reasons for America to exercise restraint in dealing with Russia.
America has a vital strategic interest in Europe and North East Asia (because they form her two largest trading regions) and the Persian Gulf (because of a huge share of global oil reserves). America can negotiate a neutrality agreement with Russia over Ukraine. Or it can give Ukraine the same security guarantee it has given Taiwan, which has deterred Beijing from invading an island internationally recognised as part of China.
One could say encircling Russia, a powerful nuclear armed state, is a vital strategic aim of the USA. I find this narrow minded. Two things determine the power a country can exercise in international relations: economic resources and the size of its population. The USA is a global superpower because it has a population of 330million people and a GDP of $23 trillion. This makes it possible for it to finance a huge military and project power in every corner of the globe. Russia has a nominal GDP of $1.7 trillion, $4.3 trillion in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and a population of 144 million. Russia has a declining population and little technological innovation and dynamism. Therefore, except for its large arsenal of nuclear weapons, Russia does not pose a strategic threat to USA.
The country that is a real strategic competitor to America is China. It has a population of 1.3 billion, four times that of the USA. It’s nominal GDP is $16 trillion, $26.6 trillion in PPP and growing rapidly. (I use PPP because in weighing a country’s military capability we need to measure how many aircrafts, missiles, ships, sailors, pilots, drones, bases, etc. a state has to buy and the prices it has to pay in its own national currency). China’s innovations in 5G, robotics, space etc. now rival or exceed those of the USA. Given China’s rise, and its inevitable competition with the USA, the grand strategic consideration for America should be on whose side Russia should be. America’s leadership is always pushing Russia into Chinese hands. What happened to her grand strategy?