Sometimes states act aggressively because their leaders are greedy, seeking some sort of personal glory, or ideologically driven to expand, and are not reacting to perceived threats from others. The classic example, of course, is Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and in such cases accommodation won’t work. Here the “deterrence model” applies: the only thing to do is issue warnings and credible threats so that the potential aggressor is deterred from pursuing its irrevocably revisionist aims.
By contrast, the “spiral model” applies when a state’s seemingly aggressive policy is motivated primarily by fear or insecurity. Making threats and trying to deter or coerce them will only reinforce their fears and make them even more aggressive, in effect triggering an action-reaction spiral of growing hostility.So which of the models is more applicable to Putin's Russia? (Of course, Putin's Russian support for aggression in Ukraine may be based on a mixture of both Hitlarian aggressiveness and fear and insecurity; they may also be -- perhaps partly -- motivated by other factors, say Putin's concern for his domestic base which can be manipulated by nationalism and fear of the West.)
Walt suggests that the spiral model is more applicable to the Ukraine situation, and that were the U.S. to supply arms to the Ukrainian military it might fuel Russian fears and lead to still more aggressive behavior. I posted some time ago on why Russia might fear NATO expansion into Ukraine.
I recently read a history of Ukraine and posted some thoughts (see Ukraine: the Borderland). As we think about U.S. and E.U. policy with respect to the current Ukrainian crisis, it is well to think about the country itself and its leadership. Is the leadership strong enough and "worthy enough" to invest in? Certainly the government has been changed by popular demand a couple of time in the couple of decades since independence, and there has been a great deal of government corruption in that time.
Here is a result from a 2014 pre-election poll of Ukrainians:
A majority of Ukrainians are satisfied with Poroshenko’s handling of relations between Ukraine and the EU (52%) and media rights and freedoms (51%); however, few expressed satisfaction with his handling of a number of key issues, such as the conflict in the East (15%), corruption (11%), inflation (6%) and job creation (6%). These perceptions are reflected in the widely held belief that the overall situation in the country has gotten worse in the past six months. Outside Donbas, 69 percent believe that that the overall situation is somewhat or definitely worse, while 15 percent believe the situation is better and 9 percent believe the situation has not changed in the past six months. In Donetsk, 94 percent believe the situation is definitely or somewhat worse. These numbers are largely driven by a perceived decline in economic conditions (55%) or political stability (36%). Over the same period, a number of Ukrainians see improvement concerning the unity of citizens (45%), respect for citizens’ rights by authorities (31%) and maintenance of law and order (25%).
|Source: BBC News|
I am glad that others more knowledgeable than I will have to make the decisions on U.S. policy. I hope they understand the situation, that they get advice from a variety of informed sources, and that they do the right thing. It seems to me that it will be hard to find the right policiy balancing the interests of the various Ukrainians, the Russians, the western Europeans and the Americans.