Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What Should President Obama Decide About Ukraine?

There is an interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine titled "Why Arming Kiev Is a Really, Really Bad Idea" by Harvard International Relations Professor Stephen Walt. It suggests that there are two different kinds of aggression in foreign policy:
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.

Ukraine's Interests

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
Ukraine, as it was created in the breakup of the USSR was ethnically diverse. As the maps above indicate, many of the people living in the east of Ukraine have Russian ethnic roots, and their political preferences are different than those in the rest of the country. I also recently posted on the difference between a civic state and a national state. As Putin's Russia absorbed Crimea and is supporting separatist movements of native Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, it may be that nationalism is also involved in the crisis -- a subgroup of people believing themselves to be ethnic Russians having been placed in Ukraine by a historical accident seeking to live in a more Russian state.

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.


John Daly said...

"The president has also proposed to amp up assistance to Ukraine, as the country continues to face ongoing conflicts over its eastern border with Russia. Obama has asked for resources to Ukraine to total $513 million — nearly six times the actual amount appropriated in the fiscal 2014 budget — with $275 million expected to go to an additional loan guarantee for up to $1 billion in macroeconomic financing.

"Funding for other former Soviet — and potentially at-risk — satellites Moldova and Georgia also saw increases."

Source: https://www.devex.com/news/the-7-foreign-aid-boons-and-busts-in-obama-s-budget-proposal-85418

John Daly said...

I don't know how decisions are made in Russia, but I doubt that Putin makes them in isolation. I suppose rather that there are many who weigh in providing assessments of various aspects of the situation and advocating different alternative strategies and tactics. Even if Putin were making decisions as I might choose an item from a dinner menu, I assume that the decisions would involve various objectives and the reduction of various risks; this is more so when decisions are made collectively.

So I see no reason to assume that both the desire to restore Russian power and the fear of foreign aggression are not both involved in Russian decision making, as well as securing domestic power for those who currently hold it, and indeed some altruistic concern for the welfare of those considered ethnic Russians living in other countries, and probably other motives as well.

I also suppose that there is a fair amount of simply responding to the acts of others, without adequate analysis of the reasons for their actions or the effects that are likely to come from those responses. People make mistakes.

John Daly said...

The Washington Post has an article dealing with a book by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy of the Brookings Institution: "Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin".

I quote: "Hill and Gaddy came up five identities that factor into his decision making – what they call the Statist, the History Man, the Survivalist, the Outsider, the Free Marketeer, and the Case Officer – that they now use to understand his international outlook."