When it comes to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, a potential military conflict between Russia and America must be stymied while the credibility of the International Community must be protected. Unfortunately, the truth is that the American People do not have a great interest in foreign policy matters while the rest of the world is often only concerned when global issues impact them. Part of this stems from the fact our economies and personal finances have not yet recovered from the 2008/2009 Great Recession while international conflicts have mainly centered on economic issues since the end of the Cold War, even when doing so has provoked civil unrest and violence.
That said, the US has experienced military conflicts over the course of the post-Cold War era, i.e. Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, along with a variety of military policing operations, but the American People were largely disengaged from these conflicts and lived as though our Country was at peace. At the same time, our military and coffers have been significantly depleted by our nation-building efforts, though not our initial, crushing military intervention, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given this dynamic, Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely counting on the world growing weary of Ukrainian pleas for help, especially given the International Community’s unwillingness to respond to the Syrian Civil War.
On the other hand, Putin has already miscalculated the International Community’s response to Russia’s deployment of forces in Crimea. No state interests are truly at stake for countries like the US, but the credibility of international norms are. Where a relatively small country like Syria or North Korea can be isolated or engaged militarily, if necessary, Russia is a big country and cannot be so dealt with so easily. Allowing Russia to simply annex Crimea and/or seize control of Ukraine, however, undermines international interests that disproportionately benefit America and other Western nations, as well as all weaker nations to a lesser extent.
Trying to isolate Russia with sanctions is almost impossible; at best, it will help polarize the globe once again with a smaller sphere of influence solely aligning with Russia. Regrettably, Crimea’s referendum to break away from Ukraine and rejoin Russia has given Putin justification to take what he wanted most, even though it has undermined Western-Russian relations. Sadly, if the referendum had been organized in such a way that it was legitimate in the eyes of Westerners and Ukrainians, the results could force an end to this conflict. As we are on track for escalation, the world may well have a repeat of World War I, where a web of European alliances erupted in military conflict thanks to one shot fired. Due to NATO obligations, America could be unwillingly dragged into a military entanglement with Russia.
If we are lucky, our cool, calculating leaders in Washington and Moscow, e.g. Obama and Putin, will quickly end any conflict, especially if powers like China take a more neutral stance that continues to protect global economic interests. If not, it is important to remember both America and Russia each have enough nuclear weapons to destroy all life on this planet many times over. What has kept both nations from destroying the world is the formation of the International Community and respect for the national interests of all Peoples. If President Obama cannot reason with Putin, it may be wiser for him to now speak directly to the Russian People and see what policies they view to be most in Russia’s interests.