The cold fact of European geo-political history distinguishing March 18, 2014, from March 17, and, for that matter, making it precariously unlike any other day since the end of World War II is this: Military aggression in Europe by a major European power has led to political annexation and territorial expansion.
On Feb. 25, Russian military forces invaded the Crimea -- Ukrainian territory -- without provocation. That's military aggression. On March 18, Russia annexed Crimea. Two days earlier, Moscow conducted a sham Crimean plebiscite to ascertain support for secession. Kremlin propagandists claimed 95 percent of the ballots ratified absorption.
The referendum, however, was a cover story concocted ex post facto. Russian rifles cast the votes that mattered. When he announced the annexation, Russian president Vladimir Putin touted Crimea's three centuries of Russian control. Whatever the cover story or sphere of influence explanation, this is territorial expansion.
The legacy of aggression, annexation and expansion by a major European power is mass slaughter across the Continent and, in the 20th century, global war.
Russia's Crimean adventurism has also created two other chilling, peace-killing facts. Cold fact No. 2: Russia violated a multi-lateral diplomatic agreement guaranteeing Ukraine's territorial integrity. Cold fact No. 3: The violated agreement, the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, traded Ukrainian nuclear for mutual security guarantees. Bill Clinton signed it. It was part of a larger post-Cold War diplomatic framework forwarding disarmament, economic development, constructive cooperation and democratic development in former Iron Curtain countries.
Nuclear disarmament. Mutual security guarantees. Multi-lateral diplomacy. Economic development. Constructive cooperation. Among "soft power" advocates, especially that snarky lot which condemns "hard power" as a Neanderthal artifact, these phrases are a policy religion. Why, if Pentagon "hard power" troglodytes just weren't so damned belligerent, we'd all get along!
President Barack Obama is a "soft power" guy. Recall his 2008 pledge to reduce nuclear arsenals and practice "smart diplomacy." Re-setting U.S.-Russian relations was one of Obama's first acts of "smart diplomacy." The re-set's disastrous photo op involved Hillary Clinton and a button erroneously marked with the Russian word for "overcharge" instead of "re-set." More smart D followed in September 2009, when Obama suddenly refused to deploy long-range defensive ground-based interceptor, anti-missile missiles in Poland. Obama's move to placate Putin and advance his "re-set" backstabbed two NATO allies, Poland and the Czech Republic (the GBI's radar site). Putin claimed the missiles threatened Russia. Hogwash. The GBI's were the part of a layered system defending against Iranian missiles.
Putin wanted to maintain Russia's sphere of influence. With GBI's on its soil, Poland would feel less vulnerable to Russia saber rattling.
Obama gave Putin a diplomatic victory, which gave Putin a domestic political boost. At the time I read Obama as a "soft power" fantasist who wanted to completely eliminate U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. He intended to achieve this goal via personal diplomacy with Putin. Selling out missile defense would establish Obama's personal bona fides.
Instead, the flip-flop established Obama's bona fides as a foreign policy chump. The Syrian redline fiasco of August 2013 confirmed this assessment.
Obama's post-aggression sanctions regimen is not merely inadequate, it is a joke. Russian hard-power aggression, annexation and expansion require a hard-power response. Here are some I recommend: (1) We can't flip-flop NATO Article 5, NATO's commitment to mutual defense. The U.S. must demonstrate it takes its NATO obligations seriously. So, deploy U.S. troops to Poland. The U.S. withdrew its last tanks from Germany in 2013. The Poland garrison needs a U.S. armor brigade. (2) Cancel all defense budget cuts. Faculty club snark aside, peace through strength means something. (3) Open federal lands to natural gas "fracking" and start shipping gas to Europe. Undermining Russian gas sales is a real economic sanction. (4) Arm the Baltic nations. They are also NATO allies. And (5) deploy the GBI's to Poland, and build a more robust missile defense system. As for permanently deploying U.S. Patriot PAC-3 short-range anti-missile missiles in Poland -- that's an idea whose time has come .
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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