16 May 2014

Starting On Foreign Policy -- Ukraine and NATO -- Part I

The Russian actions in Ukraine of the last few weeks have lead to repeated calls from the punditariat to get the band back together and to do something about it. [See, e.g. "Doubling Down On NATO: The United States needs to respond to Moscow’s partition of Ukraine. Redeploying NATO forces in Eastern and Central Europe would be a good first step to a comprehensive deterrence strategy." by Andrew A. Michta, Published on March 24, 2014]

The Administration has done what it does best, dither, and make grandiose pronouncements about history and international law. It has imposed some economic sanctions on Russia, but not so much as you would notice, even though it is a lot more than Europe, especially, the Germans want to do." Will EU Sanctions Ever Bite?" "The Ukraine-Russia Crisis and the Western Response" by David J. Kramer.

What should we (the United States) do? Well, a few deep cleansing breaths are in order. Then we should think about the grand arc of history.* 

At the beginning of Century 16 of the Common or Christian Era (C.E.), the Eurasian Ecumen† was in a rough balance of power. China, which had been clearly ahead of the pack in the Song dynasty, began to withdraw from the wider world in the Ming, as evidenced by its termination of the exploratory voyages of Century 15. The center of Eurasia was dominated by three Muslim Empires, the Mughal  in India, the Safavid in Iran, and the Ottoman in Turkey. The Ottomans were still expanding in Europe. In 1526, at the Battle of Mohacs, they completed their conquest of Hungary, and more than a century and a half later they were still able to besiege Vienna.

As we all know, this balance was broken by the expansion of European power beginning in Century 16, and culminating in Century 19, when European powers (or their American offspring) dominated the entire world. Many reasons have been advanced for the dominance of European power. It is beyond obvious that they mastered or created new technologies and methods of manufacture, and created militaries with unprecedented levels of destructive capability. As Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc put it: “Whatever happens, we have got The Maxim gun, and they have not.”

The most important cause of Europe's decline in power was internal.  No one power ever dominated Europe so thoroughly that it could prevent another European power from rising to challenge it. Every attempt at continental hegemony was defeated by an alliance of other powers. The conflicts did not slow and may have accelerated the process of world domination, by encouraging the creation of foreign colonies, the exploration for natural resources, and the creation of larger and more lethal military organizations.

The culmination of this growth and conflict was the world wars that nominally began a hundred years ago, and continued in their most destructive phase through 1945. At that point, Germany was destroyed, and Britain was bankrupt. France was a mere shadow, one that would quickly lose control of its empire. The Soviet Union, which was a reconstitution of the Russian Empire, wound up in control of all of Eastern Europe, and half of Germany. The Russians gained some level of material recompense for their war losses by looting their half of Germany and Eastern Europe.

The United States was the most unscathed of all of the dominant powers, but even with the only intact industrial capacity in the world, it could not hope to dislodge the Russians from their new perch. The United States was also concerned that the Russians would also suborn or otherwise dominate the remaining countries of Western Europe and use their remaining African and Asian possessions to cut the US off from the Eastern Hemisphere and assert itself as the world hegemon. I shudder to think of the damage the Russians would have done and the suffering they would have inflicted. It was bad enough that they controlled Eastern Europe and China. How many hundreds of millions more would have died at their hands is incalculable.

One part of the American response was to organize the countries of Western Europe into NATO, an alliance to prevent the expansion of Russian power in Europe. The confrontation between the US and Russia ended towards the end of Century 20, when the Soviet Union collapsed from internal economic and institutional sclerosis. The countries of Eastern Europe, all of whose borders and populations had been re-arranged by the Russians, rushed to escape them by joining the American led alliance, and all seemed well for a while.

Now, the Soviet Union is gone. Russia will never be a power like the Soviet Union was, it does not have a competitive industrial base, and is living off of selling natural resources, largely oil and gas. Further, Russia has no multi-national ideology to boost its credibility in foreign lands and, is facing a demographic implosion that was one of the harbingers of Soviet collapse. "Putin's Hollowed-Out Homeland: Russia's human capital is in steep decline. A 15-year-old boy there won't even live as long as one in Afghanistan." by Nicholas Eberstadt in the Wall Street Journal on May 7, 2014.

The rest of Europe is now united in the EU, and is prosperous and free. But, the EU controls nothing beyond its own borders, unlike the Europe of Century 19. And, living under the American defense umbrella has allowed the NATO countries to neglect their military defenses. "Despite ‘wake-up call’ in Ukraine, Europe reluctant to bolster its militaries." by Griff Witte in the Washington Post on March 27, 2014. As noted above, the Euopeans have been very reluctant to impose sanctions on Russia for its actions in the Ukraine.

The fact is that Russia is not going to conquer Europe, it couldn't if it wanted to, as it has neither the manpower, nor the resources to do that. They most likely won't even try to conquer the entire Ukraine, although they might take a bite out of it.

Since we cannot get from is to ought by any logical progression, I shall break off here and take up the ought in subsequent parts.


*Contrary to the Administration and to Stanley, I do not believe that history has preferred direction or a destination. Edward Gibbon, I think, put it best in The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Book I; Chapter III:
Titus Antoninus Pius . . . diffused order and tranquillity over the greatest part of the earth.  His reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history; which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
†The term Eurasian Ecumene is derived from the historian who most shaped my historical thinking, William H. McNeill, whose magnum opus is "The Rise of the West". I had the inestimable privilege of taking his course in World History at the University of Chicago in a previous millennium. As evidenced by the subtitle of his book: "A History of the Human Community", he emphasized the growth of civilization as an interactive process among the civilizations of the Eurasian Ecumen, in a way far more balanced and judicious than any of the so-called multi-culturalists you have run into.

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