I ask the why question a lot. Partly it is because I’m a scientist of sorts, but mostly it is an artifact of having taught strategic assessment at the National Defense University where I had a few processes hammered into my head. First, I have to caveat that nothing I say should be construed as policy, practice, or principle of the National Defense University or the Department of Defense. I haven’t worked for them at this point for 17 months which is about as long as I actually worked for them.
I claim zero experience with the Ukraine/Crimea/Russia and nearly zero in geo-politics or even grand strategy. I have a fair grasp of the constructs of the legal mechanisms at this level, and I understand the various capabilities and tactics of the actors within the area of interest.
Key point 1:
United States strategic principles are based around a hierarchy of politics, strategy, operations, and tactics. See Colin S. Gray for criticism of it, and various doctrinal writings from Planning to Targeting (capitalized as titles) for some components of how this process is done.
1) Why should the US intervene in the Ukraine, Crimea, or any other location around the planet?
2) What vital US interest is impacted by Ukraine/Crimea/Russia intervention?
There are a couple of reasons alliterated as:
1) The Budapest Memorandum from 1994 says Russia will respect Ukraine sovereignty and questions about this will be handled in consultation not necessarily invasion.
2) The Ukraine parliament (Rada) on February 28th requested assistance related to the memorandum, and called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to investigate.
3) Another point made on Twitter was the possibility of the Partnership for Peace programme of NATO being invoked. Having read it I’m not sure it applies in the very specific case. If Crimea had attacked the Ukraine then it might have applied. That is nothing by an opinion and I’m more than willing to change it.
4) The final argument for action is “Russia” We should be against anything Russia is for, and that is an ideological argument hard to even fathom.
Therefore, we have some hard articles to argue upon, but there is an issue. We cannot just use treaties by themselves to justify action or inaction. The rule of law is a peace activity and punishment policy fulcrum in time of war. That is not a nice opinion of the law, but then again I am not an unemployed lawyer looking to justify my existence. Every major war starts with violations of treaties and sovereignty so I wholesale discount them as not germane to the argument. They are for after the war is over.
If the United States is going to act then there are a few things it is supposed to do.
1) Alliterate to the United Nations Security Council an existent threat to the United States or it’s vital interests.
2) Seek a resolution from the UNSC allowing for action.
3) Take action.
So the vital interests here are germane to the argument. If the Untied States itself was under attack then none of these steps would be required. We’re talking about intervention which is a completely different character under the United Nations Charter. So defining vital interests is important.
My friend Dr. TDAXP (respecting his pseudonym) mistakes my queries as isolationism but otherwise is bang on target with his post titled Free parking and Ukraine. I strongly suggest you read it. His points about McDonalds parking lots closely grasp the finite policy query of interest versus vital interest from a critical infrastructure and key resource point. To be sure I expected him to email me but I take the effort to heart as I’m really interested in examining “Why should the United States engage in protection of the Ukraine?
Dr. TDAXP makes excellent points as to European Union vital economic interests and sovereignty issues (by derivation) are of interest to the United States as vital trading components of our economy. I completely agree the EU is a vital key trading partner but I’m not sure that the Ukraine at this point is that vital to the EU. There are serious and historically deeply rooted issues of geo-politics that EU has been flirting with regarding Russia and warm water ports. I don’t know if the EU to Ukraine causal link of economic interest is a strong enough thread to invoke vital United States interests as a subject of contention.
To answer the analogy of Dr. TDAXP the issue is more that McDonalds shares a parking lot with a big retail chain and their workers keep taking up all the spaces. The big retail chain (Russia) is telling it’s employees to park in the McDonalds parking lot and McDonalds is complaining to other mall denizens that isn’t’ fair. Well something like that. I am well aware that McDonalds as a company likely dwarfs most retail chains. However, apply the same kind of thinking to McDonalds franchises inside of Wal-Mart and the rules imposed in that relationship for an existing analogy if you must. My point being that the Ukraine has very close ties to Russia. I remain very interested in the question, “Why should the United States engage in protection of the Ukraine?”
There are a few people who follow a policy of “responsibility to protect” or R2P as alliterated by the United Nations:
1) The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
2) The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
3) The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
The Ukraine Rada (legislature) specifically called out the points in bullet point one leveraging point 3 as part of the R2P language. The problem for pundits is that the OSCE only has an ambassador form the United States and the United States is not a signatory. So even at that very clear policy fulcrum of action required by a specific entity does not compel the United States to act.
There are a couple of other softer points that might compel action. An example might be moral imperative to protect others absent prior or current treaty agreements under R2P. Doing something just because it is the right thing. Examples abound in the protection of harassed individuals and the politically oppressed. There are also examples where action was not taken in a timely manner such as Rwanda. Though media lies I have not seen any examples that meet the requirement to protect a populace. Some of the media show kids playing with soldiers.
Some of the anti-Russian discussion is based on domino theory or other constructs of increasing Russian imperialism. I am not sure those are inaccurate but I’m also not sure they apply here. The Ukraine and Crimea specifically had a treaty to support Russian interests and the less than stately change in administration of the Ukraine likely created Russian animosity. Putting myself in Russian shoes I could see some strategic risks to my fleet and treaty warm water port. Those are questions I’d like to see answered by an expert.
As I said I’m not an expert on this topic and I can see all the Kremlinologists screaming “I’m relevant again!” In the end I’m left with the “But, it’s Russia” and I’m not sure that isn’t a good enough answer. The adventurism and aggregation of former vassal states back under the Russian umbrella has been moving apace and following what for all outward appearances to be a fairly stringent set of steps. Allowing that to continue runs quickly up against actually NATO nations that fit into the former category and accelerates a NATO v. Russia build up that no good can come from. As a former Soviet Bloc country how would we respond to Estonia being taken back under the Iron Curtain? How are we going to strategically signal enough is enough to a Putin that is running rough shod on the Black Sea? How is this justified to other nations where there was no complaint about Russian activities like Transitarea?
I don’t have a lot of answers and I appreciate people like Dr. TDAXP taking time out. I figure in a few years the books will hit the streets and all kinds of back room deals that fell apart and personality disorders will be disclosed. Me? I’m watching trying to figure out the strategy and politics. I’m seeing a lot of the politics but not much in the strategy. That means creating operational and tactical assessments is going to be hard. If you can’t answer the strategic questions the rest of the hierarchy is subject to a lot of unknowns.