By George Jackson | Published Friday, August 12, 2016
Col. Douglas Macgregor, USA (Ret.) — executive vice president of the Burke-Macgregor Group — discussed the trouble signs ahead for Army modernization.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Russia is a declining power, a part-reformed, part-stagnant fragment of a shattered and spent empire. Vladimir Putin, though, has perfected a foreign policy built on equal parts chutzpah, gamesmanship, and bluff. His aim, after all, is not to rebuild a Soviet Union 2.0, nor to spread any ideological message abroad. It is, rather, to force or persuade the outside world to conform to his will, to allow him to claim a sphere of influence and exempt Russia from those influences of the global order he finds constraining, from international law to human rights.
His is the geopolitics of extortion, to look threatening enough that the West decides it is best and easiest to let him have his way. Judging by articles such as Loren Thompson’s recent ‘Why The Baltic States Are Where Nuclear War Is Most Likely To Begin,’ he is having some success.
Thompson’s fundamental premise is that there is a serious risk of a Russian military assault on the Baltic States, and if the USA resists, this may escalate to a nuclear exchange. So Washington should “find a way of loosening the commitments it has made” to the Balts. In other words, NATO collective security and international law be damned, the Baltic States should be considered eminently dispensable in the name of realpolitik.
A grim prospect for the Balts and exactly what Putin wants to hear. However, I believe there are strong grounds to challenge the premises of this perspective and thus its conclusions. Indeed, I would suggest that the wisest, safest and well as most honourable approach is to provide the Balts (and other front line states) with every guarantee, and that this will best avert even the risk of a hot war.
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Russia has no territorial interest in the Baltic States. Estonia is not Crimea. Russia is undoubtedly bringing political and military pressure to bear on the Baltic States. But just as Putin intervened into Ukraine’s Donbas not as a land-grab, but to try to make Kiev accept Moscow’s domination (otherwise, he would have gone ahead with the short-lived notion of creating a puppet pseudo-state of “Novorossiya” there), his pressure on the Balts is as means, not end. His hope is to divide and dismay the West – and the very fact we are having this discussion is a victory of sorts for him – and persuade us to back off on what counts.
Ukraine counts, for Moscow. Whereas they have internalised that the Baltic States are now part of the West, they still see the rest of what was the USSR as their sphere of influence. More generally, the way Russia is treated counts: Putin still believes his is a global power, and ought to be considered as such by the West.
But there is no serious desire to start a war with the West to annex small countries whose main natural resources are their people, people who are demonstrably hostile to becoming Russian subjects. Even the Russian-speakers in the region, while having some specific grievances, show no signs of wanting to swap membership of a liberal, democratic, law-based and prosperous Europe for authoritarian, corrupt and impoverished Russia.
Nor is there any serious belief in Moscow that these states could be the launch pad for a NATO invasion. None of the military or foreign policy establishment figures I have met in Moscow regard this as a genuine risk, nor is it seriously discussed in the professional military press. Russia regards itself at war, to be sure, but a political, economic, and cultural struggle. To the Kremlin, we in the West are the ones trying to undermine the regime and reshape their culture. Of course that isn’t true, but in any case the “threat” Putin and his cronies fear comes not from NATO armies but the internet, sanctions, Interpol, and Western values. Seizing the Baltic States would do nothing to prevent that.
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Russia is a subjective, not an objective threat. There is much debate as to quite how formidable its military really is (we’ve really only seen the best of them, in close-to-ideal conditions in Ukraine and Syria). Even if one accepts that they could quickly and easily overrun the Baltic States – though let’s remember that conquer is not the same as pacify, and the Balts would continue to fight – that would only be the start of the conflict.
Even if the USA and NATO were unwilling to counter-attack militarily, we should not forget that we have many other ways of fighting. We could shatter the Russian economy, seize all the assets of Putin’s cronies and cohorts, interdict its trade (it imports almost 40% of its food), crash its communication systems, and generally demonstrate what real power is in the twenty-first century.
And Putin knows this. We worry about Russian “hybrid warfare” (mixing military and non-military means), but the truth is that they think we invented and perfected this way of bringing down societies from without. They may look tough and confident, but they fear us – until we look too weak and muddle-headed to be fearsome.
Putin is working off prejudices and politicised information, but he is a pragmatist, not a fanatic. For all his macho posturing, Putin is actually quite risk-averse, acting when he believes he can be sure of a positive outcome. He can get things wrong, to be sure, and here I’d agree with Thompson that the risks lie in misunderstandings and intelligence failures. The Donbas adventure was such a blunder, and Syria may still prove to be one. In part, this reflects an intelligence and political apparatus that has learned largely to tell the boss what he wants to hear.
So there is scope for much bad analysis and wishful thinking to get into the Kremlin’s policy process. To this end, it is important that the West get used to communicating in headline, not fine print. The more ambiguity, the more chances that Western intent ends up being (mis)interpreted by Moscow wonks and courtiers.
NATO and security are not divisible, and real stability depends on making that abundantly clear. The day Washington makes the Balts second-class NATO members is the day the whole alliance starts to die. Central to its strength and rationale is Article V of the NATO treaty, the principle that an attack on one is an attack on the many. At present, there is a healthy regard in Moscow for Article V; if anything, I find Russians consider it more seriously than Europeans.
However, if it looks as if the United States, the core member of NATO, is no longer serious about Article V, it will dismay the front-line states and embolden Putin. Individual countries may feel they need to appease Moscow, no longer feeling secure, and the Kremlin in turn may be tempted to test the unity of the West.
At present, we face nothing more than trolling and testing; we are secure so long as we are united, and we are seen to be united. As soon as we start to question that unity and suggest that we may be willing to turn a blind eye to some Russian aggression, that is when the risk of conflict increases dramatically. Dams are strong when they are solid; even the slightest crack, and the integrity of the whole is lost.
Mark Galeotti is an incoming senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague, and formerly professor of global affairs at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.
Image: Defense Threat Reduction Agency
Monday, August 1, 2016
Why a 1955 neutrality agreement might be the perfect model for a strategic and successful deal for Moscow, Washington, and Kiev.
By Douglas Macgregor
In late June, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu surprised Western observers when he announced the removal of 50 top naval officers, including both the commander of the Baltic Fleet and his chief of staff, for “dereliction of duty” and “distortion of the real state of things.” Alexey Arbatov, a member of the research council of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded to the news with a cautionary note for Russian President Vladimir Putin: “NATO deploys a battalion, we respond by deploying an army. If we want to make Sweden and Finland join NATO, there is no better way to do it.”
In considering what Putin’s true and ultimate goals really are — and whether this culling of senior officers is an indication that he’s changed his tune about confronting the United States and its NATO allies or his domineering plans for Ukraine — the real question for Washington is this: Do these changes provide an opening for a new, more mutually beneficial relationship with Moscow?
While on the one hand, it would be a mistake for Washington and its NATO allies to assume that Putin has abandoned his long-term goal of dominating Russia’s “near abroad,” particularly the Baltic littoral and Ukraine — he’s already paid a high price at home and abroad to prevent Ukraine from slipping any further into NATO’s orbit. But it would also be wrong to conclude that Putin’s recent personnel changes in the Baltic military command structure are not meant to scale back the escalating tensions in the Baltic region. These very tensions have inspired an unprecedented level of military cooperation among Swedes, Finns, Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians, not to mention the United States.
Moreover, Russia’s deteriorating economy, its costly defense buildup, and unrelenting war with Turkic Islamists in the Northern Caucasus may now incline Moscow toward a strategic accommodation with the West. If so, Ukraine may be a good place to begin.
In contrast to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Ukraine is not a NATO member; it’s currently a political no-man’s land wedged uncomfortably between NATO and Russia. Putin justifies his actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by insisting that, “if we do nothing, then at some point, guided by the same principles, NATO will drag Ukraine in.” Putin’s statement makes clear that Russia does not want to lose control of the southeastern half of the oil-rich Donbass along with access to the Caspian Sea and Moscow’s ally, Iran. More important, many of Putin’s comments at news conferences and in public speeches equate NATO’s threat with NATO expansion, implying that he may be receptive to a guarantee from the United States (and NATO’s 28 member states), that the West will not insist on incorporating 35-40 million incurably anti-Russian Ukrainians into NATO.
In considering strategic solutions that would satisfy Western, Ukrainian, and Russian strategic interests, and guarantee both Ukrainian independence and Russian national NATO security interests, few examples of successful agreements on territorial and political governance come to mind. Yet one stands out: the Austrian State Treaty.
Signed in 1955, the Austrian State Treaty was designed to reestablish Austria as a separate, independent state. To attain this goal, representatives of the governments of the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, United States, and France agreed that in exchange for the restoration of Austrian national sovereignty and political independence, the Austrian Republic would declare its total and unconditional neutrality. (Additional provisions in the treaty prohibited unification with Germany or the restoration of the Habsburg monarchy ensuring both Austria’s sovereignty and democratic future.) Specific language safeguarding minority rights for Austria’s Croatian and Slovenian citizens was also included. Though Austria’s neutrality was not explicitly promised in the text of the treaty, the Austrian government agreed to declare neutrality in October 1955 after all four Allied countries withdrew their troops from Austrian territory, which had been partitioned into occupation zones since the end of World War II. Austria’s parliament enacted neutrality, as well as a ban on all foreign military bases, on Oct. 26, 1955.
Austria’s model of neutrality restored Austrian independence and provided the Soviets and the western Allies with security arrangements that both sides considered to be essential. The Soviets incorporated its conquered territories into the Warsaw Pact alliance while the West German state became part of NATO. War was avoided and today, the Warsaw Pact’s former members are in the European Union and Austria has 18 representatives in the European Parliament. Under the circumstances it seems reasonable to ask whether a similar, contemporary “Ukrainian State Treaty” modeled on the Austrian precedent could perform a similar service for Europe.
Ukrainian neutrality would certainly provide Putin with the conditions he insists Russia actually wants — a permanent barrier to NATO’s eastward advancement. A Ukrainian state treaty that includes provisions banning all foreign bases and all foreign forces on Ukrainian territory should allay Moscow’s fear that Ukraine could become a platform for the projection of Western military power into Eastern Europe. New territorial arrangements that allow Ukraine to shed territory it no longer controls — territory populated with ethnic Russians — in return for Moscow’s commitment to end hostilities and recognize the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders would allow Ukraine to focus its efforts on building a free and prosperous society.
A free, independent Ukraine at peace with Russia would likely attract massive investment from the West.A free, independent Ukraine at peace with Russia would likely attract massive investment from the West. For its part, Moscow would have to agree to demilitarize its border with Ukraine and promise not to interfere with the conduct of Ukraine’s internal affairs. Moscow would also have to commit itself to the regulated, but free and uninterrupted movement of commerce and people across the Russo-Ukrainian Border. Russians or Ukrainians who opt to move to new locations as a result of the territorial arrangements could be assisted and compensated by the parties to the agreement. Specific language guaranteeing minority rights to Ukraine’s native Russians and to its many other minorities could be modeled on the language in the Austrian State Treaty.
Once a Ukrainian state treaty is signed and hostilities are ended, the West’s economic sanctions could be lifted. Moreover, Moscow could withdraw its forces from its western borders and concentrate instead on defeating Islamist terrorism inside and along Russia’s periphery. The treaty would also enable Moscow to influence the deteriorating situation around Christian Armenia and keep pressure on Islamist Turkey.
Strategically, it’s an offer Putin might well accept. Putin gets to keep what he already controls and neutralizes an alleged threat to Russia. He can present the outcome as a “win” for Russia. For the West, a Ukrainian state treaty provides a more profound strategic bargain; it creates the foundation for enduring regional stability when viewed in the context of Moscow’s current minimal requirements — that Ukraine pass a constitutional amendment on the special status of the Russian-controlled territory, an amnesty of the crimes of Russia’s armed proxies, and a special law on elections in that territory.
These points notwithstanding, if Moscow rejects Washington’s and NATO’s willingness to forgo the notion that “all nations have the right to freely associate with EU or NATO” in favor of Austrian-style neutrality for Ukraine, then, Moscow is effectively demonstrating its malevolent intentions towards Ukraine, Moldova and, for that matter, toward any state along Russia’s borders that seeks to maintain its political independence. Perhaps even more important, Moscow’s rejection of Ukrainian neutrality would constitute a severe slap-in-the-face for the German left as well as NATO’s southern European allies. These actors insist that Washington, not Moscow, is the source of trouble in Kiev and that Moscow’s interests are being treated unfairly.
Kiev’s reaction is more difficult to gauge. No doubt some Ukrainians will regard the treaty proposal as a concession to Moscow that puts Ukrainian independence at risk. Unfortunately, there is no certainty that NATO’s leaders will be any more willing to risk a direct military confrontation with Russia in the future than they are today. In fact, the opposite may well be the case.
There is, of course, no certainty that a future president can stand up to the forces of Washington’s neo-Wilsonian internationalists who want the United States and its allies to press for Ukrainian membership in NATO. These liberal internationalists will dismiss the “Austrian” alternative to eventual Ukrainian membership in NATO as a de facto acceptance of “spheres of influence,” a concept that Moscow and Beijing advocate.
Timing may turn out to be right for an accommodation between disputing parties — in this case, Moscow, Washington, NATO, and Kiev — that avoids war and allows life to go on. However, unless the next president is willing to explore the possibility, the West will not know just what Putin is prepared to accept — at least not until Russian ground forces move west across the Dnieper River.