Last Monday in an article titled, “Biden’s Surreal and Secretive Journey into a War Zone”by Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear, the New York Times shared some details of President Biden’s visit to Ukraine with the reader.[i] It said the president played his part in the ruse which included a dinner at the Red Hen restaurant with the First Lady where they enjoyed the rigatoni before going back to the White House, hours before his departure for Europe. And that was just the beginning.
9/11 Led to an outburst of international sympathy and support for the US. President George W. Bush vowed vengeance and ordered the invasion of Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda’s leadership was based. Russian President Putin was the first foreign leader to call US President Bush and in a statement of support he said: “In the name of Russia, I want to say to the American people – we are with you.” He coordinated with central Asian countries to allow US forces, for the first time, to use military bases of the former Soviet Union.
Soon after, unfortunately, came the US-led invasion of Iraq under false premises, followed later by the Arab spring interventions.
A country’s foreign policy is shaped by its identity, sense of belonging, world outlook, and geographic location. This last one is a constant, others are subject to evolution, change, and definition/redefinition within the limits of reason. The task of governments is to merge these with national power into policies designed to maximize national interest. Domestic politics and foreign policy are intimately linked. Sometimes governments and political leaders seize on opportunities offered by international developments. They launch initiatives to “promote national interests”, “reinforce the rules-based international order”, and “ensure respect for international law”. However, such initiatives almost always have a domestic politics dimension. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes they fail.
Merriam-Webster defines “brinkmanship” as, “the art or practice of pushing a dangerous situation or confrontation to the limit of safety especially to force a desired outcome”, and “diplomacy” as “the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations”. However, I am inclined to see the former not as an art, but as a gambling game at the end of which, more often than not, there are no winners.
Now, with loss of life, devastation, displacement within Ukraine and into neighboring countries, “brinkmanship” in the Ukraine crisis has already gone beyond the limit of safety. So, it is time for diplomacy.
During the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western countries failed to help Moscow chart a new path. Some former members of the Warsaw Pact, which had remained forcibly under communist regimes since the end of the Second World War, others under Soviet occupation and yearning for independence, crossed over to the “other side” in exercising what was their indisputable right under international law. There were no written commitments of the kind Russia is demanding now regarding NATO expansion, but one may say in all fairness that at least an understanding was given. Ukraine’s leaders should have been in a better position than those in the West to know that their joining NATO was a real red line for Moscow. They could have waited longer to fulfill their aspiration to join the EU, for the post-Cold War European security architecture to evolve, Russia to digest the loss of an empire and waves of NATO expansion.
In my last post, I said that President Putin would probably resist ordering a full-scale invasion of Ukraine because a bloody conflict will zero out his theory about the Russians and Ukrainians being one people. I proved wrong. It seems that the risks of leaving lasting scars on the Ukrainian psyche, the potential loss of life, and suffering did not stop him. Thus, despite repeated denials of any intention to take military action, President Putin ordered a premeditated full-scale invasion of Ukraine in defiance of international law, the UN Charter, and Russia’s own definition of the so-called rules-based international order. In the long term, even the people of Russia may see this invasion, not as a glorious conquest but as a sad chapter of Russian history.
On December 7, 2021, Presidents Biden and Putin had a two-hour video conference.
According to the White House readout of the meeting, “President Biden focused on what he described as “threatening” movements of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border and outlined the sanctions the United States and its allies would be ready to impose should the situation escalate any further.”
Kremlin readout of the virtual summit said, “In response, Vladimir Putin warned against shifting the responsibility on Russia since it was NATO that was undertaking dangerous attempts to gain a foothold on Ukrainian territory and building up its military capabilities along the Russian border. It is for this reason that Russia is eager to obtain reliable, legally binding guarantees ruling out the eventuality of NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive weapons systems in the countries neighboring Russia.” (Emphasis added)
As the US House Intelligence Committee continued with its impeachment hearings, NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels in preparation for the summit which will take place on December 3-4 in London to mark NATO’s 70th anniversary.
Following the Brussels meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “We had excellent discussions and we all agree that NATO remains indispensable for our security. And that despite our differences, we are stronger as we face the future together.”
The NATO Secretary General is the Alliance’s highly respected top international civil servant and he is duty bound to underline the importance of the Alliance and solidarity among its members. Unfortunately, however, NATO is not only faced with external challenges but also with skepticism from within. Okumaya devam et →