Why Is This Our Problem?
I’m going to take the isolationists and noninterventionists seriously. They ask, why is this our problem? Over at the Washington Post, Georgetown’s Erik Voeten writes:
There is no reason to think that existing borders are somehow morally the right ones or that they are socially or economically efficient…
Who is to say that the people of a small Central American country are necessarily better off with the United States constantly mingling in their affairs than they would have been if the United States had annexed the territory? Or indeed, if the people of Crimea are worse off if they join Russia than they would be with their powerful neighbor constantly prying into their affairs? (Although we would certainly prefer if they could express this themselves in a fair way). It is not right to pretend that an absence of annexation equals an absence of great power interference.
We don’t actually care about the particulars of the borders of foreign states. We’re perfectly fine with two states redrawing the lines of their borders, provided they do it in a manner acceptable to both parties. Russia and Estonia actually recently worked out some disputes about their border at the negotiating table. Nobody in the American government really cared. We don’t care about where the borders are, but we sure as heck care about how the disputes get resolved.
There’s an argument to be made that America has no national interest in whose flag flies over the Crimean peninsula. There’s also an argument to be made that because Ukraine’s government since the end of the Cold War has alternated between corrupt, incompetent pro-Western leaders and corrupt, incompetent pro-Russian leaders, we don’t have a terribly compelling interest in who’s running the show in Kiev.
But we sure as heck have a compelling interest in the behavior of Russia. And when somebody sends over a whole bunch of troops and weapons, with or without masks, claims that territory for themselves and then more or less dares the opposing country to do something about it, that interest ratchets up dramatically. This is how wars start.
In an ideal world, governments might be more open to negotiating border changes along more rational lines, but in the actually existing world, such changes more often than not involve creating disenfranchised minorities (the Ukrainians and Tatars who woke up in a foreign country today) or in the worst cases, war and ethnic cleansing.
Defending the territorial integrity of states as they currently exist may involve a good deal of hypocrisy, but for the most part, governments and international institutions embrace that hypocrisy because the alternative is seen as far worse.
This morning, Senator Marco Rubio pens an op-ed in the Washington Post:
Some have suggested that Crimea is not worth triggering tensions with Russia, given other interests that are more important. While it is best to avoid conflict whenever possible, history shows that illegitimate aggressions that go unchallenged are a virtual guarantee of even more dangerous conflict in the future.
I welcome the fact that Vice President Biden is in the region this week to bring a message of reassurance to our allies and partners. I hope those assurances include a specific and clear response to requests by Georgia and Ukraine for lethal military support from the United States. It is shameful that even as Russia attempts to carve up Ukrainian territory, Ukraine’s request for weapons, intelligence sharing and other assistance has been turned down by the Obama administration.
Of course, most of our serious options remain unused — dramatically expanding our natural-gas and oil exports to Europe, deploying more U.S. naval assets, rescinding the announced Pentagon cuts, shutting down the Russian mission to NATO in Brussels, commencing military exercises with all of our NATO allies, redeploying missile defense interceptors in Europe . . .
What kind of weapons would be most useful to the Ukrainians and our unnerved Eastern European allies? Anti-tank weapons? Sniper rifles? (Sure would be nice to have some land mines right about now, don’t you think?)
Right now the Air Force’s entire fleet of 350 A-10s is slated be retired in order to save $3.5 billion over five years (some argue the F-35 isn’t an adequate replacement). The Canadians are already talking about buying some of ours. Why not offer them to our Eastern European allies at fire-sale prices?
Any plane that’s good enough against SkyNet is good enough to deter the Red Army.