Canada’s Mackenzie Institute is an independent not-for-profit think tank managed by a non-partisan volunteer Board of Directors that has studied security matters and issues domestically and internationally, specifically terrorism, revolution, and propaganda, since 1987.
Competition between great powers is natural. When cooperative, competition is often beneficial to human development; think International Space Station and all the benefits in science, technology and medicine that have flowed therefrom. When that competition degrades into open conflict, with increasing potential for war, whether cyber, biological, or kinetic, the benefits to humanity degenerate into intolerable risk.
National leaders may argue that their policies are designed to enhance the security of their state and their people. It is reasonable to ask on what grounds do elected statesmen put the lives and welfare of their own citizens and those of other countries in harm’s way, to secure their perceived national and notional strategic position?
The early 1990’s saw a welcomed warming of relations between the West and newly reconstituted Russia, foreseeing a tangible and economic peace dividend, particularly the West. But subsequent military budgets since seem to demonstrate that dividend was illusory and simply reinvested in new arms.
During those years, leaders of the USA and NATO (collectively ‘the West’) led the leaders of the former USSR to understand that NATO would not expand into formerly Soviet states. Current geography indicates that undertaking did not endure, even though the West and the USSR had been critical allies against Nazism 50 years earlier.
Historically, Russia has been invaded by armies from other European countries: 82 years ago, by Germany (1941-45); 210 years ago, by France (1812); 314 years ago, even by much smaller Sweden (1708). With a three-century history of this nature, is there any mystery why the Russian people and the leaders developed a perceived need of defence in depth by having buffer states between Russia and potential adversaries?
After ‘independence’ and Confederation, American policy in the Western Hemisphere, reacting to evident incursions by European interests, prompted the development of the USA’s Monroe Doctrine. This Doctrine features American primacy in economic and security interests throughout the Western Hemisphere. Some pundits believed that the Monroe Doctrine was a relic of the past; until 1962. The ‘Caribbean/Cuban Missile Crisis’ that year demonstrated that the USA maintained the need for ‘buffer zones.’ The USA could not entertain another nation positioning intermediate range missiles (IRBM’s) with a 5-minute flight time to Washington, D.C. and beyond. The US demanded (threatened military attack) that the missiles be removed while quietly agreeing to remove the Jupiter missiles the US had already positioned in NATO member Turkey.
Today, Russia asks, indeed demands, that its historic defence-in-depth paradigm be accepted by the West. Russia is very concerned that several former member and allied states of the Soviet Union have joined NATO. Russia wants those memberships rescinded and other states like Ukraine, Georgia, and other states such as Finland, Sweden and Ukraine denied membership. While it is unreasonable to undo what has been done, the closure of membership to other states, especially those that border on Russia, does not seem unreasonable in the view of such experts as Dr. Peter Pry, Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
As an alternate arrangement, could Ukraine, for example, join with Austria, Finland, and even Sweden as members of the Western-oriented Partnership for Peace alliance, yet remain outside the NATO military alliance? Would Russia accept that as a reasonable compromise? Looking back to 1955 the ‘Austrian Solution’ provides an example of a solution for future considerations and allowed a détente in the ‘Cold War’.
Western leaders would be wise not to dismiss out of hand Russian ‘requests.’ Russians are a proud tough people historically willing to defend their territory. Sanctions on the people and leadership may sound tough, but they and other countries, like less robust Iran and Syria, have endured sanctions for long periods.
Given the American and Russian self-interest in buffer zones, Russia’s request that missiles capable of reaching key Russian centers not be stationed in former Soviet states does not seem unreasonable either, especially given the newly enhanced precision of ICBM’s and hypersonic missiles as noted by Dr. Peter Pry in his recent conversation with the Institute’s Board.
Russia’s request to reduce presence of US troops and the size and frequency of NATO exercises near its borders may be greeted by some as leaving the door open to potential rapid Russian attack. Clearly, any such agreement must be reciprocal and contingent on mutually verifiable terms in good faith. Russia’s record of keeping to the provisions of the previous IRBM Treaty and others certainly can be questioned. Surely, the appropriate parties could develop new and innovative technology to support additional strong verification of these undertakings.
What has been done has been done. There are always more than two perspectives. But as the aphorism says, ‘those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.’ Issues in Europe today sound echoes of 1939 in many ways. European conflicts of this nature open the door for others to initiate crises elsewhere, while two superpowers are focused and engaged in a regional conflict.
At stake in this conflict is much more that the reputation and leadership of the United States in the world and the self perceived security of Russia. At the very least, the security and lives of European residents are at stake as well. Surely their interests, their well being must be fully considered too. The recent undertakings among the Normandy Group (Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia) to reinstate elements of the 2015 Minsk Agreement reducing armed conflict and give more autonomy to the (largely Russian) ‘oblasts’ of Lugansk and Donetsk on the Russian border, auger well for local stakeholder solutions.
The larger questions of NATO membership expansion, missile sites, and near border military exercises remain among other core issues on the table. The leadership of the US and Russia and NATO, for the sake of history and their legacy, and the lives of millions, needs to follow the dictum of another historic statesman and ally of USA and Russia, Winston Churchill: “…To jaw, jaw, jaw is always better than to war-war…”. A politically astute diplomatic solution needs to be secured, rather incur the obliteration of the lives and aspirations of thousands, perhaps millions. Calm the rhetoric; talk today, as long as necessary; do not fight tomorrow.
Photo: An F-35 Lightning II, marked AA-1, lands at an Edwards runway Oct. 23. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force concluded a series of testing at Edwards. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)