Appeasing the Aggressor: (Hybrid-) Pacifists in U.S. and E.U. give Russia a slap on the wrist for aggression and military intervention in the Ukraine

Appeasement in Europe, 2014

The “hybrid-pacifists” who lead Europe and the U.S. may have been willing in some cases to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, but having departed Iraq and now withdrawing from Afghanistan, and following the NATO action in Libya in 2011 (with Security Council authorization), they are now only (in a few cases) willing to send forces to Africa in limited numbers, with Security Council blessings or invitations from the host governments.

In terms of defending the vital national interests of Europe or Syria, they have become (or remained) diehard pacifists, who cannot imagine any circumstances in which real force might be used, or its threat even mentioned or displayed.

While the efforts of Angela Merkel and her foreign minister to engage Russia in the kind of dialogue that might reverse the momentum on the ground were worthy, for a while, it must now be recognized that they have failed.

The hybrid-pacifist leader of the U.S., Barack Obama, after giving into military pressure for “the surge” in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, and discreetly joining the multilateral efforts in Libya and Africa sanctioned by the Security Council, is now willing to use deadly force only by eliminating targets on the “kill lists” prepared for and aproved by the White House, where individual enemies can be destroyed by rockets from drones or secret special forces units where the risk of military engagement with another nation’s forces is non-existent. He was notably unwilling to actually use military force against Syria after al-Assad crossed his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on August 21, 2013.

That moment, when he flinched and turned away from the use of force, was probably the green light that convinced Putin he had nothing to fear in the Ukraine.

So, we are where we are. Neither Europe nor the United States is prepared to stand up and really oppose Russian aggression in the Ukraine. There is not even a hint that they will move troops or do anything to make Russia think twice before committing further aggression.

In the face of the pacifism of Europe and the U.S. as they are confronted with military intervention in the Crimea, and both threats and actions backed by threats in the eastern Ukraine, the Russian aggressor faces an open field for further aggression, with no opposing military force to be seen, even in the distance.

The “sanctions” imposed on Russians and Crimeans prior to the Russian decision to annex the Crimea, announced on March 18, were laughable if their intent was actually to dissuade Russia from annexation or further aggression in the Ukraine. The derision they were met with in Moscow was fully merited.

The sanctions were not designed with a view toward actually influencing Putin’s and Russia’s actions in the Ukraine. They were reminiscent of the EU sanctions against Syria which probited gold transactions with Syria, or financing them.

What can be done?

Ultimately, with the pacifist leadership of Europe and the U.S., the West can only beg the Russian aggressor not to commit further aggression in the Ukraine or beyond.

They could, if they understood history and the present situation, impose serious economic sanctions. These might include, for example, extending targeted sanctions to include Putin’s closest associates, and even Putin himself. He after all, has been the architect and prime executioner of the aggression.

The problem is bureaucratic thinking, particularly in Europe but also in the U.S. and its non-European allies.

Sanctions are targeted against individuals and some companies. That is the bureaucratic and organizational tool that is available, once you’ve ruled out any really serious sanctions.

Many believe such individual “targeted” sanctions are the reason Iran (until now) has been more forthcoming at the negotiating table with the U.S. in Oman and in the five plus one (5 + 1) talks. This is far from established, however, and may have more to do with internal developments in the Iranian political system, or the fact that much stronger sectoral sanctions have been imposed by the Security Council, the U.S., and the EU on Iran.

The effects of similar targeted sanctions in Syria are there for all to see: Nil. 170,000 dead, and counting.

What would real economic sanctions look like? Here are a few examples:

1. Europe cuts gas delivery orders from Russia by 25-50%.

2. Strict limits are established on Russian access to international banking and financial services sectors. Sharp restrictions on the tranfer of funds from and to Russia through the EU and the U.S. are set.

3. The U.S. repeals (or at least suspends) most-favored-nation trading status for Russia, thereby raising tariffs on Russian products in the U.S., with immediate effect.

4. The U.S. and the EU impose broader Limits on exports and imports, and financial services.

Putin has probably factored in sanctions into his calculus, betting they would be mild. Really tough sanctions might get his attention.

5. EU and U.S. legislation is adopted to prohibit any financial institution under their jurisdiction from processing financial transactions involving any individual or company in the Crimea, with a process for granting exceptions on a case-by-case basis, or doing business with any company or institution which processes such transactions.

The world is in an extremely dangerous situation, with four nuclear powers facing each other in a confrontation over the Ukraine. Many former nuclear arms control arrangements and the previous deployment of forces agreements between Russia and the West are no longer operating.

If NATO and the West do not respond much more forcibly, including through military exercises and the forward deployment of forces to strategic positions to defend against an invasion by Russia of the Ukraine proper or another country, there will be no opposing force to make Putin and his advisers think twice before engaging in further aggressive behavior.

Putin and his advisers are in an emotional and delusional bubble. Pinpricks will not pierce that bubble. Much stronger actions, implemented urgently–not over five years as with the Iranian sanctions–will be required both to burst that bubble and to mobilize other actors in Russia who can bring pressure on Putin to reverse his current course of action.

Above all, the peoples and leaders of the West must be brought to understand that the peace and prosperity they have known for the last 70 years were not given to them for free. The costs were paid by Allied soldiers in World War II, and by NATO and the Marshall Plan, both disproportionately funded by U.S. taxpayers. That peace and prosperity were also won through successful management of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and the nuclear show-down with the Soviet Union during the 1973 Yon Kippur war in Israel.

History reveals that the path of appeasement, whatever the short-term benefits of what Neville Chamberlain called “peace in our time” after the Munich Pact in 1938, have huge costs further down the road.

The challenge for everyone in the West is to change the thinking of their pacifist leaders, or replace them, while standing up and paying the price for upholding the postwar political and legal order enshrined in the United Nations Charter, in order to avoid war.

The situation is explosive. But appeasement of the aggressor is not going to improve it.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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