Subscribe via RSS Feed

The Resolve Fairy and the Precedent Fairy

[ 139 ] March 2, 2014 |

I mention it below, but it’s worth reiterating how facile the “resolve” argument is with respect to Russia’s incursion into Crimea.  The causal argument runs thus: Putin believed, because of Obama’s unwillingness to launch military strikes on Syria, that the United States would not interfere with Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Because the United States had refrained from using military force in a case where Obama had made a (relatively) clear commitment to the use of force, the US would not use force to defend an area it had no (serious) legal obligation to defend.

Phrased in these terms, the argument is very nearly self-refuting.  Essentially, partisans of the Resolve Fairy are demanding that Obama create in Putin’s mind the belief that a Russian invasion will be met with US military force, despite the fact that there is nearly zero chance that any administration, in a similar position, would use force.  Say what you will about Vladimir Putin, but he is not a stupid man.  If the most hawkish administration in recent history failed to counter a Russian invasion of a US client in 2008, what are the chances that the United States will do so now?  Any threat to use force in defense of Crimea (or Georgia, for that matter), is a bluff, and not a particularly strong one. The notion that even a wildly successful military campaign against Assad would have convinced Putin that the US would intervene in Crimea is very nearly absurd.

And it gets worse, of course.  Let’s imagine a world in which cruise missiles, a no fly zone, and a few airstrikes had managed to topple Assad (just work with me).  It is widely believed that the destruction of a Russian client in Libya at the hands of NATO added to Putin’s conviction to support Syria at all costs. There’s every reason to believe that the US induced collapse of the Assad regime would have made Putin more, not less, risk acceptant; prospect theory is a thing.  The same people whining about Obama’s “indecisiveness” about Syria would, in this case, have drawn a clear line between the Russian setback in the Middle East and Russian aggression in Ukraine.

And while we’re here, a moment about the Precedent Fairy.  Partisans of the Precedent Fairy (generally associated with either the realist school or the left), argue for the causal power of US precedent on Russian behavior.  The most common argument runs thus; because the United States intervened on behalf of an ethnic enclave in the Kosovo War, the Russians feel secure in making similar interventions on behalf of their own preferred enclaves.  It’s worth emphasizing that the Precedent Fairy isn’t as wrong as the Resolve Fairy, or as dangerous; international society is a complex ideational system of laws, norms, and understandings, and the behavior of major powers does often affect how other states interpret the parameters of the possible. But it’s almost certainly wrong, in this case, to try to draw a direct line between Kosovo and South Ossetia, or Kosovo and Crimea.  For one, Russia began intervening on behalf of favored enclaves before the Soviet Union formally collapsed, so precedent wasn’t particularly necessary.  For another, Russia cares a lot more about Crimea than the US will ever care about Kosovo.  It would have ample reason to intervene even without the precedent set by NATO.

What partisans of the Resolve Fairy and the Precedent Fairy do share is a substantial over-estimation of the importance of US behavior in Russian decision-making.  The US is big and important, but stuff happens in the world that doesn’t have much to do with the attitudes or behavior of the United States. Russia has a rich foreign policy history to draw on, and assuming that Russia’s behavior depends on the last three things that Obama said is almost always going to be wrong.

Comments (139)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Dilan Esper says:

    Any threat to use force in defense of Crimea (or Georgia, for that matter), is a bluff, and not a particularly strong one.

    Absolutely.

    And it gets worse, of course. Let’s imagine a world in which cruise missiles, a no fly zone, and a few airstrikes had managed to topple Assad (just work with me). It is widely believed that the destruction of a Russian client in Libya at the hands of NATO added to Putin’s conviction to support Syria at all costs. There’s every reason to believe that the US induced collapse of the Assad regime would have made Putin more, not less, risk acceptant; prospect theory is a thing. The same people whining about Obama’s “indecisiveness” about Syria would, in this case, have drawn a clear line between the Russian setback in the Middle East and Russian aggression in Ukraine.

    Yep. A similar thing happens with nuclear nonproliferation. Every time we start a war to stop the spread of WMD’s, we increase the incentive for governments to develop nuclear weapons, because they are a deterrent against US invasions.

    And while we’re here, a moment about the Precedent Fairy. Partisans of the Precedent Fairy (generally associated with either the realist school or the left), argue for the causal power of US precedent on Russian behavior. The most common argument runs thus; because the United States intervened on behalf of an ethnic enclave in the Kosovo War, the Russians feel secure in making similar interventions on behalf of their own preferred enclaves. It’s worth emphasizing that the Precedent Fairy isn’t as wrong as the Resolve Fairy, or as dangerous; international society is a complex ideational system of laws, norms, and understandings, and the behavior of major powers does often affect how other states interpret the parameters of the possible. But it’s almost certainly wrong, in this case, to try to draw a direct line between Kosovo and South Ossetia, or Kosovo and Crimea. For one, Russia began intervening on behalf of favored enclaves before the Soviet Union formally collapsed, so precedent wasn’t particularly necessary. For another, Russia cares a lot more about Crimea than the US will ever care about Kosovo. It would have ample reason to intervene even without the precedent set by NATO.

    Yeah I agree with that. Russia is taking action in Crimea for one of the most established of foreign policy reasons– because it is in their sphere of influence. I don’t like our various forms of imperialism, but they really aren’t causing Russia to want to control conditions in the Ukraine. The Monroe Doctrine might be a better place to look (and even then, there’s no causal relationship; Russia would want a sphere of influence, having been invaded several times, even if we didn’t want one).

    What partisans of the Resolve Fairy and the Precedent Fairy do share is a substantial over-estimation of the importance of US behavior in Russian decision-making. The US is big and important, but stuff happens in the world that doesn’t have much to do with the attitudes or behavior of the United States.

    Bingo.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      But…but…EXCEPTIONALISM!

    • socraticsilence says:

      A more interesting point on nonproliferation is that by abandoning Budapest the US and the UK have essentially shown that Ukraine should have never agreed to disarmament.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Russia is taking action in Crimea for one of the most established of foreign policy reasons– because it is in their sphere of influence.

      Ditto Syria. Longtime client state? Mediterranean naval base?

      Naaaaaaaahhhhhh, that can’t be it. It’s all. about. us.

      • Ronan says:

        I’m really not getting Dilan’s sphere of influence argument. Afaict it runs something like ‘every major power should have a sphere of influence wherein they can do whatever they like (because of invasion routes from 200 years ago) therefore – by extension – the US should invade and occupy all of latin america (because didnt the french/spanish/british – i dont know – cause trouble down there in year X) How this works in continenetal Europe I dont know, Britain retakes Ireland, France goes to war with germany..? who knows.
        Anyway, absolutely nothing has changed in the last 200 years, so *speheres of influence*!!!! wherein pure old school power politics rules are the only way to order the international system and the liberal international order is a complete myth” This is the argument, afaict

        Im not saying its not a good idea to recognise the reality of how Russia views its neighbourhood, or that ‘we’ should ignore this reality, but its a big leap from there to justifying it or making these ‘nothing has changed since the great Mongol invasion of..

        • SIS says:

          Dilan isn’t saying powers SHOULD have a sphere of influence – he is saying they HAVE one and enforce it. The Chinese screw around with their neighbors in the South China Sea because the Chinese view it as their sphere. The US most certainly meddles in Latin America more than anyone else. These sphere of influence are nothing more than a physical space outside of a country which that country wants to ensure is empty of possible enemies.

          • Ronan says:

            I understand the basic premise behind a spehere of influence and that the US meddles (or has done) in latin america, and that China does in East Asia etc

            But Dilan is selling this pretty basic concept as some class of insight that makes moot any counterargument. It is a very basic ‘realist’ position, and one that ignores completely all changes in international politics over the last 70+ years – particularly changes in western europe (and latin america) where things like security agreements and assimilation into the international economy (and adoption of new norms) have lessened the need for confrontation and found different ways of resolving conflict.
            Dilan’s only perspective on the liberal international order appears to be that it’s always overreaching, (NATO and the EU moving too far into Russias neighbouhood etc) There is a case here for that argument, but its much more caveated than the one Dilan makes.
            From past comments my view is that Dilan pushes an extreme isolationist position (outside of spheres of influence – where pure power politics rules) that seems to be deeply sceptical of any form of alliance making, economic integration or even basic diplomacy.
            So I think youre being over generous to him. Or perhaps Im being unfair.
            Yes ‘Russia’ (afaict) conceptualises international politics through the lens that Dilan does, and we should be mindful of that. But thats only the start of the conversation. Fior Dilan its everything

            • Ronan says:

              And come on, Russia wants to maintain a ‘sphere of influence’ to protect itself from invasion routes used throughout history?
              As J Otto says its more complicated than that. Russia want to domiante its neighbours for a whole number of political, economic and historical reasons. The idea that it fears aland invasion from the west is low on that list (at the moment, id assume)

              • Ronan says:

                I’ll add here that Dilan seems to be conceptualising this ‘sphere of influence’ as an unchanging, set in stone historical reality, rather than something contingent on the balance of power within a region, prevelant norms etc.
                He also appears to be imagining ‘influence’ in the same terms. ‘Influence’ towards ‘goals’ by utilising specific ‘means’ that dont change and take different form over time.

                So Dilan’s view of NATO (and EU) expansion isnt one of complicated outcomes, (such as solidifying democracy in some countries formerly in the Soviet ‘sphere of influence’ or enabling economic development in the same countries), but just as a simple tale of zero sum games in an international enviornment endlessly repeating the same history.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  I don’t think it is either practical, or desirable, to deny great powers their spheres of influence.

                  I don’t think it is practical because the reality is that you are never going to get the relevant world powers to agree on a norm where countries don’t have them. Note that the EU doesn’t really count here (and claims one anyway when it counts, such as when NATO intervened in Bosnia and Libya). The key players are the US, Russia, and China, all of which claim them.

                  I also don’t think it is practical because you need some sort of rule, any sort of rule, that is other than “anyone can intervene anywhere in the world where they think there is injustice”. A sphere of influence may not be a very moral concept, but neither is humanitarian intervention, which in practice means taking sides in conflicts and killing people (many of them innocent civilians) and trumping up whatever humanitarian justification is available (and there always is one; note that Russia is “acting to protect Russian speakers in Crimea” while we speak.

                  But I also think spheres of influence are desirable and not morally unjustifiable. The reality is countries DO have more interest in things that occur in their backyards. Clinton intervened in Haiti to prevent a refugee crisis that could have landed hundreds of thousands in the United States. Is that really not a compelling justification for the US to care more about what goes on in Haiti than what goes on in Sri Lanka?

                  And I don’t think Russia’s fears of European conquest are particularly irrational, actually. They are a weaker country economically. They have a ton of resources. And the west is constantly taking actions to check their power. Yes, I know that no EU country is going to lead an attack on Russia tomorrow. But it isn’t stupid to think that part of the point of NATO expansion and the various efforts to “Westernize” former Soviet Republics is precisely to contain Russia and make it easier to dominate. Basically, many of the strategists who designed such policies SAID it in no uncertain terms. They thought Russia during the Soviet era was too powerful and wanted to cut its power. They view Russia as a tyranny (and Putin gives them plenty of ammunition) and they think that pro-American governments will be less tyrannical than pro-Russian ones.

                  I frankly don’t think any of the folks advocating the expansion of NATO up to Russia’s doorstep would look kindly on efforts of Putin to get the governments of Canada and Mexico to tilt away from us and towards the Russians, or military alliances between Russia and those countries. They would worry about Russia’s motives, even though it is obvious that Russia isn’t going to invade the United States.

                  Russia has legitimate reasons to want a sphere of influence. Just as we do.

                  I know this post won’t satisfy people who really view the entire scope of foreign policy as about good guys and bad guys and human rights. But it has never been that simple.

                • Ronan says:

                  (1) youre overstating the ‘people who want to expand NATO into Russias backyard’ part and mistaking *that*, for *this* (a domestic situation in Ukraine that Russia is responding to)

                  (2) Russia is not a great power as you claim, and Russia *has* had its ‘historic sphere of influence’ seriously diminshed over the past number of decades. So:

                  “I don’t think it is either practical, or desirable, to deny great powers their spheres of influence.”

                  Is meaningless in a lot of ways, because the ‘sphere of influence’ is contingent and open to contestation

                  (3)This:

                  “I know this post won’t satisfy people who really view the entire scope of foreign policy as about good guys and bad guys and human rights. But it has never been that simple.”

                  Is a strawman

                  (4)To this:

                  “Is that really not a compelling justification for the US to care more about what goes on in Haiti than what goes on in Sri Lanka?”

                  Is it a *more* compelling justification ? Yes fine, an action to prevent a flow of refugees over your borders is *more* compelling than hypothetical X, but that doesnt mean that an intervention (or an alliance, a security agreement, a diplomatic move etc)somewhere else isnt compelling just because you have prioritised things that ‘happen in your backyard.’
                  This makes no real sense. By your logic the US has no interests anywhere outside its (undefined) sphere of influence, no interest in trying to demilitarise and develop Europe post ww2, or control potential security issues in East Asia, or prevent oil producing regions becoming destabilised so on and so forth. The only interest the US has, by this logic, is what happens in its (undefined) backyard.

                  This doesnt speak to the Ukraine situation specifically, but more generally to this mode of thinking which I really cant fathom. I mean I *get* the basic concept, but it strikes me as completly illogical when built into a general theory for everything.

          • J. Otto Pohl says:

            It is more than just having no enemies in the region. A sphere of influence means just that “influence” both politically and economically. Sometimes it even extends to culture such as the role of Paris in educational curriculum in Francophone Africa. Other terms used for this are hegemony and neo-colonialism. That said there is a big difference between the type of influence Russia exerts over Kyrgyzstan today and its recent invasion of Crimea. The first might be analogous to Soviet influence over Finland during the Cold War. The second to the Soviet invasions of Hungary 56, Czechoslovakia 68, and Afghanistan 79. Having influence over a region does not give powerful states a moral or legal right to militarily intervene in smaller states.

            • Dilan Esper says:

              Clinton invaded Haiti to stop a refugee crisis. Reagan invaded Grenada to save American students. Polk attacked Mexico, probably just to annex territory.

              It isn’t as though the Russians are the only ones who have ever intervened militarily in their sphere of influence.

  2. wengler says:

    What’s so annoying about these international crises is that immediate causes are interpreted to being the only causes. The fate of the Crimean peninsula has been a long burning fuse that finally has come to its end. The autonomous Republic of Crimea is now the breakaway Republic of Crimea under Russian protection.

    Was it an impulsive and misguided move by Putin? We’ll see. It certainly will encourage other European powers to work more closely together and pump cash into the opposition forces.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      The fate of the Crimean peninsula has been a long burning fuse that finally has come to its end.

      Unwillingness to chain themselves to the Crimea was what led France, the UK and Germany to deep-six Bush’s plea for an accelerated path to NATO membership for Ukraine in 2008.

      • Dilan Esper says:

        I suspect that when the history of this era is written, NATO expansion is going to look very bad. They probably should have disbanded NATO altogether once the Cold War ended, but if it was going to continue, the idea that the western powers were ever going to legislate away Russia’s sphere of influence (which is a product of Russia’s experience with multiple invasions throughout history) through military alliances was crazy. So what we have is a mutual defense pact that can’t effectively defend some of its members if Russia took action that threatened them, unless we want to risk all out war with a nuclear power.

        • Davis X. Machina says:

          Disbanding NATO is a bit harsh.

          At that point I think something simple like, “If you don’t actually touch the North Atlantic, you can’t join the North Atlantic Treaty Organizaton” would have been enough.

          And then the member states can do fisheries research and protection.

          • Dilan Esper says:

            Well, I actually remember that disbanding NATO was on the table. There was a symposium in one of the foreign policy journals in the early 1990′s called “Whither NATO?”. It really was a possibility, and it didn’t happen in part due to all sorts of things related to the military industrial complex that you might imagine. There was a ton of lobbying to keep it going because the US defense industry makes a huge profit on arms sales to NATO member states.

            But having said that, I am not claiming that historians will conclude that NATO had to be disbanded. I am claiming that EXPANSION is going to look really bad.

            • Davis X. Machina says:

              It will look really bad. I just hope we don’t make a mistake of the magnitude of the British it’s-not-really-a-guarantee-guarantee given to France in 1904.

            • Arouet says:

              So you think we should have let the same think that’s happening now to Crimea happen to the Poles and the Baltic states?

              That’s awfully charitable of you.

              • Dilan Esper says:

                Why are you assuming that Russia would have invaded the Baltic States had NATO not been expanded?

                That’s exactly the sort of assumption Farley is criticizing in his OP. Russia isn’t doing these things because of whatever the US is doing.

                • Major Kong says:

                  We sometimes forget it isn’t always about us.

                • Arouet says:

                  I’m not assuming that, but I think it’s not that far a stretch considering Russia seems to be re-expanding towards its old borders as much as the ethnic composition of regions in its sphere of influence allows.

                  I’m just asking you to remember that people actually live in those countries, and there is merit in providing them security assurances beyond geopolitics.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  1. Russia has reasons for what it is doing. They may not be good ones, but it isn’t as though Putin woke up and said “I want to reconstitute the old Soviet Union today”. There are very specific reasons why Russia is intervening in parts of the Ukraine, and why it intervened in parts of Georgia previously. There are also a number of former Soviet republics which are not part of NATO but which the Russians are not attacking. So there is no reason to conclude that just because Russia has taken action in the Ukraine or Georgia, that the Baltics would have been toast without NATO expansion.

                  2. Part of the problem here is that security assurances can’t simply be pieces of paper. Russia has nuclear weapons. Lots of them. This means that we have to be very careful about forcing confrontations with them, especially in regions they care a lot about (such as nations which sit within the invasion routes taken by previous invading armies). The premise of NATO was that we WOULD, actually, be willing to risk a nuclear confrontation to protect, for instance, West Germany. We actually had nuclear weapons ready to attack the Soviet Union on short notice should an invasion occur.

                  Is that actually true about the Baltic States? We may SAY it is, but that’s an untested hypothesis. And making alliances to protect people we don’t really intend to protect when the chips are down is very dangerous business. A lot of people lived in the countries where World War I fought, and were no longer living at the end of that war.

                • UserGoogol says:

                  As it stands, I’m not sure we’d be willing to risk a nuclear confrontation even if Russia invaded Alaska. That era of geopolitics is over. The letter of the NATO is that we should treat an attack on one as an attack on all, and if we weaken the standards of what an attack on all implies that doesn’t necessarily weaken NATO.

                • Arouet says:

                  I think it’s likely true about, say, Poland, and it may well be true about the Baltics as well. I will note that true in this case means “as true as it is for any other state,” because I am not convinced that nuclear security guarantees are worth the paper they’re written on in any case. But I don’t have to be convinced, there just needs to be a shadow of a doubt in the aggressor’s mind, because no sane person would test that.

                  Anyways, I think it’s important that all of the aforementioned states are both EU members and NATO members. There is a clear commitment by the West to their security that goes beyond the formal strictures of the NATO treaty. The Baltic states and Poland are also becoming very closely integrated into the Western economic order. Russia will not test that commitment. If they were not part of those organs now I don’t know that I’d agree we should expand because Russia is stronger, but expanding NATO at a time Russia is weak allowed time for the relationships to solidify. I think what is happening in Ukraine is a good argument that NATO did a good job of expanding prudentially where they could and permanently changing the facts on the ground while Russia was unable to meaningfully oppose those moves. Everyone knows the firm red lines here, and Ukraine is not one of them because it is not a NATO member.

                  On your first point… I have no idea what would have happened in the Baltics, but I think it not unlikely that they would have been dragged back into Russia’s sphere of influence, destroying their democratic progress and inflicting huge human rights costs on their citizens. That’s enough for me, because I don’t think the costs of expansion were very high in the 90s.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  The cost of the pre-WW1 alliances probably did not look high before the run-up to the war.

                  History is still being written, and if the future is going to include continued turmoil within Russia’s neighborhood, NATO expansion increases the risk of such conflicts.

                • Arouet says:

                  Russia isn’t the central powers, and it’s not the Soviet Union. They’re too weak to fuck with NATO directly. They’re not even a rising power looking to vindicate their place in the world. The parallels with WW1 just don’t exist.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Arouet writes:

                  as much as the ethnic composition of regions in its sphere of influence allows.

                  Which makes NATO expansion into, say, the Baltic Republics and Poland quite a bit different from NATO expansion to Ukraine, and especially the Crimea.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Arouet:

                  They have nuclear weapons. I don’t, personally, want to test “Russian resolve” in the manner you suggest.

              • Davis X. Machina says:

                As presently constructed, NATO is neither necessary, nor sufficient, for their defense.

              • Larry says:

                Arouet in a later comment says Russia seems to be re-expanding toward and into its former territories such as the Baltics.

                Actually, we’ll never know if they are or would have or not if the U.S. through NATO hadn’t expanded there first, such as into Georgia and Ukraine, which are bordering and nearer than the Baltic states to less stable energy resource-rich countries and countries that Russians feel threaten their southern border areas for ethnic and religious reasons.

                Arouet more or less says, Russia is aggressive because they’re responding to the West’s aggressive moves. Typical projectile tunnel vision.

            • Doug says:

              If one were to design a European Security Organization (ESO), with the intent that it should actually function and guarantee as much security as possible for as much of Europe as possible, it would look an awful lot like NATO. If you count the gains of 50+ years of actually working together against whatever distance NATO is from an optimal ESO design, it’s most likely a clear win for NATO.

              • Dilan Esper says:

                Actually, it could look a lot like the Warsaw Pact as well.

                The problem with NATO isn’t that Europe can’t have some form of collective security– it’s that such security shouldn’t in principle be American dominated and set up as a check on Russian power.

                Now, in the Soviet era, where Soviet domination of Europe was a live issue, it might have been a necessity. But at this point, NATO is very much a sub-optimal organization, because it forces its members to align with us and buy their weapons from us. It would be much better if Europe were a check on our power and domination of the world (AND Russia’s) rather than abetting in it.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  It would be much better if Europe were a check on our power and domination of the world (AND Russia’s) rather than abetting in it.

                  Dilan, have you ever read A Confederacy of Dunces?

          • UserGoogol says:

            Geographic pedantry doesn’t get you very far, since the North Atlantic is a vaguely defined entity at best. If you allow the North Sea and the Mediterranean into the club from day one (and the landlocked Luxembourg), why not the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea (and a few more landlocked countries in between)?

        • Ronan says:

          What the hell does this have to do with NATO expansion? what am i missing ?

          • Davis X. Machina says:

            The tenuous nature of post-breakup Ukraine’s hold over the Crimea and the likelihood of a Russian attempt to occupy it, was well understood enough, early enough, to prevent Ukraine from becoming a member.

            • Ronan says:

              Yeah I get that bit, Im more wondering about the relevance of Dilan’s comments vis a vis NATO expansion

              • joe from Lowell says:

                Russia has a long history of seeking to secure “its western marches” in response to aggression/expansion by powers to its west.

                Then again, Russia also has a long history of seeking “to secure its western marches” in response to no aggression or expansion by western powers whatsoever.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  The current intervention in Crimea has nothing to do with NATO and everything to do with what has been happening in Russia and Ukraine. This isn’t any type of defensive move at all. Hell, even the term “stabilization” is right out of the Brezhnev doctrine and the intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

                • Ronan says:

                  yeah what otto said. I understand the NATO expansion argument but really dont see its relevane in this specific case in any meaningful way.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  That was the point of my second sentence: Russia always feels the need to do this, regardless of what is actually happening.

        • teraz kurwa my says:

          Most of Russia’s ‘historic sphere of influence’ isn’t that into being part of it. Keeping the Baltics and Poland out of NATO would have risked greater instability as that played out.

          The best thing to do now would be to impose very narrowly targeted sanctions. Bar a couple thousand senior officials plus the Russian .01% from entering the US or the EU, indicate that if Russia seizes Eastern Ukraine asset freezes and bans on banks operating in the EU and US from any dealings with the same set of people would be added.

          • J. Otto Pohl says:

            This is precisely the way to go. The Russian elite like the elite in Africa care more about visas to the UK then they do about the vast majority of the people under their rule. Tell them that their visas, uni for their kids, and their bank accounts and real estate in the US and EU are now over and they will roll fast.

          • Doug says:

            And ditch the visa regime for pretty much everyone under that threshold. Open societies should be, well, open.

            • Dilan Esper says:

              This is so facile. I remember how Iran was going to be brought to its knees by denying rich Iranians access to Western vacations.

              It turns out a lot of people are more nationalist than that.

              At any event, Russia has NUCLEAR WEAPONS. And basically controls manned spaceflight. And lots of energy. People are assuming that Russia can’t retaliate– I don’t see why they assume that.

  3. wengler says:

    The only resolve that mattered in this situation was that of the protestors in the square. The only lack of resolve was that of Yanukovych running away in the night.

  4. Mike in dc says:

    I think it matters that Ukraine is bordered by 4 NATO member states. It further matters that these states were all formerly occupied by Russian armed forces less than a quarter century ago. I am not sure if they’re looking at the same geostrategic calculus as the United States in this case. They may, collectively or individually, decide that intervention is necessary.

    • efgoldman says:

      They may, collectively or individually, decide that intervention is necessary.

      “May” carries a lot of water here. People who were informed about these things knew that Ukraine and Crimea have been part of Russia/Soviet Union since the 18th century (I didn’t until I read some history yesterday.) That, plus the leased military bases, plus the Russian Black Sea fleet, gave/gives Russia a much stronger hold on Crimea than on former satellite states. Plus the actual, physical presence of NATO (if not US) forces in the former satellites creates a whole different dynamic for Putin.

      • Mike in dc says:

        For the moment we are assuming that the Russian occupation is limited to Crimea, yes? In that case I don’t think that they will consider intervention. But there are ethnic Poles, Moldovans, Hungarians et al in Eastern Ukraine. How they are treated is relevant.

        • SIS says:

          Well, the ethnic Hungarians didn’t like when the parliament, after setting up the current government voted to deny their language (and Russian) the status of a secondary official language. Of course the current president decided to veto it.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        Crimea only came under the rule of the Russian Empire in 1783, but at the time of the annexation of the territory of the Crimean Khanate there was no longer anything that could be called a Ukrainian state. They were absorbed first. However, the conquests of Catherine II don’t give Russia any moral right to rule Crimea. Portugal ruled Angola for a far longer time than Russia did Crimea.

      • Brett Turner says:

        Plus the fact that if they held a fair election in Crimea today, it seems very plausible that a majority would vote to be part of Russia and not Ukraine.

        • J. Otto Pohl says:

          Maybe, but the demographics have already been gerrymandered by the Russian Empire and USSR. Do the 250,000 people of Crimean Tatar nationality in Uzbekistan get to vote? How about the millions of people of Crimean Tatar descent in Turkey? If the latter two groups of people were allowed to vote I am sure that they would not vote to come under Russian rule and there are more Crimean Turks in Anatolia than Russians in Crimea. There are actually quite a few similarities to Crimea and Palestine including the presence of a large number of indigenous people still living in exile. It is not just the colonists and their descendants that should have a say. Otherwise democracy is just a matter of establishing demographic majorities in territories through ethnic cleansing and colonization.

          https://www.academia.edu/4762701/Socialist_racism_Ethnic_cleansing_and_racial_exclusion_in_the_USSR_and_Israel

          • Lurker says:

            Unfortunately I must disagree with you. I am a Finn. Large portions of this country were inhabited by Sami who were supplanted by agriculture-pursuing Finns in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Many of those Sami were also assimilated into the Finnish population.

            Considering that there are now 6,000 Sami in Finland, I would not be prepared to give them the absolute franchise over two thirds of Finland. And I seriously think that many Americans would object if you limited the US franchise to native Americans.

            Some historical wrongs just become permanent.

            • J. Otto Pohl says:

              I am not talking about limiting the franchise, but rather ensuring certain rights including the use of land for the indigenous population. The Sami do have certain legal rights in Finland as the indigenous population. Rights that have been systematically denied to the Crimean Tatars by first the Imperial Russian, then the Soviet government, and later the Russians in the local Crimean government following Ukrainian independence. Do you wish that there be no rights for indigenous peoples other than to be marginalized minorities in their own homelands?

              But, this constant harping on majority rule for Russian colonists in Crimea ignores the fact that the majority is very new. In 1939 Russians were a minority and that it was finally brought about by the deportation of the Crimean Germans, Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Armenians, and Bulgarians and their replacement with Russians in the 1940s. Legally, the fact that ethnic Russians are a majority of Crimea is no reason for the territory to come under the rule of the Russian state. Any vote to change the borders of the current Ukrainian state would have to include the entire Ukrainian population. My rhetorical question was just pointing out that the majority of Crimeans are not in fact Russians. They are in fact Crimean Tatars, it is just that most of them do not live in Crimea as a result of Imperial Russian and Soviet ethnic cleansing.

              • Lurker says:

                I agree with you about the moral situation. The Tatars do have a right of self-government and have been subject to terrible wrongs.

                On the other hand, I disagree about the resettlement issue. It is not an absolute right. Two of my grandparents, like 400,000 other Finns, lost their homes when parts of Finnish Karelia were ceded to Soviet Union and the population evacuated by Finland. I do not claim that I should have any say about the fate of those areas now. There are a couple of thousand Russians living there now, many in the third generation, and through no fault of their own. They were settled there by Stalin and had little say in the matter. Who am I to take away the only place they can call home? Some issues just don’t have a clear-cut rightful solution.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  The Crimean Tatars have no other homeland other than Crimea. The Crimean Tatars in Uzbekistan do have a legal right to resettle in Crimea under the 1993 Bishkek Agreement. The Finns have a state in Finland for the Karelians to settle in. So it is far more analogous to Germany where some parts were annexed by the USSR and Poland and the inhabitants expelled to what was left of Germany. There is no other place other than Crimea that can serve as any type of homeland for the Crimean Tatars. They can not be assimilated into Uzbekistan in the same way Karelians can be in Finland.

  5. Michael Confoy says:

    I am not sure what we can do that would be effective that doesn’t have the potential to lead to a nuclear conflict. I am pretty sure sending a couple of carriers into the Black Sea would be seen as pretty damn confrontational.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      And pretty damned illegal, given the present construction of the Montreaux Convention.

      We don’t need a pissed-off Turkey. They abut Syria and Iraq, where their help is useful.

    • Marek says:

      That would be an excellent way to lose a couple of carriers. Fish in a barrel in the Black Sea.

      • Arouet says:

        Yah because Russia is going to sink carriers traveling in international waters. That’s as idiotic as people thinking we’re going to intervene militarily in Crimea. Also, we can’t, because carriers cannot transit the strait.

        • RepubAnon says:

          The purpose of putting US carriers (in violation of the Montreaux Treaty) would be to threaten military action, right? If the Russians thought it was a bluff, they’d ignore them. If they thought them a threat, why wouldn’t they attack them, even preemptively?

          As Michael Confoy observes: there aren’t many good options here for solving this by moving military assets around. Diplomacy is the only solution here.

        • Denverite says:

          This was my thought as well.

          And thanks for the info — I was wondering whether carriers could go through the straits (I believe you have to go through two to get to the Black Sea from the Aegean).

          • Davis X. Machina says:

            There’s a reason why the Soviet and Russian capital ships in that region that carry aircraft were, or are, called ‘cruisers’, or something else, like the Kiev or the Admiral Kuznetsov

          • Arouet says:

            They may be physically capable of transiting the straits, but as several people note it would be a violation of the Montreaux Convention. Either way, these are pretty outlandish scenarios we’re talking about, so I guess it doesn’t much matter. Still, Russia isn’t going to start WW3 over a questionable show of force.

      • Major Kong says:

        I’d be hard pressed to think of a worse place to put a carrier.

        The Russians would be able to concentrate a lot of missiles in that area.

      • Marek says:

        My point is that they’d be unusable, an empty bluff, hostages even. They’d be sunk immediately if it came to war.

  6. Dennis Orphen says:

    Thank you for the excellent terse and accurate analysis. The Great Game continues….

  7. Aimai says:

    JL, perhaps our own JL from here, had the best description of this phenomenon over at Balloon Juice. He or she called it something like “magical bitcoin resolve.”

  8. Gwen says:

    What really seems to be irritating (to me when I am in full-on herp-a-derp mode, and the true Resolve Party people all of the time), isn’t that bluffing might be transparently obvious, but that we’re not even trying to bluff.

    It’s sort of like that scene in “The Life of Brian” where the merchant is upset that Brian won’t haggle with him.

    Clear-eyed realism? THAT’S NOT HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME, OBAMA.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u75XQdTxZRc

    • Arouet says:

      There are ways the game is played. Not adhering to them raises eyebrows. I can’t tell what your position is exactly, but I think there is some merit to adopting the bluff positions everyone knows you’re supposed to have. It lets people know that you’ll handle this consistently with past practice, and do care.

      • Gwen says:

        I should point out I don’t have a coherent position. I am easily aroused to fits of stupid, stupid outrage and then have to go on the Internet where smarter people explain why I am wrong, and that blowing up half the world isn’t a good way to get what you want.

        Gee Officer Krupke, who knew playing video games was not proper mental training for being a citizen of a modern superpower?

      • Larry says:

        Arouet didn’t seem to notice the front-page bluffing statements bluffing made by Obama already and others in the government. Can’t just riff ignorantly here.

        • Arouet says:

          They’re “bluffing” by promising unspecified costs. That hardly counts in any meaningful sense. In any case, I’m just thinking out loud in response to Gwen’s interesting question, not staking out a position. Why have you staked one out against me?

        • joe from Lowell says:

          the front-page bluffing statements

          “There will be costs?”

          Is that your “front-page bluffing statements?”

          What makes you think that’s a bluff?

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      it seems to me that for a bluff to be successful it can’t be obvious one way or the other whether it can be backed up?

  9. Linkmeister says:

    Two questions. Prof. Farley writes “It is widely believed that the destruction of a Russian client in Libya at the hands of NATO added to Putin’s conviction to support Syria at all costs.”

    By whom? And after that, why would Putin not look to his hole card and say “Assad, you fool, you’re on your own” after doing so?

    • joe from Lowell says:

      I see that argument made all the time by left-wing bloggers and commenters who opposed the Libya operation, but then again, they have a bit of a history of throwing stuff up against the wall and seeing what sticks, so I’m not sure how seriously to take this as an actual theory of history.

  10. Helmet says:

    Let’s say Crimea goes independent…

    Does that really have any negative impact on the US and EU? It’s a serious question because I’m hard put seeing any major downside.

    Does it in the end even have much of a negative impact on Ukraine? They get rid of a troublesome province and the balance of power tilts decisively over to ethnic Ukrainians. Makes it much harder for a pro-Russian populist like Yanukovich to get into power. Seems as if Putin is pushing Ukraine into the arms of NATO just for the sake of Crimea. An own goal in a sense?

    • Arouet says:

      I don’t think so, but I’m also not sure it helps Russia much, considering they already controlled Sevastopol and couldn’t easily be pushed out. I really think they could’ve achieved their goals by peaceful means quite easily, so I don’t really get the end game.

      • Megalon says:

        I kind of have to agree to. I guess he just needed to “look tough” and teach the uppity Ukrainians a lesson or something. But it looks like this may turn out to be a mistake in the long run.

    • uuuu says:

      Yes! This is a crucial point.

      Suppose it is our goal to put a NATO-friendly government in Kiev. What better way to accomplish this than to remove one or two of the Russian-dominated provinces from Ukraine, shifting its demographics in favor of the Ukranian nationalists?

      Crimea is the most Russian-heavy province, with a majority of actual Russians, military families, etc. Why on earth would you want them these guys inside your puppet state making things hard for you?

      As mentioned earlier, Russia is not giving up its Navy port anytime soon, there’s every reason for them to fight hard for it. Eventually the lease-renewal may be a bargaining chip, to be traded for a discount from Gazprom. That’s the only possible value. An equally good use for that bargaining chip may be to give “friendly” governments a bigger majority in democratic elections in Ukraine proper, so that they have more freedom to support their sponsors without having to worry about their constituents kicking them out of office.

      • Arouet says:

        I think our goal is to ensure Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political independence. Why would NATO want a puppet state in Ukraine? This isn’t the Cold War, this is about protecting the basis of the UN Charter – peaceful respect for national sovereignty and self-determination.

        • Helmet says:

          But if Crimea votes for independence, doesn’t that fall under self-determination too? I mean, I can agree that if they voted to join Russia, then that would be very problematic under the sovereignty framework the world operates under. But if they want independence, then that can be accommodated within the same framework. After all, most of the world’s countries used to be provinces or colonies of a larger political entity (including the USA).

          Basically I think it should be seen as a legitimate diplomatic option in negotiations. No doubt many pundits would portray Crimean independence as folding to Russia, but it blocks outright annexation and ultimately might not benefit Russia much.

          • Arouet says:

            I agree. I think Ukraine might have agreed with enough diplomatic pressure as well. That doesn’t legitimate Russia’s use of force to achieve the same end. As a matter of fact, it makes it much more difficult for Ukraine and the West to accept.

            I still don’t get why he didn’t just pursue this by diplomatic means while supporting the legitimate Crimean separatist movement.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          This isn’t the Cold War, this is about protecting the basis of the UN Charter

          Come, now. Do you really think NATO expansion was all about the UN charter, and there was no geopolitical element to it?

          Two big powers square off. The loser ends up subdivided into multiple states, and the winner moves into some of them. How many times has the world seen this happen?

          • joe from Lowell says:

            To be clear, I’m talking more about the Baltics and the former satellite states in Eastern Europe than about Ukraine.

          • Arouet says:

            There was definitely a geopolitical element in it…. at the time. NATO was taking advantage of a moment of Russian weakness to extend its protection over more of Europe and prevent the re-establishment of the USSR. However, for very good geopolitical reasons, NATO did not extend into Ukraine.

            I fail to see how NATO now has a real interest in a “client state” in Ukraine, because all that would do would be piss off Russia to no particular advantage. I also don’t see how geopolitics and the charter are inconsistent in NATO’s case, considering it has only extended into states where it was invited, pretty clearly respecting those principles. It’s alright to conduct geopolitics consistent with the Charter, it’s not alright to do so by armed invasion. In one sentence, that is, as I was trying to point out, the basis of the charter.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Gotcha. I wasn’t sure what “this” referred to in your first statement (NATO expansion in general vs. response to the Ukraine crisis).

      • Megalon says:

        Cuz Russia would never set up a puppet state in Ukraine, unlike the dastardly West who tricked that kindly, peace loving naif Putin into invading. Poor guy is just to darn nice…

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        Suppose it is our goal to put a NATO-friendly government in Kiev

        We would have begun by getting them into NATO in 2008. The major players in NATO weren’t having any of that.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      As things stand (or stood, before the Russian invasion), there was a strong possibility of Russia’s Crimean bases being located in a country that was part of NATO, or at least close to the West instead of Russia.

      Post invasion, the Crimea is secure for Russia.

      Nationalist sentiments aside, the Crimean bases are more important to Russian national interests than the entire rest of the country combined.

      • Arouet says:

        The costs of delaying a military option and attempting to protect them diplomatically were far less than the cost of this little adventure would be. I agree that they may think the Crimean bases are what is motivating this, but if so Putin has made a horrible miscalculation. Ukraine wasn’t equipped to kick the Russians out of Sevastopol, and NATO certainly isn’t going to let them join if Russia continues to support separatists in Crimea.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          The costs of delaying a military option and attempting to protect them diplomatically were far less than the cost of this little adventure would be.

          This is true. On the other side of the ledger, the risk of the diplomatic route not succeeding in protecting Russia’s interest in those bases was much greater.

          • Arouet says:

            We could quibble about just how much greater those risks were, but I take your point. I suppose my gauge of success for how the West handles this crisis is whether we can convince Putin that the costs to Russia of this kind of unprovoked military aggression will always outweigh the risks. I wish I were more confident in our success.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Well then, we’re going to fail your test. We aren’t going to be able to convince Putin that the cost will always outweigh the benefits, because that simply isn’t true, and Vladimir Putin isn’t stupid.

  11. [...] “The Resolve Fairy and the Precedent Fairy“, Robert Farley (Prof Dipomacy, U KY), Lawyers Guns, and Money, 2 March [...]

  12. [...] Wear fairy boots on the ground. [...]

  13. Steve S. says:

    I have a great idea. Let’s spend thousands of dollars buying up Russian vodka and then make a show of dumping it into the sewer. That’ll show ‘em.

  14. shah8 says:

    Ultimately, Russia aim is the deposing of the current regime, and the provision of national elections under circumstances unfavorable to the western Ukrainians. I suspect that there is a lot of talk going on between Russian and Ukrainian high level people, and a not minimal chance of an armed, MILITARY countercoup by Ukrainian armed forces, and a new, mob-free election sometimes soon.

  15. genedebien says:

    For the sake of hearing history rhyme, here’s George Kennan:

    “[The claims that the US 'lost' China] seriously distorted the understanding of a great many Americans about foreign policy, implying as they did that [American] policy was always the decisive mover of events everywhere in the world; that in any country of the world … we had it in our power to prevent, if we only wanted to, [any bad event], and that therefore if [any bad event] nevertheless occurred somewhere, this was always attributable to the faintheartedness or the remissness or the blindness or the lack of a suitable … stance on the part of the American administration then in office.”

    This distortion is as strong today as it was in the 50s, the 60s, and 1984 when Kennan spoke. And as long as it remains a useful domestic political cudgel, the distortion will last.

  16. Daragh McDowell says:

    I think simply discounting the Budapest accords as an insufficiently serious legal obligation in this case is a bit much. They were signed to induce Ukraine to give up its nukes by assuring it that the US-UK would act if Russia… well if Russia did pretty much exactly what it is doing now. Much of the rest of Dr Farley’s analysis is as strong as usual, but there is such a thing as credibility, and simply discounting treaty obligations when they become inconvenient is a pretty poor way to preserve it.

    • genedebein says:

      What do the Budapest Accords require of the US and Great Britain that they haven’t done? Paragraph 4 says:

      4. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear
      weapons are used.

      And paragraph 6 says:

      6. Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America will consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.

      At most, then, the US is required to seek immediate relief from the UN Security Counsel and consult with the other signers.

      (One can also argue that paragraph 4 doesn’t apply since the Russians have not used, or threatened to use, nuclear weapons.)

      So can you tell me what “serious legal obligations” exist that requires some action the US hasn’t taken?

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        It’s a pimple on the side of the Helsinki Final Act.

        • genedebein says:

          Thank you.

          But, as far as I can see, neither the Helsinki Final Act nor the other documents of the OSCE (the Charter of Paris and the Lisbon Declaration on a Common and Comprehensive Security Model for Europe for the Twenty-First Century, for example) place an affirmative obligation on the US to do anything other than what it has already done. So Daragh McDowell’s statement referring to “serious legal obligations” still mystifies me.

          I do see that all of these documents create obligations that Russia has now violated. But I don’t see that any of these documents have an enforcement mechanism other than consultation and reference of the matter(s) to the UN Security Counsel.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        (One can also argue that paragraph 4 doesn’t apply since the Russians have not used, or threatened to use, nuclear weapons.)

        Not really. There are two scenarios in that paragraph:

        1. Victim of an act of aggression

        2. Threat of nuclear aggression.

        The actual aggression doesn’t have to be nuclear, only the threat.

        • genedebein says:

          Poor drafting leaves it unclear whether the requirement “in which nuclear weapons are used” applies to both an act of aggression and a threat of aggression. Given the context, I think it is fair to assume that it does, but recognize that the language is not clear, hence my parenthetical statement: “one can argue.”

          But either way, the only obligations that I can see in this agreement are to go to the UN Security Counsel and to consult with the other signers. Having done both, there remains no “serious legal obligation” on the US to do anything more.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Yes, there is no obligation.

            Thinking about the likely meaning, it seems unlikely that Ukraine would give up its nuclear deterrent for only protection against nuclear aggression.

            • Daragh McDowell says:

              Looking back on this its clear that I was over-reading the commitment in the Budapest declaration due to a combination of haste and sleep deprivation. Apols. However, I would still argue that there is some implicit guarantee of territorial integrity there, if a rather vague one.

    • Amanda in the South Bay says:

      The US Senate ratifies treaties, not the executive.

  17. Funkula says:

    The Budapest Memorandum requires the signatories to come to Ukraine’s aid if nukes are used against it. It does not require military intervention in case of a conventional war. The only party that has broken the terms of the Budapest Memorandum is Russia, specifically the pledge to respect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.

  18. Thlayli says:

    … people whining about Obama’s “indecisiveness” about Syria …

    … should learn that the word is “indecision”.

  19. joe from Lowell says:

    The Georgia crisis seems to be the most conclusive refutation of the Resolve Fairy. George W. Bush did nothing but demonstrate his swaggering, bloody-minded cowboy resolve for seven years on the global stage. Did it stop Putin from rolling into South Ossetia?

    I do like the Precedent Fairy argument that the Libya operation is behind Putin’s determination to stand behind Assad and block action against him. As if Russia had been in the habit of backing western-led military action against Russian clients right up until Libya, and then made a dramatic change of policy.

  20. joe from Lowell says:

    The argument about Obama’s alleged “lack of resolve” and “backing down” in Syria emboldening the Russians seems to demonstrate a pattern of conservative thought I’ve noticed for a while now.

    First, they make something up to attack the Democrats.

    Then, they all obediently repeat that talking point ad nauseum.

    Then, they turn around and believe the talking point they just made up, because now they’ve seen it confirmed by half a dozen different sources they find credible.

    Then, they base their political decisions on it.

    Conservatives wanted Obama to use the chemical warfare crisis not so much to deal with the chemical warfare issue, but as an excuse for a military campaign aimed at regime change. Obama disagreed with them, and actually dealt with the chemical weapons problem.

    But because he didn’t conduct Operation Syriaqi Freedom, and because he’s a Democrat, they accused him of spinelessness and backing down, ignoring that he achieved his objectives by credibly threatening force until the Russians and Syrians gave him what he wanted. Because that’s what they like to say about Democrats, and any one who doesn’t push their foreign policy line.

    And then they all repeated it, and turned around and believed it, and now they’re using that myth as the basis for their understanding of the Ukrainian crisis.

    • genedebein says:

      Agreed.

      Kennan was saying essentially the same thing in the mid-50s and early 60s. It was part of his explanation for why the US (i.e. Kennedy and Johnson) fell into Vietnam and why they couldn’t get out. If they didn’t go deeper, they would be hit with “you lost Vietnam (and probably Laos and Cambodia)” and if they pulled out, they’d face more of the same.

      Because the world’s a simple place: only US resolve and credibility matter.

  21. sullivan2day says:

    Why on earth would the U.S. even consider the possibility of military intervention in the Crimea? I’m thinking that the Crimea has been under Russian control for most of the past 3 or 4 centuries and the U.S. has managed to survive.

  22. [...] “The Resolve Fairy and the Precedent Fairy“, Robert Farley (Prof Dipomacy, U KY), Lawyers Guns, and Money, 2 March [...]

  23. […] former professor Robert Farley notes that those who put forth “resolve” and/or “precedent” arguments chastising the Obama […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Switch to our mobile site