U.S. Policy Blunder Made Ukraine Vulnerable to Russian Coercion

There is a lot of hand wringing in Washington and other Western capitals about Russia’s sudden invasion and annexation of Crimea. But as I point out in a recent article in The National Interest Online, a policy that the United States adopted more than two decades ago made such an outcome nearly inevitable. The administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton bribed and pressured Kiev to give up the nuclear weapons it had inherited upon the demise of the Soviet Union, thus making Russia the only nuclear-armed successor state.

As University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer pointed out at the time in Foreign Affairs, that policy was extremely myopic. He argued that a Ukrainian nuclear deterrent was “imperative to maintain peace between Russia and Ukraine. That means ensuring that the Russians, who have a history of bad relations with Ukraine, do not move to reconquer it.” In a prophetic passage, he added: “Ukraine cannot defend itself against a nuclear-armed Russia with conventional weapons, and no state, including the United States, is going to extend to it a meaningful security guarantee. Ukrainian nuclear weapons are the only reliable deterrent to Russian aggression.”

The Crimea incident demonstrates how ill-advised it was for Ukraine to relinquish its inherited nuclear deterrent. Under intense U.S. pressure, Kiev discarded the one strategic asset that would have made the Kremlin exercise caution. Now, Ukrainians have no alternative but to accept a humiliating territorial amputation. Despite the abundance of rhetorical posturing, there is little that the United States and its European allies will or can do to prevent Russia from pursuing its goals regarding Ukraine—unless they are willing to risk a military confrontation with a nuclear-armed power in its own neighborhood. And no sane person advocates that. Even ultrahawks such as Senator John McCain concede that a U.S.-led military intervention is not an option.

True, if Ukraine had retained its nukes and Putin had nevertheless gone ahead with his military conquest of Crimea, that crisis would have been more dangerous than the current version. But it is highly improbable that the Kremlin would have adopted such a risky course against a nuclear-armed country. Moscow received a great geopolitical gift when Washington succumbed to its obsession to oppose nuclear proliferation in all cases, regardless of the strategic circumstances. That move effectively disarmed Ukraine and made it vulnerable to coercion by its much stronger neighbor. Both Ukraine and the United States are now paying the price for that policy blunder.

Visiting Nigeria: Tragic Failure, Greater Potential

ABUJA, NIGERIA—Arriving in Abuja, Nigeria results in an almost simultaneous impression of poverty and potential.  After decades of economic disappointment, even collapse, much of Africa is growing. Yet even its leading states, such as Nigeria, remain locked in an impoverished past and fail to live up to their extraordinary potential.

I’ve arrived with a journalist group organized by SLOK Holding Co., chaired by former Gov. Orji Uzor Kalu, a potential presidential contender. Although cities such as Abuja (Nigeria’s capital), Lagos (Nigeria’s most populous urban area), and Port Harcourt (dominated by the nation’s oil industry) enjoy significant development, poverty is never far away. 

In Lagos, wealth has created a genuine skyline on Victoria Island. Yet crowded streets filled with poor street vendors sit in the shadows of these fine structures. Electrical outages are constant, requiring any serious enterprise to maintain a generator. 

Rural Nigeria is much poorer. Even the main highways are in desperate need of minimal maintenance, while burned and rusted wrecks, stripped of anything useful, litter the sides and medians.

Trash is tossed alongside or piled in medians. Roads off the main drag are dirt, always rutted, often muddy, and barely adequate. Most shops are shacks built on dirt just feet from traffic. 

Still, hope remains. Every where in Nigeria I saw enterprise. Open-air markets, which seem to occur every couple miles, are bustling, with people dashing hither-and-yon selling most everything you can find in a department store or supermarket. At major intersections and along busy streets, people sit in the median and walk into traffic hawking most anything, including triangular hazard signs (quite appropriate given Nigeria’s roads!). 

Intellectual capital also is growing. Citizens of this former British colony typically speak English, the global commercial language. I visited a university filled with bright and engaging students hoping to make better lives for themselves and their country. 

Dan Snyder’s Indian Initiative

The owner of the Washington Redskins, Dan Snyder, has launched the Original Americans Foundation to “provide resources that offer genuine opportunities for tribal communities.” Snyder and his staff have recently visited a couple dozen Indian reservations, and they are determined to “work as partners to tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country.”

This sounds like a very worthwhile initiative. However, Snyder’s efforts so far seem to be focused on providing hand-outs, such as coats, shoes, and a backhoe. Such aid may provide short-term relief, but it will not change the long-term prospects of the many reservations that have deep-seated problems of poverty and economic stagnation.

If Snyder wants to drive fundamental change, I’d suggest that his new foundation focus on the need for institutional reforms in tribal governments and in the relationship between tribes and the federal government. Indian reservations are often lacking individual property rights to land, dependable security of contract, efficient administration, and impartial legal proceedings. As a result, they can be starved of commercial business lending, real estate development, entrepreneurship, and capital investment.

In this essay, I note that American Indians and the federal government have a long, complex, and often sordid relationship. The government has taken many actions depriving Indians of their lands, resources, and freedom. The aims of federal policies have gyrated wildly over two centuries, and most policies have failed, as is evident from the continued high poverty rates on many reservations.

These days, Congress often ignores the serious problems on Indian reservations that it played a large part in creating. Congress hands out subsidies, and it gives special preferences to those tribes that are good at lobbying, but it puts little effort into pursuing fundamental reforms that would benefit all reservations. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has long been one of the most dysfunctional agencies in government.

In sum, good for Dan Snyder in engaging on these issues. But I hope he uses his funding and influence to draw attention to the need for fundamental policy reforms.  

For more, see Indian Lands, Indian Subsidies, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Family Members Use Most Employment-Based Green Cards

Many critics of American immigration policy claim there is too much emphasis on family reunification and not enough on employment. It’s not a problem that families can reunify in the United States, but those critics are right that the American immigration system highly favors families – even in the employment-based green card category set-aside for workers.

The underlying issue is that the families of immigrant workers must use employment-based green cards. Instead of a separate green card category for spouses and children, they get a green card that would otherwise go to a worker. In 2012, 56 percent of all supposed employment-based green cards went to the family members of workers. The other 44 percent went to the actual workers. Some of those family members are workers, but they should have a separate green card category or be exempted from the employment green card quota of approximately 140,000 a year. If family members were exempted from the quota, or there was a separate green card for them, an additional 81,245 highly skilled immigrant workers could have entered in 2012 without increasing the quota.

In addition, 87.5 percent of those who gained an employment-based green card in 2012 were already legally living in the United States. They were able to adjust their immigration status from another type of visa, like an H-1B or F visa, to an employment-based green card. Exempting some or all of the adjustments of status from the green card cap would almost double the number of highly skilled workers who could enter.

Here are some other exemption options:

  • A certain number of workers who adjust their status could be exempted in the way the H-1B visa exempts 20,000 graduates of American universities from the cap.
  • Workers could be exempted from the cap if they have a higher level of education, like a graduate degree or a PhD.
  • Workers could be exempted if they show five or more years of legal employment in the United States.
  • Workers could be exempted based on the occupation they intend to enter. This is a problem because in involves the government choosing which occupations are deserving, but so long as it leads to a general increase in the potential numbers of skilled immigrant workers without decreasing them elsewhere, the benefits will outweigh the harms.

Congress Likes at Least One Type of Fast Track

Seasoned observers of U.S. trade policy have been chagrined with the reluctance of Congress to pass fast-track negotiating authority. However, a small glimmer of hope appeared on March 25. That day, a statue honoring Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, was installed in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. His work in developing high-yielding grains is credited with enabling billions of people to eat better and to achieve higher living standards, objectives strongly supported by Cato. (See this 2009 post by Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz honoring the life of Dr. Borlaug.)

Capitol visitors who were fortunate to be associated with the state in which he was born (Iowa), the school where he studied (University of Minnesota), or where he spent the final years of his career (Texas A&M), were able to receive special tickets to enter Statuary Hall. These tickets were designated “Fast-Track Viewing,” which enabled the holders to bypass the long lines normally associated with a visit to the Capitol’s interior. It is gratifying to learn that Congress is willing to utilize fast-track procedures in some circumstances. Let’s hope they soon decide to apply the concept more broadly.

 

Or, is the incurable optimist in me wanting to ignore another possible interpretation? After all, a “viewing” is sometimes associated with paying respects to the deceased. Is it possible that “fast-track viewing” means that Congress thinks the concept is dead and that those who wish to pursue trade reform should do so through other means? Might be best not to overanalyze this issue.

Is Religious Liberty an “Exception” to Government Rule?

In a free society, employers would be at liberty to offer their employees group health insurance, if they wished, and to offer whatever coverage they wished to offer. In the Supreme Court today, however, so basic a premise barely surfaced during oral argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, the Obamacare “contraceptive mandate” case. Rather, Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg, clearly supporting the mandate, pressed Hobby Lobby’s attorney Paul Clement as to whether an “exception” should be provided for religious employers who are otherwise required by regulation to offer contraceptive coverage, and whether such an exception could be limited or instead would have no principled bounds. By contrast, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Kennedy, and even Justice Breyer were at pains to show how such a religious “accommodation” could in fact be limited.

Thus have we come to a point at which religious liberty is recognized, if it is, as an exception to the general rule that government may require us to act as it dictates—and we have to be careful not to extend that accommodation too far lest it gobble up the rule.

That’s a remarkable inversion of First Principles: government first, liberty second, as a limited exception. True, we don’t allow the religious, in the name of religious liberty, to proselytize by the sword. And we don’t because that “exception” is perfectly consistent with a general rule in favor of liberty and against forced association—as in murder. Here, however, religious employers are asking simply to be free from a rule that would otherwise restrict their liberty or require forced association, a rule that would force them to choose between not offering their employees insurance, and paying the Obamacare penalty for so choosing, and offering their employees coverage that offends the employers’ religious beliefs. And it’s no answer to say that, absent the mandate, the employees’ liberty is restricted. They’re at perfect liberty to obtain contraceptives, but not free to force their employer to provide them.

In other words, if you start with freedom of association, then it’s association that must be justified, by mutual consent, not individual liberty. But if “we’re all in this together”—as President Obama so often says and as Obamacare so clearly manifests—then liberty has to be treated as an “exception,” an “accommodation,” carved out from that general rule. For more on this see here and here.

Dumping the Core? Washington Still Owns the Hoosiers

From an immediate political perspective, it’s great news: Yesterday, Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed legislation making Indiana the first state to officially drop the Common Core. (Four states never adopted it.) Now other states don’t have to be the first to say “sayonara, Core,” and anti-Core forces appear to have real political potency. But the change may well be superficial: While the new law officially dumps the standards called “Common Core,” Hoosiers are still taking curricular orders – and quite possibly the Core by another name – from the federal government.

Here is the operative part of the legislation:

Before July 1, 2014, the state board shall adopt Indiana college and career readiness educational standards, voiding the previously adopted set of educational standards. The educational standards must do the following:(1)Meet national and international benchmarks for college and career readiness standards and be aligned with postsecondary educational expectations.(2) Use the highest standards in the United States.(3) Comply with federal standards to receive a flexibility waiver under 20 U.S.C. 7861, as in effect on January 1, 2014

Unless I’m totally bleary eyed, there are two giant red flags billowing in the wind here.

The first is that points 1 and 2 call for meeting or beating some kind of national benchmark, and point 1 calls for hitting international benchmarks. To my knowledge, the only standards-producing group claiming to hit international benchmarks is the Common Core, and the Core is the only existing national benchmark. (The National Assessment of Educational Progress, to my knowledge, does not claim to offer “standards.”) At the very least, if the goal isn’t to de facto stick with the Core – as some standards writers claim is happening – these points raise two mammoth questions: Who will determine if new Hoosier standards meet international and national benchmarks, and who will decide if they are “the highest standards in the United States”?

Unfortunately, point 3 likely gives the answer to these questions: the federal government – more specifically, the U.S. Secretary of Education – will decide whether Indiana’s new standards cut the mustard. As NCLB waiver regulations currently stand, Indiana really only has two ways to meet the “college- and career-ready standards” provision: Either adopt the Common Core – or some set of standards the Secretary is willing to say are so close to the Core they are “common to a significant number of States” – or have a state college system declare the state’s standards college- and career-ready. And I don’t see the latter anywhere in the new law.

It is possible I am missing something – legislation, regulation, and unilateral waiver decisions can often be very opaque – but from what the statute seems to say, Indiana may be giving up the Core in name only. And even if it really can distance itself from the Core, Indiana doesn’t at all appear to be telling Washington, “we’ll run our own education system, thank you very much!”

There is one upside to this: It illustrates once again the great power of federal NCLB waivers, a power Core supporters continue to disingenuously pretend does not exist.