There is also a pervasive bipartisan assumption that Russia is an aggressively expansionist power. A new report by the House GOP, “Achieving U.S. Security Through Leadership & Liberty,”fully embraces that view without any meaningful caveats. And clearly the Obama administration’s foreign‐ and defense‐policy teams have been operating on the same assumption.
But is it a valid assumption? During the Cold War, Moscow was animated by a messianic global ideology. Today’s Russia is not. The Soviet Union aggressively attempted to extend its influence into far‐flung portions of the world. Today’s Russia seems to focus on Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Black Sea—all areas that have obvious strategic importance to even the most defensive‐minded Russian state.
Some of Moscow’s geopolitical actions may be crude, even brutal. That was certainly true of its role in helping secessionists to detach the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia. It was also true of the annexation of Crimea and the military support for separatists in the Donbass region of Ukraine. But one has to ask whether those maneuvers were any cruder than NATO’s earlier forcible detachment of Kosovo from Serbiaor NATO‐member Turkey’s detachment of northern Cyprus from the government of that country. And Russia had much stronger security justifications for its actions.
Americans especially should ask when and why the fate of such countries as the Baltic republics, Georgia, and Ukraine became a vital security interest of the United States. Because we now apparently regard their security as sufficiently important that we are willing to risk a military confrontation, perhaps even a full‐scale war, with Russia. Given Russia’s sizable nuclear arsenal, that would be an act of folly.
Let’s remember that until the collapse of the Soviet Union—and at other times in the history of the Russian empire—those countries have been under Moscow’s direct control. For example, until Nikita Khrushchev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, gifted the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, that peninsula had been part of Russia since 1783. And Moscow’s control over such areas did not matter a whit to the United States. So why now, when we face a weakened Russia, a country with a declining population and a host of economic vulnerabilities, does the U.S. and its allies seem intent on provoking a confrontation?
Smart great powers show a decent respect for the security zones and spheres of influence of other great powers.Geography matters. Any major country is going to resent other nations intruding militarily into its immediate neighborhood. Imagine the U.S. reaction, for example, if an alliance led by China or India acquired clients and deployed military units in the Caribbean or Central America. We would justifiably regard such conduct as extremely menacing. Why do we then assume that the Russians should regard NATO’s actions in places such as the Baltic republics and the Black Sea differently? The current policy course is a tragic accident waiting to happen.