2014 September 02 Tuesday
NATO Response To Russia Will Be Mostly Bluster

Some people think Vladimir Putin has done NATO (at least the organization) a favor by invading Ukraine. But will NATO member countries boost their very low defense spending? I doubt it. Their rapidly aging populations want tax revenues to flow to them, not to defense budgets. Plus, they think they can rely on American taxpayers put up the money to keep them safe.

I think Russia will either turn Ukraine into a semi-neutral country that won't make trade deals with Europe or he will peel off another Russian-speaking piece of Ukraine and leave the rest much more Ukrainian and possibly therefore more Euro-leaning.

The WaPo editorial board wants NATO countries to arm Ukraine with anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, and drones. You can bet that European countries aren't going to spend a lot of their money on arming Ukraine, what with big welfare states to fund and stagnant economies. So should the US spend some billion dollars to arm Ukraine with enough stuff to crush Russian tank columns? How much would it cost to do that?

Europe won't do much.

But some analysts said Europe would not go beyond sanctions. “They have to do something because Putin is behaving badly,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, “but it’s all they can do.”

The Russians could cause European economic collapse just by not selling energy. Of course, that would cause the Russian economy to crater as well. But it isinstructive to see just how much of imported energy in Europe comes from Russia. Germany and Belgium at 30% of imported energy each from Russia are pretty vulnerable. But Poland at 91% and Lithuania at 92% are in a whole nuther realm of vulnerable.

If Europe was seriously scared of the Russian bear it could build nuclear power plants, wind farms, and lots of PV roofing as well as mandate a substantial fraction of new cars be electric.

Ukraine is so dependent on Russian energy that it would not surprise me if Ukraine comes out of this as a client state to Russia.

The Baltic countries are feeling very vulnerable at this point.

Still, some NATO members, like Estonia, say what’s needed is more than a new force.

“For us, it would be important that both NATO and the U.S. would be present in our region as long as Russia is continuing its aggressive policies. So we’re talking about continuous or more sustainable presence of both NATO and the U.S. in the region," said Tanel Sepp, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Estonia.

Estonia’s chief of mission to the U.S. tells VOA his country already has adequate facilities, including one of the most modern military airfields in northern Europe.

Europe needs to either kick its dependence on Russian energy or become big time apologists for whatever the Russians want to do.

Update: Let me separate two different concerns here: First, American national interest in Ukraine is small. America loses little if Ukraine never joins NATO or the EU and if instead Russia's influence and involvement in Ukraine grows. At the same time, imagine it really did matter for America and Europe what becomes of Ukraine. Well, Europe is too dependent on Russian oil to seriously put the screws to Russia's economy. There is a large mutual dependence between EU countries and Russia. Plus, the aging populations in EU countries and their economic problems weigh much more in the minds of their politicians and publics.

Given the circumstances why did the US government and some EU governments push for incorporating Ukraine into the EU? Faith in secular liberal manifest destiny? Just because they could play games playing with a country while pretty much giving the Russians a contemptuous glare? Or was the crisis made to order to prop up military spending? It is certainly going to do that in the United States and keep NATO feeling purposeful. I would opt for the manufactured crisis theory if I was more sure of the ability of some people in Washington DC to carry out such a clever subterfuge for several years.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 September 02 07:58 PM 

AMac said at September 3, 2014 4:10 AM:

The multiple ominous implications of the linked chart points to Western elites' decayed relationship with reality. Fecklessness, lack of curiosity (per Sailer), and privilege, backstopped by a sparkling resume. The perfect anti-Feynman storm.

My country's elegantly-coiffed and bespoke-attired Secretary of State is my personal reminder of this sorry state, whenever I see him expostulating on the news of the day. But there are so many equally deserving choices, from the Left and the Right.

AMac said at September 3, 2014 6:19 AM:

Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin. By John J. Mearsheimer, Foreign Affairs, Oct. 2014.

Putin’s pushback [taking Crimea, destabilizing Ukraine] should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics. They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy...
In essence, the two sides have been operating with different playbooks: Putin and his compatriots have been thinking and acting according to realist dictates, whereas their Western counterparts have been adhering to liberal ideas about international politics. The result is that the United States and its allies unknowingly provoked a major crisis over Ukraine.

albatross said at September 4, 2014 6:50 AM:

One thing I'm not so clear on here is how much of the civil war/Russian invasion in Ukraine is:

a. Driven by nationalism and ethnic tensions, as with Yugoslavia.

b. Driven by Russian interests in keeping NATO and maybe the EU away from its borders.

Dan said at September 4, 2014 7:51 AM:

@albatross, the article in Foreign Affairs in the comment above yours is good.

Russia has been saying pretty much (b) for something like 15 years. They have been consistent and clear. They say constantly like a broken record, we want to get along, just don't come over in this particular spot. Then the west guns massively for that particular spot, and helps overthrow a democratically elected leader in that particular spot. Putin tries to make a stand in that particular spot and the west screams, 'Oh My God, he wants to take over the world!!'

The west should count itself lucky that Putin is so careful and rational. How many major wars had less impetus than that?

Mike Street Station said at September 4, 2014 8:04 AM:

Whether or not Russia peals off Eastern Ukraine as a new province, or humbles the Ukraine enough to bring it back to client state status is a decision that the Russians can make without worrying about Western reaction. The Russians know they have Europe by the energy balls and know that the current US administration is all talk, and really wants an out from any confrontation. The very least we could do is station a Brigade in Estonia. It wouldn't cost that much since I bet the Estonians would be willing to pick up a share of the cost, and it's the kind of empty gesture that looks like something but really isn't anything but will provide the Baltic states a bit more security.

Plus if you are a serviceman stationed there, it would be great duty.

Jim said at September 4, 2014 8:23 AM:

And if Russia ever moves in what happens to the poor bastards in the brigade?

AMac said at September 5, 2014 4:16 AM:


That [Ukrainian leader X, 1989-present] was "democratically" elected doesn't mean much to any of the players. X also likely manipulated the polity and the system to climb to the top of the heap. Once there, X made sleazy deals, maneuvered against the other factions, and tried to deal with the mess that is the economic and political legacy of communism, all while benefiting from being President of a kleptocracy.

Mearsheimer points out that it is worth thinking abut the situation in realpolitik terms, since Putin et al do.

Mike Street Station said at September 5, 2014 7:46 AM:

@ Jim. Those poor bastards are tripwires. That's been a staple of US foreign policy since after World War 2. Since any attack on our troops automatically drags us into war, it provides assurance to the local country that we're serious about our treaty obligations and keeps all but the most certifiably insane countries from attacking. Why do you think we have troops in South Korea?

James Bowery said at September 5, 2014 6:45 PM:

What I find amusing is the way people will, on the one hand, claim Putin is nuts and/or unconcerned about the welfare of Russia as a whole compared to his own little gang of thugs and, on the other hand, pretend that Putin is incapable of true* brinkmanship.

*By true brinkmanship I mean the real motive behind all manner of "kooks" viewing Putin as the last best hope for Western Civilization because he is the one most likely to stop mass immigration into majority European nations. Oh... did I lose you there? OK, answer me this: Is there anything short of nuclear holocaust that can set the people of Europe and their colonies such as Australia/NZ, US and Canada free to defend their borders?

Lot said at September 6, 2014 5:01 PM:

Europe is actually trying to get off Russian gas. Germany and Spain both spent a ton of money subsidizing solar, the most expensive alternative, back when solar was much more expensive than it is now. One reason that solar has now gotten so cheap that it is competitive without any subsidies in places like Arizona, Los Angeles, and Hawaii is Chinese companies overbuilt capacity, expecting the massive subsidized German and Spanish demand to continue, rather than be discontinued because of the current Long Depression. Denmark, Holland, and Norway are also doing great work with wind power.

It is a slow process, and the German decision to scale back nuclear is a big setback for EU energy independence.

France is looking pretty good right now with its decision to go nuclear in a big way. At the time, it was more expensive, but now they have nearly limitless clean power at a moderate (still not cheap) price. Nuclear is so big there, they now have plenty of infrastructure and economies of scale keeping it going that no other country has.

ErisGuy said at September 7, 2014 5:06 AM:

Anyone ask Ukrainians what they want yet? And not the government, and not collectively. Perhaps some Ukrainians wish to be free of Russia and Putin. Haven’t they say, or is what is decided in Moscow, London, Brussels, and Paris more important than the wishes any distant and petty people? Then all we need is for Obama and Putin to conclude their own Munich Agreement (tough luck Ukraine) or Ribenbtrop-Molotov Pact (partition Ukraine).

If Russia absorbs the eastern Ukraine as a province or a client state, won’t that make the western Ukraine (probably called “Ukraine” as it has a majority of Ukrainian speakers) more likely to join NATO or conclude an alliance with Poland?

It would be better for Europe if NATO conquered Russia. No more hostiles sitting on Europe’s resources. Finally Russia would be part of Europe, which was the goal of Peter the Great.

Jim said at September 7, 2014 7:10 AM:

Mike Street Station - So if Russia were to invade Estonia and overrun our brigade we will initiate a thermonuclear strike against Russia? I doubt that even the neocons are that bat shit crazy.

James Bowery said at September 7, 2014 12:11 PM:

Jim -- that's just it. If Putin really is "nuts", he can basically just take over any government he wants. That doesn't mean he can take over the countryside in places like Afghanistan of course, but if all he is interested in is expanding the Russian empire, I don't see any way the neocons can counter his "bat shit crazy". Even Israel's "barking mad dog" posturing is ultimately a bluff.

What Putin _might_ unleash, as an alternative to nuclear holocust, is a much more sophisticated global regime of assassination/neutralization of key central authorities.

Mike Street Station said at September 8, 2014 7:19 AM:

Jim, if you think that policy is "bat shit crazy" then you missed the entire reason we've had troops stationed in Europe since WW2 in the first place.

Check it out said at September 8, 2014 4:59 PM:

Russia is not a state which holds global military superiority. It is only the USA that possesses the quality, save for the nuclear sphere. Therefore, Russia has completely different objectives. In the first place, they relate to regional issues, the post-Soviet space. On these territories, Russia is ready to firmly defend its positions, and armed forces are required for this. But Russia does not say that it intends to seize the Baltic or Ukraine. At the same time, Russia has been strengthening military and technical cooperation with several countries.

The United States, in September last year, was planning to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. The Americans were ready to strike multiple air strikes on Syria. Russia deployed a group of warships near the Syrian coast. Russia, in fact, acted as the force to suppress USA's aggression.

The aggressor in the world is mostly the United States. What Obama says is not true to fact. Suffice it to recall elements of their strategy. Obama said earlier that he was going to shift the center of gravity to the Pacific. One can not do it, if one wants to be a peacemaker. The whole matter is not about peacekeeping operations - this is about containing China.

Therefore, the positions of Russia and the United States are different, the sphere of activity and armed forces of Russia and the United States are also fundamentally different, and their goals are different too. For Russia, it is of paramount importance to ensure stability near the Russian border. For the United States, it is vitally important to impose its foreign policy around the world. At the same time, the United States lacks resources, including military ones. The Americans will never unveil the actions that they are hiding behind their words.

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