Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Arming Ukraine? It'll Just Make the Conflict Worse

Harvard's Stephen Walt has written a strong piece for Foreign Policy against arming Ukraine. He absolutely hits the nail on the head.

After all, these are the same people who have been telling us since the late 1990s that expanding NATO eastwards posed no threat to Russia and would instead create a vast and enduring zone of peace in Europe. That prediction is now in tatters, alas, but these experts are now doubling down to defend a policy that was questionable from the beginning and clearly taken much too far. As the critics warned it would, open-ended NATO expansion has done more to poison relations with Russia than any other single Western policy.
Those who favor arming Ukraine are also applying “deterrence model” remedies to what is almost certainly a “spiral model” situation. In his classic book Perception and Misperception in International Politics, political scientist Robert Jervis pointed out that states may undertake what appear to be threatening actions for two very different reasons.
Sometimes states act aggressively because their leaders are greedy, seeking some sort of personal glory, or ideologically driven to expand, and are not reacting to perceived threats from others. The classic example, of course, is Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and in such cases accommodation won’t work. Here the “deterrence model” applies: the only thing to do is issue warnings and credible threats so that the potential aggressor is deterred from pursuing its irrevocably revisionist aims.
 By contrast, the “spiral model” applies when a state’s seemingly aggressive policy is motivated primarily by fear or insecurity. Making threats and trying to deter or coerce them will only reinforce their fears and make them even more aggressive, in effect triggering an action-reaction spiral of growing hostility. 
 When insecurity is the taproot of a state’s revisionist actions, making threats just makes the situation worse. When the “spiral model” applies, the proper response is a diplomatic process of accommodation and appeasement (yes, appeasement) to allay the insecure state’s concerns. Such efforts do not require giving an opponent everything it might want or removing every one of its worries, but it does require a serious effort to address the insecurities that are motivating the other side’s objectionable behavior.

NATO has been saying for 20 years that expansion is no threat to Russia, without seemingly taking account of the threat perception in Russia. It is now quite clear that Russia sees the situation in Ukraine as a vital strategic interest for which it is prepared to take extreme measures. NATO does not. This should guide NATO's approach to the conflict, which should clearly not be one of insisting at any cost that Ukraine should be part of NATO.

NATO countries, and the alliance as a whole, also need to be very, very clear with their allies in Kiev that one cannot unify a country and convince Russian speakers in the east of the country that Kiev is their friend by dropping bombs and cluster munitions on civilians. A respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) has been absent from this conflict, and rather than preparing to supply arms and make things worse, NATO should begin by demanding respect for IHL as part of the negotiations now underway.