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With Russian meddling in Ukraine at an all-time high, resulting in the hottest tensions between Russia and 'the West' since the Cold War, a drastic review of European leaders' and the USA's response is necessary to realise a new approach to curb Russian aggression, writes Cory Turner.
The response by 'the West' has largely been too cautious, and this is indicative of a combination of a severe lack of willingness to mobilise its already dwindling 'hard power', and its incapability to do so at all. Failed experiments of interventionism in the Middle East, culminating in the creation of groups such as 'ISIS' (increasingly known as 'the Daesh'), has not only resulted in greater security threats down the line both regionally and, ultimately, globally, but the public's attitude in many of these nations has turned sceptical of the use of 'hard power'. This is not to mention the loss of resources available to European nation states to maintain a fully-rounded, constant military capability.
This has resulted in a succession of ceasefires which are continually undermined by Russia and by the separatists it supports. Russia is now diplomatically isolated, though this isn't used to its full effect. European leaders seem unwilling to follow through even on using 'soft power', resulting in a watered-down, completely impotent reaction. Sanctions have had mixed success, but are being circumvented as oil prices show promise of stabilising, and so without further action, Ukraine appears to be stuck fighting a war it cannot afford, but must at the same time keep fighting.
Interventionism has made European leaders too wary of the use of 'hard power', and economic constraints for many European nations means that the East is largely undefended; something Russian propaganda detects, and in turn Putin must exploit it, leading to further fear of action. It is a sad cycle of impotence and self-made vulnerability for Europe, and it must reverse it. It has led to an Appeasement-style policy against Russia, which encourages the Russian propaganda machine to unintentionally press for greater incursions into Ukraine. At one point, war may very well be a reality, and the EU's credibility as a Union will be tested.
Even the USA, under the Obama administration, has turned away from open conflicts and 'boots on the ground'. That is to say, for as long as the Democrats are in power. Due to how ideologically split the Republicans and the Democrat Parties are-at least on foreign policy-American foreign policy will become erratic at best. The Obama administration has turned the country around from its 2003-style interventionism, to a supportive role in regional conflicts in order to contain them; ensuring local actors can deal with the threat in an appropriate fashion whilst not creating further conflict down the line.
This has been reflected in how it and the Coalition against 'ISIS' (the Daesh) have supplied (though not adequately enough) local Iraqi and Kurdish forces, which has been showing positive results, especially from Kurdish forces. It is such a supportive policy that Europe must adopt if it is to contain the threat of Russia. In response to Russia's expansionism, Europe must assume an approach of consolidation, and support Ukraine. A policy of containment must be adopted to prevent escalation and keep it within the limits Europe needs it, taking the reins from Russia in the direction that the Russo-Ukrainian War goes towards, from which Europe can shrink the local conflict.
Instead, European leaders have taken a mixed response. Whilst Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Germany and France have voiced vehement opposition and have worked to draw up sanctions against Russia, the UK government would rather pretend that the war does not exist. It continues to cut its Defence budget and remains non-committal to forming a united European Defence policy. In early 2015, it sent some 35 advisors to Ukraine to aid the training process of Ukrainian forces in the west of the country.
Even the USA's response in training has been lacklustre; its training commitment has been small at best, and has failed to provide lethal weaponry. Even the resources and equipment Ukraine does receive overall, which includes body armour and non-lethal weaponry, have not nearly met the demand that needs to be met.
This weakness to utilise European 'hard power' to supplement its 'soft power' leaves the EU physically vulnerable, and feeds the Russian propaganda machine. This, in turn, pushes Putin to continue his actions, and eventually Ukraine may fall under increasing external and internal pressures.
Following the Appeasement-style policy, save some sanctions that now appear to have had only mixed success, led European nations vulnerable by 1939, and will do so again today if it is not swiftly abandoned. A new, innovative strategy must be conceived in order to physically protect the EU from Russian expeditions and contain the conflict, from which it may shrink it. Drastic change is in order, but it requires a revival in the willingness to use 'hard power', and for a new European unity in the face of euroscepticism from within.
European leaders must devise a plan to ensure that not only can they form a common policy/priority across the Union to defend against any future Russian incursions into European territory (an inevitable reality given the forces driving president Putin's actions), but must also ensure that Russian influence in the form of Euroscepticism does not hollow out the EU as well. European leaders ought to agree to an aptly named form of defence called 'defensive defence', which, whilst still fuelling Russian propaganda, provides President Putin an adequate excuse to at the very least maintain his current actions, but without committing to further steps, as there is no vacuum to fill left.