Monday, February 18, 2008

The incredibly stupid declaration

Yesterday, after a 10 year wait with essentially no diplomatic progress, the very small Serbian province of Kosovo declared its Independence. This is a move that was widely anticipated and will likely lead to at least low level violence (rioting) if not a reemergence of war in Eastern Europe. Serbia is not one for calmly forgiving “breakaway” provinces (as they considered Bosnia).

An independent Kosovo represents a renewed risk of conflict in Eastern Europe as well as the former soviet republics and, ostensibly, it was for this reason that Russia has long opposed the move. Their response so far has been muted but there is no doubt that Putin and his corp are steaming in the Kremlin.

Amidst reports that there was a possible diplomatic solution behind the scenes, proposed by Russia, that would have resulted in eventual independence, an idea that never really received attention by the United States, comes President Bush’s official recognition. This is significant since there are essentially three requirements for a territory to be considered a state: that it has stable boundaries, that it has its own government, and that it has international recognition. (Some IR scholars vary on their definition of a “state” but that’s a good baseline to start any discussion.)

Generally speaking, receiving international recognition is the most difficult to achieve since states have no real interest in acknowledging breakaway provinces abroad for fear of breakaway provinces at home. How would we, for example, feel if Texas just up and declared its independence? Ok, maybe that’s a bad example given that it would take our President with it but I think the point is clear. This is one reason why we officially don’t recognize Taiwan as an independent country. China would flip its lid and it’s an excellent idea to keep large, populous, economically powerful, nuclear armed states on firm, friendly ground.

So, Bush’s recognition is significant and essentially means that there is no turning back the clock. Serbia will fight this in the legal and political world, a fight they will lose, and then we shall see. Let’s hope that they don’t return to the violent solution of the 1990s. But if they do, we have to be prepared to act – and swiftly. The President has us committed.

I highlight this case, however, not because of the microcosm of Kosovo (no matter how grave a threat that microcosm might develop into) but because it reflects a central premise of the Bush Doctrine - a fundamental ignorance or disregard for the motivations for our strategic adversaries, in particular, Russia. For better or worse, we need a friendly, pro-western Russia. They’ve got a nuclear arsenal big enough to kill us all and they control the supply of oil and natural gas to Western Europe. Antagonizing a large, oil rich, heavily armed former adversary is not only non-sensical, it’s borderline suicidal.

The creation of foreign policy has to begin with a sharp analysis of national interest – both ours and theirs. That means understanding the target nation’s security concerns, national interests, and foreign policy methodology. As such, were we to attempt to analyze those factors, we would easily understand the great fear that Russia has of losing oil rich provinces to independence movements (ala Chechnya and Georgia), among other factors. By ignoring these concerns, by placing human rights above our own national interests, by pushing a relentless and poorly thought out strategy of democratization and self-governance, the US government has felt “moral” with each subsequent blunder. Feeling “moral” does not make for good foreign policy.

Let me be clear – I think an independent Kosovo is a good idea. Serbia doesn’t have a particularly good track record for respecting minority rights (to put things extremely mildly) and I think independence was inevitable. I also support a free press and free speech in Russia, I’m opposed to their repressive crackdown in Chechnya, and I worry that Russia is slipping back into a Soviet-style government.

However, we must ask ourselves if it is truly in our national interest to confront Russia on issues related to their vital national interests. This question becomes especially poignant when one considers that our pressure has, up to now, totally failed to stimulate the types of freedom which we value and have only pushed Russia to more belligerence. In this, our failed policy closely resembles the regressive, backwards embargo we maintain on Cuba.

The lesson of the 1920s was that policymakers must see “the world for the way it truly is, not as it is hoped” (I’m paraphrasing). This is the fundamental basis for foreign policy realism. Realism as a school of thought goes too far in some instances, but the crux of the philosophy remains valid. We can’t change Russia for the better with harsh words, encirclement, and by striking at the heart of their national interest. But we can change those types of regimes by working with them, by promoting openness and engagement, and by resisting the urge to judge them (saving face cannot be underestimated, especially for a very proud Russia). Nixon understood this. Reagan understood this. Clinton understood this. It is extremely dangerous and foolhardy to not understand this and it’s yet for the past 7+ years our nation has actively ignored realism in favor of neo-conservatism or Bush-style Divine Inspiration (most famously, with his comment that he looked into the soul of Vladimir Putin and saw that he was good).

One has to wonder just how much irreparable damage has been done and will be done before the coffin containing the Bush Doctrine is finally nailed shut for good.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Political Favorites
Guilty Pleasures
My Global Position