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September 17, 2008

Cornering the Russian Bear


Another unnecessary war

by Thomas Gale Moore

As we know, the Bush administration has gifted us with two wars. It has also promulgated the "Bush Doctrine," which asserts the nation's right to launch a preventive strike against any country that could potentially threaten the U.S. At the same time, this administration has supported expanding NATO to include former parts of the Soviet Union, such as Georgia and Ukraine. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West has moved its presence closer and closer to Moscow itself. The Baltic states, which border Russia, have been brought into the European Union and NATO. Poland, together with Bulgaria and Hungary, once elements of the Soviet Bloc, are now members of the EU and NATO.

In addition, the administration has pressured and bribed Poland, as well as the Czech Republic, into authorizing our military to establish anti-missile weapons and advanced radar in the two countries. Although Washington claims that those bases are intended solely to protect against Iranian rockets which are not advanced enough to threaten the U.S. Moscow believes that they are being installed with Russian weapons in mind. As a result, Russia feels increasingly that it is being surrounded and pushed into a corner. That is very dangerous. If the Russians were to adopt the Bush Doctrine, they might launch a preemptive strike against America.

Sen. McCain has called for expelling Russia from the G8 group of industrial nations and preventing it from joining the World Trade Organization. McCain also wants to establish a League of Democratic states that would not include Russia or China. Which countries are democratic enough to qualify, he has failed to specify. All of these steps isolate Russia further from the West.

Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin asserted in her interview with Charles Gibson of ABC news that Georgia and Ukraine deserve to join NATO. Should Russia attack one of them, she acknowledged, we would be obligated to go to its assistance. In other words, we would have to launch a war on Russia. Through 40 years of the Cold War we managed to avoid a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It would be devastating and tragic if now we were to become embroiled in a war with Russia, which has nuclear weapons, plus the intercontinental missiles powerful enough to deliver them to the U.S.

If you are hiking in the woods and come across a wild animal, you should always give it a way to escape. Once cornered, the animal will attack you. The same advice applies when dealing with a dangerous country. Never corner it. Unfortunately that is exactly what this administration has been doing with Russia.

We have already seen the results of attempting to bring Georgia into NATO. The Russians felt cornered. After we encouraged the Georgian regime to attempt to bring back the wayward territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow felt justified in sending troops into Georgia. Had Bush prevailed and secured Georgia's membership in NATO, we would have been obliged to send troops to help Georgia.

In Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, Pat Buchanan stresses British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's promise to the Polish government, a military dictatorship reputedly as anti-Semitic as the Nazis, that Britain would go to war to defend Poland, handing those unsavory rulers the power to force Britain into war. Given the British guarantee, Warsaw was unwilling to negotiate with Germany. Extending NATO to Ukraine or Georgia would allow those unstable states to force the U.S. and other NATO countries into war with Russia.

Ukraine's membership would be even more of a provocation than Georgia's. The Crimean Peninsula is a flash point. In 1954, the peninsula was transferred from Russian to Ukrainian administration, partly as a reward to Ukraine, partly because the peninsula was geographically closer to Ukraine. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine claimed the peninsula. The population, however, generally speaks Russian, not Ukrainian, and identifies more with Moscow than with Kiev. In 2001 the population of Crimea was about 52 percent Russian, 24 percent Ukrainian, and 18 percent Tatar, with other groups making up the balance. Under a 20-year treaty with Ukraine that expires in 2017, the Russian navy is stationed in Sevastopol. This provides Moscow with a year-round warm water port with access not only to the Black Sea but ultimately to the Mediterranean. Were Ukraine to join NATO, Russia would be expected to abandon its naval base. Clearly, it would be very unwilling to do so and would probably encourage the local population to demand independence from Ukraine.

There have been several attempts by the population of the Crimea to become independent. The peninsula now has considerable autonomy. Recently it has been alleged that Russia has been issuing passports to those in the Crimea who request them. In South Ossetia the Russians have given their passports to anyone who wanted one, leading to the claim that the Russian army was simply protecting its own nationals.

The Bush administration has led America into two interminable wars. It has threatened Iran with attacks and has been attempting to box in Russia by adding more countries to NATO, thus giving small, backward countries with unstable governments the power to ignite another war. The U.S. cannot afford a third conflict, either in money or in human lives. We should neither include these states in NATO nor should we build the anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe. By cooperating with Russia, we might be able to achieve a great deal of good in the world, but cornering the Russian bear might lead to catastrophe.

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Thomas Gale Moore is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in economics and has taught at Carnegie Institution of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Michigan State University, UCLA, and in the Stanford Business School. He has written numerous peer-reviewed economic articles and several books.

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