Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

How are the U.S. and Europe thinking about the Russian threat in Ukraine?

The Daily Signal

How are the U.S. and Europe thinking about the Russian threat in Ukraine? Anatol Lieven on how Vladimir Putin could be reviving NATO.
Russia’s massive buildup of troops and weapons along its border with Ukraine creates a difficult puzzle for the West. For years, political and military leaders in the United States have focused mainly on the challenge from China, after Obama memorably declared a “pivot to Asia” in 2011. That pivot came after years—and trillions of dollars—spent fighting wars and counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Western European countries, meanwhile, were preoccupied with the flow of migrants to the continent and the threat of domestic terrorism. But Russia’s ominous actions in Eastern Europe are scrambling these priorities, as U.S. President Joe Biden called a meeting of NATO members on January 24, pledging to send American soldiers quickly to NATO member states in Eastern Europe. How is NATO looking at Russia now?
Anatol Lieven, the senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, is the author of Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry and two other books on Russia. In his view, the Ukraine crisis is changing perceptions of Russia, even as it deepens longstanding animosity among political and security elites. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s moves might well resuscitate NATO, which has struggled to find a new identity since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. As Lieven sees it, NATO isn’t going to fight Russia—in Ukraine or elsewhere—but the current confrontation is likely to lead to increased budgets for NATO and the U.S. military. And many European countries will welcome the increased American attention to Moscow, as Washington’s engagement will ease their ongoing worries of being left to deal with Russia on their own.
Michael Bluhm: How is the standoff at the Ukraine border affecting NATO’s view of Russia?
Anatol Lieven: Our security elites have long been deeply hostile to Russia. This became overt after the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 but was apparent in private long before that. It’s something inherited from the Cold War. After all, these institutions largely grew up during the Cold War, with Russia as the enemy.
The shift in recent months is that this hostility was mixed with indifference. Russia was not taken seriously as a military force. Now it is.
Bluhm: How is NATO responding?
Lieven: It may be too early to tell. What NATO has been doing has been overwhelmingly symbolic. The Danes have sent two aircraft. The Dutch have sent one plane and maybe one frigate.
This leads to a question: Will European countries boost their militaries? Despite talk of the Russian threat in recent years, there’s been a consistent refusal to increase European military budgets, reform European armed forces, and coordinate European and NATO armed forces in a way that eliminates endless duplication.
There’s no chance of Ukraine being brought into NATO. The reason is that if Ukraine were brought into NATO, then you would have to provide armed forces that could defend Ukraine against a Russian invasion. That means Cold-War style armed forces; that means the dispatch of a large part of the American army. In the 1980s, the U.S. had in excess of 150,000 ground troops in Europe. It would mean the reconstitution of the British army on the Rhine. Since it’s very difficult to get volunteers, it would mean a return to military conscription in West European countries, because you’d have to be prepared to fight Russia.
These populations will not fight to defend Ukraine. Everyone’s made it clear that they won’t send troops to do that, because they might actually have to fight Russia. There is an awful lot of pure theatrics.
War with Russia in Ukraine wouldn’t be like some counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan. Germans lost about 1 million men in Ukraine in the Second World War. They don’t forget that.
More from Anatol Lieven at The Signal:
The point is that when NATO said it was the most successful military alliance in history, it was a military alliance that never had to fight. As soon as you get into situations where NATO has to fight, things start looking very different—including for domestic support in member countries. The problem about the idea of NATO membership for Ukraine—with an ongoing civil war in the East and with the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014—is that it implies a readiness to fight Russia. Anyone who pretends that NATO’s European members are willing to do that—or that the Pentagon is, for that matter—is lying.”
The only military force that can intervene successfully and hold Europeans together is the United States. In Europe, they have a deep distrust in themselves, coupled with a desire not to increase their military spending or to make serious military commitments. The Europeans are terribly afraid of being left on their own to face problems, one of those problems being Russia. But that means that they’ve gone along—in some cases, very unwillingly—with U.S. strategies, above all the planned expansion of NATO to Georgia and Ukraine, which were inevitably bound to recreate some kind of Russian threat.”
The whole of NATO enlargement was sold to European and American publics and political elites with the line that it would involve no new risks, no new commitments, no new dangers, and above all, no danger of war. From a strategic point of view, the architects of NATO expansion just didn’t think things through. They thought that because Russia had accepted Polish membership in NATO without violence, despite being unhappy about it, they were going to accept Georgia, which implied territorial conflict with Russia over the region of South Ossetia, too—and Ukraine, which implied the expulsion of the Russian Navy from Sevastopol.”

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