An alternative view of the US-Russia confrontation


The current heating up of the rhetoric in US-Russia relations was triggered in the US by the events in the Ukraine that Cold War warriors in the US say is a sign that Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin are trying to expand the country’s borders and resurrect the Soviet empire, and it shows that they cannot be trusted.

Political scientist John J. Mearsheimer is of the ‘realist’ school of politics in the US that plays down ideological fervor and tries to understand global events in the light of the interests of the nations involved. The members of this school argue that the US should act in its interests coldly and calculatingly and not allow other factors to influence it. He wrote back in 2014 that what happened was the US’s fault and that the Russian takeover of Crimea was a predictable response to the way that the US and NATO had been expanding its front right into the Russian back yard, and what the US did in the Ukraine prior to the takeover was the final straw.

Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it. This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it.

It is a good article that provides a detailed analysis of the events that led up to the Russian annexation of Crimea. But we have few realists in the US foreign policy political establishment, though they are present among the career professionals. Donald Trump may have warm feelings towards Putin now but he can hardly be called a realist. He can hardly be credited with having any coherent philosophy at all in fact, so he could suddenly turn hostile against Russia overnight.

Comments

  1. applehead says

    Yeah, alternative in the same way as alt-right.

    Did this “scientist” at any point mention how Putin installed a marionette as Ukraine’s PM (hm, why does that sound horribly familiar?) who ran the country in the ground, forcing the people to rise and kick him out? That Putin used this as a pretext to stage a de facto invasion dressed up as a grassroots secession? This geopolitical victim-blaming is beyond disgusting. Real, innocent people died, and think-tank traitors like this whiteknight Putin.

    That’s why I’m categorically suspicious of anybody who style themselves “realists,” “pragmatists,” etc. You need look no further than the “rationals” who include rabid misogynists like Sargon of Akkad to see such self-aggrandizing labels always mark false advertising.

  2. says

    I somewhat agree with applehead@#1: too often “relalism” is a fig-leaf for nihilism.

    Not that I am trying to argue against nihilism, as I suppose I am one, but politics is the last field you want nihilists to inhabit. Since the entire premise of “leadership” is making good decisions for and with one’s people, one ought to (be silent, Hume!) consider the welfare of all involved.

    I would argue that a politician’s baliwick is the world, and not simply “their” nation. If you consider that the people of Russia are people, too, it is hard to avoid that reasoning. Therefore the “realist” political nihilism entails rejecting other people’s humanity simply because of where they were born in imaginary lines on the earth. A globalist view of politics, I would further argue, is inevitably shouldered by any political leader who accepts the disposition of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and a global war capability. If you have your finger on the button that can incinerate millions, you owe them more than “realism.”

    I would unhesitatingly cut Kissinger and the “realpolitik” ilk’s throat given an opportunity and impunity. And I would feel justified in doing so, on the grounds of self-defense. By propagating these ideas, they make my world a more dangerous place. They are psychopaths in intellectuals’ clothing.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Interesting article and makes some very good points.

    As I understand it, and I’m a amateur, the Russians consider that they have been double-crossed by the USA. Apparently they had received verbal assurances that the USA/NATO would not expand eastward. It did. As did the EU. In a simplified form, the Russians wanted to hold the USA/NATO to its spoken word and the USA argued that there was nothing in writing so no deal.

    I had not thought of NATO establishing a navel base in the Crimea but it sounds like a possibility though the military/navy probably wold not have been happy.

    The Crimea has been an integral part of Russia and the Soviet Union, since about the time the USA was debating its constitution. It also has what I believe in the largest all-weather navel base “in” Russia.

    It looks like Russia, quite reasonably, thinks it is being surrounded by a “almost hostile ” force. America politicians all too often have characterized Russia as some kind of rogue state. And, it may be to some extent though probably no more than the USA but compared with the Philippines recently it is pure as the driven snow.

    And Hilary Clinton’s idea of a no-fly zone in Syria was totally mad. I think Russia sees the Syrian debacle as a legitimate threat to its security and would view the US intervention in Iraq and Syria as an attempt to create a failed state; that’s the only thing I can think of that explains US strategy or lack there of.

    Secretary of State John Kerry’s response to the Crimea crisis reflected this same perspective: “You just don’t in the twenty- )rst century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext

    Ah, Afganisatan, Iraq? Right.

    Did this “scientist” at any point mention how Putin installed a marionette as Ukraine’s PM

    Read the article. You will notice that the USA sponsored the coup that ousted Yanukovych. Mind, it looks like a crooked bunch of politicians favouring Russia (for many reasons) being replaced by just as dubious crooked bunch of politicians favouring the USA/NATO.

    The United States was not only the
    “indispensable nation,” as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it; it was also a benign hegemon and thus unlikely to be viewed as a threat in Moscow.

    Of course Moscow would not regard the United States as a threat! It was only extending its hegmony up to Russian border, and slandering the Russian government.

    The Soviet Union fought a war, mainly on its own ground from 1941 to 1945. And the USA was pretty much an implacable enemy from 1921 to the collapse of the Soviet Union, with a slight truce during World War II. Naw, no need to worry about the USA/NATO.

  4. jrkrideau says

    @2 Marcus Ranum

    I would probably agree that “realist” is a poor term for Mearsheimer to use but I think it shows that there is slight difference in opinion about the intentions of the USA.

    If I were the Russian government, I’d probably not be too happy to have NATO troops stationed about 100km or less from St. Petersburg.

  5. naturalcynic says

    @4
    If I were the Russian Latvian government, I’d probably not be too happy to have NATO Russian troops stationed about 200km or less from St. Petersburg Riga.

  6. says

    Jrkrideau:
    The Russians legitimately see NATO as a US shell-game, considering it always follows the US lead. So not only did the US betray the promise of no expansion to Russia, it played an absurd shell-game by trying to get NATO to expand and then encouraged or fomented rebellion in Ukraine with the aim of offering NATO membership. The Russians see that exactly as kindly as the US would see a Russian-inspired breakaway of Quebec with Warsaw Pact support. Or Cuba joining the Warsaw Pact or a new equivalent.

    Meanwhile, the militarists at Versailles-on-the-Potomac also (in the Russian view) gamed the hell out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, by ensuring that all NATO aircraft are weapons intercompatible and can deliver B61 hydrogen bombs. So you get horribly unwise situations like Turkish F-16s that can deliver US-owned B61s – of which there are over 1 dozen at Incirlik air force base in Turkey – or German nuclear capable strike aircraft with US nukes at Rammstein. Most Americans remember the Soviet response to US medium-range ballistic missiles in Turkey was to deploy ballistic missiles to Cuba, and that bit of brinkmanship nearly resulted in catastrophe for humanity.

    The same assholes who brought us that’s descendants are up to the same assholery. Right now, NATO is doing maneuvers in Poland including forward-stationing MLRS batteries that are also nuclear-capable. The Russians are expected to forget Operation Barbarossa and smile. Imagine the US reaction if Russian troops with theater-nukes were doing maneuvers in Mexico.

    The US’ upset over Crimea was entirely an attempt to deny the Russians a naval port in the Black Sea. Doing so would put the entire Middle East Americana out from under Russia’s cruise missile umbrella, which would mean the only regional power (assuming Israel continues to behave as a US colony) that could scratch the US Navy’s fleet of sitting ducks is: Iran. Now that Syria is reduced to chaos.

    We should expect two things:
    1) Russia will propagate better weapons to Iran and (if they play hardball) will facilitate North Korea selling them a pair of nukes.
    2) US manufactured rebellions will try harder. The CIA thought it had Iran on the edge during their last elections, but the regime wasn’t having it. Next election cycle in Iran the CIA will try harder and people will die in large numbers, Syria 2.0.

  7. says

    PS – Russia has watched the US and its proxy Israel engage in nuclear blackmail with Iran for decades. We should expect that if Russia wants to maintain any power in the area, they may support Iran more closely – unlike the US they have some credibility regarding not caring about the sunni/shia divide. If the Iranian government wants to play defensively they might be doing joint maneuvers with Russian military around the time of their next election, so if the CIA try to sponsor a rebellion, their spetsnaz will slaughter the CIA proxies, just like they did in Syria. The US is kind of awkwardly on the back foot after that: it’s hard to recruit CIA puppet wannabees after watching what happened to them in Iraq, Libya, Ukraine..

  8. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Marcus Ranum: “The US’ upset over Crimea was entirely an attempt to deny the Russians a naval port in the Black Sea. Doing so would put the entire Middle East Americana out from under Russia’s cruise missile umbrella”
    Wouldn’t have worked. Russian missiles have enough range to hit Syria from the Caspian Sea. When it happened, Iran didn’t complain loudly about using their air space. Probably because Syrian government is a subsect of shia, and the attack was against “the rebels”.

  9. jrkrideau says

    The US’ upset over Crimea was entirely an attempt to deny the Russians a naval port in the Black Sea

    As mentioned before this never really crossed my mind, simply because I could not see Russia going along with it, and they have not. What world do US foreign policy people inhabit?

    I don’t know enough about Iranian politics to know if they would want a closer alliance with Russia but given the continuous hate coming from the USA I can definitely see the appeal.

    Given the chaos in Iraq and Syria, Russia might well want to support Iran. Given the existing border problems with Georgia and the Ukraine I can also see why the resource commitment might be asking a lot.

    so if the CIA try to sponsor a rebellion
    With the exception of the Kurds do you think anyone would want a rebellion? I’ve had the impression, based on very little evidence I admit, that Iranians may dislike their government but they feel more threatened by the USA & Israel. It may be a nasty government in some ways but it is not a US invasion or another Libya.

    Sort of similar to one major reason Fidel Castro stayed in power for so long. I suspect that Cuban schools taught all sorts of things about the US occupations of Cuba, some of which would even be true. Guantanamo was a good object lesson as was the history of Haiti.

  10. mnb0 says

    @3 “The Soviet Union fought a war, mainly on its own ground from 1941 to 1945.”
    Actually that war was mainly fought on Crimean, Ukrainean, Belo-Russian and Baltic ground.
    Sounds familiar?

  11. jrkrideau says

    The Russians see that exactly as kindly as the US would see a Russian-inspired breakaway of Quebec with Warsaw Pact support
    Of course, I’m much more worried about US-inspired breakaways. But I see your point.

  12. jrkrideau says

    # 10 mnb0
    Actually that war was mainly fought on Crimean, Ukrainean, Belo-Russian and Baltic ground.
    True but did you ever see a map of the USSR? You seem to forget that most or all of the people in power in Russia were Soviets.

    And, of course, Leningrad and Moscow were never part of the Russian CCP.

  13. lanir says

    Not really in the mood to dig through someone’s private sewer of ideas seeking gems. This sort of ridiculous patriotism that says someone is only a person worthy of rights and consideration based on which side of a magic line they’re on is just as ugly as racism, predatory economics, slavery and genocide. They’re all attempts to treat another human being as not being worthy of the same human dignity and respect as everyone else. The only difference is the veneer of respectability has not yet been ripped away from this version of it.

    We live in a strange world where selfish, harmful behavior that would seem abhorrent in a kindergartener barely makes us blink when applied to hundreds of millions or billions of people. This sort of unreasonable “realist” who can’t be bothered to take into account the full effects of their views and actions only looks good in contrast with those who take even less responsibility for their views and actions.

  14. jrkrideau says

    /This sort of ridiculous patriotism that says someone is only a person worthy of rights and consideration based on which side of a magic line they’re on is just as ugly as racism, predatory economics, slavery and genocide.

    I agree totally but the USA seems to practice these approaches continually. I am somewhat reminded of Gaius Julius Caesar when I hear American politicians speak or act.

    Not to say that most other countries are any better but the USA is the elephant in the room.

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