The expected rate of return from denuclearization has fallen

by on March 2, 2014 at 1:10 am in Current Affairs, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

Right?  That is just one piece of fallout from the current crisis.  As an American, with little at stake in Ukraine per se, I am glad the country gave up its nuclear weapons, so as to limit the risk of broader conflict.  But if I were a Ukrainian citizen, my view would be somewhat different.

Here is an interesting study by Robert Stephen Mathers (pdf) on the denuclearization of Ukraine.  It appears to have been written as a term paper for Martin Felstein in 2003.  Excerpt:

The back and forth negotiations about Ukraine’s nuclear status would finally end in Moscow in January 1994 with the signing of the Trilateral Statement by Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin and Kravchuk.  The agreement held Ukraine to the promise of “the elimination of all nuclear weapons, including strategic offensive arms, located in its territory.”  In exchange for these concessions, the U.S. and Russia agreed to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity (a primary concern for Ukraine) and ensured that no state would use or threaten to use military force or coercion against it…Ukraine’s main concerns were finally met.

It seems the value of a formal NATO guarantee is falling as well.  Rapidly.  Various Eastern European countries are asking for stronger or clarified U.S. guarantees.  What are they thinking in Latvia?  Taiwan?  Japan?  How about the Israelis negotiating with John Kerry?

For the pointer I thank Bill Badrick.

1 jerseycityjoan March 2, 2014 at 1:36 am

What a difference, and at a time when nothing seems certain
I believe I saw some figures earlier this work to the effect that GDP for France and Germany was around 40,000, and was less than 5,000. Agreeing to provide more help may feel good — until it’s time to deliver the help, or whe payments on loans are not made.

I know zip about economics but for a whole host of reasons, I cannot see how the EU or NATO can continue for much more than another generation as is. The less prosperous nations will become too hard to prop up and no one could justify the sacrifices to their own less prosperous people.

Maybe the less prosperous countries should establish their own group that would provide self-help not subsidies and loans against the day that the richer countries leave them behind or push them out.

What does everyone else think?

2 dan1111 March 2, 2014 at 1:50 am

This is not about monetary aid.

3 jerseycityjoan March 2, 2014 at 2:17 am

If we or NATO supply defense guarantees to more countries or expand current commitments, are you saying it won’t cost us anything?

4 Alexei Sadeski March 2, 2014 at 6:29 am

He’s saying that the US and NATO and the EU not acting has zero to do with money.

5 dead serious March 2, 2014 at 9:21 am

Everything has something to do with ‘money.’ One way or another.

6 jerseycityjoan March 2, 2014 at 2:13 am

My comment above got all scrambled, and some material got deleted as well, I think. Let me try again:

I believe there will be a lot of pressure on the US, NATO and the EU to not just confirm prior commitments but to promise even more. I believe that the US and others who are asked to make various security, financial and other commitments to weaker nations should think long and hard about that.

I know zip about economics but for a whole host of reasons, I cannot see how the EU or NATO can continue for much more than another generation as is. The “have-not” nations will become too hard to prop up, the “have” countries will not want to keep offering various economic subsidies as well as their own countries’ jobs to so many foreign workers from within the EU. Who will be willing to keep NATO going besides the US and a handful of other nations? All want the protection, few want to make the necessary contributions. That’s been true for a long time but at least 20 years ago the list of noncontributors was much shorter.

As the “stronger” nations continue to struggle with job creation, chronic unemployment and raising revenues, how can they justify making big commitments and possible major sacrifices to their own people, many of whom will have less than their parents’ generation?

Maybe the less prosperous countries of Europe should establish their own group that would provide self-help not subsidies and loans against the day that the richer countries leave them behind or push them out.

As for Japan and Israel, we do too much for them already, but I would not be surprised if they also ask for more.

I am looking for us to cut our defense bill, not increase it.

What does everyone else think?

7 Hoover March 2, 2014 at 4:21 am

Well, what are the motivations for providing any sort of guarantee in the first place?

It’s nice to have overseas markets your producers can sell to, and your consumers can buy from. Most threats that attract the attention of NATO are threats to prosperity and free markets as well as threats to the health and happiness of the potential victims.

Another motivation is to encourage good relations with other countries. If you can help a foreign government feel secure, you can in return ask it for all sorts of things: favourable votes in international organisations ranging from the EU to WIPO to GATT, protection for your citizens when they’re abroad and your ships as they pass through foreign waters, plus other things I haven’t yet thought of.

And a further motivation is altruistic: you genuinely want life, liberty and happiness for all the world.

Will those motivations survive for another generation? Certainly. But you question whether or not they’ll translate into action, and specifically “doing your fair share”.

That seems less clear. There are many in the free west who simply don’t believe there is any threat now. I hypothesize that this will translate into fewer votes for politicians who promise to maintain their commitment to NATO by spending on defence, and more votes for politicians who promise to build hospitals and distribute puppies to all.

I hesitate to name names, but are countries like Switzerland really free riders, who have sat under NATO’s umbrella for decades? Can we take them as a proxy for how countries who don’t contribute get along – i.e. rich and coddled? It was interesting to see that the hijacked plane of two weeks ago had to be escorted through Swiss airspace by Italian and French fighters…

8 The Anti-Gnostic March 2, 2014 at 8:42 am

All of Europe is a free rider. Do you think those generous welfare states would have come into existence if they’d had to guard the Fulda Gap all on their own dime?

9 Hoover March 2, 2014 at 8:47 am

Most European countries are indeed somewhere on a continuum* of free-riding.

*I just wanted to use the word continuum because it’s what the clever say.

10 mulp March 2, 2014 at 11:35 am

Once Britain and France had nukes, yes.

It is clear that the US spending millions in tax revenue putting millions of Americans to work in Europe which created jobs in Europe and exposed millions of Americans to millions of Europeans creating future economic and cultural ties was mutually beneficial to both Europe and the US.

Germans work smarter and produce more than Americans, enough so they are net savers while Americans have borrowed $16 trillion publically and an equal amount privately since the US moved right with the Reagan conservative free lunch economics of borrow and spend to create wealth.

11 mulp March 2, 2014 at 11:26 am

Well, the US has lasted for 200 years and one can say the same kind of thing about the disparities between States:

“I cannot see how the EU or NATO can continue for much more than another generation as is. The less prosperous nations will become too hard to prop up and no one could justify the sacrifices to their own less prosperous people.”

The New Deal directly addressed this kind of disparity by finally going forward with the TVA and providing “wealth” transfers from the rich North to the impoverished South. Then Medicare and Medicaid further transferred wealth to the South.

Its ironic that the South is using the strength from the welfare state transfers to the South as the justification to go to war with the North and West.

In the case of Ukraine and earlier Georgia, we have the same dynamic. Russia would be a total basket case if not for the cash the US and EU pours into Putin’s coffers, and he is striking back because Ukrainians and Georgians are “their own group that would provide self-help not subsidies and loans” but have Putin puppets that go to Putin for cash to prop them up using the dollars Americans pay for imported oil.

From Reagan through Bush, conservative energy policies were devoted to importing more job killing oil and sending ever more money to dictators and autocrats. Only Obama has reversed the policies that since 1985 increased imports every year which only props up Putin.

If the US had pursued relentlessly the job creating energy independence policies of Nixon and Carter, the global energy mix would be decidedly far less dominated by oil and natural gas and Putin would have a nation of alcoholics and declining population making its science and engineering and farmers the engine of Russia’s economy, not job killing oil.

(If you don’t think oil is job killing, explain how you would move people and cargo on electric rail systems nationwide without employing millions of people building such electric power infrastructure? And explain how paying someone to work for you who turns around and pays you to work for him is worse than you paying Putin to send you oil so you don’t need to pay another American to do the work you burn fossil fuels to do which then requires you pay taxes or loan money to pay bribes and fund wars to deal with the blowback of paying Putin for fossil fuels.)

Let’s think about the common thread of all the hotspots globally:

the Persian Gulf: oil and gas
Eastern Europe and Putin: oil and gas
Libya: oil and gas
Niger: oil and gas
Sudan: oil and gas
Venezuela: oil
the contested waters between Japan, China, Korea: oil and gas

12 wiki March 2, 2014 at 4:07 pm

I don’t see Europe as having made many strides towards energy independence despite expensive green regulations and high carbon taxes. The really big breakthroughs in reducing carbon emissions and potentially lessening the grip of foreign oil on the US has come from fracking. Putin laughs off the Europeans’ energy independence efforts while he takes very seriously the risks posed by the US becoming a major exporter of oil and gas. In fact, there is talk in Russia that Putin has been funding anti-fracking protests in the US. Fracking is the ONLY thing that has destabilized the old world oil cartel. The idea that Carter’s policies would have put a big dent in our need for foreign oil is utterly laughable.

13 Matt D. March 2, 2014 at 2:19 am

I don’t see what the big deal is. What would the coup leaders do, nuke Russia because some of their Russian-leaning provinces don’t immediately accept the legitimacy of their coup government?

Personally I think it was a good coup against a bad leader– but there is no firm principle that requires anyone inside Ukraine let alone the Russians to see it that way.

Add this to the fact that any nuclear weapons inside Ukraine would more than likely either be controlled by pro-Russian forces from the get-go or would have been the first sites captured by the “mysterious gunmen” who just secured the Crimea!

What Russia is doing in Ukraine right now is aggressive and wrong, but does not clearly fall into the category of the kind of aggression which should trigger a direct response from Ukraine’s “allies”. Circumventing the established rules for changing the government (and trashing the deal that the opposition signed with the previous government before the ink was even dry) created an opening for further “unconventional” moves by the other side. This means that other countries really shouldn’t be worried about any “precedent” this might be setting.

And it makes no sense to say that if Ukraine had nuclear weapons Russian would back off. Nonsense, utter nonsense.

14 Alan March 2, 2014 at 8:25 am

And nukes in Ukraine would have provided a convenient excuse for Russia to intervene. NOT having them in Ukraine helps clarify what is really happening. Never let a crisis go to waste ( and in Russia they create them for this reason).

15 dan1111 March 2, 2014 at 8:32 am

The point is, Ukraine agreed to disarm because they were promised something in return. Now it is quite likely that “something” is going to turn out to be “nothing”. This will make it harder to convince other countries to disarm, or in general, rely on major powers for defense.

Also, nuclear weapons can alter the balance of power without actually being used.

16 Frederic Mari March 2, 2014 at 8:47 am

I live in Ukraine ( so I do have a stake in the game.

A few points.

1- This was not a coup. Unless popular uprisings are ‘coups’.
2- If territorial invasion does not constitute a violation of every agreements ever signed, nothing will.
3- I still fully expect the West to do nothing truly meaningful. We do not have any real interests in whatever happen to Ukraine.
4- Yes, this will lower the meaningfulness of intl laws and agreements but the case of Iraq vs. North Korea vs. Iran already made that plenty clear. Nukes are the only real meaningful protection against any and all international bullies.

17 Z March 2, 2014 at 9:36 am

A violent mob ran off the democratically elected leader. Call it whatever you like, but it is still mob rule – at best.

18 Anony March 2, 2014 at 10:45 am

That sounds like democracy.

19 Andao March 2, 2014 at 11:13 am

Didn’t said leader break his election promise, and instead set Ukraine on a path towards irreversible Russian dependency?

Didn’t members of Yanukovich’s own party vote him out of office, in the democratically elected parliament?

If this was a coup, it might be the most democratic one in history.

20 John Smith March 2, 2014 at 9:53 am

I agree with Z. Few people will side with the new Ukraine regime on this. The new regime does seem a more just one than the previous. But that it came to power through violence is the truth and people will see it that way. Good intentions (and even good outcomes) does not erase the truth. Just because your violence overthrew a violent tyrant doesn’t mean you didn’t use violence.

21 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 10:44 am

Indeed, that is why the United States has remained a pariah ever since 1776, and the same with the French Republic.

22 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 12:34 pm

More seriously, the obvious comparison is the events in Honduras a couple of years ago, where a democratically elected president was deposed by a near unanimous parliament, both the opposition and his own party voting against him, after he had defied the Supreme Court. However, the country lacked a formal impeachment method.

Whether people call it a coup or a constitutional crisis or whatever depends on their sympathies, usually.

23 Frederic Mari March 2, 2014 at 12:25 pm

You guys got weird concepts of violence, mobs and the like. For the most part, protesters stood their ground and got shot. Apart from a few gvt buildings seized initially, they didn’t even try to take over TV stations, railway stations or indeed the Presidential palaces and Yanukovich’s home until he was already gone.

Now, it’s true – they didn’t follow the Constitution by waiting for 2015 and new elections. Then again, this is strict adherence to the letter of the law rather than its spirit. Yanukovich had modified the constitution to suit him, had a pliant Parliament vote (illegally, it seems) unconstitutional laws restricting democratic rights etc.

Basically, I find the objection that the crowd used violence when, in the main, they mostly suffered from it to be so oddly pro-status quo/conservatively minded that I cannot truly relate. I mean, don’t get me wrong. You’re not the first westerners I hear saying Yanukovich should just have cleared the rabble violently in November or Dec and be done with it. Even some westerners living in Ukraine were making such comments. As I said, I find this fetish of “Law and Order” to be utterly weird.

As to the popularity of the transitional government, it’s going to be hard to find out if Russia keeps meddling as much but my impressions were that most Ukrainians were quite happy with it and its promise to hold Presidential elections soon.

IMHO, Putin will now have problems backing down. That would make him look weak. So he’ll probably end up with some kind of ‘win’ (de facto control of Crimea, extended base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet). But this will cost him a heck of a lot of goodwill with the rest of Ukraine, incl. the “Russians” amongst them.

24 Matt D. March 2, 2014 at 1:49 pm

When the security forces of a country withdraw their support from the current leader, I think this falls under the general category of a coup, whether there happen to have also been large street demonstrations or not. We don’t really know exactly what happened behind the scenes to make Yanukovich leave.

Regardless of how many will perceive it, I think that an important feature of the situation is that the particular manner in which power in Kiev changed hands provided an opening for Russian to act in Russian-leaning areas of Ukraine in a way that is not illegitimate in the same way a bald-faced, 1939-style invasion would be. It is obviously still illegitimate in the eyes of any red-blooded Ukrainian and any self-respecting politician in the “West”, but its not quite the same. That’s all I’m saying.

25 prior_approval March 2, 2014 at 2:22 am

Strangely, that list does not include Finland – a non-member of NATO, who has actually fought against Russia.

Maybe because after all the Cold War commentary about Finlandization, we just don’t want to talk about it any more?

‘Finlandization (Finnish: suomettuminen; Swedish: finlandisering; German: Finnlandisierung) is the process by which one powerful country strongly influences the policies of a smaller neighboring country. The term literally means “to become like Finland” referring to the influence of the Soviet Union on Finland’s policies during the Cold War.

The term is generally considered to be pejorative, originating in West German political debate of the late 1960s and 1970s. As the term was used in Germany and other NATO countries, it referred to the decision of a country not to challenge a more powerful neighbor in foreign politics, while maintaining national sovereignty. It is commonly used in reference to Finland’s policies in relation to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but it can refer more generally to similar international relations, such as Denmark’s attitude toward Germany between 1871 and 1940.’

The funniest thing about all this commentary till now is that if the Russians cut off the gas, a number of people start freezing, industries grind to a halt, etc.

And yet, considering how the Ukraine has continued to not pay for its natural gas, such behavior on the part of the Russians would seem to be the sort of action that this web site would applaud.

How three decades changes perspective – Reagan was diligent in ensuring that no Western Alliance nation would ever rely on Russia energy. Of course, Reagan never imagined that the West would be involved in a situation where the Russians could cut off the natural gas supply of a former part of the Soviet Union.

And a sidenote – the conflict becomes serious when the pipelines go dry.

26 Das March 2, 2014 at 5:19 am

Russia’s ‘natural gas power’ is dwindling. This is why Russia sends soldiers to crimea. And this is why the conflict is serious already.

27 prior_approval March 2, 2014 at 5:37 am

Ukraine’s complete dependence on Russia as its provider of what fills the pipelines that reach the Ukraine is unchanged, however. (Part of that being that no one is interested in providing natural gas to such a deadbeat customer.)

And southern Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas (leaving aside the question of where the gas fields are actually located) was nicely demonstrated the last time there was a dispute involving Ukrainian sovereignty and gas deliveries – ‘The 2009 Russia–Ukraine gas dispute was a pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine that occurred when Russian natural gas company Gazprom refused to conclude a supply contract for 2009 unless Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz paid its accumulating debts for previous gas supplies.[1] The dispute began in 2008 with a series of failed negotiations, and on January 1 Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine.[2] On January 7 the dispute turned to crisis when all Russian gas flows through Ukraine were halted for 13 days, completely cutting off supplies to Southeastern Europe, most of which depends on Russian gas, and partially to other European countries.’–Ukraine_gas_dispute

Of course, arrangements were made to lessen EU dependence on Russian provided natural gas supplies. For example, Libya became an increasingly important supplier. As one can read here, from an artile dated March 11, 2011 – ‘Libya, the largest holder of proven oil reserves in Africa and until recently its fourth largest oil producer, exports most of the energy it produces. Europe is the major market for both oil and natural gas exports from Libya. Following the outbreak of civil unrest in mid-February, Libyan oil and natural gas production has been cut by 60 to 90 percent, affecting Libya’s energy exports. Oil exports have fallen with production and Libya’s natural gas exports to Italy via the Greenstream pipeline stopped in late February.’

Then again, here is some recent news concerning Greenstream – ‘Gas flow from Libya to Italy was halved on Monday from normal values, as local protesters have shut down a gas pumping station supplying Eni.

The affected field feeds the Greenstream pipeline to Sicily. According to Reuters, import flows were around 8.5 million cubic metres compared with shipper requests for 18 mcm, which would make up around 10% of Italy’s daily demand.
Italy relies mainly on imports from Russia and Algeria, with Libya representing 10% of the daily demand.’

And compared to some former Soviet Bloc countries to its east, Italy has a diversified supply of natural gas.

28 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 10:26 am

US companies would be interested in supplying natural gas, were it legal.

29 prior_approval March 2, 2014 at 12:03 pm

And how would an American company supply natural gas to Ukraine? That is a real question, by the way – there are a lot of paying customers along any route that reaches Ukraine, which makes them vastly preferable to sell natural gas to.

One does not whistle up a LNG shipping route or pipeline in a few months.

30 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Oh, indeed it would take quite a while. That’s why I and others have been long supporting moves in that direction before this latest crisis blew up. But even in the short term, the US selling to lots of paying customers in Europe would be more efficient than the current situation, and things would adjust, in time.

31 Peter Schaeffer March 3, 2014 at 4:03 pm


“One does not whistle up a LNG shipping route or pipeline in a few months”

LNG tankers can be chartered on the spot market in minutes. LNG export and import terminals take years to build. LNG export terminals require vast investments (converting natural gas to a liquid). LNG import terminals are much cheaper.

As of this date, the United States has zero operational LNG export facilities. One plant is under construction at Sabine Pass and will be completed in 2015. Another mothballed plant in Alaska might be reopened in the future.

32 Alexei Sadeski March 2, 2014 at 6:33 am

One wonders how Europe warmed itself before the Iron Curtain fell.

33 prior_approval March 2, 2014 at 6:43 am

Partially, by not using natural gas so extensively in the past. Germany, for example, has extensive reserves of coal (low quality, foul burning coal generally, but still). Of course, the former countries of the Soviet Bloc continued to be supplied by the successor to the energy framework previously owned by the Soviet Union.

And finally, Dutch, Norwegian, and British natural gas supplies have declined – one might want to read about the ‘Dutch disease’ in this context, too.

34 Marian Kechlibar March 2, 2014 at 6:56 am

In my opinion, it is about time for the Westerners to learn that whenever you buy gas from the East, the real inflow is controlled by the currently ruling class, not by such useless things as written contracts.

Any sort of energy dependence on a single big foreign empire is bad for your independence and prosperity.

35 prior_approval March 2, 2014 at 7:09 am

The United States Fifth ( and Sixth Fleet ( are a fine example of how that works when the country involved is Western.

‘Nice energy supply you have there, Europe. Wouldn’t it be a shame if somebody throttled it at strategic maritime chokepoints? Thank you for your support.’

36 dearieme March 2, 2014 at 4:51 am

“The back and forth negotiations …”: is there another form of negotiation?

37 prior_approval March 2, 2014 at 5:39 am

Well, there is the American concept of ‘negotiation,’ which can also be referred to as ‘diktat.’ Particularly as it is a word that the Russians also employ when ‘negotiating.’

38 dearieme March 2, 2014 at 4:53 am

“And a further motivation is altruistic: you genuinely want life, liberty and happiness for all the world.” I think we can rule that out as a motive for American or Russian foreign policy.

39 Nicolas March 2, 2014 at 5:19 am

Stability in Korea, Japan, Europe did create liberty and happiness, despite all cynicism.This created the economic prosperity that you might think is the only driving force.

Not saying it is the current motive of decision but one need to be a bit more subtle in analysis than that…

40 Hoover March 2, 2014 at 5:29 am


41 8 March 2, 2014 at 5:18 am

U.S. policy towards Iran and North Korea (and Pakistan?) also makes nuclear weapons attractive.

42 Alexei Sadeski March 2, 2014 at 6:34 am

To say nothing of Iraq and Libya and Syria.

43 JWatts March 3, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I’d say the differences in US policies towards Iran and N. Korea vs Iraq and Libya are the correct examples.

44 Da March 2, 2014 at 5:21 am

The so-called Western World is no longer strong enough to impose its set of rules on the world.
The 21st century starts as the 20th did. Let’s just make sure when the next War comes, we will be neutral.

45 Alexei Sadeski March 2, 2014 at 6:37 am

Militarily it certainly is.

The US is evidently capable of wiping out all of Russia’s nuclear capabilities before Russia has the chance to respond.

46 Marian Kechlibar March 2, 2014 at 6:46 am

I for one DONT really want this theory tested in practice…

Being a mathematician by training, I am too aware about the fact that lots of things cannot be taken into account in calculations of real-world situations.

47 Edward Burke March 2, 2014 at 9:58 am

Not necessarily: it is specifically the Obama Administration that is unable or unwilling to manage prior US commitments. Hosni Mubarak got the message in Obama’s first term, and partly directly because of Obama’s conspicuous Syria Two-Step tap-dance on the international stage late last summer, the Ukrainians are getting their version of the message today.

If any War requiring capitalization breaks out any time soon, it will be in no small part due to the signals of indecision, lack of forethought, and heedlessness of US interests being telegraphed from the Obama White House.

48 TMC March 2, 2014 at 11:28 am

Don’t forget how quickly we threw Poland under the bus in deference to Russia.

49 Alexei Sadeski March 2, 2014 at 6:30 am

Tell me, how did denuclearization work out for Qaddafi?

50 Roy March 2, 2014 at 2:11 pm


And how has intransigence worked for Iran?

I would much rather Khameni than Qadaffi

51 BC March 2, 2014 at 6:33 am

“It seems the value of a formal NATO guarantee is falling as well. Rapidly. Various Eastern European countries are asking for stronger or clarified U.S. guarantees. What are they thinking in Latvia? Taiwan? Japan? How about the Israelis negotiating with John Kerry?”

When Syria crossed the “bright, red line” last year, it was clear, or at least should have been clear, that Syria was not about Syria but was really about Iran and all the other red lines, bright or dim, explicit or implicit, throughout the rest of the world. We now see that Syria and Iran were not just about Syria and Iran, but were about the Ukraine. As Tyler points out, the Ukraine isn’t really about the Ukraine, it’s about all of the countries he mentions.

In a previous post, Tyler asked why the Ukranian crisis is happening now instead of 25 years ago []. Well, the foreign policy doctrine of Leading from Behind — the doctrine that American hegemony is bad, the denial of American Exceptionalism, and the belief that the world would be a better place if only America would act as if it was just like any another nation — has not been in effect for 25 years, just the last few. We are now seeing the results of this foreign policy experiment where America takes a break from leading the world and the vacuum is filled by Russia, China, Iran, and whoever else wants to.

The lack of deterrence in the Ukraine is causing us, or should be causing us, to re-evaluate the return not only to denuclearization but to defense-related spending in general, especially timely given this week’s proposed Leading-from-Behind Era defense budget. Defense spending in the US is not about fighting wars; it’s about deterring them. Those that urge more cuts need to demonstrate that those cuts are worth more than the cost, in blood and treasure, of the future undeterred wars that those cuts engender.

52 Marian Kechlibar March 2, 2014 at 6:37 am

Sitting in Prague, pondering about the last 100 years of history, I am quite seriously worried about the near future.

This kind of demented khaki-brain actions are dangerous. Once a war starts, especially in a region which has for centuries been a battleground of neighboring powers, no one will be able to keep it small. A continent-wide conflagration is entirely possible. 100 years ago, a punitive expedition of Austria-Hungary against Serbia turned into a world war of unprecendented in a matter of weeks.

Ukraine is big and much of the terrain is forested. Highway network is underdeveloped and moving supplies around is hard. It cannot be overrun easily the way that a small country like Denmark or Belgium could. Plus, lots of locals would rather die that be ruled from Russia again, and the neighboring countries will happily provide them all necessary equipment, knowing that they are the next ones on the “panzer itinerary”. At least the Baltic countries, the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians etc. have their recent historic experience and harbor no illusions.

History seems to repeat itself. Bad, bad situation.

53 prior_approval March 2, 2014 at 7:04 am

Americans do not really understand this European perspective.

54 Alexei Sadeski March 2, 2014 at 7:30 am

Populations only ever understand their own perspective.

55 prior_approval March 2, 2014 at 12:07 pm

And populations with experience of other populations expand their understanding.

The EU has been quite useful in this regard.

56 JWatts March 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm

You’re American, so why should we take your opinion seriously?

57 Brenton March 2, 2014 at 4:41 pm

The world now is extremely different ideologically now compared to 100 years ago. People and governments could not be more different in what their goals are and what they feel is an acceptable level of violence to achieve those goals.

58 msgkings March 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm

+1, but don’t tell the -geddon crowd here at MR

59 Marian Kechlibar March 3, 2014 at 6:51 am

I think that the cultural difference between people of 2014 and 1914 is skin-deep at best.

If the population feels threatened enough, it will substitute the current political class with hawks in very short time.

On a related note, see the famous Kipling’s citation from the “Tommy” poem:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;

It seems that the chattering classes of 1913 mostly considered themselves progressive, peace-loving and highly refined people as well.

60 Marian Kechlibar March 3, 2014 at 7:09 am

I would like to edit my previous comment, but can’t. OK, the last sentence needs some elaboration.

With a few exceptions (Bertrand Russell comes to mind), most of those people switched to unabashed jingoism once the war started. There are preciously few genuine pacifists, who would stay true to their ideas even in times of danger. Lots of people are only outwardly pacifist as long as the general mood in society is the same.

61 msgkings March 3, 2014 at 11:45 am

There’s a continuum (thanks Hoover (above)) of pacifism from Quakers to kill-em-all. It’s not either or. Brenton’s comment is a good one because while sure, once the bullets start flying most of us instinctively hope to fight and win, the point is the world is truly a different place in so many respects including cultural mood (can this even be denied?). 100 years ago some country invades another around the world and other nations itching to fight start up the troop transports. Today we don’t have the stomach for it, especially for small beer stuff like Russia taking back the Crimea, which was ‘theirs’ 60 years ago.

Today we wisely stay out of it whenever we can, and shame on the Obama-haters for calling him out for doing exactly the right thing and avoiding another Iraq/Afghanistan, just like he did in Syria. If Obama went gung ho to war in Syria, or for Ukraine, the exact same posters would be raging at his warmongering ways.

The world is a different place, Marian. Maybe we disagree on that but I think the evidence and common sense supports the ‘world has changed’ view.

62 CMc March 3, 2014 at 2:29 am

I feel the same way. I made the same point a few days ago in and was flamed for it. I also agree with msgkings that “People and governments could not be more different in what their goals are and what they feel is an acceptable level of violence to achieve those goals. And even though I think the probability that war will break out, it is highly probable that it will get out of hand rapidly, hence the worry.

Also, there are comments above about promises made by the west to eastern block countries that were/will not be upheld, the seeking of further reassurances etc. Russia too was given certain assurances about any then future expansion of NATO. I’m not arguing a case, just pointing it out.

63 CMc March 3, 2014 at 2:31 am

*even though I think the probability that war will break out is low

64 The Anti-Gnostic March 2, 2014 at 9:06 am

We are repeatedly lectured by the GMU economics department about how borders are archaic, oppressive relics of our primitive past. But when Russia marches back into the Crimean peninsula, suddenly borders become sacrosanct. Principles are at stake here! The campus rings with the noise of economists beating their ploughshares into swords.

Seriously, folks. Americans can’t be bothered to turn off the TV long enough to guard their own country’s cultural and territorial integrity but we’re supposed to get worked up over the cultural and territorial integrity of the Ukraine? And the borders of Latvia, Taiwan, Israel?

65 Marian Kechlibar March 2, 2014 at 9:09 am

The idea that “borders are archaic” is precisely the kind of idea which blooms in totally sheltered, overnurtured environments. Any real physical intrusion puts this kind of self-deception to a swift end.

It is no accident that the open borders movement and multiculturalism in general thrive in the USA most, a country which hasn’t experienced a foreign invasion for generations.

66 Born in 88 March 2, 2014 at 10:00 am

History is over – the right told us so. We’ll replace Soviet missile submarines and antiaircraft batteries with long john silvers and Walmart trampolines. Borders won’t matter and peace will be ensured by global worship of the almighty foreign investment dollar.

67 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 10:35 am

Your reading comprehension seems very lacking, sir. Does he not say in the top of the post that “As an American, with little at stake in Ukraine per se, I am glad the country gave up its nuclear weapons, so as to limit the risk of broader conflict?” I think that he (like his colleagues) is clearly opposing intervention. But even opposing intervention, one can note that this entire episode will make various countries more likely to resist denuclearization, and to pursue nuclear weapons instead of foreign guarantees. That’s regardless of where you place any blame, or what you recommend as a course of action.

Tyler is *not* saying that “we’re supposed to get worked up over the cultural and territorial integrity of Ukraine? And the borders of Latvia, Taiwan, Israel,” but rather than the Ukranians, Latvians, Taiwanese, and Israelis themselves are worked up over their own borders, and this incident is likely to make them more worked up over their own borders, not less.

Please try to read more carefully in the future, and do not mistake predictions about what others will do as recommendations for what we should do.

68 Andao March 2, 2014 at 11:18 am

And this could possibly be a good thing. It would be extremely disruptive to China if Japan and Taiwan were to nuclearize, but probably a net positive for the US.

69 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 11:22 am

Yes, I think it’s open for debate. I think that the majority of people are happy for agreements that seem to reduce the likelihood or chances of war but never look to be actually called in. Nobody is happy when the bluff gets called, but there will be disagreement when it is.

People who are, say, very opposed to the US defending Taiwan in case of a PRC attack should perhaps welcome the developments Tyler mentions.

70 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 11:15 am

Seriously, folks. Americans can’t be bothered to turn off the TV long enough to guard their own country’s cultural and territorial integrity but we’re supposed to get worked up over the cultural and territorial integrity of the Ukraine? And the borders of Latvia, Taiwan, Israel?

Shouldn’t you be applauding Tyler’s prediction, if this is your sentiment? He is saying that the current events make it more likely that Latvia, Taiwan, Japan, and Israel will be responsible for their own defense rather than trusting the US. He is saying that this is making it more likely that we will not defend those borders, regardless of one’s thoughts on that. Currently the US has been going around making a lot of promises. If you don’t want those promises to be made and upheld, then don’t you want other countries to know that so that they’ll be less likely to seek them out and agree to them?

You mistake mood affiliation for argument.

71 Roy March 2, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Oh come off it. Germany and France’s borders were very important in the pre WWI period but there was no immigration control, not just between them but also between their neighbors. A factory in France needed workers, Poles came to work, no passports, they just registered with the police once they found a job. My own family learned that the CPR was selling land cheap in Saskatchewan and they got on a train and rode to Regina and bought it and started farming. I have met Czechs and Germans whose families came to Mexico and then moved to Texas, they then applied for naturalization.

In our less democratic and egalitarian past who cared where the peasants came from. And for our upper classes all they needed was the social register.

Defensive borders and immigration borders are totally different. We used to have different words for them: frontiers vs borders.

72 The Anti-Gnostic March 3, 2014 at 5:57 am

Return us to the legal and policy regime of no welfare, no civil rights laws, jus sanguinis and prohibitions against vagrancy and I’m perfectly happy to have immigration be a matter of contract and registering with the local police.

The current situation could not be more different, but we are told it doesn’t matter who comes across the border.

73 msgkings March 3, 2014 at 11:51 am

Why stop there? Can’t we return to slavery? Or maybe just serfdom?

74 DJF March 2, 2014 at 9:35 am

“”””signing of the Trilateral Statement by Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin and Kravchuk. – “”””

Agreements signed by President Clinton are meaningless today since Clinton is no longer President. There was no treaty passed by 2/3 vote in the Senate, there was no law passed by both houses of Congress. The agreements of Presidents only last as long as the President is in power and sometimes not even that long.

Just like the agreement between the US/NATO and Russia that NATO would not expand east is also meaningless. It had no force of law and so was just empty words.

The US has no King, and the Presidents agreements are not law.

75 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 10:38 am

Indeed. But surely you agree that the current incident will make the Ukranians, Latvians, Taiwanese, and Israelis realize that with a perspicacity that they lacked before, and make them less likely to agree to enter into agreements that involve giving up their own weapons in exchange for guarantees? Perhaps the President of the day should not go around making deals that he can’t guarantee, in which case you should celebrate this loss of international Presidential credibility. But it is a loss of credibility.

76 DJF March 2, 2014 at 10:58 am

Latvia is part of NATO, a treaty passed by the Senate with a 2/3 vote and signed by the President which obligates the US by law to treat an attack on Latvia like an attack on the US as long as that attack occurs in Europe, North American or North Atlantic.

Ukraine is not part of any such treaty, neither is Israel or Taiwan

77 DJF March 2, 2014 at 11:01 am

To add, all 28 countries of NATO must agree that an attack occurred and that it meets the NATO treaty standards and rules before NATO can respond as a organization.

78 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 11:19 am

Indeed, Israel, Taiwan (post 1979), and Ukraine depend on ambiguous guarantees. And so you would agree with exactly what Tyler said, that this will cause countries to seek “stronger or clarified U.S. guarantees,” and, failing that, to increase their own self-defense.

Regarding the NATO treaty, perhaps the unwillingness of NATO to invoke it as Turkey would like against Syria gives Latvia pause. It requires unanimity. I think you’re supporting the point here.

79 txslr March 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm

It is my understanding that the agreement with Ukraine was reaffirmed in 2010 by Obama. But that apparently is worth nothing either. Or perhaps less than nothing?

80 mulp March 2, 2014 at 10:44 am

Is Tyler arguing that peace in the Persian Gulf is best served by Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia having nuclear weapons?

The data supports that argument.

The only outright overt aggressive between nuclear powers was Reagan invading unilaterally a British Commonwealth nation without telling Maggie first.

81 Anony March 2, 2014 at 6:02 pm

And now mulp thinks Grenada is a nuclear power and also, apparently, that Thatcher was its PM 30 years ago (and presumably that she was the PM of the entire Commonwealth).

What a putz.

82 Bill Kilgore March 3, 2014 at 2:19 am

He never disappoints.

83 John Thacker March 2, 2014 at 10:54 am

I agree. I think that this incident has increased the likelihood that Japan will change Article 9 of its Constitution, thus allowing for a more aggressive defense.

84 Dan Bier March 4, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Read the actual agreement. The US and NATO have no obligation to protect Ukraine unless it is threatened with nuclear weapons. As a matter of practicality, I have to wonder if that addition of nuclear weapons to Ukraine’s arsenal would really improve this situation for any concerned.

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In 1951, ahead of the peaceful liberation of Tibet, the U.S. plotted and supported the reactionary forces of the Tibetan upper classes to resist the People’s Liberation Army to liberate Tibet. While its plot to help the Dalai Lama flee Tibet failed, it said.

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