Friday, March 7, 2014

foreign policy, morality and reality

The current situation in the Ukraine provides an interesting example of the way the west tries to view foreign policy as being a simple matter of morality. In the real world foreign policy has never been about morality. Foreign policy is about protecting national interests, it is about security and sometimes it is about survival.

Of course it’s very easy for people in countries like the US, Britain and Australia to take this simplistic moral view. The US has not had to fight a foreign invader on its soil since the War of 1812. Britain has not been in that situation for centuries. Australia has never been in that situation. Russia however has had plenty of experience of fighting foreign invaders on its own soil. They knew just how unpleasant that experience is. Not surprisingly they tend to view foreign policy rather more realistically and rather more pragmatically than Britons or Americans.

From the Russian point of view anything that happens that affects Russian national interests in places like the Ukraine has to be approached as a potential threat.

From the Russian point of view the aggressive expansionist policies of the EU tend to look like aggressive expansionist policies. And from the Russian point of view the continued existence of an anti-Russian military coalition like NATO tends to look like the continued existence of an anti-Russian military coalition. The prospect of countries like the Ukraine joining NATO tends to look like a dagger pointed at Russia’s heart. They feel about this about the same way the US would have felt 50 years ago if Mexico had announced it was considering joining the Warsaw Pact.

What is most surprising about Vladimir Putin’s handling of the situation is its moderation.

Those in the west currently wringing their hands about these events might also like to remember that the Crimea is populated predominantly by ethnic Russians. It is not Ukrainian and never has been. The Crimea was part of Russia until Khrushchev’s short-sighted decision in 1954 to transfer it to the Ukraine. It’s not a question of whether Russia will annex the Crimea. That would merely represent the return of Russian territory to Russia.

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