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The Right Stuff: Diplomacy without a big stick – Part II

By Earl Heal

Last week’s column demonstrated that diplomacy without military superiority is fruitless. Let’s look at the Ukrainian situation and probable results.


Russia and Ukraine share Slavic ancestry and Orthodox Christianity. However, Ukraine was one of the nations that became a silently swallowed republic when the USSR Soviet Union was formed so there certainly is a different culture. Furthermore, the 1932-1933 famine caused by Soviet leadership to punish several disloyal republics is not forgotten. Two million Ukrainians died of starvation.


During the Cold War, the Soviets deployed nuclear missiles in several republics. Ukraine had the third-largest inventory of all world nations. Western governments were deeply concerned with numerous uncontrolled republics having the weapons. Ukraine’s desire to rid itself of the nuclear weapons led to the negotiation framed in the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. This committed the United States, Russia, and Britain “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of” military force or economic coercion against Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Those nations gave up all their nuclear weapons.


True to form Russia violated the agreement and entered Belarus in 2013 and the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014. This inspired negotiations between Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France to produce the Minsk agreements in 2014. The agreements included a cease-fire, demilitarization, prisoner exchange, governmental reform, and negotiated sovereignty and borders. Sen. John McCain said appeasement incentivizes Putin to be aggressive.


Based on America’s ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia was again emboldened as sanctions were ineffective. Surprise. The U.S. is now restoring its honor with material support – somewhat delayed but almost as promised. The Budapest Memorandum does not specify ground forces. The Ukrainian people are proving their desire for freedom and we have learned that the Russian military is not well-led nor invincible


NATO members significantly increased NATO military strength after President Trump criticized their failure to meet their 2% of GDP obligations. Fear of Putin’s aggression has been even more effective. America’s reduction of fuel production and Europe’s excess reliance on Russian fuel presented a retarding factor but recent completion of the Baltic Pipeline after three years has diminished that concern.


Putin strongly wants unfettered access available through Crimea to the navy base that is on an inlet to the Black Sea. Crimean culture is largely Russian and is a coveted warm water port for the Russian fleet which could aid plans for further expansion in the Middle East and to assist China in Africa.


Ignoring history and terminating assistance to Ukraine would be disastrous. Despite the hunger for freedom demonstrated by the Ukrainian soldiers and the civilians supporting the battle, they will die in defeat if America and NATO do not supply weapons and material to overcome those used by Russia and supplied by China and Iran.


America’s diplomatic strength would no longer exist. Why would anyone negotiate with a country that does not meet its commitments? As forecast by Senator McCain, with appeasement Putin will soon be emboldened to annex the Baltic states. It follows without question that China will attack Taiwan if we abandon Ukraine.


America’s treaty with Taiwan is more intense. We have promised them that we will maintain a military strength to defend Taiwan if China attacks. Because China would need to ship an invasion force our defense measures have an advantage. Sufficient radar and ship-sinking missiles should prevent any invasion and, if our intent to do so is known, would probably deter China from even attacking. Failing that capability, if China plants a landing force on the island, we will probably lose an economic powerhouse and strong democracy in the Pacific.


If diplomacy is to be credible it requires a NATO big stick.

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