Mar 5, 2014
By Michael Peck,
America is the mightiest military power in the world. And that fact means absolutely nothing for the Ukraine crisis… The U.S. may threaten to impose economic sanctions, but here is why America will never smack Russia with a big stick:
- Russiais a nuclear superpower. Russia has an estimated 4,500 active nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists…
Russia could totally devastate the U.S. as well as the rest of the planet. U.S. missile defenses, assuming they even work, are not designed to stop a massive Russian strike. For the 46 years of the Cold War, America and Russia were deadly rivals. But they never fought. Their proxies fought: Koreans, Vietnamese, Central Americans, Israelis and Arabs. The one time that U.S. and Soviet forces almost went to war was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Neither Obama nor Putin is crazy enough to want to repeat that.
- Russia has a powerful army. While the Russian military is a shadow of its Soviet glory days, it is still a formidable force. The Russian army has about 300,000 men and 2,500 tanks (with another 18,000 tanks in storage), according to the “Military Balance 2014″ from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Its air force has almost 1,400 aircraft, and its navy 171 ships, including 25 in the Black Sea Fleet off Ukraine’s coast. U.S. forces are more capable than Russian forces… American troops would enjoy better training, communications, drones, sensors and possibly better weapons. However, better is not good enough…
- Ukraine is closer to Russia. The distance between Kiev and Moscow is 500 miles. The distance between Kiev and New York is 5,000 miles. It’s much easier for Russia to send troops and supplies by land than for the U.S. to send them by sea or air.
- The U.S. military is tired. After nearly 13 years of war, America’s armed forces need a breather. Equipment is worn out from long service in Iraq and Afghanistan, personnel are worn out from repeated deployments overseas, and there are still about 40,000 troops still fighting in Afghanistan.
- The U.S. doesn’t have many troops to send. The U.S. could easily dispatch air power to Ukraine if its NATO allies allow use of their airbases, and the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush and its hundred aircraft are patrolling the Mediterranean. But for a ground war to liberate Crimea or defend Ukraine, there is just the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit sailing off Spain, the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Germany and the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While the paratroopers could drop into the combat zone, the Marines would have sail past Russian defenses in the Black Sea, and the Stryker brigade would probably have to travel overland through Poland into Ukraine. Otherwise, bringing in mechanized combat brigades from the U.S. would be logistically difficult, and more important, could take months to organize.
- The American people are tired. Pity the poor politician who tries to sell the American public on yet another war, especially some complex conflict in a distant Eastern Europe nation…
- America‘s allies are tired. NATO sent troops to support the American campaign in Afghanistan, and has little to show for it. Britain sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and has little to show for it. It is almost inconceivable to imagine the Western European public marching in the streets to demand the liberation of Crimea, especially considering the region’s sputtering economy, which might be snuffed out should Russia stop exporting natural gas… And Germans fighting Russians again? Let’s not even go there.
This doesn’t mean that war is impossible. If Russia invades the Baltic States to “protect” their ethnic Russian minorities, the guns could indeed roar. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO members. What would Ronald Reagan have done if the Soviets had invaded West Germany? Barack Obama would face more or less the same question in a Baltic crisis, or if a Ukraine conflict spills over into fellow NATO member Poland.
However, talk of using military force against Russia over Ukraine is just talk. It will stay that way.
JUL 31, 2014
For a generation, relations between the United States and Russia were essentially about history. Since the Cold War’s end, Russia had become increasingly peripheral to the US and much of the rest of the world, its international importance and power seemingly consigned to the past.
That era has now ended.
To be sure, the current conflict between the US and Russia over Ukraine is a mismatch, given the disparity in power between the two sides. Russia is not, and cannot even pretend to be, a contender for world domination… Yet the US-Russia conflict matters to the rest of the world.
It obviously matters most to Ukraine, part of which has become a battlefield. The future of Europe’s largest country – its shape, political order, and foreign relations – depends very much on how the US-Russian struggle plays out.
- It may well be that Ukraine becomes internally united, genuinely democratic, and firmly tied to European and Atlantic institutions; that it is generously helped by these institutions and prospers as a result; and that it evolves into an example for Russians across the border to follow.
- It may also be that at the end of the day, several Ukraines emerge, heading in different directions.
Ukraine’s fate, in turn, matters to other countries in Eastern Europe, particularly Moldova and Georgia. Both, like Ukraine, have signed association agreements with the European Union; and both will have to walk a fine line to avoid becoming battleground states between Russia and the West.
Similarly, Russia’s nominal partners in its Eurasian Union project – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan – will need to balance carefully between Russia, their nominal “strategic” ally, and the US, which holds the keys to the international political and economic system.
What happens to Ukraine matters to Western and Central Europe, too. Even though an enduring military standoff along NATO’s eastern border with Russia would pale in comparison to the Cold War confrontation with the Warsaw Pact, Europe’s military security can no longer be taken for granted. And as security worries on the continent rise,
- EU-Russia trade will fall. As a result of US pressure, the EU will eventually buy less gas and oil from Russia, and the Russians will buy fewer manufactured goods from their neighbors. Distrust between Russia and Europe will become pervasive. The idea of a common space from Lisbon to Vladivostok will be buried. Instead, the
- EU and the US will be aligned even more closely, both within a reinvigorated NATO and by means of theTrans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Japan has a stake as well: its decision to join the US-led sanctions against Russia means foregoing plans to build a solid relationship with the Kremlin to balance China in Asia. The
- US-Japan alliance will be reaffirmed, as will Japan’s position in that alliance. In a somewhat similar way,
- South Korea will need to bow before US demands to limit its trade with Russia, potentially eliciting a less cooperative Kremlin stance on the divided Korean Peninsula.
As a result, the US-Russia conflict will probably lead to a strengthening of America’s position vis-à-vis its European and Asian allies, and a much less friendly environment for Russia anywhere in Eurasia…There is only one exception to this pattern of heightened US influence: China.
- The sharp reduction of Russia’s economic ties with the advanced countries leaves China as the only major economy outside of the US-led sanctions regime. This increases China’s significance to Russia, promising to enable the Chinese to gain wider access to Russian energy, other natural resources, and military technology. China will study US strategy toward Russia and draw its own conclusions. But China has no interest in Russia succumbing to US pressure, breaking apart, or becoming a global power. Its interests are in keeping Russia as its stable strategic hinterland and a natural-resource base.