The Realist Prism: Is America Prepared to Sacrifice for Crimea?

The Realist Prism: Is America Prepared to Sacrifice for Crimea?

Right now, the U.S. foreign policy community should not be engaging in its favorite pastime of assigning blame for the situation in Crimea. Nor, given ongoing problems in other parts of the world—rising tensions in the Far East, the future of the Iran nuclear initiative, the fate of the protest movement in Venezuela—does Washington have the luxury of focusing on the Ukrainian crisis at the expense of other, equally pressing concerns. Instead, the focus right now needs to be on formulating a new policy toward Russia that is not subject to the vicissitudes of American domestic politics, and to situate that policy within an overarching framework of U.S. interests. To do so, the Obama administration and its critics in Congress will need to answer a series of questions.

The first question is whether or not Russia’s unilateral action in changing the territorial status of Crimea constitutes a threat to the stability and good functioning of the current international order. Modern history gives us conflicting answers. The unilateral extension of Israeli jurisdiction to the Golan Heights in 1981 and the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey and subsequent creation of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus were both roundly condemned and declared to be illegal under international law, but were not seen as existential threats to the global system. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait was not simply rhetorically condemned but forcibly reversed by an international coalition acting under a United Nations mandate.

The general U.S. consensus appears to be that Russia’s action does threaten the viability of the postwar order, at least in Europe, and that this undermines regional stability in a part of the world whose security is seen as vital to America’s own security and economic prosperity. So if ignoring what happened in Crimea is not an option, what is the next step?

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