[Following is an expanded version of a talk I gave at UC Berkeley on Monday, November 23, 2015.]
Much has been written recently about whether the United States and Russia are once again in a “Cold War.” Somewhat more optimistically, the question is often rendered as “Can the United States and Russia avoid another Cold War?”
I suppose one could treat these as invitations to make a purely historical comparison between the current US-Russian relationship and the US-Soviet relationship during “The Cold War”? But I don’t think that is what most people have in mind when they raise the issue. Rather, I suspect that what most people want to know is how adversarial are U.S-Russian relations today, how dangerous is the relationship, is the high level of tension between the two countries likely to last, and what are the costs of hostility going to be over the long run?
It therefore strikes me that to answer the implied questions, one needs to break the problem up into at least four parts, as follows.
(1) What do we mean by the term “cold war”? (That is a conceptual problem about a category of events or states – hence no initial caps.)
(2) Are we already in a cold war with Russia? (This is a descriptive or empirical problem about whether the current relationship meets the definitional criteria.)
(3) How is the US-Russian relationship likely to evolve over, say, the next two years? (This is a predictive problem that will likely produce different answers depending on the forecast period – say five years instead of two.)
(4) Is there a way to return to a genuinely cooperative relationship in the foreseeable future? (This is a prescriptive problem in which it is perfectly possible to argue that such and such should be done but it is very unlikely that it will be.) Continue reading
The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has a useful “explainer” on Article 42.7 and the reasons why France invoked it, which can be found here.
To my mind, the section at the end of the ECFR’s article, which is entitled “How have other member states [of the EU] responded?,” highlights a point made in my previous post about the disconnect between the security needs and obligations of the EU member states on the one hand, and the EU’s institutional and hard power capabilities on the other hand.
There is, however, one point made in the ECFR article that warrants close attention, and which I was unaware of when I wrote my earlier post. Continue reading
Yesterday, France announced that it had invoked the EU’s collective defense clause in response to Friday’s terrorist attacks. This was the first time an EU member has invoked Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which states that EU countries have “an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power” to any fellow member that is the victim of an armed attack.
Importantly, France chose not to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which obligates each NATO member to take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area” if another NATO member is attacked. Article 5 also has been invoked only once, when the United States did so after September 11.
It is not entirely clear why France made this particular decision, which for reasons I will set out below may have important long-term consequences that the French leadership hasn’t anticipated. Continue reading
The full text can be found here.
Q: What are your expectations from the EU summit on March 19? Will the EU extend sanctions on Russia, or are the majority of member states inclined to give Russia more time to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine?
Walker: It’s very likely that the EU will decide on the 19th to kick the can down the road and neither increase sanctions or agree to lift any or all of them. The EU is involved in an extremely difficult and complex political game over sanctions, particularly because the sanctions in place now have term limits and renewal requires unanimous approval by all member states. It does not want to undermine whatever chance the Minsk II agreement has of being implemented; members such as Hungary and especially Greece want to use their veto rights over sanctions as leverage on other matters, including of course for Greece over austerity and debt; and other members, notably the Baltic States, Poland, and the United Kingdom, want to maintain maximum pressure on Moscow.
There is another very important dimension to the sanctions question for the EU, which is its relationship with the United States. Most member states do not want to see the Ukraine crisis lead to a division within the Atlantic alliance, and they therefore have to worry about what would happen if the EU went in one direction and the United States another on sanctions. A split on sanctions could be extremely divisive. Moreover, the EU, Germany in particular, is very aware that the Obama administration is under growing domestic pressure to increase military assistance to Ukraine, and they have to worry that if they break with Washington over sanctions, the United States will break with European doves on arming Ukraine and otherwise ramping up its military response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. That, too, might provoke a crisis in European relations with the United States, where there is already growing resentment in policy circles that Europe spends so much less on defense than the United States, and where most NATO members spend less than NATO’s two percent of GDP target. Continue reading
I do not believe there is any chance that yesterday’s Minsk agreement will be implemented in full. I am almost, but not quite, as skeptical that it will lead to a stable ceasefire and separation of forces.
In what follows I will make four general points about the agreement and then focus on its two key provisions: Provision 1 on a ceasefire and Provision 2 on a separation of forces. Continue reading
The Ukraine crisis is a complex drama with multiple dimensions, theaters and actors, which makes tracking, explaining, and predicting where it is headed particularly difficult. Its various parts are, however, interrelated, so while each dimension is important in its own right, it also impacts, and is impacted by, the others.
In what follows, I disaggregate the crisis to five dimensions and offer my take on what is likely to happen in each in 2015. In doing so, I will try to take into account the crisis’ “systemic” properties – that is, how the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone. Continue reading
It would be foolish for Western governments to count on changes in Russia’s position on NATO enlargement and force disposition in the foreseeable future, regardless of whether Putin remains in office. It would likewise be foolish for Moscow to count on brinkmanship and intimidation to keep NATO from reinforcing its eastern flank under current circumstance. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon Western and Russian leaders to make what is now a dangerous and unstable military standoff less unstable and less dangerous. Doing so is in the interest of both sides, and it is also the most likely path toward a gradual improvement in political relations. Continue reading
The ruble closed today at just under 70 to the dollar, down 13% after falling some 10% yesterday. At one point it fell below 80 to the dollar, down almost 20%. It has now overtaken the hryvnia as the world’s worst performing currency this year. Continue reading
[Expanded and updated version of a talk given at UC Berkeley, December 2, 2014.]
I have long been an alarmist about US-Russia relations. While the relationship has seen its ups and downs, I believe the trend has been decidedly negative since the mid-1990s. I’ve also long worried about a possible clash with Russia over NATO expansion, and particularly so after the Bush Administration decided to press – albeit unsuccessfully – America’s NATO allies to offer Ukraine and Georgia Membership Action Plans at the March 2008 Bucharest NATO summit. Continue reading
The “ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine is still very precarious, but at some point we may see a stabilization of the military standoff, after which the crisis in Ukraine will likely enter a new phase in which economic war replaces actual war as the main instrument of contestation. If so, we are very likely to witness a costly and prolonged game of beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies between Russia and the West. In my previous post, I argued that the Russian economy is in serious trouble, and that in the long run Russia is unlikely to win this game. But the game is going to be painful for all parties – first and foremost for Ukraine, but also for Western Europe and even, to a limited extent, the United States.
I am not an economic determinist, at least in the sense that I don’t assume that people are motivated by lucre alone. I do not believe, for example, that economic factors, deeply rooted or otherwise, are always the “real” cause of war. And economic factors only sometimes account for the outcome of wars, as Americans were reminded in Vietnam.
I do believe, however, that what the Soviets used to call the “correlation of forces” – that is, the dynamics of the global balance of power – is driven primarily by economic factors. Size matters, geography matters, culture matters, institutions matter, but economic performance matters most (even if economic performance is partially or largely a product of any or all of the former).
Last week’s ceasefire has held up better than I expected, but it is still very precarious. The good news, especially for civilians in the conflict zone, is that the level of violence is down considerably for where it was two weeks ago. Continue reading
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss a possible political solution to the violent uprisings in eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, I think the likelihood of success in Minsk– that is, an agreement that brings an end to the fighting and sets the stage for a political settlement with the separatists – is very low. Continue reading
Although pro-Russian fighters and armaments continue to cross the border from Russia into Ukraine, and the intensity of the fighting in eastern Ukraine has increased, the Ukrainian offensive has continued to make progress. Ukrainian forces appear to be on the verge of taking Horlivka, have entered central Luhansk, and are pressing in on Donetsk. Whatever unified political and military leadership there was among the separatists also appears to have collapsed.
NATO is facing a host of difficult choices about how to respond to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its role in the uprisings in eastern Ukraine. The alliance has already taken steps to bolster its eastern defenses, and additional decisions will be made as events unfold over the coming three months. But most crucial decisions are going to be made at the September 4-5 NATO summit in Wales. The alliance is being urged by its eastern members to take additional measures to deter Russia from further acts of aggression and intimidation. It is also facing an extremely difficult decision over how to handle Georgia’s push to join the alliance.