Two Nations Suffering the Loss of U.S. Nuclear Deterrence
When Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea and other portions of eastern Ukraine in 2014, a suite of dominos began to fall in the West's nuclear deterrence strategy that had – until then – worked well for many decades.
Whatever your feelings on Putin, he will certainly be viewed by future historians as one of the master geopolitical strategists of the 21st century. Putin identified a key weak point in the West, and he struck at it with a killing stroke.
His view was that the West was fraudulently guaranteeing protection of various perimeter states under its nuclear umbrella, and that Western powers would never sacrifice one of their core population centers for an incursion against these hinterlands.
In this case, the hinterland was Crimea, long a part of the historical concept of Ukraine, but with enough Soviet and post-Soviet propaganda existing in the ether to allow for a plausible argument to be constructed that the region is an inherent part of Russia. You don't need to believe the tenuous argument, and most serious historians do not, but that was never the point – the propaganda was not so outrageous as to be unbelievable on its face.
This intellectual reconstruction of the region's history was started long before the events of early 2014, and was done for one purpose: to ensure that if and when the time came to make the case for a move into eastern Europe, the fog of a propaganda war could be unleashed, and publics and politicians across the West would have difficulty deciphering the truth, assuming they wanted to. Russia has its agents of influence throughout the West, as we have ours embedded in Russia.
Once Russia began its moves into Crimea, weakness abounded in the West. No single major media outlet was advocating for NATO to move its forces into Ukraine to face the Russians. It was madness, they said, and would rapidly lead to nuclear war.
Putin had no intention of starting a nuclear war with the West over something like Crimea. He was pushing to see what he could get away with and would have retreated his troops back into Russian territory and the Crimean underground had the West shown up quickly with ground forces. That is why Putin played the Crimean card with forces that were intended to look as though they arose without outside influence and from within Crimea. In case the West pushed back with military force, Putin could call off the invasion without any loss of Russian face.
Had he sent official Russian forces into the region, and then had his bluff called by NATO and been forced to retreat, Putin would have lost all geopolitical credibility. The concepts and purposes of agency apply from one-on-one business interactions in a free-market system up to the gamesmanship between the superpowers.
Putin won Crimea, and he's winning the rest of eastern Ukraine. But this is chump change on a global scale. The real goal is to take down the West's deterrence credibility. And that he did. Russia wants to recover the Soviet empire, but to do that, Putin realizes that his most important tactic is not to gain tiny pieces of territory on a slow, incremental basis, but rather to poke a hole through the Western alliance and let it slowly bleed to death. He needs the West to come back to Russia as much as Russia needs to accelerate to catch the West.
The main target of the Crimea excursion was the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Signed during late 1994, in it, the West – using the United States and the United Kingdom as its representatives – agreed, along with Russia, to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine as long as Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons and pledged not to develop any new ones in the future.
History shows what fools the Ukrainians were to believe the West's security guarantee. Two decades later, Russia took a substantial portion of Ukraine away from it and continues to fight for much of the rest.
Fast-forward two years, and many in South Korea are agitating to acquire nuclear weapons. This isn't a fringe movement for the lower half of the Korean peninsula. A full two thirds of the South Korean public support an indigenous nuclear weapons program, as do a number of current and former politicians and other leaders in the think-tank community.
Why wouldn't South Korea move immediately to acquire nuclear weapons? It is the only rational game. After what happened in Ukraine, can South Korea seriously believe that the West – read: the United States – would be willing to play the nuclear endgame and place itself on the existential chopping block over cities like Seoul?
Some in the West even advocate for a nuclear weapons-capable South Korea on two major grounds. The first is that, given the volatility of the region – involving a divided people (much as Russia argues that Ukraine is merely a part of its former territory, necessitating inevitable reunification) – the West should not be willing to trade its cities in any regional conflicts on the peninsula that could go nuclear. The second is that the West is broke and can barely afford to defend its own territory, never mind that of some distant Asian spit of land jutting into the far western Pacific Ocean.
Thus, the dominos start to fall. It isn't just South Korea – although South Koreans' are the loudest voices. Pressure is building in Japan and elsewhere throughout the region to get into the nuclear weapons club. Despite outward denials, some nations in eastern Europe are also considering their own nuclear weapons programs behind the scenes. As are some in the Middle East.
This all could have been avoided by Ukraine calling for the introduction of a NATO rapid response force into Crimea two years ago to stare down the Russians and NATO granting such a request. Weakness is provocative, they say. Now look where we are. Ukraine's weakness was so odious, the incompetence so entrenched, that it is impossible to feel bad for its citizens, who entirely failed to build a strong and stable nation since the early 1990s. Putin was brilliant, and he took the easy prey sitting in front of him. In objective terms, he is to be congratulated for his victory.
If Ukraine's failures were its own alone, we could ignore them. But we can't.
The West tied itself to Ukraine in Budapest during December of 1994. It cannot untie the knot binding us without the fabric of the West's global deterrence network also unraveling, and unraveling rapidly it is.
The geopolitical "analysts" in the mainstream right-of-center media couldn't, or didn't want to, see the ultimate Russian strategy. Of course, with the money flowing out of Russia into the hands of the Western media in an attempt to manipulate public opinion on topics such as fracking and nuclear power, perhaps much of the deck is already stacked.
What is America to do? Give up entirely on its global nuclear deterrence and thereby force most of its allies to either go nuclear or form new alliances with Russia or China? Or should it attempt to rebuild its post-Crimea deterrence credibility? How will the latter option be done, short of attempting to roll back history and liberating Crimea and eastern Ukraine in the now, or through taking a stronger military stance in a current conflict elsewhere – such as the South and East China Sea disputes?
The United States stands alone. Canada will not help, nor will Europe. Slowly but surely, the post-WWII alliances are crumbling as their individual societies succumb to decadence and naivety, coupled to an ignorance about history and the difficulties of building and maintaining a free world. Soon they will receive an education, and it will be a shock to the adult children currently in charge of the West. The time for real leadership will rise again, and hopefully it will not be too late.