neljapäev, mai 24, 2007

There are no 'spheres of influence'

I was reading this isolationist claptrap from the Cato Institute this morning that basically makes the argument that NATO should reexamine its mission in light of its commitments to the Baltics. The following line obviously struck a nerve:
Indeed, a crisis could result if a future Russian president concludes that NATO's mere presence in the Baltic region is an intolerable intrusion into Moscow's rightful sphere of influence.
And that got me thinking about this curious term, 'sphere of influence' and what exactly it means. And I began to understand that the term is nothing but a moldy intellectual raisin leftover from the Kissinger years when strategists divided up the world into 'spheres of influence' as part of an ambition to create a multi-polar, rather than bipolar (haha) world.

But in reality, throughout the entire Cold War, the concept of spheres of influence was a misnomer. The Soviets had no problems supporting Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries in Latin America. They even parked some weaponry in Cuba as I recall in the early 1960s. They had no respect for an American "sphere of influence."

Meanwhile we flew spyplanes over Soviet territory, and in the late 40s and early 50s, British intelligence was quite active in the Baltic region. The US and the USSR fought proxy wars from Angola to Vietnam. The world in no way was divided into regions of influence. The very idea smacks of weakling diplomacy at some 19th century conference where empires divide up the spoils at the end of a war.

But even if you go back to my home of New York, you'll see the same thing. The Dutch originally claimed all the land from the Delaware River to Rhode Island. But then the English took Rhode Island, and the Swedes moved into Delaware, and the English took New Haven, and ... surprise ... in 1664 the English fleet sailed into New Amsterdam harbor and by show of force took control of the city that is now called New York.

No one, it seems, has ever respected the idea of a sphere of influence. There is just competition between states. That's all there really is. According to Wikipedia, an SOI is "an area or region over which an organization or state exerts some kind of indirect cultural, economic, military or political domination."

Good to see that according to Wikipedia, Estonia doesn't fall under the Russian sphere of influence. As a sidenote, the isolationist conventional thinking is that the Baltics are worthless so they don't merit defense.

In any case, the U.S. should never have undertaken military commitments to the Baltic republics. These obligations are a dangerous liability, and the U.S. must extricate itself from them.
Too late! Look, the argument that Estonia is indefensible is a false one. As stated previously, Estonia won its war of independence with the limited support of other countries, notably Britain and Finland. In all other previous wars, Estonia has been defensible.

Sweden lost Estonia in the 1710s because all the forces in the Baltic region -- Denmark, Poland-Lithuania, and Russia -- ganged up on it. Not to mention Charles XII made disasterous tactical decisions (like invading Ukraine). You could say the same for Hitler as well. He made the foolish decision to invade Russia, and lost, not to mention he was fighting a war on two fronts.

Neither of these wars saw the strategy of the War of Independence utilized. In Finland's Winter War, the strategy of simply defending the state's borders was used to defeat a larger, more powerful enemy. And that's the thing. Russia's armies have been notoriously ill-prepared and disorganized. Given the current crises in the military over there, it seems like it's a long-standing issue.

But don't ask me for guidance. I am sure that the gentlemen and women in NATO thought long and hard about military assistance to the Baltic and determined that it was, in fact feasible. Moreover, they recognized that an attack on the Baltics would be a disaster for Europe. The last time something like that happened, it means tens of thousands of refugees pouring into Sweden and Germany.

Not to mention the financial impact such an action would happen when 70 percent of your foreign capital comes from Finland or Sweden. A war in Europe would be a disaster for everybody, and that's why institutions like NATO exist -- to clear everyone's mind of that alarming option. NATO is a deterrent. It is an institution that arguably preserves the peaceful resolution of conflict. I really wish the Buchananites would wake up and understand that.

16 kommentaari:

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

One lost all lost. Central Europe is caleydoscope of small countries. Giving one away would set up a precedent for giving away all of them. But after that, even Western Europe - Germany, France, Italy, Spain can be considered small, compared to Russia. Giving away Czechoslovakia did just that.

Jüri Saar ütles ...

Double what the previous comment said and in addition the article is not isolationist by a long shot, but simply referes to a very specific issue and its "realist" implications.

However, the Baltics act as the perfect indicator of the level of Russian agression and an early warning system for both the US and Europe - the canary in the coal mine.

Besides, the value of NATO lies in its ever increasing symbolism and the game theoretic implications of such an alliance for any potential agressor.

Estonian war of independence took place after WWI - Russia was pulling out after huge losses and had a civil war back home. Estonians were bright enough to take advantage of the situation, but that's about it. In addition, the weapons available to both sides were in essence identical. Oh, and you forgott to mention that the "white" (as opposed to "red" Russians also supported Estonia.

I would not be so casual about looking 300 years into the past and deriveing from that that Estonia is defensible. Technology matters, especially if you don't care for locals surviving.

Just my 0.02 EUR.

Giustino ütles ...

Double what the previous comment said and in addition the article is not isolationist by a long shot, but simply referes to a very specific issue and its "realist" implications.

I think Cato and Buchanan generally lean towards the isolationist viewpoint. The ideological forefathers of this viewpoint are the Lindberghs of the 30s. I can see them arguing that expanding US influence in the Pacific was asking for trouble from the Japanese.

Hmm. Maybe there was a grain of truth to that ... ;)

I would not be so casual about looking 300 years into the past and deriveing from that that Estonia is defensible. Technology matters, especially if you don't care for locals surviving.

There have really only been two wars in which Russia picked up or lost Estonia -- The Great Northern War, World War I, and World War II. Those, as far as I can tell, are the only clues to how to defend this place. I don't think Russia would just attack Estonia. It tends to grab land in huge chunks. Nor do I think Russia today wants land. It hasn't annexed any of the 'Stans. It doesn't need to. Russia just wants a loyal stooge that can be bought. It doesn't desire outright control.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, this is truly backward thinking that ignores the new realities of the global economy. Actually, I fail to see its relevance to anything (I don't believe that this is a very influential school of thought in the USA). Of course historical regressions occur, but for the foreseeable future there is no future for this Lindberghian worldview. In any case, Nato has made its decision and will stick to it. Hopefully in the meanwhile we'll get a stronger civil society to Russia, so that cynical elites cannot continue manipulating the masses against their true interests. (Of course one would also hope that US neo-isolationism would not benefit from this current shambles of neo-conservative military adventures - we need the return of responsible American leadership of the West.)

Juan Manuel ütles ...

A few years ago there was some talk in the Russian media about a "Monroe doctrine" for the CIS countries. That was before the US started moving troops into central Asia...

By the way, on June 10th there was a special program in Radio Echo of Moscow about Ilves. The program was lead by the liberal and open minded Aleksei Venediktov.

The transcript in Russian is here (perhaps you can have it translated by someone if you are interested). Venediktov talks about his private conversations with Ilves during Yeltsin's burial ceremony.

Giustino ütles ...

It's a big deal for them that he doesn't speak Russian. This fact was brought up at least three times.

I used Babelfish by the way. I got most of it.

McMad ütles ...

Ted Galen Carpenter is a fool. How can someone who claims to know all about free markets entertain a notion of "spheres of influence" is completely beyond me. Maybe Toyota should also stay out of GM's spheres of influence then.
If there is a forest fire, is it wise to do something about it as quickly as possible or wait till the flames reach your own garden fence?

space_maze ütles ...

The artilce you quoted is painfully .. Chamberlainesque. One would think that the idea of giving bullies room to bully would be something we would have learnt to just not do by now. "Rightful sphere of influence" .. ugh. If I get mugged in a subway station, is it my own fault for being in a thug's rightful sphere of influence?

Estonia's democratically legit government has clearly picked its friends, like every independent country has the right to. It could be an enclave in Russia, and it would still have this right.

plasma-jack ütles ...

I liked Buchanan's logic very much. Idf I understood him correctly, the WWI could have been avoided if the britain and France would have agreed to give away Belgium, a little and insignificant country. I'd like to hear the Belges' opinion on that one (:

Vilhelm Konnander ütles ...

Dear Giustino,

I believe it was Alexander I, who upon his conquest of Finland in the early 1800s, said: "La géographie la voulait ainsi", i.e. geography wanted it this way. Regrettably, the geopolitical paradigm of Russian world perceptions has not changed considerably since the 19th century.



Tomi Ahti ütles ...

I remember from somewhere that there were the same kind of talk going on in the USA and elsewhere already in the 1920s and 30s. The Baltic countries, including Finland, were too small, too close to Petrograd and strategically too important in the Baltic-sea area by being able to close the Gulf of Finland for the Soviet navy. That turned out to be mostly true a few years later.

At the end of the war Roosevelt and Churchill pretty much sold the Baltic countries to Stalin in order to get more important things - from their viewpoint - solved.

Small countries shouldn't trust great powers. Instead they should play the game so that the great powers can trust them. "Never say 'no' to a great power" as Paasikivi put it, meaning that you should say something like "yes, but ..." instead.

In the long run it's the EU, not the NATO, that can guarantee the security of the smaller states, I'm pretty sure of it.

Giustino ütles ...

At the end of the war Roosevelt and Churchill pretty much sold the Baltic countries to Stalin in order to get more important things - from their viewpoint - solved.

The Baltics were saved - albeit legally - by people in the US state department and Churchill.

Roosevelt showed himself to be a New York machine politician. Sumner Welles and others though followed lay the non-recognition policy in place.

One has to wonder that without the key of the Baltics, which were European nation states no different from Ireland or Finland that gained their independence in the 1910s, would the USSR still exist in some fashion?

Happenstance ütles ...

Hang about you guys. Carpenter is not really saying anything new.

He's just used a new event to pick up where he left more than ten years ago defending his 1994 book, ‘Beyond NATO: Staying out of Europe’s Wars’, except then he used the example of the Bosnian War. He has long held the view that US should review its role in and commitment to NATO and that the US not become involved in European conflicts unless there is direct threat to American vital interests.

On the the EU enlargement he wrote it would “risk a military confrontation with Moscow over a region in which Russia has a long-standing political and security interests. Perhaps even worse, a larger NATO would entangle America in the numerous parochial quarrels and conflicts of East European nations themselves”.

I suspect that he is an admirer of Cordell Hull, US Secretary of State 1933-1944 and winner of the 1945 Nobel Peace Prize. Two quotes from Hull’s memoirs, and this before even mentioning the Soviet invasion of Poland at the end of September 1939, -

“Our relations with Russia in 1940 were influenced by the desire to do nothing that would drive her further into the arms of Germany, but at the same time to keep our exports to her within such limits as not to afford her surpluses of strategic materials that could go on through to Germany.”

And then also in the early 1940 period

“Our relations with Russia continued unsatisfactory as Hitler’s armies invaded new countries……For my part I continued to refuse to believe that Stalin would go on supporting Hitler…………I therefore did all I could to keep our relations with Russia on an even keel in the hope that one day we could count on the Soviet Union both in Europe and in Asia.”

In 2006 Carpenter published ‘America’s Coming War with China’ in which he postulates armed conflict within a decade involving the US, PRC and Taiwan. He may believe, like Hull, that the US could count on Russian support in such an event. A pincer strategy just like the two European fronts in WW2 in which the Baltic States together with other countries invaded/overrun by the Soviets were seen as sacrifices in the hope for victory by the hoped for Allied alliance with Stalin.

Giustino ütles ...

However, the Baltics act as the perfect indicator of the level of Russian agression and an early warning system for both the US and Europe - the canary in the coal mine.

One could argue that this is already the case. Have you noticed how many "cyberwar" articles have been written recently? The matter is trickling into mainstream IT debates. It's very interesting.

Happenstance ütles ...

Yes and maybe Estonia should seize the momentum of this niche market opportunity as being the only State to have experienced a cyber attack.

An Estonian online news service in English would have been really helpful to non Estonian speakers in the rest of the world during the bronze event.

It actually took quite a while after Päet's statement for the cyber attack to take off in the international media.

Anonüümne ütles ...

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