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Tag: Ukraine

THE PEACE OF EUROPE IS AT RISK

I have visited Ukraine twice, once to observe their recent Presidential Elections, which were free and fair. It is troubling to see Russia massing its troops on Ukraine’s border.

But is is wise to fight a war over Ukraine’s “right” to join NATO? And even if one has a “right” to do something , is it necessarily right to do it!

Professor Gerard Toal of Virginia Tech has published a very sensible article in the Irish Times today. I shows how all sides are blind to the worries of others and acting as if everybody else is obliged to see them as they see themselves…..the most common mistake in politics.

Below is the text of Professor Toal’s excellent article.

Delusion on all sides has paved way for Russia-Nato standoff

It is hard to be objective about the Ukraine crisis. Russia is massing tanks and troops next to Ukraine. US intelligence reports Russia is planning a multi-front invasion involving 175,000 troops in the early new year.

Accompanying Russia’s posture of war is fevered rhetoric about Ukraine as an aggressor state. Russia decries Nato infrastructure, weapons, training and military exercises in Ukraine.

Late last week, Russia released a proposed draft treaty of what it sees as a desirable new security order for Europe. Viewing it as a gun-point demand for a Russian sphere of influence, Western and Ukrainian officials immediately rejected the proposals.

Russia is behaving like a bully toward Ukraine. But why? What happened to the dream of Europe whole, free and at peace at the end of the Cold War? How did we get from that hopeful new dawn to the sobering prospect of military invasion in 21st-century Europe? The short answer is this: security delusions on all sides paved the way, delusions that are now on a dangerous collision course.

Russia’s security delusions are easiest to grasp. Thinking military force can create genuine security and influence in neighbouring states is delusional. Recovering under Russian president Vladimir Putin after a decade of crisis, Russia began rebuilding its power capacities across post-Soviet space.

In August 2008, the Russian army invaded Georgia after a reckless move by its pro-Nato leader Mikheil Saakashvili to crush Russian backed separatists. In March 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine as violent protests overthrew Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Kremlin leader. Russian forces annexed Crimea, but proxy forces backed by Russia failed to create a large secessionist territory (Novorossiya) in southeast Ukraine. Only in part of the Donbas did Russian backed separatists succeed.

The subsequent Minsk Accords were designed to ensure that Russia’s proxies would influence the geopolitical orientation of Ukraine. It has not worked out that way. Indeed, in all instances, Russia’s military actions polarised states it hoped to influence, driving them to deepen ties with Nato. What aggrieves Moscow today about the creeping Nato-isation of Ukraine is partly of its own making.

The security delusions of the Nato West are more difficult to recognise. After the Cold War, the alliance decided to expand not disband. Nato’s “open door” policy allowed former Soviet republics like the Baltic States to join the alliance. Veteran Soviet security officials, like the conspiratorial-minded Putin, were forced to accept that their Cold War enemy was now at the border. Nato, of course, did not see it this way. It argued that all states have a sovereign right to choose their own defence orientation. Further, they claimed, Nato is not a threat to any power. Rather, it is a civilisational alliance advancing security and freedom.

Critics, most prominently an aging American diplomat George Kennan, saw Nato expansion as a fateful error and predicted it would strengthen the hand of hardliners within Russia. He was right. The insecurity that Nato expansion was designed to address only redoubled insecurity as Russia rebuilt its power and reacted.

A self-fulfilling security dilemma took hold. Nato expansion was justified by the very insecurity it produced. By 2008, Russia publicly asserted that Nato membership for Georgia and Ukraine were its defensive red lines. Nato radicalised matters when in April 2008 it declared, in defiance of Russia, that those two countries would one day become members of the alliance.

Claiming Nato is not a threat to anyone is a delusion. Nato does not get to define Russia’s security perception. Presuming that expanding a military alliance to the border of an insecure great power advances security is delusional. Unilaterally exiting arms control agreements with Russia – like the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty the US left in August 2019 – is reckless behaviour.

Admitting Ukraine into the Nato procurement system, training its troops, building Nato-standard infrastructure, and supplying advanced weapons to its forces without grasping that this may inflame Russian insecurity is also delusional thinking. It is living solely within one’s benevolent view of oneself.

The tragedy of the current Ukraine crisis is how both Russia and Nato seemed trapped within self-defeating policies. In seeking greater territorial security Russia has pursued a policy of undermining the territorial integrity of neighbouring states. Its imperialistic habits and attitudes endure.

In the past it has used separatists to advance its geopolitical goals. It now appears poised to pursue a more radical policy of direct military intervention to change facts on the ground. This can only further inflame Ukrainian sentiment against it. In no region will the Russian army be welcomed. Many Ukrainians may not actively resist but some undoubtedly will wage an insurgency against Russian occupation if it comes to that.

The West appears trapped by its fixation on the principle that all states have the sovereign right to choose their own military orientation. They cite articles from past security agreements. But they ignore other articles asserting that security is indivisible. Security requires responsibility and that begins with acknowledging collective sources of insecurity. The coronavirus pandemic has made clear the importance of qualifying individual free choice: we all have responsibilities to the collective good.

Many in the West are also fixated with Munich and appeasement, Yalta and spheres of influence. This desire for historically selective moralised analogies betrays a desire to purify the present into simpleminded categories of good and evil. More disturbingly, it also propels desire for righteous action. Violence is soon easily justified.

While the overall picture looks grim, let us hope that this crisis is a spur to serious negotiations and, out of these, a good enough compromise. Ukraine is a desperately poor country whose people have been victimized by embedded corruption and oligopoly since the Soviet collapse. They deserve better that to be a sandbox for a proxy war between Russia and the West. As we extend them solidarity and support in this hour of anxiety, let us also acknowledge the prevailing security delusions that got us here.

© 2021 irishtimes.com

THE IRISH BACKSTOP….HOW DIFFICULT?

The harder the Brexit, the harder will be the resolution of the Irish border problem.

In a Joint Report of 8 December 2017, the UK agreed to respect Ireland’s place in the EU and that there would be no hard border in Ireland. This was to apply

“in all circumstances, irrespective of any future agreement between the EU and the UK”.

The further the UK negotiating demand goes from continued membership of the EU, the harder it will be for it to fulfill the commitments it has given on the Irish border in the Joint Report.

If the UK government had decided to leave the EU, but to stay in the Customs Union, the Irish border questions would have been minimized.  But the government decided to reject that, because it hoped to be able to make better trade deals with non EU countries, than the ones it has as an EU member.

If the UK government had decided to leave the EU, but  to join the European Economic Area (the Norway option),this would also have minimized the Irishborder problems. The government rejected that because it would have meant continued free movement of people from the EU into the UK .

In each decision, maintaining its relations with Ireland was given a lower priority than the supposed benefits of trade agreements with faraway places, and being able to curb EU immigration.

The government got its priorities wrong.

Future trade agreements that may be made with countries outside the EU will be neither as immediate, nor as beneficial to the UK, as maintaining peace and good relations in the island of Ireland. The most they will do is replace the 70 or more trade agreements  with non EU countries that the UK already has as an EU member and will lose when it leaves.

EU immigration to the UK, if it ever was a problem, is a purely temporary and finite one.

Already the economies of central European EU countries are picking up, and, as time goes by, there will be fewer and fewer people from those countries wanting to emigrate to the UK(or anywhere else) to find work.  These countries have low birth rates and ageing populations, and thus a diminishing pool of potential emigrants.

Solving the supposed EU immigration “problem” is less important to the UK, in the long run, than peace and good relations in, and with, Ireland .

If, as is now suggested, the UK looks for a Canada or Ukraine style deal, the Irish border problem will be even worse. Mrs May has recognized this and this is why she rejects a Canada style deal..

A Canada style deal would mean the collection of heavy tariffs on food products, either on the Irish Sea, or on the Irish border. Collecting them on the long land border would be physically impracticable, so the only option would be to do it on the Irish Sea.

The all Ireland economy, to which the UK committed itself in the Joint Report, would be irrevocably damaged. The economic foundation of the Belfast Agreement would be destroyed.

It is time for the Conservative Party to return to being conservative, and conserve the peace it helped build in Ireland on the twin foundations of the Belfast Agreement and the EU Treaties.  Conservative Party members might remember that, without John Major’s negotiation of the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, there would have been no Belfast Agreement in 1998.

The proposals the UK government is making for its future relationship with the EU will run into a number of obstacles in coming days.

The first will be that of persuading the EU that the UK will stick to any deal it makes.

Two collectively responsible members of the UK Cabinet, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, have both suggested that the UK might agree to a Withdrawal Treaty on the basis of the Chequers formula, but later, once out to the EU, abandon it, and do whatever it liked. This would be negotiating with the EU in bad faith. Why should the EU make a permanent concession to the UK, if UK Cabinet members intend to treat the deal as temporary?

The second problem relates to the substance of the UK proposals.

They would require the EU to give control of its trade borders, and subcontract control to a non member, the UK. While the UK proposals envisage a common EU/UK rule book for the quality of goods circulating, via the UK, into the EU Single Market, the UK Parliament would still retain the option of not passing some of the relevant legislation to give effect to it. The UK would not be bound to accept the ECJ’s interpretation of what the common rules meant. Common interpretation of a common set of rules is what makes a common market, common.

Mrs May is not the only Prime Minister with domestic constraints.  Creating a precedent of allowing the UK to opt into some bits of the EU Single Market, but not all, would create immediate demands for exceptions from other EU members, and from Switzerland and Norway (who pay large annual fees for entry to the EU Single market). It would play straight into the hands of populists in the European Parliament elections, which take place just two months after the date the UK itself chose as the end of its Article 50 negotiation period.

It does not require much political imagination to see that aspects of the UK proposal, if incorporated in a final UK/EU trade deal in a few years time, would be a hard sell in the parliaments of some of the 27 countries.  We must remember that all that would be needed for the deal to fail, would be for just one of them to say NO.

Remember how difficult it was to get the Canada and Ukraine deals through.

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