Monday, March 24, 2014

Ron Smith: The Munich Moment

In a blog I wrote towards the end of the first year of his presidency (November, 2009), I asked the question, “Is Barak Obama destined to be the Neville Chamberlain of the Twenty-first century?”  It is now clear that the answer to this question is, “Yes!”  And Ukraine is his Czechoslovakia.  

On present trends and despite the huffing and puffing about ‘consequences’ and ‘lines being crossed’, it looks as if the world will acquiesce in Russia’s military occupation and annexation of Crimea.  I say ‘the world’ because Russia mustered precisely no votes in the Security Council debate on this matter beyond its own veto.

But the major responsibility falls on the major European powers and on the United States because they are the parties that could do something and have the most interest in something being done.  They are also the parties that formally guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine in 1994 in return for that state’s renunciation of its substantial nuclear weapon stockpile.  This has implications for the much-tarnished reputation of the United Nations as a collective security organisation, as well as for any future potential for nuclear disarmament based on the same proposition.

This brings us back to President Obama because, if anything substantial is to be done, there is an absolute need for American leadership. The United States is also better placed to supply the most plausible means for taking effective action.  It may be that Crimea is irrecoverable but there are wider issues at stake here and this is where the Munich analogy is so apt.  Hitler followed up his occupation of Sudeten provinces of Czechoslovakia with the occupation and dismemberment of that state. He then further developed his wider eastern objectives with the attack on Poland in 1939 and on into Ukraine (broadly, the project as outlined in Mein Kampf). 

From the way President Putin has spoken and the way he has begun to act (Georgia, 2008, and now Crimea) it is evident that he has in mind to restore the former ‘greatness’ of the Soviet Empire in a new Russian empire, and, as in the German case, this is very popular at home.  For Eastern Europe, and all those who value democracy and the territorial integrity of states, this is an enormous threat, and it affects not only Ukraine but also Poland and other states liberated by the collapse of the USSR.  It is particularly a threat for the Baltic States, who all have substantial Russian populations and potentially nascent yearnings to be re-united with the ‘motherland’ (or ‘fatherland’).

This parallels the situation in 1938.  Speaking in a Parliamentary debate in October of that year (on the motion that ‘This house approves the policies by which war was averted….’), Churchill said of the Munich settlement – ‘we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat’.  Presciently, he went on:
 Do not suppose that this is the end.  This is only the beginning of the reckoning.  This is only the first sip of a bitter cup that will be proffered to us year by year …

That is the prospect that faces Europe and the world in 2014, unless decisive action is taken. The key actor is the United States.  Indeed, it is arguable that the world is in this situation precisely because of the feeble responses of the Obama administration to a series of foreign policy challenges over the last five years.  It has come to the point where nobody expects anything from President Obama, except vacillation and speeches.  Particularly, it is very evident that, despite the so-called ‘reset’ policy with Russia, President Putin holds Obama in absolute contempt.

But there is a difference between President Obama and Prime Minister Chamberlain.  For President Obama, it still isn’t too late.  Even now the United States could do things (and encourage its partners to do things) that could put up a very substantial price for any further Russian expansionism and without committing military forces.  These would have to go well beyond the rather timid diplomatic measures, which have so far invited mockery.  They would need to entail a determined assault on the Russian economy, which is still substantially dependent on the export of oil and gas.  This, of course, is the Achilles-heel of the major European powers, who are heavily dependent on exactly these commodities; a situation made worse by governments like the German Government, pandering to ignorant green sentiment in the matter of power generation.  By contrast, the United States has rapidly increasing oil and gas production, which it could easily increase further.  On the basis of this it could provide an alternative supply to European states.  At the very least, this would have an impact on oil and gas prices generally, as well as enabling a strengthened resolve on the part of the European states most affected.

There are other measures of a diplomatic character which might be taken.  These include the exclusion of Russia from international meetings concerning trade and security (for example strategic arms limitation talks) and cultural activities.  These things need to be done if we do not wish to see the free peoples of Europe disappear into a gigantic autocracy.  It is up to you, President Obama.  I know you would rather play golf and make speeches about carbon-free utopias.  But it is up to you.


Peter Pearson said...

The United States' attitude to the ellimination of the British Empire and the Soviet Union that espoused the right of peoples to self-determination has come back to bite the Americans the bum.

Anonymous said...

In the lead-up to his 2012 re-election, an interesting exchange occurred at the end of a Seoul, South Korea meeting between President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Obama said that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with controversial issues such as missile defence, but incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin needed to give him “space.”

The exchange was picked up by microphones as reporters were let into the room for remarks by the two leaders:

President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defence, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

Had the US MSM been doing its job, rather than running interference for their pet candidate, this modern-day Benedict Arnold would NEVER have been re-elected.

Anyone who thinks Obummer will offer any kind of principled opposition to Putin’s resurgent post-Soviet imperialism needs to go away and boil their head to clear their thoughts!

Unknown said...

No mention I see of the referendum of the people of the Crimea overwhelmingly in favour of union with Russia. Are you not for true democracy Ron or are you for the selective democracy of the US and the EU? Just like when the Austrians voted in numbers for the right wing and the EU freaking out at people actually deciding to use the process. Would you want to see bought and sold hypocritical US style republicanism instituted in NZ? It seems so. Of course the US is not a democracy it is a Republic What was your position on the illegal invasion of Iraq? No mention of US hypocrisy in this article of yours over that issue I see or the invasion of Libya by the EU and US. Definition "The key difference between a democracy and a republic lies in the limits placed on government by the law, which has implications on minority rights. Both forms of government use a representational system where citizens vote to elect politicians to represent their interests and form the government. However, in a republic, a constitution or charter of rights protects certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by the government, even if it has been elected by a majority of voters. In a pure democracy, the majority is not restrained and can impose its will on the minority". One has to question your motives for this article. When you see the dismantling of the US constitution by corporate controlled US politicians and the reduction in US citizens freedoms as a result do you approve? Maybe you could do an article on your preferences and declare you true agenda.The will of the people or the will of corporations and banks?
I also notice I have never seen your censure of how Israel obtained much their land through illegal occupation in defiance of UN resolutions outstanding for decades now in any of your pieces.A touch of the prosemitism there Ron.But I have commented on this in the past in your writing. You would certainly have no problem getting a job with the mass media.

Brian said...

The Munich Moment. “Ours is not to Reason Why”???
The West is, as Dr Smith says “At a Munich Crisis”. No one really knows the intention of V. Putin, except that he knows that the West; and its citizens, cannot face the reality of an all out War over any further intervention by Russia into Europe. I surmise that the Crimea being a “Munich” and any further invasion of the Ukraine would be a step backward into a Poland of September 3 1939.
Although the present military weakness of Western nations, (we have systemically reduced our forces below the critical level over the past decades due to the financial crisis or at least that is the excuse).
The breakup of the Soviet Empire resembles very much what happened after World War 1. Germany was defeated, and the Austria/Germany Empire dissolved.
The then Allies, Britain/France/Italy and the US met to hammer out the shape of the new 1920’s Europe. What the Europeans powers had not reckoned with was the dogmatic attitude of the then US President Woodrow Wilson. They had anticipated a Statesman, instead they got a moralist. (Mankind has a habit of repeating itself!)
He insisted that his “Grand Plan for the establishment of just democracy throughout the world”. Be implemented. America had saved the world, and therefore according to the Puritanical Wilson, had the right to “reconstruct humanity’s morals”!.
At the same time laying down the law of self determination to the leaders of Europe and ignoring the complex ethnic divisions which made up Europe. Which in turn, laid the seeds for World War 11.
The division of the old Soviet Empire suited the West, but it had and still has a bitter legacy, hence the Crimea with the majority of its inhabitants now voting to go with Russia,
The question of more sanctions is really “Will they actually work”? Can Putin be stopped from further aggression? If Reagan was in the White House and the military strength of the U.S. was at that level, plus a willingness of the Europeans to back America we would be a deal more confident.
But that as they say, is a “Different Ball Game” and we certainly do not have a Reagan or Maggie Thatcher in the political arena. Also the “Wild Card” of China has yet to be shown.
Interesting times that demand Statesmen rather than politicians concerned only with the present.

Anonymous said...

The situation in Ukraine is dangerous. Look closely at news videos and see the red and black Ukranian Nazi flags, and wolfsangle swastica armbands: deeply offensive to Russians and Jews.

Nazi parties led the violence which overthrew a corrupt but democratically elected government, and replaced it with a corrupt junta who propose to have an election between themselves in May, with Russian parties banned.

The new government's policies of ruthless Ruthenisation frighten Russians,Jews, Magyars and other minorities: hence the desire for sucession.

Nazi gangs prowl the streets of Lvov, with reports of rape, looting, home invasions and extortion. Israel has warned Jews to leave Kiev or lie low. A gang killed 2 unarmed Russians and wounded 17 in Kharkov with gunfire and petrol bombs.

Putin has asked that Ukraine become a federation, like Australia or Germany, but the new government and Obama oppose this.

Perhaps a plebecite, province by province is needed. Let the Ukranian people decide, not Obama.

Alan Davidson.

Ray said...

I'm rather conflicted on this. I do believe in people's right to self-determination and to me that means the right for groups to secede from nation states. nations are after all artificial creations so they should be able to be modified. To use Key's idea if Timaru wants to secede they should be allowed too.
Crimea is not historically or ethnically Ukranian. The problem is that I don't believe this was a free and fair vote although I do think Crimea would have seceded under a free and fair vote.
In the end the chance of the Europeans and the rest of the West actually doing something are about as low as they were in 1938. Putin is laughing and wondering what else he can get for free.

Clunking Fist said...

"These things need to be done if we do not wish to see the free peoples of Europe disappear into a gigantic autocracy."
Sorry, are you still talking about the Russian Empire, or the European Union, lol.

Anonymous said...

Peter Caulton makes two nonsense comments above.

[1] “[America’s] illegal war in Iraq”; and [2] “Dismantling of the US Constitution by corporate-controlled US politicians …”

Last time I looked, America was a sovereign nation state, and at complete liberty to determine its own foreign policy. It doesn’t require the sanction of the Mother of World Socialism, the United Nations -- controlled by America-hating tyrants, dictators, and mediaeval religious theocrats -- to go to war or indeed do anything else.

The point of entry to the undermining of the US Constitution was Roosevelt’s New Deal, that was initially got knocked down 4-1 by the US Supreme Court, which had four judges who took the view that “Promoting the general welfare” didn’t mean the same thing as “Promoting welfare generally,” and one who took the opposing view. To ram the New Deal down the throats of America, Roosevelt appointed another four judges, all liberals, and suddenly the odds became 5-4 in favour of his socialist platform.

Now, unelected judges were effectively running America, which is why appointments to fill US Supreme Court vacancies have been such a political hot potato ever since.

Left-wing judicial activists who interpret the Constitution not according to its black letter clauses, but according to their own social and political opinions, could now make far-reaching rulings that the electorate would never have accepted had they came from politicians.

The DImmocrats could then turn around and blame the judges, thus avoiding all responsibility for outcomes they’d actually wanted to promote in the first place.

A liberal majority allows the leftist agenda to keep chugging quietly along through the Courts, whether the Dims are in or out of power.

The “dismantling of the US Constitution” is actually largely attributable to a leftist-dominated judiciary.