Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Would You Support Sending Americans to Fight for the Survival of Estonia or Latvia?

 

Graham Allison, an entirely reputable scholar of International Affairs at Harvard University, and Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest, recently published a piece reminding us that Russia is a nuclear power “capable of literally erasing the United States from the map.”

And while most Americans dismiss the possibility of a US-Russian war, they do not:

we are more concerned about the drift of events than at any point since the end of the Cold War. We say this having followed Soviet and Russian affairs throughout the Cold War and in the years since the Soviet Union’s implosion in 1991. And we say it after one of us recently spent a week in Moscow talking candidly with individuals in and around the Putin government, including with many influential Russian officials, and the other in China listening to views from Beijing. We base our assessment on these conversations as well as other public and private sources.

The authors are particularly concerned that Putin “relies on a very narrow circle of advisers, none of whom is prepared to challenge his assumptions,” and that “Russia’s political environment, at both the elite and public levels, encourages Putin to escalate demands rather than make concessions.”

What’s more, they write, “ordinary Russians may have gone further in their truculent views than Putin himself.” Putin, they suggest, is in fact the moderate:

At the elite level, Russia’s establishment falls into two camps: a pragmatic camp, which is currently dominant thanks principally to Putin’s support, and a hard-line camp. The Russian public largely supports the hard-line camp, whom one Putin adviser called the “hotheads.” Given Russian politics today, Putin is personally responsible for the fact that Russia’s revanchist policies are not more aggressive. Put bluntly, Putin is not the hardest of the hard-liners in Russia.

Nor are the authors optimistic about the effect of sanctions:

Counterintuitive though it may seem, Russia’s weakening economy is also unlikely to create public pressure for concessions. On the contrary, the damage to an already-stagnant Russian economy suffering from low energy prices is actually reducing Putin’s foreign-policy flexibility. Russia’s president needs to show that his country’s suffering has been worth it. Retreat could severely damage Putin’s carefully cultivated image as a strong man—a style Russians have historically appreciated—and alienate his hypernationalist political base. They resent sanctions, which they see as hurting ordinary people much more than Putin’s entourage, and they want their leaders to resist, not capitulate. For many, Russia’s dignity is at stake.

The authors speculate that the hardliners’ goal is to suck the US deeper into the conflict in Ukraine:

Russia’s comparative advantage in relations with Europe and the United States is not economics. Instead, it is deploying military power. Europeans have essentially disarmed themselves and show little will to fight. Americans undoubtedly have the most powerful military on earth and are often prepared to fight. But even though they win all the battles, they seem incapable of winning a war, as in Vietnam or Iraq. In Ukraine, the “hotheads” hope, Russia can teach the Europeans and Americans some hard truths. The professionally executed operation that annexed Crimea virtually without a shot was the first step. But the deeper the United States can be sucked into Ukraine and the more visibly it is committed to achieving unachievable goals like the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the better from this hawkish Russian perspective.

The goal? To demoralize–and ultimately peel away–the rest of Europe. And to this end, the authors remark, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, are “the Achilles’ heel of the NATO alliance.”

They are protected by its Article 5 guarantee that an attack upon one will be regarded as an attack upon all. Thus, the United States has an unambiguous and undeniable responsibility to deter and defend attacks on the Baltic states. Given their size, proximity to Russia and substantial Russian-speaking minorities, this is a daunting requirement. It is not difficult to imagine scenarios in which either U.S. or Russian action could set in motion a chain of events at the end of which American and Russian troops would be killing each other.

The authors game out a number of scenarios in which these states could come under Russian stealth attack. (Edward Lucas sketches out similar scenarios in this article, titled “What if Putin gets what he wants?”) “If you want to either dumbfound or silence a table next to you in a restaurant in Washington or Boston,” they write,

ask your fellow diners what they think. If stealthy Russian military forces were to take control of Estonia or Latvia, what should the United States do? Would they support sending Americans to fight for the survival of Estonia or Latvia?

So, Ricochet, what do you think? Would you support sending Americans to fight for the survival of Estonia or Latvia?

 

There are 68 comments.

  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    I have a very Imperialist bent to my foreign policy. I think we should be taking steps now to stop the above from happening in the first place.

    In the Bush admin, when China forced down our plane, I would have used a B2 to blow it up on the runway to stop the Chinese from having access to it.

    • #1
    • April 24, 2015, at 5:12 AM PST
    • Like
  2. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Bryan G. Stephens:I have a very Imperialist bent to my foreign policy. I think we should be taking steps now to stop the above from happening in the first place.

    In the Bush admin, when China forced down our plane, I would have used a B2 to blow it up on the runway to stop the Chinese from having access to it.

    What steps do you think we should be taking?

    • #2
    • April 24, 2015, at 5:19 AM PST
    • Like
  3. Nick Stuart Inactive

    Claire Berlinski:So, Ricochet, what do you think? Would you support sending Americans to fight for the survival of Estonia or Latvia?

    No

    The Left, the media, and the American people as a whole would turn against any such involvement in very short order.

    This would waste the inevitable sacrifice of blood and treasure.

    Until the American people are ready to give up their social welfare programs, and prioritize national defense over all the other stuff that seems so important (gender neutral bathrooms, regulating the amount of salt in fast food, etc.) we may as well stay home.

    This is ultimately short-sighted, but better to not start things we aren’t prepared to finish.

    • #3
    • April 24, 2015, at 5:26 AM PST
    • Like
  4. Dave of Barsham Member

    As much as I would hate to see it, and as much as we don’t need this particular CoC in charge of such a thing, I would have to say yes. We either live up to our obligations and follow through with our promises or we dissolve them all and tell our former allies they’re on their own. If we continue to do what we’ve done in regards to Ukraine, which is to do nothing and weasel out of our promises by parsing the language and obfuscating, it won’t take many other take-overs by Russia for our Allies to regard us as useless liars.

    War with Russia would not be pretty and I don’t mean to make light of it. We should project to Russia that we’re serious about our obligations and will not hesitate to take them head on if we have to. In doing so we just may avert the very scenario we’re discussing here.

    • #4
    • April 24, 2015, at 5:28 AM PST
    • Like
  5. Profile Photo Member

    I am not sure whether there would be much support for it, but I think you have to defend Estonia and Latvia. To say that we are doing it to protect American credibility sounds too much like we are doing it for pride alone, but America has made a number of security commitments around the world. If we don’t honor our treaty obligations here, which obligations will we honor? How does the geopolitical balance in Asia change if China no longer thinks we will defend Taiwan? Or North Korea no longer thinks we will defend South Korea? Not every international bad actor will test our resolve, but some of them will. And one day there will be a redline we really will defend and we won’t be believed until there is actual shooting.

    • #5
    • April 24, 2015, at 5:31 AM PST
    • Like
  6. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    At this time no. Sadly you go to war with the President you have. Sending US troops to war under this President is irresponsible. It will just make matters worse and allow liberal cronies to steal more.

    • #6
    • April 24, 2015, at 5:35 AM PST
    • Like
  7. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Claire Berlinski:

    Bryan G. Stephens:I have a very Imperialist bent to my foreign policy. I think we should be taking steps now to stop the above from happening in the first place.

    In the Bush admin, when China forced down our plane, I would have used a B2 to blow it up on the runway to stop the Chinese from having access to it.

    What steps do you think we should be taking?

    There is a long list of things we should have been doing. Some of it is too late now.

    Russia should not be in the G8. We should have demanded they give up their permanent seat at the UN. Russia is not the USSR, and why should they have that seat?

    At the moment, we should be building a military that can fight them. Should have done more F22’s, more B2’s, and keep a strong submarine presence. Make them aware of how we follow every sub they have.

    Do not treat them like a partner. They are an enemy, and we should treat them as such at every turn. If we were more aggressive, Russia would be less so.

    Also, send in a team to kill Snowden, unless that would be really hard. He is traitor selling secrets to our enemy. Deal with him.

    I understand the Republic is not behind me on all this. We are a commercial republic, and as such, not into this sort of thing.

    • #7
    • April 24, 2015, at 5:48 AM PST
    • Like
  8. Percival Thatcher

    Failing to honor Article 5 is tacit withdrawal from NATO. Whatever the size of our military after that, our ability to influence events will be reduced if not eliminated. The time to think about what that may cost is before such an action is taken, and I don’t believe that those whose responsibility this is regularly think much past “what’s for lunch?”

    • #8
    • April 24, 2015, at 5:56 AM PST
    • Like
  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    So no one feels deterred by their nuclear weapons?

    • #9
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:09 AM PST
    • Like
  10. Guruforhire Member

    Claire Berlinski:So no one feels deterred by their nuclear weapons?

    Deterrence only works if we act like it doesn’t. Kind of like market efficiency.

    • #10
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:12 AM PST
    • Like
  11. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Claire Berlinski:So no one feels deterred by their nuclear weapons?

    Yes, I do. Since I know the guy running the show on our side does not have the cojones to retaliate. If I know it you can bet Putin does.

    MAD only works if the other side thinks you will use it. Nobody believe that Obama would use nuclear weapons. I think more people think it would be likely that Obama would apologies for USA past transgressions forcing Russia to bomb us.

    • #11
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:12 AM PST
    • Like
  12. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Claire Berlinski:So no one feels deterred by their nuclear weapons?

    I think they are a factor.

    But the theme here clearly is:

    American power is limited by the American people.

    If the American people wanted Russia eliminated, it would be gone.

    • #12
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:14 AM PST
    • Like
  13. Matty Van Member

    No.

    FDR’s worldview seems to have infected conservatives with a disease they are supposed to be immune to: naivety.

    You all believe you know how to police the world. OK, so now all you need is a leader who knows what you know (making the huge assumption that you really do know). How are you going to get such a leader? Electoral politics? You’re joking, right? You might occasionally get such a leader but a project such as policing the world requires that you ALWAYS get such a leader. Thinking you can do that through electoral politics is the height of naivety.

    And who’s gonna pay for it? The idea we can keep building a welfare state at the same time we are policing the world is the height of naivety.

    And what about our allies? They go ahead and build their own welfare states, secure in the knowledge they don’t need to worry about defense. We’ll take care of that for them. Letting them play us for suckers is the height of naivety.

    And then there’s a problem not considered by modern conservatives, who have basically given up on constitutional government in order to police the world. How are you going to police the world without a large and permanent standing army (something anathema to the founding fathers)? Obviously, you’re not. So we have to give up on both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution.

    The Baltic states are in Europe. Let Europeans do the heavy lifting. We can support them here and there, assuming they’re willing to make the effort.

    • #13
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:22 AM PST
    • Like
  14. Metalheaddoc Member

    Yes.

    I don’t think Americans are so much tired of war. They are tired of nation building for ungrateful scumbags who would just as much stab us in the back as smile in our face.

    Failure to respond to an Article 5 request destroys NATO. NATO still has some gravitas in the American mind as a commitment we have to live up to. If we bail on NATO, who would believe our word on anything?

    Besides, Obama won’t have to. Putin would do his business using some sort of internal troops rather than Russian army. That gives plausible deniability to the rest of NATO. Obama could rebuff an Article 5 request by saying it’s an internal civil war, not a Russian attack. And enough Dems and Repubs would look the other way and let it slide. So would the press. Putin gets what he wants. Obama gets what he wants. Squishy leftists in Europe get what they want. Baltic people get the shaft.

    • #14
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:24 AM PST
    • Like
  15. Valiuth Member

    Claire Berlinski:So no one feels deterred by their nuclear weapons?

    No one has ever used nuclear weapons in war since their first creation. In WWII both sides of the conflict had ample stores and means of producing and deploying various chemical agents. Yet, even when faced with the prospect of defeat neither side resorted to their use, even while they employed every other means of killing each other. So great was fear associated with those weapons and their possible consequences.

    I fear that on their current course war with the Russians might be inevitable, and I think that if it happens both sides while trying to win will not use nuclear weapons on each other. When one thinks about it you just don’t know what will happen if you deploy even one. That level of uncertainty I think makes is very likely that everyone will view it as preferable to have any number of casualties inflicted by conventional weapons rather than risk complete annihilation by nuclear weapons.

    • #15
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:28 AM PST
    • Like
  16. Tim H. Member

    Yes. My view is that (1) it is dishonorable not to live up to our promise to defend our allies, and (2) such a blatant failure would show us to be very, very weak and invite even greater harm from our enemies. NATO was created for just this kind of mutual protection, and if we’re unwilling to live up to our obligations, we should be honest about it and pull out now, before we are called to account.

    I’m not exactly for intervening in every fight around the world (though I’m moderately interventionist), but breaking our promises, letting an enemy invade our allies, and chickening out in the face of Russian aggression would disgust me. It is worth dying for this cause.

    Finally, if you want peace, prepare for war. Ultimately, I want peace.

    • #16
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:40 AM PST
    • Like
  17. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Tim H.:Yes.My view is that (1) it is dishonorable not to live up to our promise to defend our allies, and (2) such a blatant failure would show us to be very, very weak and invite even greater harm from our enemies.NATO was created for just this kind of mutual protection, and if we’re unwilling to live up to our obligations, we should be honest about it and pull out now, before we are called to account.

    I’m not exactly for intervening in every fight around the world (though I’m moderately interventionist), but breaking our promises, letting an enemy invade our allies, and chickening out in the face of Russian aggression would disgust me.It is worth dying for this cause.

    Finally, if you want peace, prepare for war.Ultimately, I want peace.

    I am sure we can live up to our treaty obligations and still stay out of it. Maybe send a small number of troops in a non combat position. Basically do what every other NATO country does to us when we call on them.

    • #17
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:46 AM PST
    • Like
  18. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Why are we still in NATO? What do we get out of it except the expectation to fight everybody’s battles for them?

    • #18
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:47 AM PST
    • Like
  19. SkipSul Moderator

    Part of the question NOT asked so far is this: What about the other European powers? Are THEY willing to stand up for Estonia or Latvia? Implicit in all comments so far (and the OP too) is the assumption that any defense of the Baltics would be an almost exclusively US led affair. The question many of us have been asking for 20 years now is this: When will the rest of Europe wake up and defend itself? What is the point of NATO if it really means “The US, with some token assists from other nations”? We can talk NATO all we want, and whether it would continue if the US reneged, etc., but what about the other members?

    • #19
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:53 AM PST
    • Like
  20. SkipSul Moderator

    Fake John Galt:Why are we still in NATO? What do we get out of it except the expectation to fight everybody’s battles for them?

    You beat me to it!

    • #20
    • April 24, 2015, at 6:54 AM PST
    • Like
  21. Ward Robles Member

    I would support sending arms, supplies, and even advisors. Unless I am reading those countries wrong, I think that they are not another Iraq, but are vibrant nations with lots of pro-Western young people who have tasted enough freedom to be trustworthy allies. I was told that my great-grandfather, a Lithuanian immigrant, decades later complained bitterly about the Russians to the point that the family was careful not to get him started on the “Bolsheviks.” I can only imagine how strong the feeling is among people who remember 70 years under the Russian boot, hand-copying Solzhenitsyn and Friedman.

    I think that Russia is a little bit of a paper tiger. Let’s face it, we got too close to the Russian homeland in the Ukraine. The rest of Eastern Europe is just further away from the homeland and that much less threatening. With Russian demographics being what they are, a few years of increasingly rare young Russians coming home in body bags will take the starch out of Russian bellicosity.

    • #21
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:01 AM PST
    • Like
  22. Dave of Barsham Member

    Matty Van:No.

    FDR’s worldview seems to have infected conservatives with a disease they are supposed to be immune to: naivety.

    Ok, let’s do it your way. Magic wand out, as of tomorrow, no more standing military, and no more interventions overseas that are not direct threats or attacks on us. No more new tanks, ships, or planes, or military training until something happens and it’s needed. We tell our allies that all agreements are null and void and they’re on their own, and all we want to do is trade with them, and in that instant the Libertarian utopia will be realized. Other nations, such and Russia and China, will see how stupid it is to attack and conquer those around them and just start selling them stuff. Peace on earth will break out.

    Talk about naivety.

    If modern history has proven one thing it is that someone will attempt to police the world whether they be benevolent or not. Handing over Europe to a resurgent Russia and the Pacific to China sounds like a great idea. Because disarming and turning inward in the face of growing bad actors building up military strength and showing a willingness to push the edges of peaceful agreements with their neighbors worked so incredibly well in the 1930’s.

    • #22
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:02 AM PST
    • Like
  23. Dave of Barsham Member

    I ran out of space so I should add that I do sympathize with much of what you said. We really can’t afford it, our welfare state is out of control, and Europe should be doing more for it’s own defense. But there is no magic wand. Evil and ambitious men don’t let you call a time out and wait for better circumstances. They do, however, respond to weakness and retreat. That response is usually bloody and tyrannical. It may not be so for us at first but for countries who at least have some semblance Western civilization that we should support instead of turning our back on them. We are not an island, and as much as we wish it weren’t so, people with bad intentions are more than willing to buy your stuff until they think they’re ready to shoot you and get away with it. Also, having a standing army, while not ideal, does not mean that we have simply turned our back on the whole of the constitution and just abandoned it. It does mean we need to square the reality of a “smaller” world in which we are the sole superpower and the obligations thereof, with our principles. If that means amending the Constitution using the process provided by the founders then so be it.

    • #23
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:12 AM PST
    • Like
  24. Marion Evans Inactive

    I think we can write off NATO expansion as Madeline Albright / Bill Clinton lunacy and move on. Russia has bigger problems and wouldn’t know what to do with all these states anyway.

    • #24
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:19 AM PST
    • Like
  25. Titus Techera Contributor

    Heh. In 250 words or less:

    1MAD never worked; McNamara was deluded; JFK turned coward.

    2Putin would rather lose power than use nukes.

    3Estonia does not matter if you lose Ukraine, which alone makes the difference between world power Russia & local gangster Russia.

    4Nobody believes in America anyway, don’t worry about Article 5–you’re expected to fold by other silly countries waiting to fold.

    5There’s a lot of failure & dishonor before events scare Americans into action. It’s very important not to stand on principle on paper…

    6American soldiers will again die for the ingrates & the incompetents; the result will again be the reward of the evil. But not soon. It’s very important to remember, this is preferable to the alternative.

    7NATO is a sham alliance–it is still a question whether this will turn out to help you or harm you.

    8Winning the coming war does not depend on or allow for the much-needed rethinking of the arms & organization that could better defend America’s security. Remember, it is not brilliant foreign policy or seriousness about oaths that has got you where you are… Rather think on changing the foreign policy establishment.

    9China is not scared of you in Taiwan & you cannot do anything to defend it. Your rulers do not want that fight.

    10Unless China scares Korea into hated Japan’s alliance, what are you going to do about anything?

    11The easiest part of your predicament is dealing with the Middle East.

    • #25
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:28 AM PST
    • Like
  26. The Reticulator Member

    If President Rand Paul were to send American soldiers to Latvia or Estonia in order to deter further Russian aggression there, I would support it. One problem is that I don’t know if we have time to wait for him to become president.

    • #26
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:37 AM PST
    • Like
  27. Titus Techera Contributor

    The Reticulator:If President Rand Paul were to send American soldiers to Latvia or Estonia in order to deter further Russian aggression there, I would support it. One problem is that I don’t know if we have time to wait for him to become president.

    You’ve got all the time in the world, my good man…

    • #27
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:39 AM PST
    • Like
  28. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Estonia and Latvia are NATO members.

    The United States of America has a treaty obligation to defend them.

    This should not be up for debate.

    If the USA would not defend Estonia or Latvia then it should formally renounce its membership in NATO.

    • #28
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:41 AM PST
    • Like
  29. Titus Techera Contributor

    Misthiocracy:Estonia and Latvia are NATO members.

    The United States of America has a treaty obligation to defend them.

    This should not be up for debate.

    If the USA would not defend Estonia or Latvia then it should formally renounce its membership in NATO.

    Alliances are creatures of circumstance. There is no law binding one people to another. I do not see Estonians desperately trying to get American help, though…

    • #29
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:45 AM PST
    • Like
  30. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Titus Techera:

    The Reticulator:If President Rand Paul were to send American soldiers to Latvia or Estonia in order to deter further Russian aggression there, I would support it. One problem is that I don’t know if we have time to wait for him to become president.

    You’ve got all the time in the world, my good man…

    Shouldn’t we be using a different line like:

    “From Russia with Love ….” or maybe “Nobody does it better…”

    • #30
    • April 24, 2015, at 7:45 AM PST
    • Like