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?

 

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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  1. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    I am wary of experts in general. Kremlinologists were hot for decades. Then after the early 1990s, attention was diverted elsewhere. Now they are anxious to prolong their new day of relevance. So everything is inflated, starting with the headline: Russia and America: Stumbling into War. Meanwhile it is obvious that we don’t want war and that they can’t afford one.

    • #31
  2. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Whether we like it or not, we are riding the tiger. Obama believes we can simply dismount it, and all will remain as-is or even improve. This delusion fools fewer and fewer.

    Folks above have identified many basic measures we could take to shore up our NATO allies and forestall war: lethal arms to Ukraine, regular rotation of US troops through the Baltics, etc. IMO, this would be enough, as I’m not sure the Russians are all that eager to fight the US military and a real fight in Ukraine would tax them plenty.

    However, at this point they don’t need to worry about us. Their counterparty in the White House is a useful idiot — if not a fellow traveler — who probably laments the end of the Soviet Union. I doubt he believes that Ukraine and the Baltic states should be independent.

    • #32
  3. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    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.

    Treaties are made to be broken.  Just ask the Native Americans.

    I am doubtful that there is a treaty in the world that has even been completely honored.  Both sides alway stretch and break treaties, that is just how the world works.

    • #33
  4. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Titus Techera:

    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

    If the USA is not willing to abide by NATO Treaty obligations, then there is a legal option available: Get the Hell out of NATO.

    • #34
  5. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    I’m with Misthiocracy.  We have treaty obligations.  There ends the matter.  If the rest of NATO doesn’t respond, I don’t know -perhaps we could regrettably say that without their support it is impractical for us to fulfill those obligations -but that would end the alliance and hand Europe to the Russians, de facto if not de jure.  Regardless, not at least attempting to respond would be such a dishonorable act that no one should ever trust us again.

    • #35
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Fake John Galt:Treaties are made to be broken. Just ask the Native Americans.

    I am doubtful that there is a treaty in the world that has even been completely honored. Both sides alway stretch and break treaties, that is just how the world works.

    Almost all of the treaties with Native Americans were kept, which is not to say that they were honored.  They were technically kept, but the whole process was slimy and abusive.

    • #36
  7. user_45880 Member
    user_45880
    @Eiros

    I am not American citizen, so is not my place to say.  Is European problem anyway, but EU elects Neville Chamberlains to every executive office.  Putin is not stupid and knows there are many Chamberlains to come.

    Is not nuclear issue.  Russia is weak, but still looks at world from “developed country” vantage point.  Russia has investment all over world and is not in Russia’s best interests to blow them all up, while Russia gets all blown up at same time.  MAD still restrains Russia.  “There will never be nuclear war.  Is too much real estate involved.” I think Frank Zappa said that.  (But crazy caliphate jihadists weren’t here when Zappa said that.  They have no real estate.  That is other story though.)

    It’s Russia’s conventional army Europe needs to worry about.  Russians love tanks, and when oil prices rise, Russia will start work on thousands of them.

    Putin will strike soon, while he is still weak, like Hitler did in 1930’s.  But he will use initial strategy of other Axis power, Japan.  Putin will grab territory, then make peace deal with the Chamberlains, deal that gives him half what he took.  He gets labor and infrastructure he needs and all the time he wants.  Is good thing Americans didn’t let Japanese get away with that plan in 1942 or would be different world today.

    Will also be different world tomorrow if Putin takes Baltic states.

    • #37
  8. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Eiros:I am not American citizen, so is not my place to say.

    If you’re a citizen of a NATO member, it actually is your place to say.

    • #38
  9. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    I believe we should send whatever the Baltc states ask us for. However, as one famous person said recently, What difference, at this point, does it make? The current administration would do nothing, so our opinions are worthless.

    • #39
  10. user_1008534 Member
    user_1008534
    @Ekosj

    A few points

    (1). Re Ukraine. The US didn’t ‘weasel out’ of anything. In an agreement remarkable for its brevity and clarity, the US made NO promise to defend Ukraine. That is the kind of promise reserved for NATO members, and Ukraine isn’t a member.

    (2). Re Estonia Latvia. As others have pointed out, if we do not intend to live up to our treaty obligations under NATO we should just formally exit the alliance. That would kead to a whole host of bad things across the globe.

    (3). That being said, it is well past time for the US to take the other NATO nations to the woodshed and demand that they do more to help shoulder the load. As a percent of GDP the Non-US NATO members spend less than half what the US spends. It is a disgrace. Ironically, Obama is the perfect guy to make this argument because it dovetails nicely with his ‘ebbing-away of America on the international stage and making room for others to emerge’ philosophy.

    Economically, this should be an easy sell. These countries mostly have left thinking economic policies. They ought to be up for a nice round of government spending/fiscal stimulus. Defence spending is often said to be inflationary. Perfect! Their monetary authority is trying to create inflation. Get some fiscal policy behind that.

    • #40
  11. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Claire, you asked earlier if we’d be deterred by Russia’s nukes.  I’m not, actually.  I honestly don’t think they’ll use them in trying to take over another country, even if they believe in some kind of historical claim on it.

    • #41
  12. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    I’ve argued that the United States (with a healthy helping hand from Britain and France) essentially disarmed the West after World War II, in exchange for the promise of carrying the burden of defense mostly by NATO. Well, it mostly worked, but these are circumstances where it doesn’t fit so smoothly. The biggest problem is scale. For NATO to be effective, it has to be a full-scale war. NATO isn’t so nimble when it comes to “small” fights, like Estonia, or small fighting, like with terrorism.

    But that’s why this is a Chicken game (remember Rebel Without a Cause ?. Are you willing to risk a massive disaster (driving into a crash, global annihilation, etc.) just to achieve a small victory (winning Natalie’s Wood’s love, or preserving a small country)?

    And if you go strictly by game theory, then the advice for a Chicken game is clear: yes, you have to be willing to risk massive disaster to achieve small victories.

    The best way to win a Chicken game is disable any other response (e.g., remove the steering wheel so that you couldn’t swerve even if you wanted).  Seeing that you have no choice, I’m forced to swerve. That, in fact, is what a treaty is – it’s a self-binding that removes any alternative, so that opponents have no choice but to respond. If you attack Estonia, I have no choice but war.

    But that strategy requires commitment.

    Sigh.

    • #42
  13. Klaatu Inactive
    Klaatu
    @Klaatu

    Yes, I would. As others have mentioned, this is an obligation we have as a member of NATO and should not be open for discussion.

    What I would do is preposition a division’s worth of heavy equipment (tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery) in Poland and begin to roate one brigade combat team (BCT) to the region for training exercises so that there was always an American force on the ground. This would be the precursor to standing up a division sized force in the region, possibly headquartered in Poland with a manuever BCT in each of the Baltic states. The ground force would have to be supported by sufficient air assets.

    • #43
  14. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    Using drones or other forms of air power would certainly be preferable to sending in American ground troops to help the Baltic republics. After all, as George S. Patton once said, “The object of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other [male offspring of a female canine] die for his.”

    • #44
  15. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

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

    Nuclear weapons might deter me from specific tactics.  I’m not sure, for example, I would bomb Moscow.  But if we let Russian nuclear weapons act as a general deterrent to standing against Russian aggression, it seems to evolve into a policy of general surrender.  If China attacks Taiwan, do we bail on Taiwan because the Chinese have nuclear weapons?  Exactly how far do you retreat against an aggressive hostile power with nuclear weapons just because they have nuclear weapons?

    • #45
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Apropos of Nothing: This is reportedly what the Russian people think of democracy and free markets in the 21st Century.

    11111

    Source: http://www.thecitizenscholars.com/articles/economics/the-fantasy-of-democratic-socialism/

    • #46
  17. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Quinn the Eskimo:

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

    Nuclear weapons might deter me from specific tactics. I’m not sure, for example, I would bomb Moscow. But if we let Russian nuclear weapons act as a general deterrent to standing against Russian aggression, it seems to evolve into a policy of general surrender. If China attacks Taiwan, do we bail on Taiwan because the Chinese have nuclear weapons? Exactly how far do you retreat against an aggressive hostile power with nuclear weapons just because they have nuclear weapons?

    That’s the wrong question to ask, because everyone knows the answer, really: The realist advises preemptive surrender, appeasement, & then negotiation again. The logic of liberal cowardice was, do not annoy the Soviets around Berlin, let them have their blockades & walls–because it’s so far away from us, so close to them, logistics, my man, that’s where the game is. Then, do not annoy them in Cuba, because it’s so close to us, so far away from them, who knows what the damned devils might do…

    • #47
  18. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    H no, despite the fact that that answer should be yes..  Not only is going to war under this president an unacceptable liability, it is useless to go abroad for anything — the American people will vote in ISIS.  Again.

    • #48
  19. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Yes, I would support sending Americans to fight for Latvia and Estonia.  As many other have said, if we won’t do this, NATO is dead.  And NATO is the alliance that both: (1) keeps Russia out and (2) keeps Germany down.  “Germany down” means that Germany does not become the tremendous military power that it could easily become again, if its people decided it was necessary.

    What we should do, right now, is to forward-deploy NATO troops into Latvia and Estonia.  I’d like to see a force that is about 50% American, 15% German, 10% British, 10% French, 5% Canadian, and 10% other NATO.

    These forces would be like the US troops on the DMZ in Korea.  They could put up a fight, but more importantly, they would face Putin with the reality that any invasion will require him to kill American and Allied boys.  That really gets us upset, and guarantees retaliation.  And that should prevent Putin from doing it.

    • #49
  20. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @WardRobles

    Misthiocracy: go Albania and Montenegro!

    • #50
  21. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Arizona Patriot:Yes, I would support sending Americans to fight for Latvia and Estonia. As many other have said, if we won’t do this, NATO is dead. And NATO is the alliance that both: (1) keeps Russia out and (2) keeps Germany down. “Germany down” means that Germany does not become the tremendous military power that it could easily become again, if its people decided it was necessary.

    What we should do, right now, is to forward-deploy NATO troops into Latvia and Estonia. I’d like to see a force that is about 50% American, 15% German, 10% British, 10% French, 5% Canadian, and 10% other NATO.

    These forces would be like the US troops on the DMZ in Korea. They could put up a fight, but more importantly, they would face Putin with the reality that any invasion will require him to kill American and Allied boys. That really gets us upset, and guarantees retaliation. And that should prevent Putin from doing it.

    Germans don’t fight.

    • #51
  22. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Titus Techera:Germans don’t fight.

    Germans haven’t fought in a long time, which is one of the main points of NATO.  But when they do fight, they’re among the best.  Maybe the very best.

    One of my larger ideas is to kick Russia and China off the UN Security Council (or withdraw and start a new organization without them), and replace them with Germany and Japan.  We’re 70 years after WWII, and I think it’s time to trust Germany and Japan with more international military responsibility.

    The new “perm 5” would be the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan.  Only the US gets a unilateral veto (since we’re essentially as powerful as the other 4 combined), and any action requires a majority of the perm 5.  In effect, this means that the US would need to carry 2 of the other 4 in order to take action.

    • #52
  23. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Ball Diamond Ball:H no, despite the fact that that answer should be yes.. Not only is going to war under this president an unacceptable liability, it is useless to go abroad for anything — the American people will vote in ISIS. Again.

    I think this raises a difficult question.  How does the calculus change in a decision to go to war where there are American interests implicated but not immediate annihilation where you have legitimate concerns about( how the commander-in-chief will conduct the war?

    I don’t think there is a black letter answer to that question.  I know that the last time a similar question came up, Syria and the red lines, I was convinced that defending American credibility for geopolitical reasons trumped my reservations about our participation.

    • #53
  24. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Arizona Patriot:

    Titus Techera:Germans don’t fight.

    Germans haven’t fought in a long time, which is one of the main points of NATO. But when they do fight, they’re among the best. Maybe the very best.

    Well, this is about today, next year. They will not fight.

    One of my larger ideas is to kick Russia and China off the UN Security Council (or withdraw and start a new organization without them), and replace them with Germany and Japan. We’re 70 years after WWII, and I think it’s time to trust Germany and Japan with more international military responsibility.

    Sure, but how?

    The new “perm 5″ would be the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan. Only the US gets a unilateral veto (since we’re essentially as powerful as the other 4 combined), and any action requires a majority of the perm 5. In effect, this means that the US would need to carry 2 of the other 4 in order to take action.

    What would get the other four to play friend to an America with such a terrible reputation?

    • #54
  25. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Titus Techera:

    One of my larger ideas is to kick Russia and China off the UN Security Council (or withdraw and start a new organization without them), and replace them with Germany and Japan. We’re 70 years after WWII, and I think it’s time to trust Germany and Japan with more international military responsibility.

    Sure, but how?

    We pull out of the UN and announce that we will not accept Security Council decisions as binding.  Whatever the wisdom of including Russia and China in the late 1940s — which was dubious even then — there is no longer any reason for them to have the power of a permanent Security Council seat.  Russia is pretty high on the list of troublemakers.  China is a brutal autocracy.  These are not the partners that we need to preserve the peace of the world.

    We create a new organization and invite everyone to join, with the new perm 5.  Germany and Japan would want to join, because they’re promoted.  The UK will back us.  France will join because otherwise she’s left out.

    If necessary, we can tell our NATO and perhaps other treaty partners that leaving the UN and joining our new organization is a condition of continued alliance with the US.  I doubt that this will be necessary,.

    • #55
  26. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Claire Berlinski: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.”

    The authors game out a number of scenarios in which these states could come under Russian stealth attack.

    There is a certain brutal logic to such an attack, it could neatly achieve several Russian goals, however if Putin was seriously considering that move would he not have acted by now?

    Surely the moment for that strike is the height of winter when Russia’s leverage over Europe is at its strongest, it is mid Spring now the window for action has passed.

    • #56
  27. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Quinn the Eskimo:

    Ball Diamond Ball:H no, despite the fact that that answer should be yes.. Not only is going to war under this president an unacceptable liability, it is useless to go abroad for anything — the American people will vote in ISIS. Again.

    I think this raises a difficult question. How does the calculus change in a decision to go to war where there are American interests implicated but not immediate annihilation where you have legitimate concerns about( how the commander-in-chief will conduct the war?

    I don’t think there is a black letter answer to that question. I know that the last time a similar question came up, Syria and the red lines, I was convinced that defending American credibility for geopolitical reasons trumped my reservations about our participation.

    The answer must be different, but involves division by zero.

    • #57
  28. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    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.

    Problem is, we are not fit to make treaties, because we already do not honor them.  Hence my answer “No, but the answer should be Yes”.

    • #58
  29. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Misthiocracy:Apropos of Nothing: This is reportedly what the Russian people think of democracy and free markets in the 21st Century.

    11111

    Source: http://www.thecitizenscholars.com/articles/economics/the-fantasy-of-democratic-socialism/

    I like how the dataset is shaped like Afghanistan.

    • #59
  30. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    KC Mulville:(winning Natalie’s Wood’s love, or preserving a small country)?

    I’m not so sure winning Natalie Wood’s love would be such a small victory.

    • #60
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