America must defend its allies against clear Russian hostility
It is in American interests to deter an increasingly assertive Russia. One way of doing this is to strengthen the independence and sovereignty of the countries around Russia, most of which face growing pressure from Moscow. The Black Sea states of Ukraine and Georgia, as well as Moldova and Belarus, are primary targets of Russian power. Other countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia also face assertive Russian policies. All these nations have suffered the collateral damage of changing ideologies of various administrations in the United States. American disengagement from different parts of the world over the last decade has created a large geopolitical vacuum now filled by Russia, China, and other adversaries.
Russia is particularly assertive in this process. After the occupation of Georgia and the annexation of Crimea, Russian leaders claim that Europe has a different map now, with some new states and new borders. Russia no longer considers itself bound by any formal international agreements, allowing its military presence almost anywhere in the world. In addition, Russia is in blatant violation of both the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which are fundamental and important for stability and security all across Europe.
In addition to direct military aggression, Russia ignited and fueled conflict in Eastern Ukraine using proxies, as it had done in Georgia and Moldova before. Russia also pushes countries into the Eurasian Economic Union, to keep them attached to its own inefficient and corrupt market system. It is increasing pressure on Belarus, which could lead to the elimination of Belarusian sovereignty. There is also constant pressure on Georgia. While moving artificially created borders and expanding occupied territories, the Russian military and its local proxies are escalating violations of basic human rights of ethnic Georgians inside the occupied territories, thus trying to humiliate the Georgian state and exacerbate existing divisions.
All of these facts and many other developments indicate that nations in the Russian neighborhood are under increased pressure on an almost daily basis. Most of them have had historical experiences with Russian military invasions, losing their sovereignty to imperial or Soviet Russia. Because of their fears of Russia, they are responding to the pressure. Meanwhile, messages from democracies in the West are baffling.
French President Emmanuel Macron says that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is brain dead. The United Kingdom is trying to leave the European Union, and prospects of the union are also in question. The United States is distracted with impeachment, and officials who need to be substantively thinking about the sovereignty of these countries are occupied with investigations. Internal political dynamics in the United States impact its credibility as a strategic ally, while leaving many of the small sovereign countries, which are loyal friends of the United States, vulnerable in times of such great need for American leadership. Russia is clearly a winner in this geopolitical struggle, at least for the time being.
For those who ask why the United States should be engaged, I would ask them to consider Ukraine. In 1994, Ukraine gave up its significant nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees of security and territorial principles, affirmed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Along with the strategic interests in supporting a country that can assist in balancing Russia, the United States has a moral obligation to support a responsible international actor that agreed to weaken its position against potential aggression to follow what appeared to be the international rule of law.
The notion that the United States should not spend its resources on the security of its allies is wrong for several reasons. Most importantly, the cost of supporting sovereign nations now will prevent higher American costs in the future. The costs of preventing major European wars and balancing an increasingly assertive Russia now will be lower than the costs of potential new military operations. There is no time to waste.
Russia is a powerful military state with large nuclear stockpiles. It is also an adversary which challenges American interests around the world. But low energy prices and Western sanctions made an impact on the Russian economy, and its economic output is smaller than the state of Texas. In this challenging environment, the Black Sea plays a critical role as an export gateway for Russian energy resources and other products. This opens the door for collaboration, but also for pushback and deterrence. What is required is American leadership, a clear strategy, and appropriate policies built on strong political will. In these times of turmoil, Congress can and must provide this international leadership before it is too late.
Mamuka Tsereteli is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.