During our GPP Power Ranking debate, Hubbel made this comment:
“Russia’s power comes from others’ perception of them and their totalitarian nature of conducting international affairs. I think the West is stuck in the Cold War and continually gives Russia too much deference. This translates into significant influence in their region. For instance, NATO induction of Eastern European countries should be a sovereign decision that is made with an eye towards protection against aggressive neighbors, i.e., Russia. The fact that we see people supporting Russia’s right to forcefully oppose countries like Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO appears to be an implied acceptance of Russia’s ability to use military force against those countries in the future.”
Perceptions of Moscow are an important topic, but I want to discuss his emphasize on state sovereignty. Hubbel argues that the US should not heed the ‘sovereignty’ of Eastern European states such as Georgia and Ukraine to Russia’s main influence, because A. this is against US interests B. it undermines the sovereignty of those states. The Bush administration cautiously carried pretty much the same viewpoint. As Germany lead most European states to take on a realist view of Russia’s eastern sphere of influence, the Bush administration continued to push back, pushing for Georgia/Ukraine NATO membership during their last breathes in office. Germany and most other Western European countries spoke out about state sovereignty, but their actions really told Russia that they were in control of their ‘near abroad.’ I saw this not with much criticism either, as for German interests (being so close in proximity to Russian power and gas manipulation) the move looks pragmatic.
Well, how will Obama’s administration tackle the sovereignty of states which is challenged by nearby great powers? While at least in terms of Eastern Europe, it looks like it will be similar to Bush in making it well-known that the US views these states as having sovereign control over their territory and foreign policy views. This view was reiterated by VP Joseph Biden at the Munich security conference. In discussing NATO expansion the MDS in Czech and Poland, Biden stated: ”It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.”
This looks like a diplomatic line in the sand that will be tested time and again during the next few years as it has in the past. The Eastern European states do not want to resume a US-Russian standoff, but they very much desire some political cover to make moves that go against Russian interests and views. A strong American presence and voice of support will help them do so. That being said, the Georgia war showcased that geography is destiny. For all the US power, when it came down to it, Georgia’s future and present was largely in Russia’s hands to mold.
So I see it as important that Obama showcase to the world that state’s have a right to their own foreign policy and that America will be there to support them. However, the idea and reality of sovereignty can become sticky rather quickly and the US, just like Germany, will need to be flexible along the way, as I’ve said before, at times ‘geography is destiny.’