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A Pain in Ukraine 3

War in Ukraine might be cheaper than the alternative.

By Petrarch  |  March 11, 2014

As long as there have been governments and national leaders, those leaders have wanted More.  Sometimes it's More in taxes from their own people.  Other times, it's More land or tribute from a neighbor, so they go to war to get it.

In recent times, war has gotten too expensive; whatever you "win" tends not to be worth the price, so we haven't had any full-fledged major national wars in a long time.  That doesn't mean everyone has learned the lesson, though: Russia's President Putin seems to think that he can grab the Crimea away from the Ukraine without paying any price at all.

He certainly won't be charged a price by Ukraine, its army is too small and government too disorganized to do much against mighty Russia.  However, the Ukrainian government has a treaty signed by NATO and the rest of the Great Powers guaranteeing its territory.  They believe this requires us - yes, us, the United States, along with all of Europe - to throw the Russians out by force if necessary.

Do we really want to go to war with Russia?  What do we care about Ukraine?  Putin isn't any threat to us and never will be.  Ukraine isn't worth anything to us; is the whole place worth one drop of American blood or one cent of our fast-diminishing treasure?

The Three-Dimensional Chess of International Geopolitics

Let's face it: no, we really don't much care about the Ukraine or the Crimea.  If Putin takes the Crimea, well, he just has a navy base that he had before; he has a pissed-off but impotent rump of Ukraine next door that will be more of an irritant to him than to us; and maybe he's scared some of the other little countries around his southern border that we don't much care about either.  After all, he carved off a chunk of Georgia six years ago and nobody seemed to mind.

But - don't forget the history here of why these little countries can't fight back.  The only reason they don't have nuclear weapons left over from the USSR is because we persuaded them to give them up, in exchange for our guarantees of safety.

Georgia still exists but is smaller.  Ukraine still exists but looks like getting smaller.  How much smaller can they get, and how many more little countries will lose chunks back to Russia, before one of them decides that enough is enough and goes shopping?

The Ukraine is a fairly European place, but many of the other ex-Soviet states - Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan - have large Muslim populations and even somewhat Islamic governance.  Some of them have oil and the money that supplies, too.  Do you think they might, just possibly, find a willing salesman in dirt-poor, totally-Muslim, nuclear-armed Pakistan?  Failing that, North Korea will sell anything to anyone whose checks don't bounce.

Once these tinpot Weirdistans have nuclear weapons, are we entirely sure they'll remain safely locked up in the hands of stable governments?  Places with Muslim majorites have a nasty tendency to turn unstable at the drop of a hat.  Egypt was stable for decades under Hosni Mubarak, then all of a sudden it wasn't.  What do you think the Middle East would look like now if there were nukes floating around in the mess that Egypt's become?

Iran has every reason, ability, and expressed desire to use nukes on us and our allies, which is why it's incompetence bordering on treason that Mr. Obama has done nothing whatsoever to stop them from getting nuclear weapons.  As evil as they are, though, Iran does have a fairly competent, strong, and stable government; when they do have nukes, they aren't likely to end up on the black market unless of course Iran's own government wants them there.

Can the same be said of all the other dictatorships in Central Asia?  Can the same be said for all those countries for the next fifty or a hundred years?

A Nuke Under My Bed

For seventy years, "nuclear nonproliferation" has been an overriding goal of American diplomacy.  It hasn't been perfect, but mostly, nuclear weapons have been confined to countries that are either stable democracies or at least are large and sane enough that Mutually Assured Destruction works to keep their weapons in their silos.  Even India and Pakistan, although they've come very close to pushing the nuclear button on each other, at the last minute drew back.

Simple math suggests that the more countries have nukes, the more likely it becomes that someone will go nuts with one.  In Ukraine, we have a situation that will give a handful of the weakest, least-stable, most corrupt, but not dirt-poor countries an object lesson in why they have to get nuclear weapons right now, to protect them from a greedy Russia.  Is this really the message we want to send?

On the other hand - do we really want to go to war, actually and for real, with Russia?  Are we willing to?  Can we even plausibly threaten it, sufficiently as to get him to back out of the Crimea so there won't have to be a war?

It's not our decision - no, that august privilege falls entirely on the desk of Barack Hussein Obama II, President of the United States.  But whichever way it goes, all the rest of us will be paying the price for many years to come.