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American Diplomacy
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April 2014

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A Policy for Ukraine
by Sol Schindler

The Politics
Some people think President Obama should have foreseen the Russian seizure of Ukrainian Crimea. They are right, of course. He should have foreseen it. We all should have foreseen it. World events are invariably related; nothing grows in a vacuum and so-called isolated events are mislabeled. The Russian invasion of Ukraine had ample precedence and could have been foretold by anyone willing to ignore slogans and learn from experience.

In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia to protect, it stated, ethnic Russians living there. After a brief war it separated certain areas from Georgia for inclusion into the Russian federation, leaving a remnant Georgian government sufficiently browbeaten to offer no resistance to Russian hegemony. The Bush administration protested, and imposed some minor sanctions which served to express its displeasure but did not change Russian action. When Barack Obama was elected president, his administration dropped the sanctions in an effort to inaugurate an era of mutual good will and constructive interchange. A year later the Syrian civil war began and in the ghastly diplomatic chess game that accompanied it, the Syrians with the aid of their allies, Russia and Iran, ran rings around us. It soon became apparent to anyone paying attention that the United Sates was in no mood to assert itself or do much of anything even regarding its own national interest. The Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is not exactly a diplomatic genius but he has the gambler’s aptitude of knowing when risks can be taken without undue danger. He has taken advantage of the situations that occurred and presented us with a fait accompli. 

We responded in our usual fashion. President Obama gave a speech expressing his outrage and pointed out that Russia was losing the international community’s respect and friendship because of its actions.  Secretary Kerry gave several speeches deploring Russia’s violations of international law and reminding Russia that we now live in the 21st Century as if somehow that made a difference. Speeches are a vital part of international diplomacy but if all they do is express the speaker’s emotions divorced from any plan of action they are somewhat less than useful.

Russia’s economic strength lies in her abundance of oil and natural gas. She is the major, often the sole, supplier of these essential resources to a number of countries, including Ukraine. With petroleum selling for more than one hundred dollars a barrel she has the wealth and blackmail ability to direct events in any direction she wishes.  To curb her rapaciousness one has to negate her natural  resources monopoly.  One does that simply by introducing alternate supplies.

About two years ago our much abused (at least verbally) private industry invented a new form of drilling, popularly called fracking, which enables us to exploit huge hitherto untouched reserves of oil and natural gas.  North America if properly organized can become equal to or perhaps even more productive than such oil rich nations as Saudi Arabia. There are already pending a large number of requests for the construction of natural gas emporia to facilitate its export, and very recently the administration approved the construction of an exporting station in Oregon where  natural gas can be frozen, solidified, put into containers and exported. This is a natural turn of events where our resources are utilized, jobs created, and our frightful trade inbalance somewhat reduced. Important also is its impact on our foreign policy. Anything we can do to break up the rigid trade patterns both Russia and Iran have developed would further international free trade and be an obstacle to intimidation.

Along this line we are long overdue in beginning construction of the major pipeline from Canada we have been deliberating over for the past three years. Everyone who has examined the project, including our Department of State, feels the pipeline would be safe and useful, but some environmentalists think the pipeline would leak and contaminate our water supply. In a way they are right.  All pipelines leak, but when they do they are quickly repaired. We should move forward energetically keeping as always an eye on the nation’s health. In short we should not only allow private industry to do its thing but help rather than impede it.   

As for the unfortunate Ukrainians we must not delude ourselves in thinking that speech making can rectify matters.  The Russians have Crimea and have no intention of letting it go. Our focus now should be on how to preserve Ukrainian independence and stop future Russian confiscation. One vital step would be to insure a supply of oil and natural gas apart from the Russian monopoly. That is something within our power which does not risk another world war, and which we have already begun to do, if perhaps not as rapidly as some would like. The administration should encourage the export of natural gas and petroleum products by allowing the rapid construction of export emporia for natural gas and allow exporters to follow their natural instincts.

We should use the tools that lie before us rather than rely on rhetorically pleasing abstractions. We not only have challenges to faces but we have opportunities to seize. How we deal with them will determine the nature of any legacy this administration leaves.bluestar


American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.


Author Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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