Revisiting Problems with US Foreign Policy

In August of last year, I wrote about the failure of US foreign policy in Afghanistan. In general, I wrote about the failure of US foreign policy. I think it time to revisit that article and expand. Lets start with the beginning of what I wrote;

“Now that lives have been lost and we have withdrawn, this ill-conceived operation once again highlights the lack of US Foreign policy capabilities or our understanding of what is needed to protect American interests. Since the end of the Korean War the US has slowly lost the will to build influence and continue to lead the world. The Cold War was the last hoorah for what was left of US influence mostly based on the nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union. Much of the problem stems from the United States inability to adjust to a different world.…In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia helped establish the countries we know today that make up Europe. There were tweaks along the way, but it established the customs of international relations as we know them. It was established within the bounds of European customs and cultures and of course held little sway as countries pushed out of Europe to colonize the world. At the end of the First World War the victorious nations sliced and diced the world up to their economic and political advantage. Ignoring the wants and desires of the indigenous population they put in motion decades of violence.  Many countries put together by colonial powers were countries in name only. Following the Second World War and then the Cold War many of these countries broke apart or fell under ruthless regimes that held them together at gun point.” Following the breakup of the Soviet Union the countries that were subjected to Soviet domination or were directly under Moscow as “Soviet Republics” began to return to their traditional status. This of course led to violence and a continuing restabling of borders.

What is happening today in Ukraine is a continuation of foreign policy failure that have been happening for decades. Our major adversary after the 2d World War was the Soviet Union. During that time a policy/belief was something called Mutual Assured Destruction or “MAD.” In the 1960s a book was published titled “Arms and Influence” by Thomas Schelling. Schelling was an American economist and professor of foreign policy. He won a Nobel Memorial Prize for “having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis.”

The first chapter in this book is titled “The Diplomacy of Violence.” This is not a review of the book but get it and read it if you want to understand. The first lines of the book are “The usual distinction between diplomacy and force is not merely in the instruments, words or bullets, but in the relation between adversaries—in the interplay of motives and the role of communication, understandings, compromise, and restraint. Diplomacy is bargaining; it seeks outcomes that, though not ideal for either party, are better for both than some of the alternatives.” sometimes this entails threats as well as offers. This is the part the US has forgotten, threats. By this I do not mean economic sanctions, though they can be part of the package, I mean the threat of physical violence. The use of this type of threat is known as coercion.  Schelling continues “To be coercive, violence has to be anticipated. And it has to be avoidable by accommodation. The power to hurt is bargaining power. To exploit it is diplomacy—vicious diplomacy, but diplomacy.”

This last part is what Russia was using when it parked 150000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Once coercion does not work then the next act is to initiate violence. There is a difference in making someone give you what you want and forcing them to give it to you. On the one hand it must be believed you will initiate violence for coercion to succeed, on the other it must be believed you can take by force what you want.

The mistake Russia has made so far is the belief they could coerce Ukraine and if that failed they could take what they wanted. The mistake the West made is not believing Russia would attack or only move to take the Donbas region. To compound that mistake the west took the military out of the equation. It is not as if we have not faced expansionist moves and threats of nuclear attack before. Khrushchev did threaten nukes over Berlin but it was likely at the time he did not have any. And in 1962 we again faced the threat in Cuba. The response at the time came from President Kennedy “it shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” During the Cuban crisis we also used unofficial back channels to communicate. This type of unofficial communications is now looked down upon by the public as not being transparent.

We have lost our way in the world and need to return to some of what kept us strong and helped us lead. I am sorry if this comes as a shock but to remove the threat of military action from diplomatic activity is to render the entire endeavor useless. I applaud President Biden for his efforts to cut off Russia economically, but these efforts became ineffective when he announced, and continues to announce, that no US forces will not be deployed against Russia since that will mean World War Three. Yesterday China announced severe consequences for any nation helping Taiwan militarily. I do not want to see US troops killed in Ukraine nor the start of WWIII. Perhaps the west can relearn the lesions on the past and present a credible threat to Russia. I fear this may be to late but could be effective if all of Europe joined in, NATO and non-aligned countries as well.

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