The world has come a long way since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. The quest for military advantage is now overshadowed by the critical competition for political and economic superiority.
The fear of nuclear war, so much an accepted aspect of the Cold War, has been supplanted by a seemingly endless struggle between Russia and western nations for international influence.
And now Europeans are beginning to wonder if the United States is still committed to its long-standing participation in their security arrangements.
Meanwhile, the continuing anti-government protests in Ukraine, which began in November over whether the former Soviet satellite should establish trading links with Europe or continue to accept Moscow’s economic domination, triggered an exchange of verbal hostilities between Moscow and both European and American governments this past weekend.
“The aspirations of citizens are once again being trampled beneath corrupt, oligarchic interests — interests that use money to stifle political opposition and dissent, to buy politicians and media outlets, and to weaken judicial independence and the rights of non-governmental organizations,” Secretary of State John Kerry declared.
“What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?” retorted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. “Why don’t we hear condemnations of those who seize and hold government buildings, burn, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?”
Moscow’s position is that Ukraine is a natural economic and political ally of Russia because of its similar culture and its geographic setting. But the protesters in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities don’t see it that way. They see Europe as the better model for their nation’s future. Most Americans, with their own tradition of democracy and their deep distrust of Moscow, agree.
As important as Ukraine’s problems may be, they were by no means the only topic on the agenda at the international security summit in Munich this past weekend.
Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel both attended the summit and sought to reassure America’s skeptical European allies that the Obama administration’s views on a range of issues, including the situation in Ukraine and the shifting American position on deploying troops overseas, are justified.
Hagel said that after 12 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan in which the Pentagon took a primary role in foreign policy, the Obama administration had decided that it is time to place more emphasis on traditional diplomacy.
“Over the last year, John and I have both worked to restore balance to the relationship between American defense and diplomacy,” Hagel observed. “The transatlantic partnership has been successful because of the judicious use of both diplomacy and defense.”
Kerry called for what he described as a “trans-Atlantic renaissance” characterized by greater efforts to “improve all manner of cooperation between the United States and its European allies in NATO.”
European leaders fret that the United States is losing interest in international intervention. They know that American military forces in Europe are down 70 percent and that the almost 80 percent of its installations have been closed since the end of the Cold War.
“In the face of budget constraints here on the Continent, as well as in the U.S., we must all invest more strategically to protect military capability and readiness,” Hagel explained. “The question is not just how much we spend, but how we spend — together. It’s not just burdens we share, but opportunities, as well.”
That view would seem to correspond with the priorities of the American people who may often wonder why so many of their sons and daughters are deployed to such an essentially peaceful continent.
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