When public protests first began in Ukraine at the end of 2013, the failed promise of the Orange Revolution was still fresh in the minds of many Ukrainians. However, unlike in the aftermath of 2004/2005, the political and military crises ignited by the Euromaidan brought profound changes not only for Ukraine, but also for neighboring states and Europe more generally. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, along with the outbreak of fighting in the Donets Basin, has resulted in a profound shift in how domestic and regional security is perceived. More broadly, these events have also called into question the durability of the post-Cold War world order, which had been based upon peaceful coexistence between states, the integrity of sovereign borders, and an acceptance of the legitimacy of international law. While the effects of the Euromaidan have already been analyzed in terms of Ukrainian politics and relations between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU, what has not yet taken place is a sustained analysis of how its legacies have reverberated throughout the post-communist region and wider Europe (and how these altered international perceptions have, in turn, affected the subsequent course of Ukraine’s domestic politics). Writing from a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, this volume’s contributors seek to address these lacunae. Among other topics, they focus on Russia’s dissatisfaction with the post-Cold War international order, examine issues of ontological insecurity in an increasingly networked world, assess the limits of Western leverage, evaluate Ukrainian public opinion concerning NATO and the EU, consider the broader security implications of the Euromaidan for Eastern Europe, explore the role of migration and demographic factors for Ukrainian security, and assess how contentious pasts are being utilized as tools of statecraft by both Ukrainian actors and outside forces.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Ukraine in Fragile Security Contexts
The Juiciest Fruit Left on the Vine: Ukraine as a Bargaining Failure
Prime Minister Medvedev Raises the Issue
Cold War vs. “Cold War”
The Rubber Hits the Road in Ukraine
Sustaining the Challenge
The Ukraine Crisis, NATO, and Eastern Europe’s Grey Zone of Security
NATO’s Interests in Eastern Europe
The Evolution of NATO’s Policy Towards Ukraine and Eastern Europe: From the 1990s to the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest
A Breakthrough? The 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw
Russia’s Military Presence in the “Security Grey Zone” of Eastern Europe
The Ukraine Crisis and Ontological (In)Security: Implications from a Finnish Perspective
Changes in the Security Environment
The Ukraine Crisis as a Watershed
Finnish Reactions to the Ukraine Crisis
Security from What or for Whom?
Assessing Domestic Security Challenges in Post-Maidan Ukraine: Two Critical Dimensions
Nation-Building and Stateness: Defining and Implementing Concepts
Socio-Cultural Identity and Its Determinants
Post-Maidan: Changes in Ukrainian Society
State and National Identity: Moving Forward
Degree and Quality of Governance: Evaluating the Data
Post-Maidan Governance: What is to be Done?
Western Leverage, Russia’s Resistance and the Breakdown of the Yanukovych Regime
Western versus Russian Leverage
Measuring Organizational Power
Turning to the Other Side: Russia's Influence on Ukraine
Agency-Based Factors Affecting the Fall of Yanukovych
On Ukraine’s Geopolitical Identity: Public Opinion Dynamics on NATO Accession in the Aftermath of the War with Russia
Setting the Context: Ukraine, NATO and the EU
The Interplay of National Identity, Domestic Politics and International Relations
Attitudes towards NATO Membership and Region, Language and Identity
Reversing the Perspective: Support for Ukraine’s Membership in the EU and NATO Among Current Member States
Demography and Migration as Determinants of Ukrainian Policy in the Context of State Security
1. Demographic and Socio-Economic Determinants of Ukrainian Population Policy
2. Ukraine in the Context of Migration Processes
3. Political Factors Governing Ukrainian Population Policy: The Conflict with the Russian Federation
Notes on Contributors
Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society
For nearly three decades now, we have been witnessing the gradual demise of the bi-polar international order first established in a world dominated by the Cold War. This outcome was inevitable; after the collapse of the Soviet Union the global environment, along with its attendant geopolitical realities, changed markedly. But the slow-motion disintegration of this security system has ushered in the advent of a still-inchoate replacement, the parameters and meaning of which continue to be vigorously contested. Consequently, it is proving difficult to characterize the new system that is emerging, one wherein ascendant powers that do not share the values of the West are attempting to construct a multi-polar and ideologically diverse world. Illustrative of this are Russia’s efforts to sway Ukraine back into its orbit. Proceeding through political and military means as well as various “hybrid” tactics, they exemplify what Poland’s former Foreign Minister, Adam Rotfield, has labelled a “new game without rules.”1
Indeed, the conflict in—and over—Ukraine dramatically illustrates the extent to which the post-Cold War international order, along with regional- and state-level dynamics in the post-communist space, have evolved since the 1990s. The essential nature of this change, as well as its practical implications, requires careful study and analysis. To this end the Ukrainian crisis provides a useful lens into wider processes, as it is not merely a domestic issue but also an international crisis, bracketed by the rivalry between two external powers—the so-called “Western world,” as represented by the US and EU (though these entities do not agree with one another in many important respects) and a Russian Federation eager to restore and defend a privileged sphere of influence in what Russian officials refer to as its “near abroad.” As a result, while the internal impact of events such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 and the outbreak of separatist violence in the Donbas region soon thereafter has been profound for Ukraine, the external ramifications have been no less significant. Broadly speaking, the unwillingness of Russia, the US and the UK to uphold the assurances of Ukraine’s territorial integrity that were agreed to in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (in exchange for Kyiv relinquishing its nuclear arsenal and signing on to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) has devalued international security cooperation and thwarted efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Concomitantly, the imposition of sanctions resulting from Moscow’s actions in Ukraine has also had a negative impact on Russia’s economy, postponing its integration with Europe and hindering the implementation of the Wider Europe concept, which seeks the development of a free trade and security zone spanning from Lisbon to Vladivostok.2
As exemplified by its involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, the Russian Federation’s policies over the course of the past few years suggest that Moscow is attempting to develop a security paradigm based on being able to project military power while simultaneously limiting its dependence on the international system as it is presently configured, which the Kremlin perceives as being hypocritical (e.g., insisting others adopt liberal democratic values while countries like the US pursue a realpolitik foreign policy, violating state sovereignty with pre-emptive military interventions, and so forth) and fundamentally antagonistic towards its interests. This has forced international and supranational organizations such as NATO and the EU to alter how they understand and approach international security, both in regard to Ukraine and the world more generally. The geopolitical tensions that have arisen from this development have had far-reaching consequences. Attesting to this is the ongoing war in Syria, which, in pitting Russian interests against those of Western states, has highlighted the global relevance of instability in Europe’s immediate neighborhood. Moreover, the consequences of such distant conflicts have proven capable of turning back on Europe, with issues like the EU’s migrant fiasco and the continuing threat of Islamist terrorism on European soil only emphasizing this inherent interconnectedness.
What has happened in Ukraine also calls into question the EU’s eastern policy as it currently stands, as well as Russia’s emerging approach towards the post-Soviet space. Effectively, the country has become an arena of contention for two rival integration projects: that of Europe, represented by the EU and normatively envisaged as liberal-democratic politically and market-driven economically, and that of Eurasia, conceived of as an alternative, Russia-led union. But this geopolitical rivalry, today frequently cast in civilizational terms, is not confined to Ukraine; the whole of Eastern Europe is in some fashion or another embroiled in it. On the one hand, this is evident in EU projects such as the European Neighborhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, although both initiatives have so far failed to meaningfully bolster relations between the Union and its Eastern partners. On the other hand, it is also apparent in the steps the Russian Federation has taken to undermine the independence of the erstwhile Soviet states, regarding their sovereignty as permeable and subject to Moscow’s influence. As a result of these actions, systemic insecurity and regional instability have increased, developments reflected in the “frozen conflicts” that currently exist in such places as Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
Unsurprisingly, in post-Maidan Ukraine Russia’s policy has followed a similar script, with the Kremlin backing separatist militias in the east of the country (officially, Russia is not involved in the Ukrainian conflict, though it openly supports the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk). However, while Russia managed to successfully annex Crimea, sporadic fighting continues in the Donbas and Ukrainian public opinion has notably soured on its larger and increasingly assertive neighbor, with a December 2017 survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology not only finding that the steep decline in the number of Ukrainians who exhibit a positive attitude towards Russia initially evinced in early 2014 continues to hold, but also that a plurality now support their country joining both the EU (49% for, 28% against) and NATO (41% for, 32% against).3 This represents the geopolitical byproduct of a Ukrainian socio-political identity that appears to be coalescing around a civic conception of nationhood.4 Meanwhile, bilateral and multi-lateral relations between the Western states and Russia, catalyzed by events in Ukraine, have reached a post-Soviet nadir.
Obviously, there is much to scrutinize in this context. However, the effects of the Maidan protests have previously been analyzed mainly in terms of Ukraine’s domestic politics or relative to various dyadic relationships (e.g., Ukraine/EU, Ukraine/Russia, or even Russia/EU, with Ukraine serving as a proxy). But although these are undoubtedly important categories of inquiry (and ones that our contributing authors evaluate as well), what has not taken place thus far is any sort of sustained and meaningful analysis of how the Maidan has reverberated politically through the post-communist region, and what this means for observers in Europe and throughout the world. Consequently, the goals of this book are to provide insight into the impact the crisis is having on Ukraine’s internal security and the global resonances that proceed from it, as well as to shed light on how it affects proximate countries. In this respect, our project possesses an important temporal advantage, having come together at a time when we are far enough removed from the events of late 2013 and early 2014 to have achieved some measure of objectivity in analyzing them, but yet close enough that their meaning and salience has not been eroded from the minds of participants and observers. In other words, we are still at the stage of assessing them as political scientists and international relations specialists rather than as historians.
Contributors to this volume purposely span an array of empirical and methodological approaches. Yuval Weber analyzes the ambiguous end of the Cold War and the resultant mismatch between Russia's ambitions and material capabilities, using the lens of the Ukrainian crisis to examine larger cross-sectional and longitudinal processes. Tomasz Stępniewski considers how events in Ukraine have altered the role of NATO in Eastern Europe and its relationship to what he terms the region's “grey zone” of security. Jussi Laine looks at the ontological security dilemma the Ukrainian crisis has produced in Finland and evaluates how Finnish leaders and publics have responded to it. George Soroka focuses on two critical dimensions of Ukraine's internal security, namely issues of nation-building and stateness and the degree and quality of governance, privileging their evaluation in terms of domestic dynamics but also examining how these factors relate to transnational and cross-border processes. Yuriy Matsiyevsky examines the role of external leverage over Ukraine not just from the side of the Western powers, but also from that of the Russian Federation, assessing the impact of Russian backing for the Yanukovych regime and the role played by Moscow in its subsequent breakdown. Joanna Fomina discusses the dynamics of public opinion formation in Ukraine relative to NATO accession, as well as what citizens in NATO member states think of Ukraine's potential inclusion in the defense alliance. Finally, Andrzej Szabaciuk writes about demographic factors and migration relative to domestic security and the evolving challenges Ukraine faces in this sphere.
This book is the result of an active collaboration between researchers from Finland, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the United States. The editors would like to extend their special thanks to the contributors for the considerable time and effort they put into writing and revising these chapters. We also wish to express our gratitude to the editors and staff at ibidem-Verlag for their support (and forbearance, given how long this project took to complete!). Clearly, much more research is needed into Ukraine’s security dynamics and their local, regional and global implications, particularly as the situation on the ground remains unresolved and fluid. As such, this book represents a starting point regarding what may be said about this topic. We therefore hope that readers will appreciate the authors’ perspectives and come away feeling that the volume makes a positive contribution to the unfolding discussion concerning the future of Ukraine and the post-communist region, as well as the international order more generally.
Tomasz Stępniewski & George Soroka
Lublin (Poland) and Cambridge (USA), August 2018
1 Adam Rotfeld (2014). “Porządek międzynarodowy. Parametry zmiany,” Sprawy Międzynarodowe4, 47: 46.
2 Andreas Umland (2015). “The Global Impact of the “Ukraine Crisis”: Russia’s Decline and Euro-Asiatic Security in the Early 21st Century,” Krytyka (June), available: http://krytyka.com/en/articles/global-impact-ukraine-crisis-russias-decline-and-euro-asiatic-security-early-21st-century#sthash.ufEIB3S9.dpuf.
3 “Ukraїns’ke suspil’stvo za 25 rokiv: dinamika deiakikh sotsial’nikh pokaznikiv,” available: http://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=732&page=1. Crimea and separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine were not surveyed.
4 See, for example, Grigore Pop-Elches and Graeme B. Robertson (2018). “Identity and Political Preferences in Ukraine—Before and After the Euromaidan,” Post-Soviet Affairs 34, 2–3: 107–118, and Volodymyr Kulyk (2018). “Shedding Russianness, Recasting Ukrainianness: The Post-Euromaidan Dynamics of Ethnonational Identifications in Ukraine,” Post-Soviet Affairs 34, 2-3: 119–138.
Russia’s dissatisfaction with the current international order and the origins of its current policy towards Ukraine both stem from the ill-fated post-Cold War settlement. Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush negotiated a peaceful denouement to the Cold War in 1989 at the Malta Summit. The USSR’s collapse only two years later forced policymakers to concentrate on urgent domestic concerns, removing Russia from its traditional place at the heart of international politics. This mismatch between Russia’s prestige as a great power and the meager benefits it enjoyed as a post-Soviet state generated dissatisfaction with the Euro-Atlantic alliance. I begin by evaluating the strategies Russian leaders used to raise their political standing, including accommodating the U.S.-led order, balancing with other European powers in the run-up to the Iraq War, and finally challenging that order through Eurasian integration. I argue that the final strategy sought to reduce the value of the Euro-Atlantic alliance by promoting multipolarity (BRICS), creating a Russia-led “Eurasia” bloc through tighter regional binding to compete with other blocs, and using energy windfalls to increase consumption and fund military modernization. I show that Ukraine was a linchpin of the strategy because of its industrial importance to the Russian economy and its potential as a bridge to Europe. The events of Euromaidan not only removed a friendly Ukrainian leader, but the “loss” of Ukraine meant that Russia’s Eurasian integration strategy as a mechanism to revise the international order had reached its zenith. Facing a negative shift in bargaining power, Vladimir Putin selected the rational strategy: challenge Ukraine before European integration rendered any such challenge non-credible. I conclude by updating the Correlates of War Composite Index of National Capability (CINC) to evaluate in hard power terms whether Russia is able to sustain its challenge to the international order.
Russia’s dissatisfaction with the current international order and the origins of its current policy towards Ukraine both stem from the ambiguous and overlapping conclusions to the Cold War and the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush negotiated a peaceful denouement to the Cold War in 1989 at the Malta Summit. The USSR’s collapse only two years later forced Russian policymakers to concentrate on urgent domestic concerns, removing Russia from its traditional place at the heart of international politics. This mismatch between Russia’s prestige as the inheritor of Soviet power and the meager benefits it enjoyed as a post-Soviet state generated dissatisfaction with the Euro-Atlantic alliance.
I begin by outlining the nature of systemic struggle, or “Cold War” as it was called in the period between 1947 and 1989, and comparing that to the current standoff between Russia and its adversaries. I demonstrate through analysis of National Material Capabilities data collected by the Correlates of War project that the level of potential conflict between Russia and its adversaries in the present standoff does not match what was possible in the first Cold War. In evaluating the hard power capabilities by which the Soviet Union and the United States maintained their challenges to each other, I show that the Soviet challenge to the U.S.-led bloc faltered by the early 1960s. In turn, I show that Russia’s current attempted revisionism of the international order is similarly unsustainable on a global basis, but feasible on a regional basis should Ukraine join its Eurasian hierarchical order.
Accordingly, I evaluate Russia’s Eurasian integration strategy—for which Ukraine was the linchpin—as a culmination of various strategies Russian leaders have used to raise their post-1991 political standing. Beginning with accommodating the U.S.-led order, Russian leaders also attempted to balance with other European powers in the run-up to the Iraq War and, finally, to challenge that order through Eurasian integration. I argue that the final strategy sought to reduce the value of the Euro-Atlantic alliance by promoting multi-polarity (BRICS),1 creating a Russia-led “Eurasia” bloc through tighter regional binding to compete with other blocs, and using energy windfalls to increase consumption and fund military modernization.
Finally, I show that Ukraine’s material importance to the Russian economy and its potential as a bridge to Europe made it a linchpin of this strategy whether its leaders liked it or not. The events of Euromaidan not only removed a friendly Ukrainian leader, but the “loss” of Ukraine meant that Russia’s Eurasian integration strategy to revise the international order had reached its zenith in the zero-sum view of international politics that is practiced by Russia. Facing a negative shift in bargaining power, Vladimir Putin selected the rational strategy: challenge Ukraine before European integration rendered any such challenge non-credible.
At the annual Munich Security Conference, the world’s political and military leaders gather to discuss the most pressing global security issues. Speaking at the February 2016 iteration, Dmitri Medvedev, Prime Minister of Russia and one-time President, directly acknowledged the elephant in the room: “Speaking bluntly, we are rapidly rolling into a period of a new cold war. Russia has been presented as well-nigh the biggest threat to NATO, or to Europe, America and other countries. They show frightening films about Russians starting a nuclear war. I am sometimes confused: is this 2016 or 1962?” (Medvedev 2016).
While Mr. Medvedev was careful to note that the world is moving towards cold war but is not yet there, merely referencing the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and raising the specter of nuclear war raised the stakes of the ongoing struggle between Russia and its adversaries. What had started as disagreements over specific issues, such as conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, threatened to grow into a confrontation of two systems akin to the Cold War, that state of unremitting international hostility that lasted from roughly 1947 to 1989.
The dissatisfaction noted by the Russian prime minister, with the current international order generally and the Euro-Atlantic bloc’s current policy towards Ukraine specifically, both stem from the Cold War’s ill-fated settlement (Ikenberry 2001, Deudney and Ikenberry 2009). Mikhail S. Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush negotiated a peaceful denouement to the Cold War in December 1989 at the Malta Summit. Their prevailing sense of relief was on clear display with the General Secretary asserting, “I assured the President of the United States that I will never start a hot war against the USA. The world is leaving one epoch and entering another. We are at the beginning of a long road to a lasting, peaceful era. The threat of force, mistrust, psychological and ideological struggle should all be things of the past.” President Bush replied, “We can realize a lasting peace and transform the East-West relationship to one of enduring co-operation. That is the future that Chairman Gorbachev and I began right here in Malta” (BBC 1989).
The resolution that was reached by the Soviet and American leaders reflected recognition of the events happening across Central Europe. Democratic activists and moderate insiders had brought down socialist governments over the preceding weeks (Garton Ash 1999), and Gorbachev deliberately declined to intervene on behalf of his ostensible allies to secure Western—especially American and German—support for his own embattled reform project at home (Reuters 1989).2 From 1947 to 1989, systemic confrontation had produced a geopolitical contest across the globe (Westad 2005) and the threat of nuclear Armageddon (Hoffman 2009) that was easily one of the most dangerous periods in human history. Gorbachev traded the threat of annihilation for external financial and diplomatic support of internal goals (Sarotte 2014).
The Europe envisioned by Bush and especially Gorbachev following this momentous policy shift was one in which some new integrative framework that could balance American, European, and Soviet interests would replace systemic confrontation. Prior to any notion of NATO expansion or even the existence of an independent Russia, no contemporary observer doubted that the Soviet Union would retain a leading role in European security given its overwhelming size, traditional security interests, and military capabilities (Kramer 2009, Kornushov 2014, Goldgeier 2016, Shifrinson 2016).
The international order that Gorbachev agreed to at that time was still to be determined, but the contours were clear enough: a “common European home” (Roland 1990, Risse-Kappen 1994) and some version of great power condominium with the West (Garthoff 1994) that would permit a fully transformed and vibrant domestic economy and society (Brown 1997). Whereas Soviet leaders could live with an international order that began at the Malta Summit in 1989, Russian leaders had to live with the one that actually existed from 1991 onwards—a smaller, poorer, and more bewildered state. The Soviet Union’s collapse forced Russian policymakers to concentrate on urgent domestic concerns, such as maintaining the food supply to the cities from the countryside and staving off urban starvation and civil war (Gaidar 2010), restoring markets and the currency itself (Leitzel 1995, Seabright 1999, Woodruff 2000), holding together a fracturing state with multiple claims on sovereignty (Slocum 1999), conducting a vicious and seemingly endless war in the North Caucasus (Politkovskaya 2009), and defending state capacity against increasing levels of sub-state violence and corruption (Varese 2001).
Under those conditions, Russia withdrew from active and consistent participation in international politics (Lynch 2002). From Gorbachev’s purposeful retrenchment, such as removing a half-million troops from Eastern Europe and cutting off subsidies to marginal socialist clients (Gaidar 2010) to the foreign policy confusion of trying to determine national identity (Tishkov 1995, Shevel 2011) and interests in an uncertain international environment, this period of Russian retrenchment provided an explicit mismatch between Russia’s prestige as a great power and the meager benefits it enjoyed as a post-Soviet state that has proved far more difficult to revise.3 As Richard Sakwa (2017) put it:
Two incompatible narratives came into conflict after the Eastern Bloc began to crumble in 1989. For the West, nothing needed to change. The Atlantic community had effectively won the Cold War, demonstrating the superiority of the Western order, and thus all that was required was for Russia to join the expanded Western community. The door was indeed opened, but the terms were not right… The West invited Russia to join an expanded Atlantic community, but Russia sought to join a transformed West and a reconfigured Europe [… where] Moscow could work with the Western powers to create a new political community as equal founding members. The historical West, with NATO and the European Union at its core, would, in the Russian idea, become a greater West, with Russia a founding member of a new political community. This was accompanied by various Gaullist ideas to establish some sort of pan-continental greater Europe, stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok. But the Atlantic powers, fearing that Russia was trying to drive a wedge between its two wings in Europe and America, rejected these ideas.
These “incompatible narratives” have driven Russia’s uneasy relationship with its Western neighbors, its inconsistent ability to shape its external environment, and a grand strategy that has cycled all the way from accommodation of the West to its current attempt to create an alternative hierarchical order to challenge the West on its own terms. This chapter is organized around the consequences of the incompatible narratives represented by the two worlds of 1989 and 1991: an undisputed Cold War has been replaced by a conflict that resembles key aspects of the earlier struggle but does not match the stakes or intensity of the first on a global level, except at the regional level.
Russia’s pursuit of external security, consistent with the world envisioned by Gorbachev at Malta in 1989, explains not only Russia’s existential opposition to Ukraine’s attempts to get on the path towards European Union accession but also the decision to annex Crimea and support a civil war in the eastern part of Ukraine. To make the world look more like 1989 than 1991, Russia needs Ukraine as the linchpin of its Eurasian hierarchical order to compete geopolitically with the states that its leaders consider to be their peer competitors, such as Germany, China, and the United States—undisputed great powers with regional spheres of influence. Its security, economic viability, and pathway to exist alongside Europe, China, and the United States as a co-equal great power collectively depend on Ukraine in ways unappreciated by Western observers and policymakers both now and at the time of the Euromaidan’s culmination in early 2014. Then-President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych’s abandonment of power, Kyiv, and finally Ukraine itself threatened Russia’s grand strategy of securing Ukraine as the core element of its external Eurasian hierarchy. Euromaidan defined a negative shift in Russian bargaining power vis-à-vis its peer competitors and threatened Russia’s ability to revise the international order.
I demonstrate the centrality of Ukraine to Russia’s foreign policy aims via National Material Capabilities data collected by the Correlates of War project. These data, which are collated into a Composite Index of National Capabilities demonstrate several key insights in international relations and Russia’s place within it. First, the Cold War as a systemic struggle was won and lost by the alliance networks that were built up by the United States and the Soviet Union. Second, restriction of Russia’s external aims on the European continent to Eastern and Central Europe demonstrate the outsized importance of Ukraine to regional security. Finally, the loss of Ukraine as a core member of Russia’s mooted Eurasian hierarchical network has pushed Russia into a high-risk, high-reward expansionist period to forestall another devastating retrenchment. The chapter concludes by evaluating Russia’s ongoing challenge to the international order and the role played by U.S. President Donald Trump, a leader providing an unprecedentedly benign external environment for Russia to pursue its external interests.
A central policy debate within international politics is whether Russia merits classification as a great power (Corbetta et al. 2009). Quantitative political scientists raise no objection (Danilovic 2002), and most observers would point to veto power at the United Nations Security Council, the number of men under arms, and a fearsome nuclear arsenal as confirmation of that status (SIPRI 2016). To Russian policymakers, however, the question revolves around a clear privilege accorded to undisputed great powers that it does not possess: the ability to set the agenda and rules of international political and economic interaction or to carve out exceptions for itself from the rules set by others. Russia’s dissatisfaction with the post-1991 international order is that it seeks to conduct an independent foreign policy with agenda and rule-setting powers, but its prestige as a traditional great power and leading nuclear state has not been matched by actual abilities to influence international politics for a full generation (Krickovic and Weber 2017). As Gilpin (1983) and Blainey (1988) noted, where prestige does not match benefits in international politics, a state can be motivated to revise the international order. This section evaluates the key elements of “cold war”—all-encompassing systemic struggle, alliance warfare—to understand the current iteration, a “cold war” where Russia’s current revisionist challenge to be considered a great power is aimed at the international order but prosecuted chiefly through regional policies (Korolev 2016). This mismatch between global ambitions and regional realities is a high-risk, high-reward proposition because it bets that Russian dissatisfaction over the Cold War settlement can be ameliorated through satisfactory resolutions of the crises in Ukraine and Syria beyond what pure hard-power measurements would merit.The controversy over Russia’s current status and classification contrasts with the Cold War of 1947–1989, where no international controversy either did not have Russia as a protagonist or whose solution did not rely upon Russia in some way. That period was a systemic struggle over the institutions of international political and economic interaction, that is, the rules of the game (North 1990). Robert Legvold (2016) argues that as an historical event, the 1947–1989 Cold War can be defined most broadly as several fundamental disagreements that could not be resolved but which individually did not merit going to full (nuclear) conflict. Legvold specifically holds that five features defined the Cold War beyond mere great power rivalry:
Each side assumed that the confrontation was the fault of the other side, and specifically the essence of the other side caused the conflict;
Not simply conflict of interests but conflict of purpose;
The contest would not end until the other side collapsed or changed fundamentally;
Deals regarding specific issues would be at most transactional, not cumulative; and
Conflicts that occurred did not remain compartmentalized but would metastasize such that all issues were linked or linkable.
The all-encompassing ideological, developmental, and security rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union thus becomes simpler to understand. The Soviet Union and the United States advocated compelling yet vastly different ideological and developmental visions. The Soviets offered a world in which the cruelty of free market capitalism would be ameliorated by common ownership of the means of production. The absence of the profit motive would alleviate the deprivation experienced by workers in the industrialized countries and native populations in colonized areas. The Americans countered with a world defined by the freedoms individuals possessed to choose their political and religious beliefs, occupations, and persons and organizations with whom they wished to interact. The stark differences in the two worlds meant that not only would each bloc seek to promote its own ideological and developmental vision, but they would each demonize the other: the Soviets accused the Americans of preventing liberation and progression towards higher levels of social organization and Americans routinely railed against submission to the will of a tiny, terroristic elite.
Beyond the qualitative differences between the two systems, the quantitative differences between the two states revealed the sustainability of each side’s challenge to the other. The underlying motivation behind the Containment Doctrine was the belief that the Soviet Union was a powerful adversary and one that could quickly put itself on war footing should conflict between the two superpowers erupt (Gaddis 2005). U.S. policymakers during the early Cold War years believed that the Soviet Union possessed significant short-term advantages relative to the United States, whether it was a conventional conflict or the exchange of nuclear missiles (Kydd 2000). The containment strategy aimed to engage in extended deterrence, partially through military build-up and partially through the construction of an alliance network that would surround and contain the Soviet Union and its military assets and allies. By seeking to match and not explicitly overcome the Soviets, American policymakers believed that their liberal-capitalist system would prevail in a long-term conflict by being more productive (Thompson 2009).
The theory behind containment proved correct, and the strategy, expensive though it was, demonstrated its value by the 1970s and provides insight into the Russian challenge to the status quo today. The “National Material Capabilities” (NMC) dataset collected by the Correlates of War (COW) project (Singer et al. 1972, Singer 1987, Greig and Enterline 2017),4 provides data encompassing the key components of latent military capabilities central to raising and maintaining the ability to deter and compel adversaries. For all state members of the international system, the NMC tallies annual values for total population, urban population, iron and steel production, energy consumption, military personnel, and military expenditure.5 Each state’s share of each measure is then aggregated into an annual Composite Index of National Capabilities (CINC).
To provide an example, the following table 1 displays the United States from 1816, the first full year of NMC data. It shows that in 1816, the United States produced 80,000 tons of iron and steel, spent approximately 3.8 million nominal British pounds on defense, had 17,000 men under arms, consumed 254,000 coal-ton equivalents of energy, and had a total population of just under 8.7 million, and an urban population of just over one hundred thousand. As a share of international hard power capabilities per category, the aggregated composite index of national capabilities for the United States was 0.03970, that is, just under 4% of international material capabilities to exploit for purposes of compulsion or deterrence.
Table 1. National Material Capabilities, United States, 1816
As a measure of how the United States compared to the leading states of that era, the subsequent table shows that the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Prussia, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire combined for a total of 85.75% of international hard power capabilities, reflecting European dominance of the state system. The United Kingdom’s 33.66% share of national material capabilities reflects its victory in the Napoleonic Wars, displayed first in table 2 and then graphically in figure 1.
Table 2. National Material Capabilities, Great Powers, 1816
Figure 1. National Material Capabilities, Great Powers, 1816
Turning to the 20th century, the CINC scores of the Soviet Union, the United States, and their respective blocs tell the story of how the Cold War settled in favor of the United States. Following the conclusion of World War II, the United States commanded just under one-third of international hard power capabilities through its victory, the exhaustion of its allies, and the defeat of its enemies. As the rest of Europe and Japan recovered from the war, and as the Soviet Union kept expanding its own economy, the United States fell in its relative share of material capabilities from the early 1950s onwards. Figure 2 shows the CINC scores for the United States and the Soviet Union from 1947 until 1993.
Figure 2. Composite Index of National Material Capabilities, USA and USSR, 1947–1993
The data show that the decline of the United States from the 1950s through the beginning of the 1980s, falling from a high of 0.32 in 1951 to a low of 0.13 in 1982, was not matched by the Soviet Union, which kept a relatively consistent share of about 0.17-0.18. Even as the Soviet Union overtook the United States on a bilateral basis, a fear of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and their senior staffs, the Soviet Union was unable to extract concessions from the United States on a bilateral basis, although détente followed in this era. The reason, of course, was that each side constructed an alliance network; tables 3a and 3b provide a list of the states and the years of their multilateral and bilateral defense commitments to and from the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia. Figure 3 follows and shows both American and Soviet-led blocs tracking each other until the late 1950s, after which economic troubles in the Soviet Union never allowed the Soviet bloc to come close again.
Table 3a. Treaty Commitments to and from the United States, 1947–2017
Rio Treaty from 1948 to the present (dates of exit in parentheses except where indicated):Argentina, Bahamas (joined 1982), Bolivia (2012), Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba (suspended 1962, withdrew 2012), Dominican Republic, Ecuador (2014), El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico (2004), Nicaragua (2012), Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad (joined 1967), Uruguay, Venezuela (2012), Belize
NATO from 1947 to present (dates of entry in parentheses): Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, Greece (1952), Turkey (1952), Germany (1955/1990), Spain (1982), Czech Republic (1999), Hungary (1999), Poland (1999), Bulgaria (2004), Estonia (2004), Latvia (2004), Lithuania (2004), Romania (2004), Slovakia (2004), Slovenia (2004), Albania (2009), Croatia (2009), Montenegro (2017)
Multilateral defense treaties (dates of entry in parentheses): Australia and New Zealand (1952)
Bilateral defense treaties (dates of entry in parentheses):Philippines (1951), Japan (1951), Spain (1953–1982, replaced by NATO membership), Republic of Korea (1953), Taiwan (1954–1979, some commitments remain), Liberia (1959), Pakistan (1959), Jamaica (1963), Barbados (1967), Grenada (1975), Suriname (1977), Saint Lucia (1979), Dominica (1979), Antigua and Barbuda (1981), Saint Vincent and Grenadine (1981), Belize (1991), Guyana (1991)
Table 3b. Treaty Commitments to and from the Soviet Union/Russia, 1947–2017
1947–1990: East Germany
1947–1991: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania
1947–1995: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
1949–1959: People’s Republic of China
1991–2017: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan
1991–1997: Azerbaijan, Georgia
1991–1998, 2006–2012: Uzbekistan
Figure 3. Composite Index of National Material Capabilities, USA-led and USSR-led Blocs, 1947–1993
In the systemic struggle of the Cold War, time was on the side of the United States and its allies versus their adversaries. While both sides sought to avoid nuclear conflict at all costs, an underlying motivation on the Euro-Atlantic side was a clear quantitative advantage of aggregate material capabilities compared to their Soviet-led adversaries. Even if the Soviets could turn around their economies towards a war footing more quickly than Euro-Atlantic states, the arms race was more sustainable on the Euro-Atlantic side so long as war did not break out. The features identified by Legvold that made the Cold War so tense were thus fundamentally acceptable trade-offs compared to seeking peace with the Soviets on terms favorable to the Soviet Union because the status quo favored the Euro-Atlantic side.
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