Friday, September 5, 2014

Creating a Rapid Reaction Force for Eastern Europe: Necessary But Not Sufficient

The events that we have witnessed in the Ukraine over the past several months cry out for the global community of nations to rise to a new level of collective maturity and to agree upon a unified and robust response.  World events keep providing us with opportunities to learn how to come together as a community of nations and agree upon some foundational principles that will guide us in our international relations and which we will refuse to compromise regardless of our perceived short-term interests, especially our economic interests.

To allow any nation to provoke instability in another without consequence, especially if it leads to the death of innocent people as occurred when 298 passengers on board a Malaysian civilian airplane were killed when their plane was shot down over rebel-held territory of Ukraine, or to the illegal annexation of foreign territory as occurred when Russia annexed Crimea in the spring of this year, is to sow the seeds of international anarchy and lawlessness that bodes ill for the welfare of the global community.

The fact that NATO has chosen to respond to these events and others that are tearing at the fabric of Ukrainian society -- such as the continued unrest in Ukraine caused by separatists apparently backed by Russia that are claiming independence for the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk -- while certainly a positive movement, is alas not sufficient.  NATO's decision taken at its recent summit in Wales to create a Rapid Reaction Force consisting of 4.000 troops to safeguard the integrity of the Eastern European nations that border Russia, while a step in the right direction does not go far enough for a number of reasons.

First, we must be wary about unwittingly slipping back into old patterns of international behavior that have not served us well in the past, namely a Cold War mentality in which the "West" is pitted against  Russia.  It is time to leave these old patterns of international relations behind and to work on a collective global solution to problems of this kind.  Second, such half-measures are merely palliative and do not solve the underlying problems.  Third, because the solution is not one based on the international community speaking with one voice, it does not have the desired effect of forcing the bully on the international playground to back down and to think twice about his behavior.

The real question that we need to ask and answer as a global community is what should we do when any nation or terrorist network threatens the peace and stability of the international order?  Such a threat can be brought about by a range of behaviors that include for instance territorial aggression, unlawful nuclear proliferation (such as have occurred in North Korea and Iran), genocide (e.g. in Rwanda and Kosovo), other forms of gross human rights abuses against a population (e.g. Syria) or terrorist activities. The answer must surely incorporate the following elements:  it must be based on universal agreement of all nations; all nations must take ownership of the solution by contributing both financially and in the form of troops and equipment; it cannot take into account perceived short-term national interests such as the need for natural gas, or the desire to maintain a nation's status as a seller of international arms, both of which factors are apparently in play in the Ukrainian situation.

The decision by NATO to create a Rapid Reaction Force for Eastern Europe is to be lauded for the fact that it demonstrates the will of the member states of NATO to look past the dictates of expediency.  It further demonstrates that nations can be persuaded to do the right thing and look beyond their national self-interest to uphold higher international standards and that the nations are gradually demonstrating that there is a limit to the kinds of behavior they are willing to tolerate.  However, it is time for the international community to take the next step and come to collective agreement upon the establishment of a Rapid Reaction Force that is international in nature rather than purely regional, one that is there to serve the needs of the international community as a whole and to preserve the peace regardless of where it is threatened or breached.  Such a force would likely have regional components such as the one currently proposed by NATO for Eastern Europe but all of these regional components should be coordinated by and serve under the auspices of an international structure overseen by a central international institution (perhaps a much-improved and reformed Security Council) tasked with preserving the peace.

Although there is much work to be done to identify and agree upon the principles and policies that can serve the collective security needs of today as well as to carefully build a new institutional framework capable of embodying these collectively agreed-upon principles, there is no time to begin like the present!