The Blog

Who Has Time for World War III?

Although the ominous situation in Ukraine directly affects the EU, it is not clear is how much economic pain the US, UK and the EU are willing and able to endure to send a clear and powerful message to Putin that it is time to retreat.

We as a culture are just too busy with our own very important lives to even think about the possibility of another world war.

We all have simply to much to do to even contemplate the disruption to our lives that the winds of another world war would cause.

Most of the planet wasn't even around when World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945 and finally on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, a few months later, when the Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender rendering Japan and her Emperor Hirohito at the mercy of their conquerer the US of A.

It seems while one is in the middle of living history it is often hard to grasp the significance of individual events.

For example, at the time British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin signed the Munich Agreement ceding the Sudetenland to Germany I am sure he believed that he secured "peace in our time" for Great Britain, Europe and the world.

Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise since the Munich Agreement did not prevent World War II.

In fact, it was a major miscalculation sending the wrong signal to a voracious leader with insatiable designs to conquer the world.

Most scholars now believe had the world acted forcefully when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, that might have been the end of the Chancellor's ambitions.

As the new "Czar of Russia," former KGB Colonel Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin continues to push his own version of Civil War General Sherman's "March to the Sea," the world continues to remain distracted with other important issues.

President Obama is on a long delayed trip abroad in Asia focusing on a US pivot toward the nations of the region designed to strengthen US ties there and keep China in check.

Although no nation or generation wishes for war, sometimes the challenges to peaceful coexistence posed by an individual bad actor leave the community of nations no other choice.

This is why nations in the past have joined together in alliances and organizations to promote peace through collective security.

Since the end of World War II certain enemies have miraculously managed to keep the peace through a system of deterrents and mutual defense treaties.

NATO, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was one of these collective security alliances.

In 1949 there were 12 founding members of NATO - Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.

NATO is a military alliance committed to the principle that an attack against any one or several of its members is an attack against all - this principle is enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Six years after the establishment of NATO the Soviet Union and its affiliated nations in Eastern Europe formed a rival alliance called the Warsaw Pact.

Today the Warsaw Pact is gone just like the USSR.

Almost all of its former membership are now members of NATO or they are working toward that goal.

For President Putin the end of the Soviet Union was a tragic moment in his nation's history.

He believes it is his destiny to redress this wrong.

Its is easy to see that the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact has left Russia in a much less powerful place in the world community.

This loss of power and influence is clearly one of the reasons that Putin wants to re-establish the power and prestige that once belonged to the former Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin.

Until recently it looked like Russia was headed in a new but equally powerful direction with its membership in the G8, the World Trade Organization and its integration into the world financial community.

What is not so clear is why Putin chose this time and place to jeopardize this rather positive integration with the West.

Its easy to understand "Mother Russia's" desire for a close relationship with Ukraine for historical, cultural, economic and geographic reasons.

What is not so clear is why Putin would behave so aggressively by invading and annexing Crimea and occupying portions of eastern Ukraine thus forcing a complete disconnection from the West.

Perhaps Putin's version of "Anschluss" - his repatriation of all Russian speaking people in Ukraine, the Baltics and Europe - might also include sending his troops to Brighton Beach Brooklyn where many Soviet era Russian emigres live peaceful and prosperous life as American citizens.

It is clear that the US and its European Allies had no stomach to go to war over Putin's annexation of Crimea...and Putin knew that!

It is equally clear that this Ukraine aggression cannot go unchecked or unpunished.

President Theodore Roosevelt summed it up nicely - it was important to "Speak softly but carry a big stick."

TR knew the importance of diplomacy but also knew that it could only work when those who wished you ill feared your military might.

President Obama has taken the military option "off the table" and the remaining arrows in his quiver seem to be various versions of sanctions.

While in "Rootin Tootin Putin's" quiver his arrows are poison tipped in the form of massive Ukraine intimidation, media-attracting master strokes, thousands of Russian troops - some already in Ukraine and the rest poised on its boarders.

Least we forget Putin's nuclear silos filled to the brim - casting impending gloom over anyone paying attention.

Although the ominous situation in Ukraine directly affects the EU, it is not clear is how much economic pain the US, UK and the EU are willing and able to endure to send a clear and powerful message to Putin that it is time to retreat.

The White House round two of sanctions against Russia are designed to inflict personal pain on 7 Russian Government Officials and 17 Entities.

Their assets will be frozen and US persons cannot do business with them.

It is expected that the US's partners will do the same.

Although these sanctions will undoubtedly cause problems and pain for these individuals and entities in a world where the dollar is still the number one currency in international trade, they are far from crippling.

Most experts believe that only sanctions affecting wide sectors of the Russian economy like gas and oil, finance and the military are likely to have the desired effect.

The problem here is that the price of implementing this type of wide-reaching sector sanctions may be too much to bear for the still fragile economies of the EU.

In fairness the US is not willing to go it alone on tougher sanctions without the UK and the EU.

This makes sense since without their participation these broader sanctions would be ineffective.

Following its integration with the West, Russia has become a huge economic player.

Russia is the world's 8th largest economy.

Russia supplies the EU with 30% of its gas; the US has approximately $27 billion worth of trade with Russia and approximately $292 billion of Russia's exports are with the EU.

It is also possible that imposing serious sector sanctions could result in pushing the EU back into recession and the US and the UK along with it, which is why it is so difficult to form a coalition of the willing at this time.

Although, the sanctions that are currently in place have already had some effects - damaging the Russian Stock Market and reducing its credit rating -they seem to have had little or no effect on Putin's plans for Ukraine and possibly beyond.

If the US, UK and EU cannot agree on imposing the toughest sanctions, it is not clear where we go from here if Putin fails to back down.

In the US it is a political year with Mid-Term Elections just a few months away followed by the next Presidential Election cycle.

As a result, politicians from both sides of the aisle are mindful that the American public is war weary and believe that America gets very little long term rewards for expending its blood and treasure.

In the UK elections are a year away.

In Germany Chancellor Merkel has just been re-elected and will, by the way, be President Obama's guest at The White House on Friday.

In France, Presidential Elections are not scheduled until 2017.

President Putin, on the other hand, could possibly be in power until 2024 - out lasting all the current leaders in the West and giving him plenty of time to execute a long term re-unification plan.

That being said, unless Putin has a change of heart the US, the UK and the EU may need to take a real stand to preserve the peace or risk facing a greater world challenge down the road.