German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to visit Washington later this week. I am confident she can both chew out President Obama over the NSA’s intrusions on her, and walk the important walk of responding with Obama to Putin’s intrusions on Ukraine. There is a formal equivalence in the sentence above, and I imagine Merkel is not amused at all that her cellphone was (is?) monitored by American signals intelligence. But Putin’s aggressive destabilization of Ukraine is, I think, a threat to the entire post-Cold War order in Europe. Russia was invited into groups such as the World Trade Organization and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, seven of whose observers are still being held captive in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists), but as a recent Carnegie Europe blog by Jan Techau points out, “the Kremlin does not seem to share the principles that the OSCE was designed to uphold.” Twenty-first century Russia, contrary to the red herring spread by its enablers and apologists, was included in Europe’s security architecture, says Techau (“Why European Security Works Better Without Russia,” 4/29/14). The “narrative of humiliation and justification that maintains that Russia has been ostracized, excluded, and conspired against” is “wrong on many levels.” The reason the OSCE is not working as designed is that “no matter what binding or nonbinding agreement Russia has entered into since the end of the Cold War, it has attempted to torpedo the deal from within,” and this applies also “to the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization, the other major multilateral forums Russia has joined in recent decades….The reason behind Russia’s behavior is its archaic understanding of what constitutes a sovereign nation….Moscow…adheres to the idea that a nation is fully sovereign only as long as it is strong enough to take care of its own security. This notion means that only a small handful of countries in the world can claim true independence….Russia…can never accept an architecture in which a country of lesser stature has an enforceable legal claim against–or even a formal veto power over–Russian objectives. That makes it amazingly unattractvie for almost anybody to enter any kind of legally binding, or even nonbinding, agreement with Russia.”
Jan Techau, unfortunately, has accurately appraised the behavior and standpoint of today’s Russia. Merkel and Obama have a tough job in that U.S. and German finance and business oligarchs seem to be lobbying hard for looking the other way. In another sense, though, it should be easy for the political leaders of Germany and the U.S. to see that they need to act based on a longer-term horizon than their economic elites seem able to imagine. Moreover, Obama and Merkel are aware that their “job creators” cannot “build it themselves” in that they need protection and support from government–and sometimes much more support than road maintenance. Sometimes governments in democratic regimes are compelled, based on a long-term strategic worldview, to defend their citizens against the rogue behavior of countries like Putin’s Russia. Doing so is not high-risk behavior, it is risk management and mitigation.
And meanwhile Obama might be well advised, since he is no longer running for office and only lives once, to reconsider some of his insupportable, petulant, and unworthy responses to the Snowden leaks. It is high time to acknowledge, which he has not yet done, that we have a surveillance state, as a German official said recently, “acting without any limits.”