August 12, 2014
If there was any doubt that the war hawks in Congress are itching to take flight over Moscow, they need only page through Senator Bob Corker’s Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014 (S.2277). Submitted to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations just as the number of civilian casualties and refugees in eastern Ukraine began to tick ever higher in mid-May, the bill is, in essence, a GOP wish list not only for their new friends in Kiev but for both NATO and the entire former Soviet space as well.
Some of the bill’s proposed measures are fairly anodyne, if only because they are so completely unrealistic. One section seeks to promote ‘Strengthened US-German Cooperation on Global and European Security Issues’ and would allocate $5 million annually to go towards a US-German Security Working Group. I would estimate that, given the continued revelations of US intelligence activities in Germany that there’s exactly zero-appetite for a ‘working group’ of this nature in Berlin at the present time.
A number of the bill’s sections are taken up with satiating the depressingly familiar Congressional mania for democracy promotion abroad. The State Department is directed to increase its efforts “directly or through nongovernmental organizations” to improve democracy and civil society in Russia. This provision would seem, given the fact that the Russian government expelled the USAID Mission in the latter half of 2012, to be little more than a ploy with which to aggravate Vladimir Putin than a serious attempt to spread “our values”. Worse, it never seems to occur to our political establishment that funding pro-democracy organizations during times of heightened US-Russia tensions may put the very organizations they wish to assist in danger given the Foreign Agents registration law that was passed by the Duma last year. Lest you think the bill would confine its “pro-democracy” agenda to Russia, several sections later we are informed that the State Department would be directed to expand their crusade to “the countries of the former Soviet Union” at the cost of $25 million annually over the next three years.
As counterproductive as the aforementioned proposals would be; the majority of the act is taken up with responding to the current crisis in Ukraine, and in the worst possible way. It would impose “immediate new sanctions” which would target major Russian banks, energy companies and arms manufacturers, along with their “Russian-owned subsidiaries and senior Russian executives.” That sanctions may have the opposite of their intended effect seems to have dawned on even some of the shriller members of Washington’s pundit class, but Congress, if this bill is anything to go by, is sticking to what it thinks it knows.
The bill also seeks to further “strengthen” what is, by common consensus, by far the world’s most powerful military alliance: NATO. The call to accelerate the deployment of missile defense systems to East-Central Europe, for instance, was, given the bill’s provenance, entirely expected; the proposal to treat Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as “major non-NATO allies”, however, is cause for alarm. As of today, these three countries, along with nineteen others, are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP), a program begun under the Clinton administration to encourage bilateral relations with NATO, but really not much more. Even Russia is a member of the PfP. But the designation of “major non-NATO ally” is something altogether different; this would give Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, three countries with unresolved territorial disputes with Russia, the same status vis à vis the alliance as Australia, South Korea, Japan and Israel. It would, among other things, exempt these countries from any of the provisions of the Arms Control Export Act and allow for access to American financing for weapons purchases.
Almost as reckless as the aforementioned section, other parts of the act would compel the administration to “use all appropriate elements of United States national power…to protect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial and economic integrity of Ukraine and other sovereign nations in Europe and Eurasia from Russian aggression.” (Italics mine). In other words, Congress would authorize the administration to make NATO-like security guarantees to dozens of countries throughout Eurasia with whom we previously had not had any alliance commitments with whatever. The bill would authorize the secretary of state to spend up to $100 million “to provide direct military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and small arms.” In essence, Corker and his twenty-six co-sponsors are urging the United States to wade ever deeper (we are already sending military advisers to Kiev) into a proxy war with Russia.
What this bill exemplifies is Congress’s chronic inability to either address a foreign policy problem without turning first to a military solution or to consider whether past American policies have in any way contributed to the current crises. Further, the bill, in its urging for closer integration of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova with NATO, signally fails to distinguish between core and peripheral American interests abroad.
The bill has attracted no Democratic co-sponsors (which is surprising, given the über-hawkish rhetoric coming from committee’s chairman Robert Menendez and Magnitsky Act author Ben Cardin, among others) and has not been released by the committee for a vote by the full Senate. Yet if this bill ever does make it to the president’s desk, no one would have the right to be surprised if he decides to sign it, because it is very much in keeping with the administration’s policy of stoking, rather than calming, tensions between the United States and Russia.