23 April, 2014
Ukraine Crisis: 600 US Troops ‘Token Gesture’
Washington’s latest countermove in response to Moscow over the Ukraine crisis is a rather token gesture but in keeping with the pattern.
Moscow leads, Washington follows, Europe dithers and then does something which generally ends up as a diluted version of the American response.
The United States was the first to agree targeted sanctions against Russian individuals, the EU followed.
The Pentagon then expanded its Baltic air-policing operation by sending a few extra F-15s to Lithuania and F-16s to Poland and Romania.
Other Nato countries, including the UK, have since pledged their jets to take over when the US rotates its pilots out of that role later this month.
Washington’s latest commitment has been to send 600 troops on training exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Some 150 to each country. Not a lot.
It is meant as a show of commitment to Nato’s eastern members. Will it make President Putin think twice before making any new move? Hardly.
If anything it will encourage him. If he can walk into Crimea, annexe it, and then shake things up in eastern Ukraine, suffering only that as the response, well can you blame him for feeling emboldened?
From Brussels to Washington, the buzzword has been “descalate”. It is a made-up word, invented by diplomats and politicians.
Should it be hyphenated or written as one word? Who knows. But we get the point.
The problem with made-up words is that they have no agreed definition, but de-escalation broadly means an attempt to achieve a resolution through talks not by matching military action with military action.
Fine. If that is the policy then go for it and good luck. It is surely, by any sensible measure, the preferred method.
But when you start putting troops in eastern Europe and expanding your air capabilities in the region, you immediately change the approach. No argument.
If military action becomes a part of the response then diplomacy, on a certain level, has failed.
But if there is a change in approach, then that too is fine, but if you’re going to do it, then do it properly. Six hundred troops spread thinly between four states is not doing it properly.
Admittedly Nato is also sending some ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, but just to hang around there.
They have no defined tasking yet. And a small team of minesweepers will travel around the Baltic Sea.
But Nato stretches right to the Russian border. It is within the Alliance’s right to hold military exercises within those boundaries. Just as it is Russia’s right to hold exercise on the eastern Ukraine border. As long as neither side strays over.
So do it. But do it as an alliance. Thousands of troops, from multiple countries, on a well-defined, sensible exercise.
But 600 troops? Pah. Half measures never work.