“If we accept the annexation of Crimea we will have given up on the rule-based order and it would have consequences elsewhere in the world”-Ex-NATO leaders Rasmussen and Scheffer
Superpower relations were seldom based on a 'rule-based order' during the Cold War and,in practice, it became increasingly apparent this applied in the post 9/11 2001 approach to global power politics pursued by Bush and Blair-'the rules of the game have changed' That led to the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq in 2003.
Putin's annexation of the Crimea in 2014 was an over-exaggerated and illegal response to the reality that Western-led global institutions from the EU and NATO converged, partly through the actions of aggressive neoconservative diplomats, to ratchet up tensions and fears within Russia about NATO expansionism.
Anatol Lieven made the point well , when he argued that US media and leaders and opinion formers have all focused obsessively on Putin as some sort of 'neo-Soviet' threat, a 'brutal dictator' who is actually an authoritarian nationalist whose foreign policy represent large sections of Russian policy elites and society.
The fact is that a great many American do not realistically think Putin is a threat to them when compared with ISIS and Islamist jihadi warriors and their potential supporters in the West. National security elites in the US and in Europe have built up a rather paranoid 'neo-Cold War' approach to Russia that is unnecessary.
However, the failure of post-Cold War elites in the US to build or work for an enduring security architecture within which Russia could be welcomed and respected instead of treated as a vanquished foe, apart from the disastrous impact of Western imposed IMF shock therapy, led Russia to take a more combative stance.
The Iraq War detonated a geopolitical earthquake within the Middle East and destabilised Syria. Time and time again, Western elites have shown utter arrogance in believing force could be used to reshape the world and impose 'values' through knocking out dictators.
The NATO spearheaded military intervention in Libya was a further catastrophe, as was policy in Syria after 2011. As John Gray accurately puts it with regards to the serial incompetence of liberal elites in foreign policy in the Near East,
'The move to rights-based liberalism has had damaging effects in many areas of policy. A militant ideology of human rights played a part in some of the worst foreign policy disasters of recent times. The ruinous military adventures of the Blair-Cameron era did not fail because there was not enough post-invasion planning. They failed, first, because in overthrowing the despotisms of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi they destroyed the state in both Iraq and Libya, leaving zones of anarchy in which jihadist forces could operate freely. More fundamentally, they failed because human rights cannot be imposed on societies that have never known them and where most people may not want them.'
Despite three disasters, two of which were directly connected to Hillary Clinton, she learned nothing and maintained, in foreign policy, the basic premises of the neoconservative vision asset out by ideologues such as Wolfowitz both as Secretary of State and in her equally disastrous Presidential election campaign.
While NATO is not involved in Syria, both Ukraine and Syria are interconnected on the global chessboard. Crimea was strategically important to the Russian fleet as is the port at Tarsous in Syria for Russia to play a role in regional geopolitics and control over the flow of oil and gas resources. The US plays the same Great Game.
NATO was originally conceived as a defensive alliance in the Cold War. Steadily in the course of the early 21st century it became more concerned with expansionism towards what Halford MacKinder called 'the Eurasian Heartland' ,the better to ensure Western global hegemony and control over oil and gas flows.
Despite crude propaganda of the sort pumped out by Edward Lucas, Putin did not initiate a 'New Cold War' through using oil and gas as a geopolitical tool. It was implicit even before Putin came to power in the strategies of Bill Clinton's administration and through the influence of geostrategists such as Brzezinski in his The Grand Chessboard ( 1997 ).
The attempt to expand NATO into the post-Soviet sphere was bound to be interpreted as an attempt to encroach into its sphere of influence and to encircle Russia by turning regional elites against it in ways that took no cognisance of Russian interests. Western triumphalism was in the air and 'the End of History'
The counter-response was to to propagate 'an image of Russian expansionism and revisionism' when Putin started to reassert Russian power and react to the aggression of the governments of smaller states such as Saakashvili's Georgia when, emboldened by the idea of NATO protection, he attacked Russia.
For all the rhetoric about 'democracy promotion', the US and NATO elites were prepared to turn a blind eye to illiberal,incompetent, corrupt and authoritarian governments in post-Soviet nations-e.g Ukraine and Georgia-so long as they were pro-NATO enlargement. Double standards did not go unnoticed.
The world is no longer where it was in the 1990s. The US and NATO leaders need to become more realist,seek to avoid trying to propagate 'our values' through force and proselytization in order to avert the real prospect of conflict either with Russia or with China.
In this sense alone, Trump could well be better than Clinton as President. Clinton was prepared to enforce a 'no-fly zone' over Syria in response to the Russian bombardment of East Aleppo. Yet Russia had already muscled in to the conflict in order to assert its own,meaning the prospect of war with Russia was possible.
Dealing with Russia on a more realist footing would be far better than the pretense that the sphere of Western liberal democratic influence is inexorably expanding the world over and that the global political environment is there for the US-and Britain,France and the EU-to determine.