09 July 2015
The Greatest Threat
Who's the greatest threat to the American national security? The President's nominee for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says it's Russia. His reasoning is twofold: Russia has nukes and has behaved in an "alarming" way in Ukraine. The nukes make Russia an "existential" threat in his opinion. His argument before a Senate committee today seemed detached from reality, but that perception is probably just a matter of perspective. Most Americans probably believe by now that the so-called Islamic State, if not just plain Islam, is the biggest threat, perhaps even on an existential level, to their country. From what we can tell, the I.S. or Daesh wants to attack us on general principles and is looking for every little opportunity to do so. From what we can tell as well, Russia, even under Vladimir Putin, has no such compulsion. If they are an existential threat right now, it's not because they want to conquer the world or impose Putinism or Eastern Orthodoxy on everyone, but because they feel we're butting into their historic sphere of influence. We can all agree in theory that spheres of influence are a bad thing and unfair to small countries, but just as Americans can still justify the Monroe Doctrine by saying European countries shouldn't interfere in Latin America, the Russians have just as much right to say that outsiders shouldn't influence Eastern Europe. Any way you slice it, to forbid outsiders from interfering with the little countries in your neighborhood is hegemonic. It can't help but be your sphere of influence if you won't let anyone else influence them. Try to tell a Latin American that the Monore Doctrine is no more than a Prime Directive forbidding interference in their countries' natural evolution and they'll laugh. It's hardly different in Eastern Europe. Yes, Russia wants to dominate Ukraine and that's unfair to the large number of Ukrainians -- does anyone really know if they're a majority? -- who hate Russia and identify with the West, but Russia has every reason to doubt that a Ukraine whose independence from Russia is guaranteed by NATO power is going to be neutral in any sense meaningful to Russia. It may seem crazy that Russia might threaten nuclear war in defense of their rights and interests in Ukraine, but they may be crazy enough to do that, if only on the "no gun, no respect" principle. But if Ukraine -- or possibly the Baltic states in the future -- wasn't an issue there'd be no reason to believe that Russia would want to attack the American homeland, while the I.S. is the djinn out of the bottle, unlikely to be quieted by any diplomatic revolution in American foreign policy. By dubbing Russia the greater threat, General Dunford shows his priorities. He is less interested in the I.S.'s potential to do harm on American soil than in Russia's ability to thwart American ambitions abroad. I presume he will answer to a Secretary of Defense, but there's nothing defensive about his priorities. Whether the rest of us will be able to make our priorities in foreign affairs understood remains to be seen.