Kerry following dead ends

Secretary of State John Kerry has, during the Ukranian affair, repeatedly declared it is not within the best practices of “the 21st century” to do what Russia has done. Everything is frozen in time, according to Kerry, preferably in 1991 when the United States proclaimed the “new world order” and was anointed the last “superpower.” As with Great Britain in 1900, its supremacy is to be recognized in perpetuity.

But history rarely works that neatly. Every great power has tried to lock in their winnings and has tried to reduce the price of maintenance. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1899 proposed a conference of disarmament. Was the motivation peace on earth by beating swords into ploughshares, or reducing the Tsar’s military bill? Primarily, it was to prevent Russia from getting behind its competitors – including growing infrastructure of Japan. No adjustment or altercation was allowed; after all such actions were against the rules of the aborning 20th century.

Naturally, other powers tried to protect their interests. The United States declared an “open door” in China – a mutual exploitation agreement – that kept the “civilized” nations in control. This rhetoric has been revised in 2014, particularly by Kerry, in a hopeless attempt to preserve American influence in every nook and cranny on the planet. Suddenly, every nation must ask “mother, may I” if it wants to preserve its stake. Russia has been pressed to the wall by expansion by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Putin’s reaction by annexing Crimea and protesting the coup that overthrew his ally in Ukraine is greatly objected to by the United States. Kerry seems to think American motivations are considered so pure and unsuspect, that Putin should know U.S. expansion in Eastern Europe is no threat, although Russian history would suggest differently. Sweden in the 1700s, Napoleon I in 1812, Poland in 1921 and Adolf Hitler in 1941, Putin is to accept NATO’s actions as pristine.

For the United States, the folkways of European diplomacy have been a mystery since 1919. Woodrow Wilson gazed benignly as the Austria-Hungarian Empire was torn into smaller quarrelsome states. Russia then lost territory at Versailles, where it was unrepresented. For Putin and Russia, whether it be the tsar or the USSR, has been isolated by its competitors in times of trouble. Kerry may be a man of integrity, but Putin’s rational understanding does not allow for simply taking his word for it.

Moreover, Kerry may forget Europeans could decide to leave him in the lurch. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, has given a hint of just what solution his nation might think appropriate. In an interview, he dismissed further sanctions against Russia saying, “It’s a dead end.” Given Germany’s stake in the Russian economy, this makes sense. As well, Chancellor Angela Merkel was roundly booed at a meeting of her party for her tough sanctions stance. Quite literally the high minded Mr. Kerry is playing with someone else’s money.

But Europeans will settle the problem. Tough talk by NATO’s brass will accomplish very little in the way of influencing the European states. France is involved in Africa and its president is as popular as heat rash. David Cameron will be lucky to hold on to Scotland and the United Kingdom is mired in a culture of austerity. Only the Poles seem ready to give it a go, but inconveniently are between Germany and Russia. Kerry better understand these realities and eschew eternal truths. For they are truly, for the time being, dead ends.