Ukraine: diplomacy is the only route to achieve security.

Gihan Elleray

Barack Obama and Vladmir Putin

Barack Obama and Vladmir Putin at the G8 Summit (2013) – Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons

In this article we seek to examine the causes and consequences of why Ukraine has erupted into a civil war which is torn by identity politics in Crimea.  There is one significant factor that must be examined: diplomacy.  More specifically, how can diplomacy prove effective in ending the conflict?

Before analysing the diplomatic options, it should be said that there is disparity as to whether the current conflict can be classified as an intrastate war or interstate war.  Russia categorically denies the use of its troops in Crimea, but Ukraine alleges that this is not the case.  At the very least, we know Russia is supplying the rebels with armaments and supplies.  Moreover, regardless of whether Russia is directly involved or fighting a proxy war via the rebels, Putin has effectively shown the impotence of the US, UN and NATO on the world stage.   Now, it cannot be assumed this means Putin has all of the highground.  Russia has suffered a significant economic hit which has dented the Russian rouble.  Yet, it appears that leadership is more of a salient issue in Russian domestic politics over economic prosperity.  One must remember that central to Putin’s thinking is his domestic image which is unsurprisingly governed by the projection of power and influence.

Firstly, to the outside liberal world order, Putin has annexed Crimea.  Yet, to Putin and indeed within Russian domestic politics the events in Crimea are a reclamation.  Given the mass Russian population in the region, Putin can create a plausible narrative fuelled by identity politics, at least for his own domestic storyline.

Secondly and most significantly, NATO’s tendency to veer its reigns ever closer to Ukraine was always going to be doomed to fail.  Remember that NATO was supposed to disband alongside the Warsaw Pact, but never fulfilled what was all but a promise.   Putin’s much anticipated speech to the UN General Assembly in New York on 28 September reflects this – he expressed his discontent at NATO’s expansionist aims.

During the Clinton years, the US focused on NATO as the prime force for European security.  Through the eyes of the Obama Administration, however, the sight is now set towards the Middle East and South East Asia.  European security, to America, has long been falling down the list of priorities gradually since the 1990s and Putin saw this coming.

America, who were initially concerned that the European Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) was going to rival NATO are now paradoxically worried that the CSDP is too weak to deal with European Security.  The CSDP has a fraction of the capability of NATO and any capability it does have has proved to be gridlocked.  For instance, the British government has effectively dropped its commitment to the CSDP after the Libyan intervention and national politics are a barrier to any meaningful application of the CSDP.

Therefore, only one other option can prove effective: diplomacy.

The diplomatic effort, so far, has been following the paradigm of rational choice theory.  In other words, it has been an approach of business-as-usual.  In terms of a solution, Professor Corneliu Bjola of Oxford University argues that using previous precedents, routines, customs and conventions to form a diplomatic response is to fundamentally misunderstand and miscalculate the crisis.  In turn, this then leads to a failure of policy – for which we are seeing in Ukraine.  In order to solve the Ukrainian crisis diplomacy cannot simply be confined to the old structure of rational choice theory.

The self-effacing bureaucrat model of diplomacy, which dominates our international institutions, has proved meaningless and the foreign-policy shaper model would be far too imposing on Putin to prove effective.  What could work is the two-level negotiator model,  which recognises the split duty of a diplomat – serving as an international actor on one level, but also as accountable to their own domestic constituencies on the other level.  The constraints of a diplomat are still present – they must recognise their domestic mood in combination with international objective and form an equilibrium between the two.  But by allowing power and options to be distributed between Putin and whoever this diplomat or collective team of diplomats may be, a positive-sum result, in which both parties can be satisfied by the domestic implications, is possible.  Remember, power is everything to Putin and his domestic politics takes priority over his international objectives.  A two-level negotiator who can accept the Putin’s domestic politics will prove effective.

America does not want to engage militarily in Ukraine.  Putin knows America and the West do not want to intervene.  That rules the military option out.  Economic sanctions have proved somewhat effective, but it is clear they were a test to hinder Putin’s domestic support.  No such hindrance has occurred.  Therefore, diplomacy is the only option left.  Without a diplomatic effort of a two-level negotiator, who can understand how Russian domestic politics is the central factor for Putin, there will be no progress.

It is only when an agent of change who can adopt this model comes onto the negotiating table that the possibility of peace and stability in Crimea can be realistic.



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