This week, we heard about the passing of former President George H.W. Bush on Friday evening in Houston. His love and devotion to his wife Barbara, who passed this April at the age of 92, is perhaps the one relationship that exemplified his character over 73 long years. Bush will be remembered for his leadership as envoy to China, his commitment to improving childhood literacy, and navigating the decline of the Soviet Union.
Most of all, President Bush's leadership during the Persian Gulf War -- a moment of national unity that demonstrated American resilience -- restoring American confidence after the Vietnam era and preserving the post-Second World War order for a new generation. His contributions to American valor and commitment to conservative internationalism should remain his hallmarks, and we offer the Bush family our prayers and thoughts for a man whose legacy helped create a better America.
This week, the Russian navy attacked Ukrainian ships neat the Kerch Strait connecting the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea, killing several Ukrainian sailors, arresting more, and capturing the Ukrainian ships -- extracting several confessions before removing 24 Ukrainian sailors to Moscow for trial.
This incident is a serious escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, one that has been ongoing in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine in reaction to the Maidan uprising of 2014. While there have been several incidents where both Ukrainian and Russian naval assets have been detaining and returning vessels in recent months, the scale and intensity of this provocation only serve to increase the stakes.
Precisely half of the Ukrainian remaining territorial coastline is located along the Sea of Azov, where much of Ukraine's industrial activity is located (specifically near Mariupol). Previous treaties with the Russian Federation guarantee the right of passage into the Sea of Azov. Without such free passage, eastern Ukraine comes under the complete control of Russia.
Thus far, while the Russian Federation denies the practice, their asymmetrical warfare in Ukraine has been conducted by "little green men" -- Russian soldiers who participate in the Donbass conflict while not wearing Russian insignia. Up to this point, the Russians have felt the need to hide their aggression against Ukraine through supporting separatists and using anonymous soldiers.
In the lead up to the current crisis, not only has the Russian government "annexed" the Crimea, but are looking to build infrastructure over the Kerch strait that will solidify their ability to resupply the peninsula. With the combination of a new bridge and the sinking of a Russian barge two weeks ago in the region, the pretext for an incident with Ukrainian naval vessels was formulated in just such a way as to rationalize an increased and militarized Russian presence in contrast to legitimate and routine Ukrainian naval activity.
This is more than a simple attack and aggression by the Russian navy against Ukrainian assets -- aggression that to some degree has been tolerated throughout the Donbass conflict. This attack is a denial of free navigation, not unlike the behavior of the Chinese in the South China Sea. There the Chinese have constructed artificial atolls, and now seek to use those little islands to restrict maritime travel. In the Sea of Azov, we find the very same strategy of an exclusionary zone in the hopes that the Western powers will adopt a policy of appeasement in the search for peace and stability overseas.
Nowhere is this strategy more apparent than in North Korea, a nation utterly dependent upon the Russian Federation and Chinese government for stability and survival.
The authoritarian countries of the world are indeed on the move. China and Russia seek to project power now through naval power, and in Russia's case it is in direct violation of long-standing treaties.
In North Korea, it is through the projection of nuclear blackmail. All three conditions border on the intolerable for policy makers in the United States, and prove existential threats to our allies in NATO, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.
For instance, there is still no plan of action to denuclearize North Korea. Thus far, the North Korean government under Kim-Jong Un continues to leverage their nuclear arms program to extract concessions from the United States. Thus far, North Korea continues to miscalculate the iron resolve of this president and the resolve of the United States, which creates the serious and very real danger of armed conflict to remove the threat of nuclear holocaust.
On the hundredth anniversary of the end of First World War, it would appear that authoritarian systems which continue to trap foreign governments forget the grim lessons of a global conflict, including the horrible cost in human lives. China, Russia and North Korea are stumbling into the maelstrom of war in the hopes they can manage their respective outcomes.
Perhaps all three believe they can always reverse course before it is too late. Yet history teaches us that war is a violent schoolmaster indeed, and that the decisions that lead us to the logic of warfare are often irrevocable and with violent consequence. Confusing recalcitrance with resolve is nearly always the blind spot of those who chose dictation over diplomacy.
Let us hope these conflicts can be managed diplomatically and equitably while there is still leadership -- and time.
More after the jump. . .