Thursday, 27 March 2014 00:00

Crimea - The Prize and the Price

By Fabrizio Bozzato and Tatiana Komarova

Russia's takeover of Crimea represents the checkmate of a geopolitical chess game between the Kremlin and the West. The game was opened by Putin's decision to give a safe haven to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, and then continued with the Syrian crisis - seeing Moscow outsmart and outplay the Obama Administration - and culminated into l'affaire Ukraine, in which Russia has carved for itself, rather than found, the opportunity for recapturing Crimea after sixty years of separation and, by doing so, finalizing the first annexation of another country's territory in Europe since World War II. Vladimir Putin has won. Thus, now there are but two significant questions: 1) what is the prize of victory? And 2) what is the price of victory?

The most important trophy of victory is Crimea itself. Controlling the peninsula is a geostrategic essential for Russia. Leaving Crimea's sentimental value aside, the region hosts the Black Sea Fleet naval base, from which Moscow can project force into and throughout the Mediterranean. Notably, the majority of the Black Sea coastline is held by NATO allies except for Georgia, which is keenly pursuing NATO membership, on the east and Ukraine in the north.

Therefore, for Moscow, losing its naval base in Crimea would be akin to military emasculation. By incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation, Putin has thus secured Russia's enduring status as a Eurasian great power. Also, Russia's assertiveness in protecting its Crimean naval base might result in Moscow establishing a substantial military presence in a key Asian theatre. In fact, Hanoi might decide that allowing strong-willed Russia to have its navy operating permanently from Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay would be a very effective way to counterweight Beijing's increasing activism in the South China Sea.

Second, by showing uncompromising determination and effectively rattling his saber in Crimea, Putin has conveyed a sturdy message both to the West and to the former Soviet republics seeking to join NATO or other 'Western arrangements'. Namely, Russia has geopolitical imperatives and is going to affirm and defend them with any means it will deem necessary.

The Kremlin has also made clear that it considers any intrusion in the Federation's near abroad a strategic threat to Russian independence. Simply put, Russia means business. In addition, Putin has exposed Western impotence in a Europe still on holiday from strategy and further questioned the diplomatic resolve and martial credibility of the Obama Administration. From now on, Europeans would be better off to think strategically and be aware of their vulnerabilities when dealing with Moscow. Washington, for its part, must realize that Russia has learned to use the democracy and 'responsibility to protect' rhetoric in as Machiavellic a way as the US - and that the Russian President is a leader that thrives in confrontation, is now widely popular at home and, in a growingly multipolar world, has several supportive friends. Especially in Asia.

Third, on the domestic front the retaking of Crimea in spite of Western opposition has boosted Russian pride and nationalism. As a result, Russians are going to weather sanctions and diplomatic retaliation with their chins up. Actually, the US and the EU governments might find it difficult to put together - and cogently implement and sustain - a cohesive sanctions package. Because of their energy dependence on Russia and concern about losing contracts and economic links with Moscow, the Europeans are inclined not to be too heavy-handed with the Kremlin. Economic sanctions might end up hurting both ways, as people in Europe need to stay warm in winter. Besides, the Russian Federation is a large country with extensive resources and diversified trade partners. So, in key EU countries, the industry is lobbying vehemently against imposing sanctions on Russia. As for political-diplomatic sanctions, they are probably going to be generally ineffective. No doubt, Putin is going to wear the exclusion from G8 as a badge of honor at the next BRICS summit.

However, acquiring Crimea comes at a price, one that is both economic and diplomatic. The peninsula used to be umbilically reliant on Ukraine and the Russian government has acknowledged that the Crimean economy "looks no better than Palestine." Therefore, bringing the region in would require massive financial and infrastructural investments from Moscow. Anyway, even if all of these investments added up to US$ 20 or 25 billion, it would still be small change for the cash-rich Russian government. This said, the combination of international enmity and punitive decisions might significantly impact on Russia's economy and international standing. For example, Moscow will not be invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development any time soon, and will have to abandon any hope of including Ukraine - which has just signed an association agreement with the European Union - in the Russo-centric Eurasian Economic Union. Also, foreign investors could become more hesitant about risking capital in Russia and Russian companies could find it more difficult to obtain credit from Western lenders.

More importantly, Russia's relations with the West are going to enter in a new phase marked by mutual distrust and confrontation. "If it is the price of greatness regained" might remark the Kremlin, "we are ready to pay it." To Moscow's advantage, the Cold War era is unlikely to return. History does not repeat itself. Today's global political and economic ecosystem is one characterized by polycentricity and the tyranny of interdependence. Thus, envisaging a world which is once again neatly divided into two monadic blocks would be nothing short of unrealistic. Equally, to keep pursuing a vision of unilateralism in Europe would be detrimental both to the West and Russia. Time will tell whether the seizure of Crimea has been a masterstroke or a counterproductive move for Russia. If Moscow will be able to develop Crimea and turn it into a success story, it will prove that Russia is as responsible as it is resolute, and shift the burden of proof to the West, which has now the moral obligation to stabilize Ukraine and make it prosperous. Such is the price of Europe being geopolitically fluid again.

 

Map source: Wikimedia Commons

First published on The World Security Network


Fabrizio Bozzato ( 杜允士 ) is a political analyst with a keen interest in Pacific Studies. He holds an M.A. in International Relations (University of Tasmania, Australia) and a Master in Political Science (University of Milan, Italy). He also attained a Grad. Dip. in International Politics with high distinction (University of Tasmania, Australia). Fabrizio lives in Taiwan, where he is an Associate Researcher at the Taipei Ricci Institute. He has also worked at the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at the University of Fiji (Fiji Islands), where he served as Adjunct Lecturer. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University (Taiwan) and is an editor for the World Security Network Foundation. Fabrizio believes that the currents of the global ocean are shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific Rim, and especially Asia. He is trying his best to follow Lao Tzu's advice about knowing honor, yet keeping humility.

Tatiana Komarova is a PhD Candidate and Research Fellow at GIIASS, Tamkang University (Taiwan). Tatiana is specializing in international politics, strategy, and Russia-Taiwan-China relations. She has worked as research assistant at Eurasia Studies, Chien Hsin University (Taiwan); and as teaching assistant at GIIASS. She holds a MA in International Politics and Graduate Diploma with Honors in International Affairs from the State University of Nizhny Novgorod (Russia). Her MA thesis is entitled "Pros and cons of the 'Cultural Revolution' in China."

 


Tuesday, 12 March 2013 11:54

Beyond the "Taiwan Paradox": Expanding Taiwan’s International Participation

Taiwan is one of the world's most dynamic economies and a consolidated democracy. Even though Taipei has economic and cultural offices in 60 countries, memberships in 32 IGOs (including the WTO, APEC and ADB) and another 22 quasi-memberships, the Republic of China (ROC) has diplomatic relations with only twenty-three states and is often prevented from accessing international bodies. This situation of diplomatic marginalization of a success story can be described as "Taiwan paradox", and is due to the People's Republic of China's (PRC) curtailing of Taiwan's possibilities of becoming a normal member of the international community. International participation is vital for Taiwan's security and economic competitiveness. Ranging from realism to constructivism, there are diverse ways in which Taipei can overcome the "Taiwan paradox".

1) Leveraging on Taiwan's strategic relevance: Taiwan's continued geopolitical separation from the Chinese mainland represents a vital strategic value for U.S. interests in the western Pacific. In addition, all states that rely upon either Asian sea-lanes or continued U.S. presence in support of strategic order (thus avoiding Chinese regional hegemony) have important interests at stake in the future of Taiwan, even if some do not admit it. If Taiwan were to become part of the PRC, Beijing's navy would no longer be hemmed in. As a matter of fact, it would be able to extend its reach to the "second island chain" - Guam, the Marianas and some other small islands in the central Pacific - not exactly a "Great Wall". Thus, Taiwan's economic integration with / dependence from the Mainland is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the absorption of the island by the PRC. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with the Mainland is not a geopolitical event horizon, provided that Taiwan shows commitment to national defense and willingness to reaffirm its statehood. The ROC government should constantly remind its interlocutors of the critical strategic importance of Taiwan in order to garner diplomatic support and sympathy.

2) Improving Taiwan's political status through economic engagement: There is a synergic relationship between Taiwan's global economic significance and international stand. Taiwan is ideally positioned to become a regional center and a global node for trade, commerce and finance. Especially after the inking of ECFA. Thus, it would make a positive difference if the Taiwanese government could attract more international businesses to the island. Notably, that requires further economic liberalization and reform. According to Paul Wolfowitz, convincing one major international corporation to make Taiwan the base for its regional operations would perhaps be worth more than attaining new membership and participation in international organizations. Also, economic contacts with other countries strengthen Taipei's international visibility and political status. Therefore, Taipei should pursue closer economic relations / integration with the United States, Japan, the European Union, Singapore and other ASEAN countries, and Pacific countries. Economy put Taiwan on the map. Being wired to the global economy is the best way to keep Taiwan there.

3) Avoiding "deal with the devil" shortcuts: With the consolidation of the cross-Strait "diplomatic truce" the PRC is showing some willingness to accord Taiwan specks of international space. Therefore, as in Taipei's quest for observer status in the WHO's World Health Assembly (WHA), Taiwan can talk directly to the Mainland in bilateral consultations behind closed doors and work a solution out. However, this modus operandi sets dangerous precedents for Taiwan's participation in international organizations, especially for organizations anchored in the UN framework. Given that China's goodwill is contingent on the quality of cross-Strait relations, the issue of Taiwan's accession to international organizations should not be confined into an internal cross-Strait framework. On the contrary, Taiwan should always try to internationalize its bids for participation and solicit the involvement (and support) of the international community, particularly of major powers. This option, of course, does not exclude negotiations with Beijing. In essence, for Taipei is more beneficial to present Taiwan's inclusion in international organizations as a highly sensitive international issue rather than relegating it to the cross-Strait dimension.

4) "As-if participation": There is a further strategy available to Taiwan to seek greater engagement with international organizations, including especially those of the impervious U.N. system. Taipei should not necessarily pursue membership or participation, but what Jacques deLisle labels "as-if participation." Taiwan should commit "unilaterally but publicly and solemnly to acting as if it is (or as if it were) a member of an international organization or regime, pledging to live up to all relevant standards." A high level of compliance with the obligations entailed in membership can strengthen Taiwan's case for inclusion in institutions and regimes from which it has been kept out. Borrowing the words of Jacques deLisle again: "The more Taiwan can walk and talk and act like a member of a regime that is open primarily or exclusively to states, the more hope it has of securing the benefits of state (or nearly state-like) status in the international system."

5) "Letting Taiwan go to the world, letting the world see Taiwan": Continuing and diversifying Taiwan's assistance projects in developing countries shows Taipei's commitment to the global community. Through its development aid, Taiwan reaches out to the world, enhances its international visibility and prestige, and legitimizes its aspirations to be a full-fledged international actor. However, Taipei should also intelligently play the cultural card in order to "let Taiwan go to the world, and let the world see Taiwan." Taiwan needs to pool its resources to create a joint strike capability in soft power. To such aim, the government should institute a Ministry of Soft Power that would combine and multiply the national initiatives in cultural relations, public diplomacy, and other forms of attractive power. Furthering Taiwan's image as an "island of creativity and pluralism" is a very effective way to heed Benoit Vermander's exhortation that while Taiwan strives to become a "normal (ordinary) member", it can transform itself into an "outstanding (extraordinary) member" of the international community.

Paolo Sarpi, the greatest Venetian political thinker, argued that sovereignty (and statehood) should not be claimed, but professed as a creed. Taiwan can successfully participate in the international community only if it believes in itself. To believe in itself, Taiwan should first of all see itself as a pluralistic society rather than a politically divided community. Finally, Taiwan should realize that time is not working against its international participation. In the Asia-Pacific Century, the possibilities are not "to the strong alone;" they are "to the vigilant, the active, the brave."

This speech was first presented at the "Taiwan 3.0 Symposium" (TAIWAN 3.0:我心目中總統候選人的條件) on March 8th, 2013 in Taipei
Image source: WebProNews

 


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