Two weeks ago, on the topic of Ukraine, I expressed a strong opinion that third party actors ought to avoid intervention and permit the Constitutional checks of the Ukrainian government to work. Since then, both the United States and Russia have found themselves so obliged to meddle in the internal affairs of the Ukrainian political crisis.
Russia has expressed itself much more blatantly in its military movement into the Crimean peninsula. Meanwhile, the U.S. offers economic aid, support of Ukrainian nationalism, and the condemnation of Russia as a “carrot” offered to Kiev. The nature of this display of international politics depicts quite adequately the consequences of “international relativism,” a term meaning “we do what we think is best for us.”
International relativism depicts foreign policy rooted in perceived benefit rather than policy rooted in upholding actual norms or ends. Both Russia and the U.S are guilty of this type of foreign policy: moreover, the empirical problem with this approach rests in the fact that circumstantial responses to international events only result in long-term destabilization.
Some examples of American international relativism are made apparent in the Ukrainian situation. President Woodrow Wilson once championed a norm of “self-determinacy”—where countries have the right to decide who governs them, what their national identity will be. In the instance of Ukraine, since the alternative is Russian allegiance, the U.S. adamantly opposes the self-determinacy of Crimea. Meanwhile Russia, who adamantly implored the U.S. had no right to aid Syrian Rebels, now finds itself flip-flopped and aligning with the anti-government factions of Ukraine.
With each nation behaving relative to their interests rather than consistently abiding by principle, it becomes incredibly difficult for any party to claim that the other is in the “wrong.” The Ukrainian problem displays this most vividly. If either the U.S. or Russia were particularly interested in protecting the norms of sovereignty, self-determination and economic freedom, they would permit this very internal and largely peaceful dispute of the Ukrainian people to manifest how it will.
Furthermore, if a case could be made that any external power were a moral actor, then perhaps a case for intervention could be supported in Ukraine. Since, however, the U.S. and Russia appear only to be interested in outcomes that respectively benefit themselves, no foundation for intervention can be identified. Unfortunately, politics is a game which is obsessed with the present and fails to consider the long-term. Any sensible student of history can see that many global issues would fail to be had actors considered the future before they moved on their short-term interests.
In the case of Ukraine, I remain adamant that foreign intervention, be it militarily or economic, is not in the interest of the Ukrainian people that it will lead to further destabilization and tarnish global relations for many actors in both the short and long-term.