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Rubio’s Misguided Punitive Measures

Marco Rubio has made a few more proposals for punishing Russia. Here is one of them:

Russian cooperation should not be sought on global strategic challenges until the people of Crimea are given a free and fair opportunity to decide their fate without outside pressure.

Once again, it’s not clear how this punishes Russia at all. I suspect that the Kremlin will be quite content to give up its cooperation on these other issues. Indeed, a Russian envoy has just said that his government may take action that will harm negotiations with Iran in response to U.S. and European sanctions. That potentially creates more of a problem for the U.S. and its allies than it does for Russia. As for waiting until people in Crimea are allowed a “free and fair opportunity” to choose their fate, Rubio may as well be saying that any and all cooperation with Russia should cease from now on. The Crimean referendum was a sham, and Russia’s annexation is completely illegal, but Rubio must be kidding if he thinks that Moscow is going to change its position now under duress. It’s very easy to say that Russia “should not be considered a responsible partner on any major international issue,” but if the U.S. took that position it would needlessly undermine several of its other policies in a failed attempt to chastise Moscow. This would not do much to harm Russia, but it could make things more difficult for the U.S. on Iran, Afghanistan, and Syria.

Rubio also touts future NATO expansion, saying that events in Ukraine should “dispel the myth that closing NATO’s door to future allies would appease Russian aggression.” What Rubio ignores, or doesn’t know, is that NATO has never closed the door to expansion. It should have done so long ago, but it hasn’t. On the contrary, despite the facts that most Ukrainians haven’t wanted to join and the previous government ruled out joining any military alliance, NATO has persistently kept the door openfor Ukraine. It has done the same with Georgia, which is officially an “aspirant” state. We can’t be sure that eliminating the possibility of further NATO expansion would have had any effect in this case, but we can be sure that the alliance hasn’t closed the door. Unfortunately, there has been no “freeze” on NATO expansion, but at most a short delay. Perhaps if there had been such a “freeze” for the last six years, and if the EU had not acted so clumsily in Ukraine, tensions might not now be so high. The fact that Rubio doesn’t seem to understand any of this is another reason to be very wary of anything he recommends.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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