In one of his influential articles, published in 1986 by Foreign Affairs magazine, prominent US diplomat George F. Kennan (the founder of Cold War “containment” strategy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union) discusses morality in US foreign policy. Among other interesting arguments, Kennan notes that: “Practices or policies that arouse our official displeasure in one country are cheerfully condoned or ignored in another. What is bad in the behavior of our opponents is good, or at least acceptable, in the case of our friends.
What is unobjectionable to us at one period of our history is seen as offensive in another. This is unfortunate, for a lack of consistency implies a lack of principle in the eyes of much of the world; whereas morality, if not principled, is not really morality.” (George F. Kennan, “Morality and Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs 64 [Winter 1985-86]).
During the running crisis in Ukraine, the government of the United States and the European Union are trying to de-legitimize Russian policy regarding Ukraine and, especially, Crimea. They have called Russia “an aggressor” against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moreover, they consider the referendum decided by the parliament of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea (due to be held on March 16th) as “illegitimate in international law”.
President Obama stated that such a vote would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.” Furthermore, the EU called the referendum as “illegal”, while the European Council decided on sanctions against Russia. After March 10th meeting, the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, stated that the EU was ready “to suspend bilateral talks with the Russian Federation on visa matters as well as talks with the Russian Federation on the New Agreement. We support the decision of the European Members of the G-8 and the EU institutions to suspend their participation in G-8 Summit preparations until further notice.”
However, amidst the looming Ukrainian crisis, who remembers that the West supported Kosovo’s declaration of independence six years ago, despite reactions by Serbia’s government and strong Russian objections? Who remembers that Kossovo’s Albanian majority became de facto capable of declaring independence from Serbia after an extensive NATO air-bombing campaign in 1999 (NATO being thus a real aggressor)?
Doesn’t this contradiction fell into the scope of what Kennan calls “a lack of consistency” which “implies a lack of principle in the eyes of much of the world”?
The West, especially the United States, currently accuse Russia of being illegitimate in the Crimean issue, despite the fact that the Russian rights in the area are de jure shielded through bi-lateral agreements.
Moreover, they should not forget that by defending the Russian people of Crimea and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea itself, Moscow defends its own backyard. Having a safe neighborhood is of paramount importance for each great power.
Just remember how the United States reacted to a potential settlement of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, in October 1962 (which would happen only after the United States unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro by sponsoring an invasion on the island, in 1961).