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Opinion - Opinion
Ukraine: Why we should careTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea
Courtesy Photo­Image
Jeff Fortenberry

In a television interview this week, a reporter asked me a very important question about the situation in the Ukraine. She said: “Why should Nebraskans care?”

It’s a tough question. It’s a hard question. It’s also the right question to ask, particularly in light of our many difficulties at home. 

The situation in Ukraine is complex and shifting dramatically, making policy responses complicated. Russia has seized the southern part of Ukraine, called Crimea, in the biggest land grab since World War II.

More than 22,000 Russian troops are stationed there. Following a vote roundly condemned by the international community with 97 percent in favor of secession, Crimea separated from Ukraine and Russia annexed the region. There are ongoing concerns that the Russian military, massed along the full border of Ukraine — reportedly for military exercises — will push farther into the country, disrespecting Ukraine’s autonomy and principles of self-determination. 

An attempt to unify an American and European response is underway, focusing on economic sanctions against Russia and their billionaire oligarchs. There is talk that the French may cancel a military contract for a helicopter carrier. The Europeans are exploring alternatives to Russian energy, preventing a significant source of Russian export income.

If public international financial institutions punish the Russians, other forms of international lending may also dry up. Earlier today (Friday,) the European Union signed a trade agreement with Ukraine, signaling Europe’s financial support for the country.  

The combination of these actions has impacted the Russian economy. Their currency is devalued, their economic growth rate is expected to fall from 3-percent to 1-percent, and their stock market has dropped by 15 percent. It is conjectured that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is one of the world’s richest men — and that didn’t happen from a KGB pension.

Imposing financial sanctions on the Russian ruling class may give pause to further nationalistic fervor. Although Crimea is lost, changing Russia’s calculation of the cost may prevent further aggression. In fact, Putin has signaled in news reports that there will be no further retaliation at this point. I gave extended commentary on the radio this week on this topic, and I invite you to click here to listen to the interview.

But the television reporter’s question remains — “Why should Nebraskans care?”

After World War II, the United States was cast into the role of world’s lone superpower. We have undertaken extraordinary sacrifice for the sake of international stability and the rights of others. We slugged through a Cold War at enormous cost and beat back a global communist ideology that repressed and killed hundreds of millions of persons. Across the world, we have fed the hungry, helped form civil society in inhospitable places, and welcomed millions escaping persecution to our own land.

Of course there have been times when this power and responsibility was not exercised perfectly, but our commitment to societal order, humanitarian values, and opportunity compels us to extend a hand of friendship to other peoples. America is the land of big thinking and extraordinary generosity. Our own security is enhanced when others have systems based on human dignity and just forms of governance.  

We also live in an increasingly globalized and interconnected society. Destructive technology and information is spreading. Transnational ideologies have no borders. We could devolve into suspicion, fear, and aggression never seen before in this world — and the weaponry is out there to accomplish that. Waiting for a catastrophe is not an option.  

Between isolationism on one extreme and an over projection of power on the other, our best option for the 21st century is an enhanced and effective collaboration — diplomatically, economically, and within shared security arrangements. The United States should not do this alone.  Since many countries have greatly benefited from our assistance efforts, they must also share in the burden of responsibility.   

Admittedly, when things aren’t well at home, it’s pretty tough to care about a far-away place like Ukraine. But swift and unified reaction is the right course — for the sake of international stability, and our own national security and conscience.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 3/21/2014
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