Being Firm is Essential for Success
This is the English version of a Handelsblatt interview with the Chairman of the John F. Kennedy Atlantic Forum. (Also available: The German print version of this interview by Thomas Sigmund published in Handelsblatt on March 14, 2014.)
The long time American Ambassador John Kornblum can explain Putin’s behavior, but he finds it unacceptable. He counsels a firm adherence to the principles of civil society, supported by sanctions
He is an expert in the solution of international conflicts. John Kornblum former American Ambassador in Berlin, participated in preparation of the OSCE Summit in Helsinki and took part in the negotiation of the Dayton Agreement.
Mr. Kornblum: Putin’s empire is steadily disintegrating. Is it not understandable that the Russian President has adopted such a hard position on the Crimean issue?
From Putin’s point of view, his behavior might seem logical. But such a vision is completely ahistorical. East and West have been working on a framework for political cooperation for over 40 years. It is based on mutual respect and on the acceptance on the underlying principles of modern society. The only way for Russia to succeed in a globalized world is to respect these principles.
What does this framework look like?
The details were chiseled in stone in the Helsinki Final Act. Russia has accepted all the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty which are anchored in it.
But no one could have foreseen the rapid erosion of Russian power which has taken place in recent years.
Of course not. But in the Budapest Declaration of 1994, Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons, and in return received guarantees protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is the foundation for dealing with dangerous situations such as this one. Putin already severely violated the Helsinki Principles in Georgia and Moldavia. And let’s not forget, there are separatist groups in Spain and more recently in Scotland. Can you imagine that Madrid or London would send in troops against these initiatives? Such a thing is unimaginable.
Would sanctions bring us closer to a solution?
In such conflicts, it is often difficult to find the right options.
What is the American method?
Most important in the face of such aggression is to remain true to one’s principles. Dialog can succeed only if the other side is ready for it. US Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled a trip to Moscow, because he did not believe the Russians were ready to talk seriously. Sometimes, it is important to remain firm until the other side demonstrates that it is ready for dialogue. Recall the war in the Balkans. Without American firmness vis-a-vis Milosevic, we would have gotten nowhere. You might call that an American method, but we believe in it.
…and what is the European method?
At times, the Americans must push the Europeans a bit in this direction. Europeans would rather speak more softly. But in many conflicts, it has been exactly this mixture of approaches which has led to success.
Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has argued that the EU’s all-or-nothing approach put too much pressure on Ukraine. Is he right?
To a certain extent, I would agree with him. The rhetoric from Brussels was perhaps a bit too enthusiastic. But the goals were positive, also for Russia. The EU’s approach in no way justified Russia’s behavior.
But Putin now appears to be reacting even more aggressively against European goals. Why doesn’t the European concept work?
Henry Kissinger is fond of saying that the measure of policy is not its beginning, but its conclusion. Military intervention is out of the question. This leaves only sanctions as a means to demonstrate our principles.
Which sanctions do you believe could be effective?
There are cases where sanctions have been successful. In South Africa or more recently, apparently in Iran. This is why I agree that, if the Crimean referendum takes place, the Chancellor should not attend the G-8 meeting. For Putin, this meeting is an important matter of prestige. Staying away would cause him a good deal of embarrassment. I think that targeting Russian oligarchs would also help.
Are there other methods to prevent such conflicts from heating up?
I am a great believer in the power of civil society. Putin is trying to negate the effects of civil society, but in a globalized world, he is bound to fail. Internet and social media will make it increasingly difficult for such dictators to succeed. We should work hard to establish links among democratic forces. For example, young entrepreneurs. Those are people who build openness as a product of their creativity in the world of business. If we can support civil society at all possible levels, we will also achieve a more open political culture. This method worked in Central Europe during the Cold War. Obviously it will take longer in Russia.
What are you doing personally to achieve this goal?
For example, I founded a new organization: the John F. Kennedy Atlantic Forum. Our goal is to spread the values of entrepreneurship more widely in the Atlantic World. Unfortunately, so far we have attracted only American sponsors. It would not hurt if German industry would also support this work. This is the best way to build a long term foundation for our mutual security.
"As we look steadily eastward in the hope and purpose of new freedom, we must also look--and evermore closely--to our trans-Atlantic ties… The Atlantic Community will not soon become a single overarching superstate. But practical steps toward stronger common purpose are well within our means….