Ukraine crisis seen as threat to U.S. leadership 

April 30, 2014

Ukraine blog

The West’s failure to act more aggressively to counter Russia’s land grab in Crimea and its thinly disguised threats to move farther into Ukraine pose a serious challenge to American leadership and could weaken its ability to maintain peace around the globe.

That was the view of several speakers on the Global Risk panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference. Wesley Clark, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, said the Obama administration and its allies must move quickly to bolster the Ukrainian government or risk losing that country and possibly other former Soviet satellites to Russia. Clark, who just returned from Ukraine, said leaders there believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is readying his military to take control of valuable industrial plants and ports as soon as May 10.

The panelists, a group of seasoned diplomats and security experts, generally agreed that while the Ukrainian situation is capturing headlines, other serious threats continue to undermine global security. They include the continuing bloodshed in Syria, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and escalating tensions between China and its neighbors in Southeast Asia triggered by Chinese military muscle-flexing and territorial disputes.

Paul Wolfowitz, a former Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration, drew comparisons between the tumult of today and the period preceding World War I, when many leaders believed a growing global economy would usher in peace and instead faced the “bloodiest, most awful” war the world had known. He argued that U.S. failure to act more decisively in Syria had prolonged the bloodshed there and emboldened that government’s allies in Moscow.

Restoring U.S. credibility and influence in the world will not come easy. Former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani said Americans must be convinced that they have a personal stake in supporting the well-being of people thousands of miles away, whether through diplomatic and military support or trade and development. “When you are the largest power in the world, you can find ways to exercise power without going to war,” he said.

Jim Brooks, head of the Americas division of Control Risks and a former CIA clandestine service officer, said that given the limitations of military intervention the U.S. must devote more attention to building strategic alliances and bolstering global institutions with the “diplomatic maturity” to overcome decades of mistrust and conflict.

In a world of gloom, Mexico’s expanding economy – buoyed by labor and energy reforms – provided positive news. Clark said the opening up of the hydrocarbon and electric power sectors lays the foundation for a North American energy partnership that could eventually provide natural gas exports to China through floating LNG plants off the coast of Mexico. “My friends on Wall Street” are scrambling to get a piece of the Mexican energy action, he said.