Extended commentary: Action or inaction? An analysis of President Obama's foreign policy.

JurisdictionDerecho Internacional
AuthorPotts, Jacob C.
Date01 September 2016

Action or Inaction? An Analysis of President Obama's Foreign Policy

The date is November 2016. A little over two and a half years ago, militants in Crimea took over major governmental buildings in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine as a result of a revolution that ousted Pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power. (1) This provided an excuse for Vladimir Putin to seize lands traditionally owned by Russia. Crimea was annexed via referendum in March of 2014, (2) and the rest of Ukraine was annexed in late 2015. Foreign governments imposed economic sanctions and attempted to reach a peace agreement between the "rebel groups" and the Ukrainian government, but these actions failed to curb the Russian plan. (3) Now, Russia has set its sights on Estonia. Estonia is ripe for Russian annexation because of its Russian population of 25 percent and because of its lowlands. (4) However, the fundamental difference between Ukraine and Estonia is that Estonia is a member of NATO. As "rebels" begin to take control of airports and governmental buildings in eastern Estonia, Estonia assumes that the United States and its NATO allies will act in support of their NATO alliance. Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia prepare to act with United States at the head of the NATO alliance, both as an assurance to Estonia and for their own protection from Russian aggression. President Obama is a lame-duck president and is interested in setting a good precedent for his successor. What would President Obama do in this real world situation, and what does this say about his doctrine? If NATO upholds its commitment to Estonia, there will be military engagements between NATO and the Russians. If NATO does not act militarily, President Obama would most likely first put into place economic sanctions and use diplomatic pressure.

Estonia and NATO

In 2004, Estonia joined NATO. In early 2015, after fear of Russian invasion, NATO (mostly American) forces moved into the Baltic States in order to conduct military training exercises and to prove their commitment to their NATO members. This history will prove to be very important when predicting the behavior of major leaders in general. However, one could question if NATO would act based on their actions regarding the Budapest Memorandum. The Budapest Memorandum was signed by Ukraine, the United States, Great Britain, and Russia in 1994 as a way to remove nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union. (5) A fundamental component of this treaty is that these countries will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and not attack it. (6) This was obviously not respected by Russia. While the United States and Great Britain would say they remained faithful to the treaty because of their economic sanctions and diplomatic actions against Russia, this did not protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The implication of the treaty is that the memorandum would not allow the violations of Ukraine's integrity to happen, and this clearly did not happen. This puts into question if President Obama would respect his commitment to NATO. While this is a possibility that must certainly be addressed, it is more likely that he will respect the NATO Charter, which claims an attack against one is an attack against all. (7) First, Estonia has traditionally been a part of Russia, and one might speculate that this was one of the reasons Putin chose to attack Estonia in the first place. (8) Second, there is a precedent of friendly relations between Estonia and the Western Powers. This longstanding relationship may sway governments to act and defend their allies in Eastern Europe. Third, the actions taken by NATO, particularly the United States indicates that NATO is interested in maintaining the independence of their fellow members.


My predictions about the action President Obama would take will be based upon a variety of sources. President Obama's response will be based on how he has responded to major foreign policy events during his presidency. This includes his actions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the NATO intervention in Libya, his involvement with chemical weapons in Syria, his actions in Ukraine, the mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, handling ISIS and Al-Qaeda Affiliates, and his actions handling combatants outside of combat zones, such as in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. I will not only consider what he has done but what he has not done. This includes his lack of action against Boko Haram, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and most revolutions in the Arab Spring. In regards to news sources, I chose them from as wide of a spectrum of news sources as possible in order to limit bias. I also want to assume that President Obama does not fulfill the United States' obligations to NATO. I am doing this because by assuming President Obama will act with NATO; there will be no reason to predict his actions beyond predicting his options militarily.

Possible Actions

President Obama will have many options available to him when dealing with a possible crisis in Estonia. First, there are economic sanctions. This could mean forbidding arms sales to Russia, blacklisting senior Russian leaders, placing limits on exporting industrial technology, or expelling Russians from organizations like the World State Organization of the G20. Many of these sanctions have been put into place in Ukraine, with varying degrees of effectiveness. (9) Second, he has diplomatic pressure. This could be as simple as a discussion between the US Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister, or it could mean something as complicated as negotiating a cease-fire or a peace treaty. These have also been used in Ukraine with varying degrees of success. Third, there is military action, of which there are degrees of severity as well. The lowest level of military involvement would be selling arms to the Estonian government. In addition, he could send military trainers to the Estonian Military in order to prepare them against the Russians. American jets would either be stationed in Estonian (NATO) bases or on United States aircraft carriers and could attack rebel military bases, offer supporting fire in offensive or defensive operations, and offer general air superiority. This could lead to potential Russian retaliation, which must be taken into account. The next step would be actively sending NATO forces into Estonia in order to conduct offensive operations against the "rebels." Finally, there are other miscellaneous options. There is the use of covert operations, such as espionage. This would include sabotaging rebel facilities, secret raids on high value targets such as military leaders, or training resistance groups. Another option would be doing absolutely nothing. However, this would be almost as unlikely as invasion.

Course of Action

In my view the situation in Estonia will come to pass in the following way. All of these actions will clearly have historical precedent. First, pro-Russian "rebels" would take over Estonian police stations, governmental buildings, and attack military installations. This is similar to the actions that were taken in Ukraine(10) and Georgia. (11) Russia will offer support in the form of direct military action (like what happened in both Ukraine(12) and Georgia. (13)) Estonia will appeal to its NATO allies, demanding a military response. Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia will most likely place pressure on NATO to act in order to...

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