Best Defense

Questionable beliefs about the Ukraine crisis: Russia only understands force

Questionable beliefs about the Ukraine crisis: Russia only understands force

By Christopher J. Fettweis
Best Defense guest columnist

4) Russians only understand one language: force.
Putin, we are told, only understands force; no policy that takes the military option completely off the table can be successful. Obama needs to be prepared to use force, even just a little force, whatever that means. At a minimum, robust sanctions that cause real pain are necessary.

Every enemy or rival of the United States of my lifetime has "only understood force." The Soviets clearly only had one measure of power; in the Middle East today, only force matters; the Chinese, as we all know, only understand force. Either the United States needs to pick its enemies more wisely, or this is another common misperception fueled by the fact that we tend to know less about their motivations and deliberations, and therefore we assume that they are less complicated than they are.

Perhaps one of the most basic observations from political realism would help here: We ought to beware of any suggestion that asks us to believe that they are fundamentally different from us. We know we can understand nuance; we should understand that they probably can, too, whoever they are.

(Just a bit more to come.)

Christopher J. Fettweis is associate professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans. The thoughts in this essay are extensions of his latest book, The Pathologies of Power: Fear, Honor, Glory and Hubris in U.S. Foreign Policy.