Nuclear sanctions not enough to reach Russia

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Over the past few weeks, as events in Crimea and Ukraine continue to make daily headlines, many have claimed that we are witnessing the rise of the next big geopolitical conflict since the Cold War. Some have made an even more extreme claim, saying that this crisis marks the return of the United States and Russia to the Cold War.

It is hard to believe now that the entire struggle in Ukraine was started by protests in the streets. There has been little word on the status of Russia’s relationship with ousted former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. All eyes are focused on Russian troop movements on the Ukraine border.

Maybe Russian President Vladimir Putin sees this conflict as a continuation of the Cold War. Putin described Russia’s annexation of Crimea as retribution for “a deeply-held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union.” As hard as it may be, the United States must lead the so-called Western powers in an effort to tear down the barriers between East and West that have existed since the Cold War.

There are many reasons to support this belief. After all, Russia is trying to bulldoze its way into Ukraine and exert its influence, which has waned ever since the rise of the European Union. Since much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas, Russia sees no reason to filter itself and no reason to hold itself back. Putin — always the cunning but brash diplomat — is clearly pushing forward, as reports estimate that 40,000 Russian troops have gathered at the border.

Though a resurgence of the Cold War implies an escalation on the military scale for all nations involved, this criteria has become inaccurate. The world has become much too interconnected and too globalized to have a true Cold War. In fact, just this past week, Obama has been in the Hague and elsewhere in the Netherlands, trying to tie up treaties and deals to denuclearize the world. Obama’s idea in doing so is to secure weapons-grade radioactive material in a manner safe for both the people and the environment, and safe from terrorist thieves.

Many leaders, especially those who lead smaller nations like Singapore, have reacted to such a summit with relief. As Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong stated, “We would like the work to continue, but we have to consider how, [and] what is the most appropriate way the leaders can get involved,” according to Channel NewsAsia.

It all goes back to the question: who decides who gets nuclear power? As the world evolves to accommodate more and more people, countries are increasingly turning to nuclear power as their “sustainable” energy source. Singapore — a nation with developed infrastructure but lacking nuclear power — is just one example of a major Asian economic hub and productive power that could easily shift toward nuclear energy.

But how is the world supposed to denuclearize itself while facing an increasing shortage of resources? Moreover, how can the world accomplish denuclearization when Russia, one of its counterparts — the one with the most sizable nuclear arsenal of all — has actively partaken in an act of nuclear aggression? Conferences like these are extremely important, but with the United States and other Western nations pursuing a policy of sanctions — which don’t accomplish much — it is hard to see Russia holding ties with such a conference.

President Obama faced backlash when he condemned Russia this past week, but according to The New York Times, he pressed too far forward, and justified the use of force in Iraq, a war that is constantly berated as being imperialistic. Sanctions seem to be the first step in a diplomat’s handbook. They immediately place countries on different sides, as if sanctions lead to isolation, which leads to war. This logical chain of events is hardly wrong — just look at North Korea. After sanction upon sanction, the small Asian state is as alienated as ever.

What the United States needs to do is to maintain its leadership position in condemning Russia. However, while the United States continues to pursue a policy of squeezing Russian leaders out with some sort of economic siege, the world heads closer and closer to Cold War-like relations.

Still, as the conference in Hague has shown, the world has become much too weaponized and sensitive to the risk of nuclear warfare to ever fall into another Cold War-like nuclear standoff. Meanwhile, Russia — large and distant — has become much too insensitive to ever simply agree to nuclear sanctions. Sanctions will only make relations between Russia and the rest of the world colder, and even if Russia settles with the West, relations will likely be as weak as ever.

In order to strengthen relations with Russia, the United States should look to China, another nation that cannot afford to be alienated by the United States. The United States must, in the long-run, seek better relations with China. As hard as this may sound, the relationship between China and America must extend beyond trade.

China has long admired the United States’ international superiority, but the United States has long eyed China with suspicion. China, as one of Russia’s closest allies — if you can even call them that — has the key to unlock Russia from being a massive, mysterious nation to a more relenting nation that might just be open to negotiations.

The United States must look past sanctions and pick up Russia along the way, perhaps through China. The conference in the Hague just shows how important diplomacy is, while also showing that the world must avoid alienating any major power, including Russia.