Monday, April 7, 2014


As Russia amasses troops on Ukraine’s borders, Americans — and especially Europeans — should be asking two questions: What country in Europe is America willing to fight for, and for what country in Europe has America committed itself to fight? These questions may have different answers.

The first question leads to the subsidiary question: how should we fight? With guns or barter — military hardware or trade and currency? Different measures bring hardships to different sectors of society.

Will the Americans fight for Notre Dame? We have before, but really it would be considerate if the French would stop selling arms to the Russians.

Will the United States fight for Ukraine? Certainly not militarily, and probably only in limited way economically. Even then, it may be difficult to get the European countries — we used to call them nations — to go along. Moreover, how can sanctions work without Europe’s enthusiastic cooperation?

Then the important question is: Why should we do anything?

The answer to that question may be: If we don’t keep order in the world, who will? However, that may not yet be a good enough answer to convince the American people that it is only they who can, and therefore must, step into the breach.

Define “breach.”

One definition: An attack on the Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladisla.

Come again?

An attack on the Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladisla.

Which cathedral?

That is the problem. The Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladisla is not Notre Dame. It’s located in Vilnius, which is located in Lithuania, which is located about 40 minutes from the border with Russia, “in current traffic,” according to Google.

Forty minutes is less time than President Obama spends each morning looking in the mirror and rereading his speeches. If the Russians want the Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladisla, they’re going to get it.

You say no? You say: What about NATO?

When was the last time you read the NATO treaty? The part that barks is Article 5, in which the parties agree “to assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

The words “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force” clearly contemplate action that does not include the use of armed force, and at most only such action as each party deems necessary.

You were probably thinking of the 1948 Brussels treaty, the predecessor to the NATO treaty. Its key phrase obligated the parties to “afford the party so attacked all the military and other aid and assistance in their power.” That is not what the NATO treaty provides, and the change in the wording would probably support the argument that that is not what the NATO treaty intended.

It is not beyond imagining that Mr. Obama, whose foreign policy accomplishments in his first two years, in his own words, “stack up against any president in modern history (with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR and Lincoln)” could decide that the loss of the Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladisla and the 25,000 square miles of the country in which it is located (about the size of West Virginia) would not so damage the security of the North Atlantic area as to require military intervention.

The 700,000 Americans of Lithuanian extraction might disagree, but Mr. Obama doesn’t need their support for his next job. Any president who has unilaterally amended a national health insurance law 38 times won’t be stopped by a few words in an old international agreement. Lithuanians would be right to worry.

As would Estonians. And Latvians. And Romanians and Bulgarians.

What about NATO member Poland? Ah, Poland’s different — and, er, incidentally, did you know that there are more Polish Americans living in Chicago than there are Romanians or Bulgarians living in all the United States?

An attack on Poland may be a primary definition of “breach.”

How else “breach” can be defined is a problem the United States and NATO should start thinking about now, as Russian troops amass on the Ukraine border.

Daniel Oliver is a senior director of the White House Writers Group in Washington, D.C. He formerly served as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan and was executive editor and chairman of the board of National Review.

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