US Election Series VI: Clinton’s ‘Smart Power’ in Ukraine

President Obama has tried to let Europe lead itself in the efforts against Russian aggression towards Ukraine. If Hillary Clinton takes the presidency in November, we will see a forceful change back to the more involved America.

A comment by Jasmin Gabel

 

Under Barack Obama’s Administration, the United States turned their eye away from Europe while refocusing on the Pacific in a shift known as the ‘pivot towards Asia’. But the annexation of Crimea forced the Americans to take another look at the old continent. From the outset, former Secretary of State and presumptive democratic nominee for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, criticized the lack of action taken by the US government. Obama’s foreign policy has been characterised more cautious and less interventionist. If Hillary Clinton becomes the next president, it is likely that we see a shift back again towards a more active US foreign policy.

 

It all Depends on the Right Mix

Clinton describes her foreign policy philosophy as ‘Smart Power’ – a blend of hard and soft power tactics. In Hard Choices, Clinton defines ‘Smart Power’ as “choosing the right combination of tools – diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural – for each situation”. In her years at the State Department, we have seen her implementing this in her leadership style. She is known to be a fervent defender of democracy but she is less reluctant than Obama to use military power in order to defend democratic values or further their development, as long as the militaristic efforts are supported through a network of civilian and diplomatic resources.

From the beginning of the Crimean annexation, she has been vocal about her criticism of President Obama’s approach towards Russia, advocating a stronger hand in the initial response. In her opinion, a Russian invasion could have been stopped if the US had provided lethal weaponry to Ukraine. However, the question now is, how would Clinton address the war in Ukraine, if she moves into the Oval Office next January?

 

The Three-Step Program Towards Recovery

What we may expect from a President Clinton can be summarised in a three-point plan, based on her well-known foreign policy record, as well as her latest book and statements made on the campaign trail.

  1. Strengthening NATO: Clinton believes that NATO members and allies such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia deserve a clear message that they will be protected against Russian intervention and that aggression towards NATO or its allies is not tolerated.
  1. Strengthening transatlantic partnerships: In order to effectively respond to Russia, Clinton wants to refocus US efforts towards Europe. The US and Europe need to come together in a joint effort that is based on a trade of commitments.
  1. Further European energy independence from Russia: Clinton wants to help Europe in finding alternatives for Russian gas and oil supply in order to take bargaining leverage away from Vladimir Putin and allow for a stronger response on the part of European governments.

 

The Known Unkown

Would Clinton manage to wrangle up the support and commitments of the European allies, this plan may build up enough pressure to contain some of Russia’s enthusiasm towards neighboring countries. A bit forgotten in her approach seems the part Ukraine takes in such a scenario. How she would handle the actual involvement of Ukrainian military seems to be a crucial and unanswered question. Another major weakness is the fate of this plan that is entirely based on the support and cooperation of partners from Europe. With multiple elections coming up, it is difficult to make a prognosis on how likely her plans succeed. Moreover, tendencies towards friendly relations with Russia evolve all over the European continent which makes it difficult for Clinton to push through an ‘iron fisted’ strategy.

 

Its’ Getting Cold in Here

Additionally, her open criticism towards President Putin might make it difficult for Clinton to follow her own philosophy on balancing diplomacy with military efforts. She sees Putin as someone hungry for more power, territory and influence who is stuck in the past as he tries to rebuilt the Soviet Empire. No matter how accurate such an openly verbalized and non-diplomatic evaluation is, it may push the already frosty relations between the US and Russia below freezing.

 

The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image: http://bit.ly/2903XPP.

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Jasmin Gabel

Jasmin Gabel (25) has a degree in American Studies from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and is now studying Intercultural Communication at Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) and Adam-Mickiewicz-University Posznan. She is involved with the Polis-Program Peace & Security.
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