When the Union was fighting to preserve itself in the Civil War, Napoleon III’s France moved troops to Mexico, overthrew the regime of Benito Juarez, established a monarchy and put Austrian Archduke Maximilian von Habsburg on the throne as Emperor of Mexico – a month before Gettysburg.
Concerned, the Union did nothing.
When the war ended in 1865, however, at the request of People. Ulysses S. Grant and William Sherman, the Union sent 40,000 troops to the Mexican border.
Secretary of State William Seward dispatched General John Schofield to Paris with the following instructions: “I want you to put your legs under Napoleon’s mahogany and tell him he must leave Mexico.”
American troops on the Mexican border convinced Napoleon to obey, although Maximilian bravely refused to leave and was captured and put before a firing squad.
The point of the episode for today’s crisis in Ukraine?
A powerful army on the border of a country can send a message and dictate terms without going to war and without going to war.
We don’t know if Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to send his 100,000 troops now on Ukraine’s Crimea, Donbass and Belarus borders into the country to occupy more territory.
But the message sent by the Russian military is clear: Putin wants his own Monroe Doctrine. Putin wants Ukraine out of NATO, and permanently.
If his demands are unacceptable, Putin says with his troops on the border, we reserve the right to send our army to Ukraine to protect our vital national interests by not having a hostile military alliance on our doorstep.
US officials have described a Russian invasion as “imminent”, an attack that could happen “any day”.
Given Russian preparations and the size of its forces, some US officials said last week that Kiev could fall within hours of an attack and there could be 50,000 civilian casualties and 5 million Ukrainian refugees.
Ukrainian leaders are less alarmist, arguing that an invasion is not imminent and that there is still room for a negotiated settlement.
Russian officials scorn US claims that they are about to invade. Last weekend, Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN tweeted: “The madness and alarmism continues. … What if we said that the United States could take over London in a week and kill 300,000 civilians?
If Russia invades and moves beyond what President Joe Biden earlier called a “minor incursion,” the event could change history.
A major invasion would trigger automatic and severe sanctions against Russia, crippling European economies on both sides of the conflict and forcing Putin to further involve his country in a Eurasian alliance with China. Yet ultimately it is China, not the United States or NATO, that poses the long-term threat to Russia.
Neither we nor Europe have any claims to Russian territory.
But China, with an economy 10 times larger than Russia and a population 10 times larger, has historic claims to what is now Russian land north of the Amur and Ussuri rivers. Russians living in Siberia and the Far East far outnumber the tens of millions of Chinese just south of the border. These Russian lands are rich in resources coveted by China. The two nations came close to war over these border regions in the late 1960s.
To return to the analogy of the United States waiting for the right moment to force France out of Mexico, China and Russia now appear stronger, more united, more assertive and more anti-American than they were. at the turn of the century.
Russia is now demanding that its border regions – ex-Warsaw Pact nations and ex-Soviet republics – be free of NATO installations and troops.
Half a dozen countries of the former Warsaw Pact and three republics of the USSR – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – are members of NATO.
China, with a much larger economy and military than at the turn of the century, is also becoming more assertive about its territorial claims. These include claims against India in the Himalayas, against half a dozen nations on the South China Sea, including our ally the Philippines, against Taiwan, and claims over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands. .
The combined strength and reach of Russia and China are increasing, while the United States, after Afghanistan, faces challenges to its resources that it seems increasingly stretched to meet.
Russia has amassed an army estimated at between 127,000 and 175,000 in a matter of months just across the border from Ukraine, while the United States sent 3,000 troops to Romania over the weekend, in Germany and Poland.
Where is the deterrence here?
Again, Putin’s demands that ex-Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet republics be exempt from NATO facilities, and that NATO enlargement, if accepted, would leave Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus definitely on the sidelines.
But if Moscow is going to push to withdraw NATO forces from its borders, it means an endless series of diplomatic and military clashes or US recognition of a Russian sphere of influence where NATO does not go.
In short, a Putin Monroe doctrine.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever”.