Follow Up to Yesterday’s Post

In an article that I posted last night, I argued that the political cost of Russian sanctions are too high — notably for French and British leaders.  Julia Ioffe of the New Republic published an excellent article today essentially proving that the blowback sanctions would have on European economies are limited.  Furthermore, Ioffe argues that Russia would be the first to buckle under such economic stress as the trade relationship, particularly in energy, indicates a massive reliance on European markets.

If the Eurozone nations decided to reduce or end their purchases of Russian oil and natural gas, it would leave a massive hole in the nation’s budget.” If you add Russian metals and wheat exports, the Russian economy is 85 percent export-based.

Which is why most analysts agree that, if Europe and Russia both took the nuclear option in terms of trade sanctions, both sides would suffer but Europe would fare much better than Russia. – Julia Ioffe, The New Republic

Regardless of how skewed the economics are, the main problem does not merely rest in financial considerations.  The short-term economic impacts, and the associated political backlash, is clearly enough to deter policy makers.  What’s more, the long term benefits of sanctions are not immediately clear.  As Ioffe astutely points out, Russia’s reaction to a slew of hypothetical ‘tough sanctions’ is far from certain:

But, as we know, assuming that Russia is a rational actor, carefully weighing the economic consequences of its geopolitical games is, all too often, a foolish assumption. – Julia Ioffe, The New Republic

In order to pass a comprehensive sanctions package, European political leaders would need to expend enough political capital to both convince the electorate of the sanctions’ merits and weather the inevitable backlash.  With uncertain international results, this is a tough sell for Europe’s leaders.

From an ideological standpoint, sanctions from Russia are not only deserved, they are needed.  Yet the current political situation highlights the limits of ideology.  Ultimately, leaders rarely get elected (or re-elected) on their foreign policy, thus the safer route (at least politically) is simply to continue the endless process of blocking the specific sanctions that  negatively impact their economies.

There’s a reason why John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage isn’t a massive, edition volume.  Political courage, especially with uncertain outcomes, is not a widespread trait. Although foreign policy doesn’t get many leaders elected, it surely gets them remembered!  Instead of focusing purely on economic sanctions on Russia, perhaps European leaders should begin to examine political solutions that would bear an inferior political cost.  Regardless, any decision made should not be interpreted through an economic lens as the thought process here is purely political.  As the old adage goes, the biggest problem with politics is politicians!