International community shows strength regarding Ukraine air tragedy

Friday , July 25, 2014 - 12:53 PM

AP10ThingsToSee - Ukraine Plane-2

AP10ThingsToSee - People walk amongst the debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17...

Arthur I. Cyr

The criminal destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine has been compounded by de facto desecration of the remains of those killed. The crash site has also been severely contaminated.

Sloppy treatment of both the human remains and the aircraft wreckage confirm that committed thugs and killers cannot be trusted to carry out either humane or forensic tasks. We already knew that.

Thanks to pervasive electronic surveillance, strong evidence of guilt has quickly developed. The plane was brought down by the Russian SA-11 antiaircraft system. Video and audio clues point in this direction.

The United States government commendably has moved fast to identify and condemn the guilty parties. President Barack Obama immediately publicly expressed not only condolences but determination to hold those guilty accountable.

The fatal missile may have been launched from Ukraine territory, but the sophisticated lethal weaponry was provided by Moscow. Specifically, the Malaysia jet was hit by a missile from a Russian SA-11 antiaircraft system. Obama and other international leaders rightly hold Moscow directly responsible.

In response, the U.S. government is spearheading efforts to strengthen sanctions against Russia, along with public condemnation. Developing consensus for such actions isn’t easy, especially given Europe’s comparatively greater dependence on oil and gas imports, primarily from. Russia. However, some progress has been made.

According to news reports, Ukraine last month requested missile detection and radar jamming equipment. The U.S. is not the only source of potential supply which has been contacted. Former President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia states he was asked about securing anti-aircraft technology while in Ukraine this month. Saakashvili was president in 2008 when Russia invaded the Georgia republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia clearly is committed to remaining a major military power. According to the respected International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), national defense spending as a percentage of Russia’s gross domestic product has steadily grown, from 2.76 percent in 2010 to 3.15 percent in 2013, and a projection of 3.89 percent in 2016.

Defense spending is now dominated by a handful of large, predominantly state-owned corporations. As under the Soviet regime, the military remains a high priority.

However, Russia’s leadership also remains true to historical caution regarding force beyond the national borders. The relatively weak national economy further encourages restraint by Putin and associations. After grabbing Crimea, which was part of the old Soviet Union, there has not been a direct military invasion of the rest of Ukraine — yet.

In addition to the human tragedy involved, the Malaysia Airlines disaster underscores importance of technology, and associated dangers. Almost certainly, the civilian aircraft as such was not knowingly destroyed, but misidentified as a military target. The SA-11 is a particularly sophisticated system, in the hands of relatively unsophisticated Ukraine rebel forces.

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914. That gigantic conflagration was sparked by an assassination in the Balkans, in the same general region as Ukraine. The unprecedented destructiveness of that war continues to reverberate.

None of the combatant nations at the start anticipated the horrific military death toll. Rather, informed opinion concurred that a new European war would likely be brief, along the lines of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.

New generations of highly accurate weapons, in particular the machine gun, changed the nature of the battlefield, with devastating consequences. In effect, technology seized control.

Prudent nations led by the U.S. have avoided a rerun of 1914 — so far.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College. Contact him at acyr@carthage.edu

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